Welcome to this week’s gaming edition of iOS Gems! Today we’re reviewing six games, some of which will be familiar to iOS gamers. Of the bunch, only zombie-slayer Left2Die and the turn-based Outwitters are completely original; the others are ports of or updates to previously-released games.
Our top-rated titles this week are Metal Slug 3 and Amazing Alex, but the second one comes with some caveats. Left2Die and Outwitters also earn our strong general recommendation.
Rovio is one of the App Store’s most notable success stories. When it launched Angry Birds in December 2009, it not only made a significant impact on casual mobile gaming, but also created an entire industry for itself based around a single whimsical property. Other than a handful of well-received bird and pig themed sequels, however, the developer hadn’t expanded its lineup—until this week’s introduction of Amazing Alex for iPhone ($1) and iPad ($3). But rather than develop its own innovative title, the company simply bought Snappy Touch’s previously-released game Casey’s Contraptions, touched up the graphics, and rereleased it as its own work, blatantly mismarketing Amazing Alex as “an amazing new physics puzzle game from the creators of Angry Birds.”
Amazing Alex doesn’t just take gameplay elements or level design from Casey’s Contraptions—it’s literally the same game, with small tweaks. Through 100 levels across four worlds, your goal is to solve each stage’s puzzle by making a handful of provided parts interact with those already on the screen. Some of the levels have been tweaked or moved to a different order, and the graphics have been changed slightly, but they’re still 2-D cartoony scenes. Based solely on the game’s content, the $1 pricing, and none of the surrounding circumstances, Amazing Alex retains the same rating its predecessor received.
That having been said, it’s sad to see Rovio taking this direction with Amazing Alex. It would have been one thing if it had simply purchased the game and changed the “Seller” line in the App Store; that kind of thing happens fairly regularly and is totally acceptable. Instead, it removed the original iPad game from the App Store, discontinued support for prior customers, and released a separate paid iPhone version. The game is still great, but Rovio didn’t handle its acquisition in a manner that was best for either its customers or Snappy Touch’s: there was no need to create separate iPhone and iPad titles, nor strip old users of continued support. It’s hard to complain about a $1 game, but this doesn’t bode well for future Rovio releases—or re-releases, as it were. iLounge Rating: A-.
Everplay Interactive’s Left2Die ($1) is a universal title set in one of the App Store’s most popular genres: zombie survival. What makes this one special is its support of both single player and multiplayer modes, each with a pair of gameplay options. It’s a good buy for a buck, especially for those who get a kick out of slaying the undead.
No matter which mode you play in, you’re dropped into either a diner, store, or farm and have to battle against enemies in levels presented from an overhead isometric perspective. In the campaign mode, you’re required to defeat a certain number of zombies, while survival mode pits you against an unending wave and forces you survive for as long as you can. The multiplayer mode has you team up with Game Center-matched player to stop zombies, or fight directly against an opponent. Your character is controlled by two virtual joysticks, moving with one at the bottom left corner while firing with one on the right. We found movement easy, but attacking was sometimes imprecise. Although the gameplay is quite different, Left2Die is similar to the very popular Left 4 Dead franchise in that it features different zombies with varied abilities, including some that run fast and others that spit goo.
The game’s graphics are somewhat blocky but look good even on the third-generation iPad’s Retina display, while effects such as rain add a nice touch. We found it ran very smoothly even when we were being bombarded by hoards of the undead. Zombie noises, gun blasts, and a simple instrumental soundtrack all help make the experience a bit more immersive. Our favorite part of the game was the cooperative multiplayer, which worked well. Really the only thing we take serious issue with is the in-app purchase structure, which has you buying currency to upgrade weapons and characters. It’s not necessary to enjoy the title, but it does come off like gouging. Regardless, we like Left2Die for what it is, and recommend it as a fun iOS overhead shooting title. iLounge Rating: B+.
SNK Playmore’s disappointing release of Metal Slug Touch unnecessarily cast a shadow on one of the best arcade and console walk-and-shoot franchises, an unusually funny, impressively illustrated series of games with unbridled intensity. Earlier Metal Slug games famously applied gallows humor to the side-scrolling military shooter genre pioneered by Konami’s classic Contra, introducing disheveled POWs as power-up dispensers alongside completely over-the-top weaponry, explosions, and environments. Unusually tight level design, deliberate rather than frantic pacing, and a wide variety of guns—including controllable vehicles—made the Metal Slug titles feel special, but also required precise control, which just wasn’t there in the repetitive and dumbed-down original iOS title.
Metal Slug 3 ($7) not only remedies the prior game’s issues, but delivers the sort of outstanding, console-quality gaming experience shooter fans will appreciate. While you’ll have to get past the low resolution of the classic Neo-Geo artwork, which is particularly pixelated on larger iPad screens, SNK Playmore’s character animation is so impressive throughout Metal Slug 3 that you’ll only occasionally care about the rough edges; it’s especially impressive given the scope of the game’s levels. There are five stages to complete, each brutally difficult even on the game’s default medium setting, and you only start with a handful of credits rather than unlimited continues. Even good players can expect to end their first session without completing the initial level, only to excitedly revisit it—and figure out ways to explore the new branching, seriously distinctive paths—with improved results the next time.
