Welcome to the latest gaming edition of iPad Gems. Like last week’s debut column (see 22 more titles here!), this week’s is designed to move swiftly through another large collection of games that were released for the U.S. launch of the iPad—some of the 20 titles we look at today are worthy of more discussion than others. As such, we’re going to focus most of our attention on the five standouts from this collection, providing only screenshots and comparatively brief descriptions of the other 15. None of the titles is receiving a rating for the time being, as we’re continuing to let the dust settle a little with early iPad titles before issuing letter grades.
Our top picks include Cash Cow Deluxe, Geometry Wars: Touch, Mirror’s Edge, and Tetris for iPad. Read on for all the details.
We hadn’t expected to be playing anything from Activision as an iPad launch title, but Geometry Wars: Touch for iPad ($10) was a “must-get” release when we spotted it in the App Store. Though the game won’t appeal to everyone—it’s a dual-joystick overhead shooter with deliberately retro graphics—it has quickly become one of our most-played iPad games. Each of the seven different game modes puts you in charge of a spaceship that maneuvers around a grid in a confined area, shooting and dodging anything that moves. You touch the left side of the screen to position your ship and the right to fire in any direction, occasionally using a bomb button at the bottom center of the screen to clear everything out. Geometry Wars’ spectacular particle effects, bright vector-based line graphics, and wavy grids originally came from Xbox and PlayStation console games, and inspired quite a few clones—even good ones—for the iPhone and iPod touch, but they’re flashier and cooler here.
The core of Geometry Wars is the variety of included game modes, which unlock in succession as you complete prior stages. One called Titans—a so-so Asteroids clone with AI-driven targets—is new to the iPad, but others, such as the basic “shoot ‘em all” mode Deadline, the forced move from shielded ring to shielded ring mode called King, and the overwhelming collection of surrounding enemies game called Waves, are better. Everything takes place to the beat of a techno soundtrack with fittingly clean audio effects, which help the graphics and action to addict you. You can decide whether to drop $10 on this title; we’d call it a game that is surely worth grabbing the moment it goes on sale.
As big fans of Electronic Arts’ Mirror’s Edge, the thought of playing this hugely ambitious and largely successful first-person action-platformer on an iPad was at once exciting and essentially impossible: how could anyone bring this fully and demandingly 3-D game, complete with its complex controls, to a joystickless, lower-powered device? The answers can be seen in Mirror’s Edge for iPad ($15), which appears to be the product of a last-minute EA decision to modestly upgrade its announced but unreleased iPhone version of the game into something a little flashier. Mirror’s Edge here is not the console title in any way, shape, or form, but it uses 3-D artwork to preserves the basic feel of the original game, despite stripping its action down into simpler 2-D side-scrolling running, jumping, and fighting. You’ll see the polygonal detail mostly in modest camera shifts as you run, and during close-ups at certain points in the action.
Virtually everything you do in the iPad version of Mirror’s Edge is swipe-based: swipe to run, swipe to jump, swipe a couple of times to wall jump, swipe to jump kick, disarm a gun-wielding opponent, and so on—all you need to do is time the swipes properly, and choose vertical and horizontal swipes based on the situation. Yet somehow this simplified control scheme actually works most of the time, letting your character Faith vault through the air, run on signboards, slide under obstacles, and reduce impeding police to quivering piles on the ground. Collecting messenger bags helps you rack up points, and gathering badges unlocks wallpaper—unfortunately low-resolution—to display on your iPad’s Home or Lock screen. Music, many of the 3-D backgrounds, and much of the fluid parkour feel of the original game have survived the port intact; characters similarly look better than one would expect given the power of iPhone- and iPad-caliber graphics hardware. Could Mirror’s Edge be better, complete with gunplay, more dramatic 3-D camera work, and action? Yes. But for an iPad game, it’s really impressive, and only a $5 bill too expensive for what you get.
Tapulous’s Tap Tap Radiation (Free) is an ad-sponsored sequel to the company’s popular series of Tap Tap Revenge games. The Revenge games had you tap along to the beats of songs, including free and purchasable tracks, following balls as they slid down lines towards circular pads that had to be hit in the correct rhythm. Now the lines are gone and the pads float around the center of the screen as balls zoom diagonally left, right, or directly downwards; you tap the pads as the balls overlap them. Interestingly, since the pads float, the game can shift them to different heights, challenging you to move your fingers all over the iPad’s surface rather than just at its center or bottom—a fun but not radical addition to the prior formula. You can still get 16x point bonuses by properly tapping on a series of specially marked star balls, as well, and you’re scored based on how many taps you correctly get out of the total possible number required at each of three or four difficulty levels per song. Innovations found in more recent Tap Tap titles, such as four- and five-pad challenges, are not part of the base game here.
