Welcome to iOS Gems! Today, we’re doing a rapid-fire roundup of a bunch of titles that we’ve been testing over the last couple of weeks—rather than diving deep into any of them, we’re just going to provide quick snapshots and ratings.
There are a total of nine titles, split into two categories: Kids’ Apps and Games. Read on for all the details!
The top kids’ app in today’s collection is Animal SnApp: Farm ($4) from Nosy Crow, a developer that continues to impress with every release. Universal for iOS devices, Animal SnApp is a collection of farm animal stories, connected with a simple interface that has kids move upper and lower halves of animal bodies until they make a match, unlocking the story for a given character. Each of the stories is relatively short—the equivalent of a half or quarter of a small book—but there are enough animals, animations, and voices that the overall experience easily justifies the price. Kids will love the different characters, and once again, Nosy Crow uses its high-resolution, smooth graphics engine to bring what could otherwise be flat pages to life. This is a great app for children two and up; we hope to see more titles in this series. iLounge Rating: A-.
Somewhat disappointing by comparison with the earlier A Charlie Brown Christmas, Loud Crow Interactive’s new universal title It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown ($5) once again brings a classic Peanuts book and cartoon into app form, using textured backgrounds, cut-out characters, and neat page-flipping animations to add additional visual depth to the original story. While the book is surprisingly long and features plenty of nice voiceover work, the character interactivity has nosedived relative to the prior version—characters just jiggle when you tap them—and the developer has sadly added in-app purchases in an effort to get you to spend additional money beyond the $5 asking price. If you’re a Peanuts fan, particularly if you love the Halloween story of the Great Pumpkin, it’s worth considering; otherwise, the Christmas version is a much more impressive title. iLounge Rating: B.
Although we were thoroughly impressed by StoryToys’ Farm 123—enough to award it the iPod/iPhone Kids’ App of the Year for 2012—the company’s new universal release Grimm’s Sleeping Beauty ($5) could use a little more work. As part of a series that previously included Rapunzel, Hansel & Gretel, and Red Riding Hood, Sleeping Beauty tells the story of a princess who is cursed by a witch to slumber for years in her castle, only to be rescued by a prince. As with the earlier titles, the app uses a 3-D pop-up storybook format, mixing light interactive activities with pages of text that you can either read aloud or have read to you. Unfortunately, the interactive segments aren’t particularly compelling this time, and Sleeping Beauty suffers from a jarring imbalance of heavy text pages with brief activities, leading kids to walk away bored. We continue to love StoryToys’ 3-D book interface, but the content really needs to be fine-tuned to achieve a better balance of fun and brief reading. iLounge Rating: B-.
If you had a Sega Dreamcast console or played arcade games at that point in time, you’re surely already familiar with Crazy Taxi ($5), Sega’s “drive around a city, pick up passengers and speed to destinations” open-world racing game—and now it’s available for iOS. Remarkably similar to the original title, with only modest reductions in street and pedestrian traffic, this version of Crazy Taxi preserves the famous Offspring and Bad Religion music tracks that were left out of some ports, and fundamentally feels almost exactly the same. You’ll still have to seriously learn the game’s world maps so that you can speed from pickup to dropoff points quickly; failure to do so will prematurely end what was an intense but brief arcade-style experience, though mini-games and the ability to play in modes with or without brief time limits gives you some play flexibility that the original arcade title lacked. While the graphics, music, and gameplay are largely intact, serious fans will note little omissions in things such as underwater effects and control precision; users of older Apple devices (pre-iPad 2/iPhone 4S/iPod touch 5G) may also have problems getting the game to run at all. For supported devices, however, Crazy Taxi is truly a blast from the past, and worth seeing. iLounge Rating: B+.
Expensive in a way that few iOS games can get away with, DoDonPachi Maximum ($12) is the latest in Cave’s series of vertical shooters—this one universal and more thoroughly optimized for the iOS platform than the heavily pixelated but distinctively drawn earlier titles. Once again, the goal here is to survive in “bullet hell” environments after enemies dispense insane volumes of projectiles in your general direction, forcing you to squeak between bullets and continue blasting your own weapons. Firing is handled for you automatically, as is the use of screen-filling bombs, which typically dispense when you’re in danger; you can manually control the bombs and swipe on the bottom of the screen to move your ship. The major difference with this title is that the backgrounds—once a major part of DoDonPachi games—have basically been replaced with boring geometric patterns, a fact that Cave explains by positing this as a bullet hell training simulator taking place inside of a computer. At a premium asking price like this, there shouldn’t be any excuses for not having fantastic background artwork; thankfully, there’s good music, plenty of on-screen projectiles, and enough stages to otherwise make the title worth seeing. We’d suggest waiting for a sale, but if you’re a serious shooting fan, you mightn’t want to hold off. iLounge Rating: B.
