Welcome to this week’s first edition of iPad Gems. The tsunami of new and refreshed apps released over the past several days for the iPad has left everyone flooded with options—a good thing, to be sure—so we’ve decided to cut right through the collection and provide you with a highly condensed set of guides to what’s new and good, what’s changed, and what’s worth skipping. This edition covers 22 games we’ve previously reviewed in iPhone/iPod touch form, looking at their just-released iPad updates; full reviews of the prior versions are linked to each review.
No titles are being rated at this time, but we indicate our general impressions for each title below, including several that are sure-fire winners if you haven’t already purchased the prior iPhone/iPod touch games. Read on for all the details.
As a one-dollar title, we really enjoyed Angry Birds for the iPhone, which was right-priced for a simple “destroy buildings with a slingshot and gravity” title with cute art. Angry Birds HD ($5) has higher resolution artwork, the same score, and lets you see more of the action at once—something that was an issue with the smaller-screened version. But the asking price is steep for such a simple game.
Back when we reviewed Gameloft’s Asphalt 5, it was a premium $7 title with impressive graphics but punishing, not very fun difficulty. It’s now $5, and the iPad version Asphalt 5 HD takes its place at the $7 asking point, with obviously enhanced 3-D graphics and new control options. While the HD version is one of the best-looking racers currently on the iPad, the frame rate’s not as smooth as it should be, the music player is given to stop and start fits, and the gameplay has gone from punitive to a little boring. It’s hard to know whether it will receive the post-release tweaks that it needs to become worthwhile, or whether Gameloft will focus its attention on an iPad-optimized Asphalt 6; this one feels so close to great, particularly because of its real cars and detailed backdrops, but so far away because of the pacing of the races.
We reviewed Bugdom 2 for the iPhone back in 2008, and now Pangea Software has released Bugdom 2 for iPad ($10), which essentially redoes all of the iPhone version’s artwork, adds an on-screen joypad for control, and brings the game closer to the Mac original. Due to its grasshopper-in-huge-worlds theme, it’s a good pick for kids, and better than the overly ambitious iPhone game, which tried to preserve too much of the original game’s 3-D platforming and flying action without the controls to make the experience fun. But the price is steep for a 2003 title; it might be worth holding off for a sale.
We liked Cogs so much on the iPhone that we were willing to put up with its screwy In-App Purchase-based level unlocking system which brought the $1 title up to $5 when all the content was made available. Chillingo and Lazy8 Studios have delivered all of the levels in Cogs HD ($5), pricing the game properly this time, and upgrading the graphics to take proper advantage of the iPad’s high-resolution screen. Puzzle fans should consider this a must-grab on the iPad if they’re looking for a challenging steampunk-styled title; it’s perfectly suited to the device’s display and multi-touch controls.
Pangea’s original iPhone Cro-Mag Rally release received a ton of attention because it was one of the first racing games on the platform, eventually falling considerably in price from its $10 start point. Cro-Mag Rally for iPad is, like Bugdom 2, a visual upgrade of the iPhone release that incorporates artwork developed for the earlier Mac version, which debuted in 2000. Tilt controls and on-screen buttons for acceleration, reverse, and power-up use are basically the same, though larger, and the graphics look better. On the other hand, the collect stuff-and-drive gameplay is iffy and feels less impressive on a big screen today than it did on a small screen nearly two years ago. Fine for kids.
Another of Pangea’s ports for the iPad is Enigmo Deluxe ($10), an upgraded version of the 2003 Mac and 2008 iPhone puzzle game Enigmo, which challenged players to move drops of water from one place to another, using puzzle pieces to overcome various obstacles. The iPad version benefits primarily from adding the level editor found in the earlier Mac and PC games, which was left out of the iPhone title; it’s the only iPad game we’ve seen so far to support Apple’s iTunes File Sharing feature, letting you import and export additional levels saved in “.egm” format to share with other players—hundreds of additional levels are included with the initial download beyond the 50 found in the iPhone game. Pangea also enhances the graphics considerably, drawing upon the more detailed art found in the Mac version. If any of Pangea’s games is worth the new $10 asking price, Enigmo Deluxe is it.
We’re big fans of Galcon—the repeatedly updated and improved touchscreen planet-conquering action/strategy game—and the release of Galcon Labs for the iPhone was one that we actively looked forward to seeing, then enjoyed playing. Galcon Fusion for the iPad repackages and enhances the prior titles in a $10 package with eight single-player modes, platform-agnostic online multi-player, and graphics that have been upgraded for the iPad’s screen, derived from Hassey Enterprises’ same-named PC and Mac title. While the sound effects and artwork could benefit from another upgrade, a spacey soundtrack and the size of the iPad’s screen help make the game even more compelling here than on the iPhone and iPod touch.
Last year’s late release of Labyrinth 2 was one of the best on the iPhone—an overhead “move the ball through the maze” game that was enhanced by huge numbers of creative levels. Now Labyrinth 2 HD ($8) makes the levels bigger, includes more of them, and adds more texture detail for an experience that we consider one of the most compelling on the iPad. While this would initially seem like one of the titles that would have been best suited for an in-line upgrade such that iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad owners could have shared the same levels, the big new stages here wouldn’t downscale well to the iPhone and iPod; the iPad version is essentially the same game, plus a lot more. If the idea of viewing your iPad from overhead and tilting it to move a ball around though mazes sounds fun, don’t hesitate on this one.