The graphics, more than anything else, are the big new draw with Tap Tap Radiation. Behind the translucent pads is now a starfield with a glowing cosmic center that flashes to the beat, and if you continue to play well, the background shifts to a more powerfully glowing—radioactive, even—version that you won’t want to stop seeing. Tapulous includes five songs with the initial download, plus over 30 additional free tracks as a single download, most from unknown artists.
A store offers additional track packs from better-known performers, complete with different skins, if you’re willing to pay for them—oddly, the game doesn’t display prices (typically 50 cents per track, bundled) unless you click the “Purchase Now” button. This is just one of a few little issues that needs to be addressed in an update; Radiation also and more unfortunately begins by putting you through a username and e-mail address login sequence that has no back button, requiring you to quit the app and begin again if you make a mistake. This is an unwelcome start to a nice enough free game; we hope that Tapulous will give this title a bit more attention, polish, and diversity of both gameplay and free background art soon.
Electronic Arts’ iPhone version of Tetris handily surpassed the earlier and less expensive Click Wheel iPod version, adding fun new features that led us to support its higher $10 price point. Now EA has returned with Tetris for iPad ($8), a right-priced remake of the iPhone version that make several improvements to the earlier release. Most obvious is the upgraded artwork, which remains semi-cartoony and essentially just boosts the resolution to fill the iPad’s 1024×768 screen—vertically only. Next is an on-screen joypad that legitimately improves the game’s control, removing the need for swipe gestures to move and rotate blocks, a feature that frankly should be enabled as soon as possible after you turn the game on.
Additionally, an additional classic Tetris song has been added, along with an “endless marathon mode.” These are appreciated but relatively modest tweaks to a 20-year-old puzzle game that really needs no further description than to note EA’s twist, Magic Mode, which adds additional limited-use magic powers to the standard Tetris game if you want to use them. Many more details are in our prior review; it suffices to say that this game is very close to great on the iPad, and reasonably priced, as well.
Based on the title, you’d think that Zen Bound 2 ($8) is a sequel to the iPhone and iPod touch title Zen Bound that we reviewed last March. It sort of is, and sort of isn’t: the gameplay remains almost unchanged—read the original review for all the details—seeing you perpetually turning wooden objects in the center of the screen to wrap rope around them, with the same objective on each stage—cover as much of the object as possible with rope. Moreover, the objects are familiar—the now over 100 levels include ones that were carried forward from the original game’s 76—but there are additions, now split into nine different trees. One small gameplay twist, “paint bombs,” adds little balls to the middle of ropes, letting you cover a portion of each object without actually touching all of its surface area with rope. And the relaxing soundtrack has doubled in length from 22 minutes to 45 minutes.
What most players will notice, however, is the visual upgrade, which sees the textures and backgrounds boosted in detail, and even better shiny lighting for the paint that splashes across the wooden object surfaces as you wrap the rope around them. Polygon counts haven’t gone up noticeably, however, and the frame rate is a little below where it needs to be, such that turning objects in 3-D space still doesn’t have the complete plausibility it could if rendered with greater smoothness. Zen Bound 2 doesn’t feel so much like a sequel as a larger and more detail-driven version of the original that could have been offered as an In-App upgrade; it might be worth waiting for a price drop and some rendering engine improvements before jumping in on this one.
Gameloft’s Dungeon Hunter HD ($7) is a higher-resolution version of its forced 3/4 perspective overhead hack-and-slash game, which borrows initial inspiration from Atari’s classic Gauntlet series but relies far more on RPG elements and storyline with less emphasis on action. Long loading times are a bummer, and the simple character models aren’t going to win any awards on a screen this big, but the backgrounds, music, and scope of the adventure are all pretty nice. More and better combat would improve a sequel.