There are so many reasons to love Metal Slug 3 that it’s hard to compress them all into a brief review without resorting to bullet points; here are just a handful. Four different characters are independently animated and amusing, moving through stages that see them running with guns blazing, staggering as undead zombies, and piloting everything from tanks to submarines to mech suits with distinctive weapons. As enemies swarm you, cut down by projectiles and your knife, one of a level’s three or so paths may take you above ground, while another sees you swimming in water, and the last takes you through a Super Mario-style tunneled shortcut to the boss encounter. Bosses are huge and challenging. And the customizable virtual controls are responsive enough to make up for the lack of a real joypad. You can crouch and walk at the same time, jump, toss grenades, run your knife through nearby enemies, and fire in non-cardinal directions, at least under some circumstances.
If you’re looking for the latest and most beautiful graphics or music that an iOS device is capable of producing, you’re not going to find them in Metal Slug 3. This game is now over 12 years old, originally developed for a then-dying game console, and released only shortly before its developer SNK went bankrupt; it’s highly similar in 16-bit-styled chiptune music and art style to the first two Metal Slug games, which were released years earlier. But it embodies all that was great about its time, and with universal support for iPads, iPhones, or iPod touches, the overall experience is easy to highly recommend, even for a “premium” asking price. Classic gamers will note nods here to SNK and non-SNK titles, including Irem’s forgotten classic submarine title In The Hunt, plus all of the challenge old arcade games used to muster. Shooter fans should consider this right now; others should jump in at the first sale opportunity. iLounge Rating: A-.
Outwitters (Free) is the most recent title from One Man Left, which is best known for the stylish dodging game Tilt to Live. This iPhone and iPad universal title is a turn-based strategy game with asynchronous online play, a concept that has proved successful in a variety of formats, and works just as well here.
There are three different gameplay modes: League Play, Friendly Game, and Pass n’ Play. Each offers one-on-one or two-on-two gameplay, with the first two using Game Center to match players. Thankfully there seem to be enough players that one is never left waiting for more than few seconds before being paired up. You start each battle with a handful of different characters on a honeycomb-shaped grid and are tasked with defeating the other player’s base while defending your own. With each turn you have a certain number of actions which can be used to move troops or create new ones. Every type of character has different properties; some are tanks that can only move short distances at a time but have heavy attacks, while others are snipers that can hit from far away but only do limited damage. Players must use strategy to figure out the best offense and defense to win the game.
Thankfully, One Man Left doesn’t take advantage of players through its in-app purchase system; it optionally offers additional teams at $2 each, or $3 for all of them including those made available in the future. Those are purely optional though; the game truly is free to play. The graphics are bright and cartoony, with matching sound effects when creatures move or attack. For the price tag, it’s hard to say no to this one. Our biggest desire would be to see more depth added through larger levels and new races. As it is, Outwitters earns our strong general recommendation; strategy game fans will enjoy it the most, but it’s easy for anybody to pick up and play in their free time. iLounge Rating: B+.
Early last year, we reviewed Tiny Wings, a one-button game that combined Angry Birds-like art, Solipskier’s casual “move and jump” gameplay, and dreamy music to achieve considerable success in the App Store. This week, Tiny Wings was updated to version 2.0, adding Retina Display graphics, new birds, and a new play mode. Developer Andreas Illiger made the 2.0 update free for past purchasers of the $1 game, while also releasing Tiny Wings HD ($3) as an unnecessarily separate iPad version. Both versions are good, but unless you’re really in need of the HD game’s only major addition—a third play mode—you’re better off spending less on the original $1 title.
The gameplay remains the same between both versions of Tiny Wings: you press your finger on the screen to keep a bird hugging bumpy, hilly ground, and release it to let the bird skid or fly with whatever momentum has been built up. Tiny Wings rewards you for achieving the correct balance and timing of “push” and “release” actions, in the main mode awarding points and enabling you to keep on flying until night falls. Collecting little sun and boost icons helps you keep going longer, and achievement-like objectives prod you to try over and over again, even though the action is pretty simple.
In some games, Retina artwork is a revelation, adding insane levels of additional detail to photographic, rendered, or hand-drawn art. Tiny Wings used soft-shaded, cartoony graphics to begin with, so the changes are not dramatic here; the iPhone/iPod version now looks plenty good when upscaled to the third-generation iPad, and the HD version is not particularly different, apart from the lack of letterboxing. Both versions include the new Flight School mode, which lets you choose from four birds to pilot through three new islands—“Clown Islands,” “Koi Islands,” and “Orca Islands,” complete with watery pits—while text promises that new islands are coming soon. Each new island has five tracks, challenging you to race against the other three birds to get fed and unlock additional levels, minus the need to collect suns or boost items. The HD version adds Hill Party, an iPad-only mode that divides the screen in half to let two players compete for the highest score on the island tracks.
There’s no doubt that the new features add value to the original $1 game, which was good when it debuted a year ago and has become a little more compelling thanks to the new features. The developer’s decision to give away the 2.0 features rather than charge for them as an in-app purchase—explained by a statement that he doesn’t like in-app purchases—is commendable, but offering virtually the same content in a separate, iPad-only Tiny Wings HD for $3 isn’t much better. Unless you’re in need of two-player simultaneous play, we’d advise you to stick with the original version of this app, which otherwise delivers a nearly identical experience at a more fitting price. iLounge Ratings: Tiny Wings: B+ / Tiny Wings HD: B.
Additional reviews by Jeremy Horwitz.