Welcome to an abbreviated edition of iOS Gems! Today, we’re taking very quick looks at several titles that have been on our radar for some time, though none merited a more detailed review. One is an adventure game for tweens, the next is a racing game for players of most ages, and the last is an all-ages word game.
All three of these titles merited general recommendations, but our top pick of the bunch is Zygna’s Scramble With Friends. Read on for all the details.
Of these games, Gameloft’s The Adventures of Tintin – the Game ($5) is certainly the most ambitious. Based upon the recent movie, this completely three-dimensional adventure game is akin to a light PG, tween-friendly version of Metal Gear Solid: you start by alternating between controlling a boy named Tintin and his dog Snowy as they wander through detailed 3-D environments, collecting coins and puzzle pieces. Walking, scaling buildings, running, and stealthily sneaking around are handled with a virtual stick and on-screen buttons; manuevering Snowy through tight spaces and occasionally tapping on screen to avoid timed dangers breaks up the action. Later in the game, you can control other players, as well.
Tintin’s strengths are in its graphics engine, which provides fluid, detailed 3-D art on any-sized iOS screen, and its combination of solid narrative audio content and a storyline. Between in-game and intermission sequences, there’s enough dialogue and storyline here to entertain any young player, with only a little rough, Spielberg-for-kids-like edginess to keep Tintin from seeming too kiddie. On the other hand, older kids and adults will likely find the slow pacing and light action to be a little on the sleepy side. We couldn’t get particularly enthusiastic about the adventuring here, but if you or someone you know would be thrilled to experience a 3-D rendition of getting chased by a dog or exploring an old ship, Tintin’s the right place to start. iLounge Rating: B.
Over a year has passed since Electronic Arts’ release of Reckless Racing and Reckless Racing HD for Apple’s devices; now developer Polarbit has released the sequel, Reckless Racing 2 ($5). The good news is that this follow-up is a single universal app, albeit at the higher price of the original HD release, so users needn’t buy two copies of the same game for their pocket and tablet devices. As with the first game, Reckless Racing 2 is an overhead perspective racer, placing you in control of a car using forward and reverse acceleration buttons, plus two turning buttons; your goal is to place first, second, or third in a series of single-player career or arcade mode races, gathering money to use for new cars and upgrades. There’s also a multiplayer mode where up to four people can play together over the Internet, though it wasn’t working properly when we tested the game.
Unfortunately, Reckless Racing 2 doesn’t have quite the same energy or charm as its predecessor. EA’s country funk influence has been replaced here with ill-fitting, not particularly impressive techno music that quickly loops as you play through the levels, and though there’s still plenty of rural scenery and grime, it doesn’t feel like it’s evolved much here. Cars still kick up dust, spew smoke, and create cool little pixel-level sparks as they crash into things, but there aren’t any unexpected touches this time, and even the levels feel overly familiar. If you accidentally pass over the structured career mode, you’ll find yourself a somewhat confusing path through 40 increasingly difficult but somewhat unfulfilling races, continually changing cars from race to race. If anything’s been improved, it’s the GUI, which is cleaner and more polished than before; our hope is that Polarbit dirties up the rest of the experience for the inevitable Reckless Racing 3. iLounge Rating: B.
Last up is Zygna’s Scramble With Friends ($3/$1) and Scramble With Friends Free (Free), two versions of the same iPhone/iPod touch-only title. Like the Scrabble-inspired Words With Friends and the Hangman-alike Hanging With Friends, Scramble With Friends is based upon a classic word game—Boggle—and relies upon asynchronous competitions between you, your friends, and/or strangers. Each person you challenge using your Facebook or Zynga account is given a “turn” to respond to whatever you’ve accomplished on your turn; here, you’re presented with a grid of 16 letters and given two minutes to create as many words as possible, swiping your finger through whatever cardinal and diagonal steps are possible to join letters together. You get points based on the number and value of letters in each word, some of which have Scrabble-like character and word point multipliers. You win if you have more points than your rival after three rounds of play, which can be finished whenever the other person has the minutes to spare.
As with most other Zygna games, Scramble With Friends uses different tricks to try and squeeze players for extra dollars in both the free and paid versions—the main difference is that the paid app doesn’t contain banner advertisements. Even if you’ve purchased the game outright, you’re constantly reminded that you need to use one of your limited supplies of “tokens” every time you play the game, and that while choosing one of three power-ups—freeze, inspiration, or scramble—is free, the second requires another token. Wait long enough between games and you’ll get additional tokens for free; the paid version now replenishes tokens twice as quickly as the free one, but the fact that tokens are required at all for the paid game is annoying. Not surprisingly, Zynga wants you to spend real cash to buy tokens, which will enable you to play games with more friends at the same time, or beat them thanks to extra time, assistance with figuring out words, and/or rearrangement of the current on-screen letters.
It’s a shame that Scramble With Friends has to resort to this token system, because the game is otherwise very compelling: the simple word-making is fun on its own, and rewarded with cool sound effects that range from happy blips to bassy, encouraging voice samples. Music is absent, but the game’s modest animation and nice enough 2-D artwork do just what they’re supposed to do; the only huge miss here is the absence of iPad support, so the graphics display in chunky upscaled mode on Apple’s tablets. Overall, Scramble With Friends is a fun little game and worthy of checking out, missing our high recommendation largely because of the unnecessary in-app cash grabbing that Zygna will probably never be shamed away from pushing in its titles. iLounge Rating: B+.