Having been fans of the cartoons and toys years ago, we were interested to see what Chillingo would do with the universal video game He-Man: The Most Powerful Game in the Universe ($1); the answer is “not much.” Deliberately corny and structured in a manner that strongly incentivizes in-app purchases, this side-scrolling action title places you in control of the muscle-bound He-Man as he runs through levels, slashing up enemies with his sword, and occasionally calling on Man-At-Arms or the power of Grayskull for special attacks. While it wouldn’t have taken much to create a truly great game based on this license, and what’s here is entirely fine for a $1 title, there’s a very real sense throughout that He-Man and other characters were inserted into an otherwise generic platform game engine, then given some cheesy dialogue and boss encounters to keep the experience from being totally forgettable. Only those bosses, who are abnormally huge by comparison with the sadly tiny He-Man character, provide relief from an overly formulaic experience. Apart from the low price, we’d pass on this one unless you’re both a fan of He-Man and desperate to play a game with characters from the cartoon. iLounge Rating: B-.
As the best basketball game we’ve yet seen on an iOS device, NBA 2K13 ($5) by Take-Two Interactive builds upon last year’s NBA 2K12 in several key ways: now a universal app with support for iPhones, iPod touches, and iPads, NBA 2K13 features improved graphics—nearly ideal 3-D representations of courts and characters, apart from still-problematic close-ups and uneven frame rates—plus a very good, rap-heavy in-menu soundtrack “curated” by Jay-Z, and improved controls, including a simplified one-finger option. Basketball fans will also appreciate the single-player multi-season mode, and multiplayer Bluetooth Game Center options. Further frame rate, close-up, and iPad Retina resolution work would make the inevitable sequel even better. iLounge Rating: B+.
Stunningly detailed for an universal iOS racing game, Need for Speed Most Wanted ($7) by EA is the latest and best title in the uneven Need for Speed series. As is commonly the case in NFS titles, you race against other cars—here, real-world vehicles, unlocked one at a time through success in races—and also try to evade police cars that form blockades on the tracks, then chase you until you knock them off the road. While the game concepts are all familiar from past games, Most Wanted ups the ante in several ways: the game’s fast from the very beginning, so there’s no sense of drag in the experience; textures are now pretty close to incredible, so detailed on background scenery that you can read roadside signs; and the music’s genuinely exciting. By adding all of these things to the previously impressive 3-D real-world car models, cool special effects, and structured but somewhat open-ended gameplay, EA has come up with a winning combination; Most Wanted isn’t cheap at $7, but it largely justifies its premium asking price. iLounge Rating: A-.
Last up this week is the universal iOS game Zaxxon Escape ($1) by Sega, a title that’s sure to be somewhat controversial due to its use of a somewhat familiar name for a title that’s different from its forebears. The original Zaxxon and its lesser-known sequel Super Zaxxon were very early forced-perspective isometric dodging and shooting games, challenging players to navigate a spaceship up, down, left, and right through scrolling space fortresses, shooting down missiles and other ships as they came too close for comfort. Zaxxon Escape captures these concepts while fundamentally changing the perspective—you’re now fully behind the ship in a truly 3-D view rather than off to its side—and replacing the awkward side-of-screen meter-dependent height judging with a need to rapidly twist and turn through tunnels in space; tilt, swipe, and tap controls have you rotate your device around, which is a little easier on the iPhone and iPod than the iPad. There’s also a solid space-techno soundtrack to help keep the excitement level up. From our perspective, Sega’s changes are very much in the same spirit as Activision’s recent revamp of Pitfall!, bringing enough audiovisual excitement and improved gameplay to a classic title that there’s very little room to complain for $1; occasional hiccups in the controls sometimes make precision ship rotation a little problematic, a bug that will likely be fixed by the time most people read this. iLounge Rating: A-.