Welcome to this week’s gaming edition of iOS Gems! This roundup includes a a truly unique accessory-driven title from Disney/Pixar, a flick-heavy beast-slaying game, and a really fun word game.
We really enjoyed W.E.L.D.E.R.; it’s the clear standout of the group. Cars 2 AppMATes is also recommendable, but there are some caveats. Read on for the details.
Leave it Disney/Pixar to come up with a game that truly stands out from any we’ve seen in the past. While the iPad-only Cars 2 AppMATes application is free, it’s designed to be used with the $20 Matchbox-sized AppMATes toy vehicles available from Apple and other retailers, made in conjunction with Spin Master. There are three different sets of cars, each with a pair of characters from the Disney/Pixar film. The idea is to turn an iPad or iPad 2 into a virtual play mat, complete with a 3-D-rendered exploration and gaming world that the toy cars can drive in. You hold one of the cars by its windows, activating the pads on the bottom of the car, and watch as virtual headlights illuminate on the screen and acceleration/turns are tracked by the app—a very cool idea.
In our testing, we quickly found that the cars were recognized more consistently on iPads without screen protector film on them. At first we couldn’t get the toys to work at all, and then without changing how we were using them, they began to work without issues. Once your character is recognized, the screen begins to move underneath it in the direction you’re facing; for the most part, keeping the car in the middle of the screen is the fastest way to move around. From there, there are three main gameplay features: exploration, missions, and racing. You’re free to drive around and simply interact with the characters and environments, but can also take on missions to earn hubcaps—the game’s currency—and vehicle add-ons. You can also race on a variety of tracks against different characters from the movies.
The coolest thing about Cars 2 AppMATes is just how well integrated the game and the toy cars are. For example, the specific car character you’re using is actually recognized by the game and onscreen characters react in different ways based on that. When you’re driving at night, you can see the beam of your headlights coming from the front of the car, wherever that may be. You can still play the game without the toy cars, but the experience is more limited. The “Paper Toy” mode has you hold two fingers on the screen as if you had one of the actual toys. You still navigate through the world, and take part in races and the like, but can’t use add-ons such as the missile launcher or wings. Think of it as a still rather heavily-featured “light” mode—a trial that lets you understand how the game will work with one of the toys in hand.
Disney/Pixar’s game looks and sounds great; it’s clear that having such a large studio behind a game is certainly a benefit. Presented from a bird’s eye view perspective, the 3-D graphics are sharp and colorful, with polygonal buildings and landscapes that really let you feel like you’re taking part in a Cars movie. There’s a respectable soundtrack, and songs can actually be changed by bumping into radio towers spread out across Radiator Springs; additionally, the characters are voiced by the original actors, including Owen Wilson and Larry the Cable Guy. Kids will have a lot of fun driving around and interacting with the world, while parents will be equally wowed by just how well the whole thing comes together. The only real limitation is the price; $20 for two handheld cars is particularly steep, and leads us to offer two separate ratings. The game itself, when downloaded for free and played with the “Paper Toy” is highly recommended—it’s somewhat limited, but still a great experience for fans of the Cars movies. By comparison, the unlocked full version of the game complete with the toy vehicles merits a general recommendation. While we enjoyed the added interactions the toys enabled, the price is too high, and the issues with screen protectors may limit some users’ ability to fully enjoy the experience. iLounge Ratings: A- (Game), B+ (Game and Toys).
Ubisoft’s Monster Burner ($3) is also an iPad-only title. In this cartoony game, you’re tasked with defeating the onslaught of monsters streaming from the top of the screen in an isometric overhead perspective against a static background. To do this, you flick fireballs at them by positioning your finger anywhere on the screen and pushing in the direction you’d like the blast to go. Holding down for a few seconds before you release creates bigger fireballs, but also draws more from your finite pool of mana. The game supports multi-touch gestures, meaning you can create multiple blasts at once.
Destroying more than one creature at once leads to higher scores and more mana. At first there’s only one kind of monster, and fireballs can tear through lines of them at a time, but as time goes on new enemies make your job harder. The game is spread out over six geographically diverse worlds, each with a varying number of levels. There’s also a kids mode with six levels; this mode eliminates mana restrictions. Throughout the game, you collect coins to use towards upgrades; coins can also be obtained through in-app purchases.
Monster Burner’s biggest flaw is repetitiveness. While the levels do get progressively harder, you’re really doing the same thing each time: enemies gain different abilities, and the settings themselves affect gameplay, but for the most part, the player is limited to tossing fireballs, though it’s worth noting that coins can be used to purchase a wall of fire attack. The game is not necessarily boring, but it does become tedious, and not until the beginning of the fourth world do the levels even become truly difficult. In addition, the lack of a decent audio component takes away from the experience as well: each world has a short looping sound—jingle bells, for example, on the snowy mountain levels—but the music isn’t noteworthy and there are no sound effects. Combine this with a price that’s slightly too high, especially for a non-universal title, and Monster Burner is worthy of a limited recommendation. It can be fun, but don’t expect to be totally thrilled. iLounge Rating: B-.
The final game in this roundup is W.E.L.D.E.R. ($4). Published by Ayopa Games and developed by Highline Games—a studio formed in part by former Rockstar Games employees—this steampunk-themed word game is designed for both the iPad’s larger screen and the iPhone and iPod touch’s smaller displays. Although it looks somewhat like Scrabble, Boggle, or any number of grid-based word forming games, it’s a different beast. And it’s a whole lot of fun.
In W.E.L.D.E.R., your goal is to form words from letter tiles, using a minimum of four letters per word. To do this, you move the tiles in a handful of different ways. The tiles are presented in a variety of stone, wood, and metal textures, each of which has a different value. Some are locked in place, while others allow you to input your own letter. The game automatically recognizes words, which is usually a boon, but can sometimes be a problem; sometimes you may find the game accepting a word that you haven’t finished, resulting in a lower point total.
While we preferred playing it on the iPad, W.E.L.D.E.R. is fully functional on the iPhone and iPod touch, and looks quite nice. iCloud syncing allows you to carry on your game between devices, although it requires you to manually push your current status up rather than automatically saving it. Currently there’s only one gameplay mode, but a Bonus Mode menu promises “Unlockable Bonus Modes Coming Soon. Check For Updates!” Both versions of the game feature the same sound effects, matching the visual theme. The background sounds are inspired by machines and steam, while moving and eliminating tiles creates stone-on-stone clunks and electrical sounds. We really enjoyed playing W.E.L.D.E.R., and appreciate that there’s still room for creativity in such an established genre of games. It’s one that we can see ourselves picking up for a few quick words, or playing for an hour at a time. While it doesn’t strike us as cheap, and more game modes will certainly add to the value in the future, we highly recommend checking this game out in its current form; it will only get better over time. iLounge Rating: A-.