Welcome to the latest edition of iOS Gems! This week, we’re looking at a diverse collection of good to great titles: a big-named crossover fighting game, an iOS version of a classic platformer, a new franchise from the Angry Birds team, a soccer game, and an amazing new puzzler.
Three games this week merited our high recommendation: Bad Piggies, FIFA 13, and The Room. Read on for all the details.
Head-scratching commenced when Angry Birds developer Rovio acquired an existing iOS game called Casey’s Contraptions, then only modestly tweaked it before re-releasing it as Amazing Alex, but today’s release of Bad Piggies ($1) seems to explain a lot. Rovio has combined Angry Birds’ charm with Amazing Alex’s physics and construction set themes to take a major step forward—Bag Piggies is the first truly new and great idea the company has come up with since the original Angry Birds was released years ago.
Your goal in Bad Piggies is to assemble vehicles to transport the pigs from one side of a level to another, accomplishing gravity-influenced tasks along the way. At the start of each level, you’re presented with a handful of items to assemble within a set of empty boxes—wheels go on the bottom and perhaps the sides or top of a crate that holds a pig—then you press a play button and watch as the vehicle attempts to roll through hills, valleys, jumps, pits, and other obstacles. Depending on the items you’re given, you may need to interact with the vehicle a little, pressing a button to activate a propulsion system, and after watching several failures, you may tweak the items’ positions so as to change the vehicle’s initial starting position, the location of the pig inside, or the angles of wheels, springs, and other things that might make the pig able to reach the level’s end intact.
Although the idea may sound like a modest riff on Casey’s Contraptions, Bad Piggies is executed so well that it’s actually better than the sum of its parts—more charming than Angry Birds, with a similar star rating system for level completion that actually incentivizes you with pleasant chimes and interesting icons to keep reaching for higher ratings before moving on to another level. The flat, cartoony graphics will be instantly familiar to Angry Birds and Amazing Alex players, but the audio has taken a few steps forward with fun music and improved sound effects. Only two things, namely Rovio’s lack of universal iPad support and initial release of only 40 levels, stand in the way of Bad Piggies earning an unqualified flat A rating. Over time, this game will surely sprout additional free content; hopefully Rovio will stop with the unnecessary selling of separate $1 iPhone/iPod and $3 iPad apps in favor of mid-priced universal titles. iLounge Rating: A-.
Apart from some unusual bugs that hit the iPad side of this game unusually hard right after it was released—only to be quickly fixed today—FIFA Soccer 13 ($7) is yet another impressive iteration on the beloved international soccer franchise Electronic Arts has maintained for nearly two decades. The original 3-D version of the franchise was a blockbuster on the long-since-gone 3DO platform, sporting realistic animations and incredible ambient audio; since then, EA has basically just tweaked the same formula, improving the art, audio, and controls while updating player rosters and teams.
With support for the iPhone 3GS, iPod touch 3G, original iPad, and all subsequent iOS devices, FIFA 13 is also the only title in this week’s collection to be specifically optimized for the iPhone 5, taking full advantage of the new 16:9 screen, while also offering full third-generation iPad Retina detail. Although the character models remain small through all of the gameplay, they’re pixel-sharp on each device, looking great even during post-goal close-ups. EA has further polished the already smooth animation to make every kick, save, and goal celebration look great—only the occasional polygonal hiccup, such as a goaltender hanging off of the goal with the back of his hands, detracts from the art. Weather and lighting effects help the realistic stadiums look even better than before. EA has again loaded the title with fantastic play-by-play dialogue, crowd chants, and hip music for the in-game menus.
Fans of the FIFA series won’t find many surprises here, apart from some welcome tweaks, including an online multiplayer mode and new controls. EA includes a virtual stick on the left and four buttons on the right, each labeled with text so its offensive and defensive functions can be easily learned. New is an offensive button called Skill Move, which converts to a grid when pressed, letting you nudge in a direction to lane change, step back, or step over—little movements that may help your current player evade a defender. The changes aren’t huge changes from earlier FIFA console titles, but make FIFA 13 feel extraordinarily competent by App Store sports game standards. All that’s missing is camera work to make the in-game action look and feel closer, a challenge EA has wrestled with for years. That and little bugs aside, this is a great soccer game, and certainly worth checking out. iLounge Rating: A-.