By comparison, Chillingo’s Sword of Fargoal Legends ($8) is a fairly miserable, hugely overpriced overhead dungeon exploring game with 2-D graphics and extremely simple audio that look to have been only barely upgraded from the days of 8-bit computers. You control an adventurer who plods through foggy levels looking for treasures, weapon and defense upgrades, and enemies to kill, swiping to move and pressing a context-shifting button to alternate between opening chests, picking up items, and going up or down staircases. Levels are randomly generated for diversity, but based on very plain building blocks, and fights involve you sitting around and watching as points are deducted from you and your enemies. Fargoal was barely worthy of a small iPhone screen; asking $8 for this poorly upscaled version is almost ridiculous.
Previously released as Cash Cow for the iPhone, and still sold as a separate iPhone/iPod touch app for $3, Cash Cow Deluxe ($5) from Chillingo is a tile-matching game with charming differences: the tiles you match are primarily coins, and you complete levels by turning small change into dollars. This is accomplished by touching five pennies to make a nickel, nickels and dimes to make quarters, and quarters to make dollar bills, which then go towards your goal of buying items to beautify a burnt-out farm. Between the challenge of racking up cash through this screen, bonus stages that let you tilt the iPad to deposit extra coins into a milk jug, and a simple “buy and place items” interface to build up your farm—the weakest part of the game—Cash Cow Deluxe is actually a fun title.
The iPad version benefits primarily from high-resolution graphics, which are better than the typical drop-and-match puzzler, and complemented by an upbeat country-pop soundtrack that keeps the energy level high. Intermission scenes and bonus levels break up the standard matching stages, which evolve somewhat as you play to include different types of matchable items and power-ups, all safe for kids and enjoyable enough for adults. Chillingo’s $5 asking price is reasonable for a game of this caliber; the lower-resolution iPhone version remains available for those who don’t care about the art so much, along with a Lite version to sample the experience.
Several other decent Chillingo puzzle games caught our attention on the iPad, as well. Geon HD ($5) is one, a race against the clock to gather pellets from a 3-D grid, bring them to a goal, and then repeat the process until all of the pellets have been removed from the level—quick completion earns you medals and unlocks more of the 16 stages. You use a joystick to control a cube that rolls from space to space collecting pellets, and can use power-ups to gather the pellets more quickly. We didn’t really get into Geon HD after a few attempts, and the $5 price struck us as a little steep for what’s there, but the graphics and better than chip music audio are solid, albeit only a little better than what might be expected from an iPhone title.
Ice Age Deluxe: Dawn of the Dinosaurs ($5) is a tap-based puzzle game with rendered artwork taken from the movie Ice Age, placing you in control of Scrat the Squirrel as he gathers acorns scattered throughout four environments. Rather than using a joystick for movement, you tap on the screen to direct Scrat to go places and he walks there himself; tapping on objects lets you move them around, removing blocks and filling in gaps for places he couldn’t otherwise pass. We really didn’t give Ice Age Deluxe more than a couple of very brief glances because the indirect controls don’t appeal to us—they’re a lot like Toki Tori, a game from the same developers—but the game is kid-friendly, and Ice Age fans will appreciate the detail in the art, as well as the appearances of other movie characters such as Diego, Ellie, Manny, Scratte and Sid.
Puzzler World XL ($5) uses a bubbly and somewhat distracting interface to tie together a collection of mini-games based on sudoku, crossword puzzles, word search, and others. The standard Challenge Mode breaks each of the games up into numerous and increasingly difficult variants, enabling you to select from any of the 240 puzzles up front—a structure that lets kids gradually improve their skills by going in order, while offering adults the chance to tackle the harder levels from the get go. Hint tokens are issued with regularity to help players progress through some of the more difficult challenges, and despite their repetition, the mini games scale upwards enough to keep the title interesting; over 1000 total games are promised. This is a competent title, and worthy of the asking price, though the menuing UI could use a little work.
Quantz HD ($5) is a sort of weird colored ball matching game that sees you rotating a cube-like shape at the center of the screen in an effort to bring same-colored balls together on its surfaces, using both balls that are loosely held to its sides through gravitational attraction, and ones that are falling towards it like meteorites. The game didn’t quite jel for us, and its menuing system really needs some streamlining, but it’s interesting.
As fans of the latest Sherlock Holmes movie, we were looking forward to trying Sherlock Holmes Mysteries ($3) from Warner Brothers, which includes both role playing and “boxing puzzle” stages, but what we found was a relatively poor attempt at capturing the movie’s excitement and magic. Though the developers have preserved the gray-toned, gritty look of the film, they’ve populated Sherlock Holmes Mysteries with unimpressive characters, tedious investigation and dialogue sequences, and almost moronic tap and swipe-based boxing scenes. The screeches of cats and other bad sound effects merely serve to call your attention to the absence of in-game music. Save your cash; this title isn’t even worth the below-par iPad app asking price.
An odd title, Smiles HD ($6) from Sykronics Entertainment, is sort of like Bejeweled without the fun factor. You’re supposed to make matches of three or more like icons, but instead of swiping pieces to match them, you’re given one piece that can replace any other piece, then need to repeat that process again and again piece by piece until you make all of the matches. Decent music, flat graphics, and boring gameplay contribute to make this game feel like it’s not worthy of even half its price.
Sneezies HD ($5) is an ultra-simple bubble-bursting game where you touch the screen to make colorful floating creatures sneeze, popping their bubbles and causing chain reactions. The goal is to set off so many chain reactions with one tap that you meet a specified objective number that lets you move on to the next level. It’s shallow and barely a free Flash game in caliber; certainly not worth $5 and probably not worth even $1.
There’s very little to say about Solitaire HD by EdgeRift ($1), other than that it’s a very plain jane, inexpensive 2-D version of the classic klondike solitaire game with only the most modest variations: draw one or three modes, different scoring systems, and the option to turn a timer on or off. Apart from the greater level of detail in its cards and plain green felt background artwork, it’s a step backwards from even the most recent Click Wheel iPod versions of solitaire Apple released, lacking customizable card backs, and possessing only the simplest chime sound effects and a plain winning animation. We’ve seen better iPhone solitaire renditions for $1; this one’s notable only because of how few alternatives the iPad has at this price level, at least, for now.
The only sort of interesting thing about Sudoku Duo – Dual Player Sudoku for iPad ($4) from Houdah Software is the basic concept: the iPad is big enough for two people to play full-sized sudoku on at once. So Houdah splits the screen in two halves, vertically only, and gives each person a sorta kinda paper-like board, a pencil and a pen, number buttons, and a hint option with a timer. If two people want to compete against one another, they can; alternately, they can collaborate on the same board, or a single person can play alone on half the screen. There are no audiovisual frills, or extras like the ones found in early iPhone sudoku titles, and thus the price is sort of a reach unless you really want to play against someone else in the same room. It’s a nice enough idea with okay execution.
Two Gameloft titles are barely upgraded versions of previous iPhone releases we’ve already reviewed. NFL 2010 HD ($7) is an updated version of the same-named iPhone/iPod touch title, which received a B rating; the version released for the iPad was nearly identical to its predecessor, sporting hugely blocky character graphics that really didn’t look very good on the large iPad screen. It was so buggy, crashing on initial load and sometimes in the middle of games, that Gameloft appears to have pulled it completely from the App Store.
More stable and still available is Real Soccer 2010 HD ($7), an updated version of the games released by Gameloft as Real Soccer 2009 and Real Soccer 2010. To Gameloft’s credit, this title is closer to a console-quality experience than the more obviously mobile-derived NFL 2010, thanks to considerably better textures, strong crowd noise and voice commentary—all contribute to a nearly EA FIFA-like feel—but the virtual joystick-based controls don’t feel quite right here relative to the smaller iPhone and iPod touch, due as much to the iPad’s footprint as anything else. Wi-Fi and Bluetooth multiplayer modes are included, and the single-player modes are solid, with full season play, a “play as one team’s player” mode, and a penalty kick mode, amongst others.
One of the most surprisingly cool little sports games we’ve seen for the iPad is Chillingo’s Super Shock Football HD ($4), which takes the opposite approach from NFL 2010 and EA’s iPhone-only Madden 2010, radically cutting back the realism, gameplay and character animation in favor of high-resolution textures, 1930s-retro faux teams, and simple action. Players look like wooden pieces that slide down the field as they move, playing out a narrow collection of offensive and defensive plays. In the absence of a joystick, you tap on your quarterback or receiver to pitch the ball, then tap on defensive players to steer them towards blocks or interceptions; the game pauses the action briefly to give the quarterback or receiver a chance to target a place on the field for the ball to go next, allowing for post-receipt lobs.
Super Shock’s textures and snow effects are so cool to watch in motion that you’ll almost—almost—want to look past how few polygons the characters and stadiums use; similarly, once you figure out the controls, you’ll see that the game is a lot simpler than it initially looks from screenshots. This is a good pick for younger and casual players looking for football fun rather than realism.