People are either fans of Ubisoft’s classic character Rayman or they aren’t—after playing far too many forgettable action-platformers featuring the happy little guy with floaty limbs, we’d fall into the “aren’t” category. But Rayman Jungle Run ($3) is Ubisoft’s effort to simplify the Rayman experience for players without traditional joystick controllers, and it generally works: here, you basically just control the character’s jumping, flying, wall running and/or punching as he automatically runs wherever momentum and gravity would otherwise take him, moving though a collection of roughly 40 brief levels. The first ten levels are purely jumping, with the next ten adding flying, and so on; environmental conditions and obstacles change in each set of levels to make the next ability make sense—wind gusts are added to give Rayman the ability to fly, for example.
Very little of Rayman Jungle Run is surprising: it’s just a simple running game with coins to collect, and your interactions with the character are very straightforward. This isn’t so much of a platform exploration game as it is a “keep jumping” title, with happy music looping in the background as sparkly chimes and giggles play as sound effects. But there are just enough forking paths to make the levels interesting, and people who like the Rayman character will find it to be charming, though short. If you’re a fan of the series, definitely check this out; otherwise, keep moving right on past it. iLounge Rating: B.
If you’ve been following Capcom’s prior App Store fighting game releases, you might be surprised to learn that Street Fighter x Tekken Mobile ($5/$3) isn’t just a flattened 2-D version of a previously 3-D console title—at least, graphically: this time, Capcom has actually used 3-D character models and backgrounds, resulting in a dramatically better-looking one-on-one fighting game that is only compatible with the iPhone 4/iPod touch 4G/iPad 2 and newer devices. While the new engine doesn’t support the third-generation iPad’s Retina resolution, and the characters look a little chunky on larger screens, it’s such a step forward from the prior low-res 2-D ports of Street Fighter IV that it’s hard to complain much. The audio has improved, too; a techno soundtrack is overlapped by all the signature special move speech and victory dialogue you’d expect.
As the name suggests, half of the characters (Ryu, Chun Li, Dhalsim, Guile, and Hugo) are from the Street Fighter series, while the other half (Kazuya, Paul, Nina, King, and Hwoarang) are from Namco’s Tekken franchise. Once you navigate through an annoyingly long collection of dialog boxes—particularly bad and recurring if you don’t use Game Center—you choose two characters as a tag team, select a “Pandora’s Box” special power, then battle in a series of fights that end whenever one member of the team is defeated by an opponent. A virtual joystick on the left lets you control jump, crouch, left, and right movements, while punch, kick, special attack, and character swap buttons are on the right. They’re as responsive as we’ve come to expect from past Capcom fighting titles, which is to say not arcade- or console-worthy, but not awful, either; despite the inclusion of an wireless multiplayer feature, just don’t expect to have legit tournaments based on the controls.
While what’s actually inside Street Fighter x Tekken looks and sounds quite good by App Store standards, there just aren’t enough characters or backgrounds here, even for a budget asking price; once again, Capcom has taken the “who knows, maybe we’ll add stuff later” approach that just doesn’t work for a one-on-one, character-based fighting game. Moreover, the company has managed to junk up the global multiplayer mode with a timer/pay-to-play mechanism that just feels like a sad cash grab. For the time being, this is a good title, but with some obviously needed additions to the roster, it could become great. iLounge Rating: B+.
When we say that The Room ($5) by Fireproof Games is one of the very best games ever released for iOS devices, we’re not just being kind: this puzzle game is so incredibly fantastic that we’d very nearly call it a must-see for iPad owners. Solely compatible with the iPad 2 and third-generation iPad, The Room brilliantly wraps little puzzles around boxes and tables, challenging you to rotate and pinch-zoom your way through one or two sides of an object, solve a puzzle, then move to another side or two to solve the next one. You’ll be drawn in by interacting with the objects, such as manually turning hand cranks and keys, tilting the iPad to trigger gravity-sensitive locks, and pressing on-screen buttons in certain orders; never before has merely using real-world objects in a non-violent virtual space been so fun.
Each solved puzzle tends to dispense an item or trigger a change in the object that makes it possible to tackle another puzzle, and the items you find—an eyepiece and lens to see hidden markings and objects, an ornate box, or a movable key—may have their own puzzling elements that need to be solved, as well. The Room is the classic riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma, and so beautifully presented that you’ll wish to get caught up in the experience for days.
Perhaps the biggest draw of the game is the graphics engine, which renders textures and polygonal objects realistically enough to be in uncanny valley territory—the lack of anything organic, such as people and plants, helps maintain the illusion. Excellently mysterious music and intriguing sound effects mightily contribute to the experience, as well. And the biggest deficits are the oddball storyline, which isn’t quite as tightly constructed or interesting as it could have been, and the game’s brevity, which regrettably keeps it from occupying more than a full night of time. Fireproof Games has done seriously incredible things with this title; the sequel just needs to be a lot longer. iLounge Rating: A-.