Affordably priced, Let’s Golf HD ($5) is a visually upscaled version of the cheery iPhone title Let’s Golf, which we loved. Though the iPad version isn’t quite as impressive in an absolute sense—the iPhone one pushed the device’s hardware to its edge with 63 courses, rich colors, and great camera work—it’s the same game with higher-resolution artwork, at a price point that’s hard to argue with. We know developers will eventually do better with golf on this platform, but for now, Let’s Golf HD is as impressive as they come on the iPad.
The iPhone version of Minigore was seriously overhyped, a triumph of cute cartoony style over the substance of what was essentially a very simple dual-joystick overhead shoot-till-you-die game. For a buck, it was fine. Now there’s Minigore HD ($5), which includes a bunch of premium player characters that were previously added to Minigore, more detailed artwork, and a control mode that lets you merely move your character while he automatically shoots whomever’s surrounding him. Worth $5? Not really, but it’s still a cute game, and the substantial voice work helps you ignore the repetitive music.
Our 2009 iPhone Game of the Year Modern Combat: Sandstorm has received a high-definition update in the form of Modern Combat: Sandstorm HD ($7). We loved Modern Combat because it delivered a console-quality first-person shooter experience on the iPhone, surpassing any other title we’d seen at that point in presenting fantastic, believable backdrops and realistic 3-D characters. We haven’t had anywhere near the time we wanted to spend with this one yet, but the iPad version’s graphics have clearly been upgraded from the lower-res iPhone game’s, and a few small control tweaks—two-finger swipe to toss grenades, pinch to use rifle or sniper sight for precision shooting—have been made, as well. If you haven’t tried the iPhone version, this is a must-see; those looking for additional evolutions in gameplay should check out Gameloft’s other first-person shooter, N.O.V.A. HD.
Pangea’s Nanosaur 2: Hatchling was a beautiful but nearly unplayable 3-D flying and shooting game for the iPhone, ported from an earlier Mac game. Nanosaur 2 for iPad ($10) is the same game, upgraded with Mac-like graphics, and left by default with the same somewhat annoying tilt-based controls. It didn’t feel like it was worth $4 on the iPhone, and doesn’t feel like it’s worth $10 here, but to the extent that the larger iPad screen lets you actually see and dodge more of the impressively detailed dinosaurs who are walking around in the large 3-D levels, it’s somewhat more playable.
To the extent that Gameloft could have just upgraded the graphics of its late 2009 release N.O.V.A. and still had a fairly stunning, Xbox-quality clone of Microsoft’s Halo on its hands, it deserves credit for also making gameplay enhancements to N.O.V.A. HD ($10), which adds occasional multi-touch door opening commands, multi-enemy targeting, and some control over grenades to the prior title. We still need to spend more time with N.O.V.A. HD before rendering a final opinion, but it’s safe to say at this moment that if you haven’t played the iPhone version and you like Halo, this is a must-see title on the iPad—one of the most visually and UI impressive titles for the device’s launch. Further optimizations will be needed to smooth its frame rate, though; the high-resolution graphics are only done partial justice by the somewhat stuttery engine.
If you haven’t gotten the picture from Pangea’s other iPad releases, Otto Matic for iPad ($10) is a visually upgraded re-release of an iPhone game that draws upon the more detailed art from a 2000-vintage Mac title. Otto Matic on the iPhone was the company’s best action-platformer, placing you in control of a robot who walks, jumps, and flies through expansive levels while punching and shooting evil, human-kidnapping aliens. The iPhone title’s on-screen joypad and action buttons have been preserved for the iPad, leaving much more space to appreciate the game’s enhanced artwork and tutorial details that appear at the bottom of the screen. Worth $10? Maybe, maybe not, but if you’re looking for a game for kids, we’d pick Otto Matic over Bugdom 2, unless laser guns are off-limits for your particular child.
Given how disappointing Namco’s Click Wheel iPod and iPhone versions of Pac-Man were, it’s perhaps no surprise that Pac-Man for iPad ($5) is a mess as well, once again undone by poor controls. Rather than waste any time discussing this messy port, which doesn’t feel quite right even with a dedicated joystick sitting on the bottom of the screen, we’ll just point you to Pac-Man Championship Edition for the iPhone, which looks even better than this game when it’s upscaled using the iPad’s “2X” button.
Namco’s Pro Pool Online 3 for iPad ($7) is a title that seems as if it could very easily have shared a download with the previously released Pro Pool Online 3 for iPhones and iPod touches. This slightly more expensive version is the same game, and capable of online play with computer and iPhone/iPod touch players alike, but with more screen real estate for its four variants on billiards. Though the resolution is higher on the iPad version, PPO3 looks so indistinguishable from the iPhone game in most regards that it’s hard to picture—part from the opportunity to collect more dollars—why a second release was even necessary.
For $3, Plants vs. Zombies for the iPhone was easily worthy of our high recommendation—a beautifully designed PC and Mac tower defense title with cartoony artwork and a gender-neutral theme, made even better by touch-based controls. The iPad version Plants vs. Zombies HD ($10) combines the best features of the Mac and iPhone versions into a single game, featuring the Mac title’s high-resolution art and the iPhone’s touch-controls, all working beautifully in this version, plus survival modes and one iPad-exclusive mini game. This is another of the rare titles on the iPad that seems fully worthy of its asking price.
Real Racing from Firemint was one of the earliest “unbelievable” iPhone releases, demonstrating that Apple’s pocket devices could hold their own against Sony’s PlayStation Portable games. Though the iPad is capable of much, much more, Firemint’s Real Racing HD ($10) is the iPhone title with higher-resolution graphics and the ability to skin your car with photos or artwork of your choice and making. While it doesn’t make quite the same OMG-quality impact on the big screen as it did on the small one, it has the sort of technical competence that will impress iPad owners who haven’t seen the prior release; a true iPad-optimized Real Racing 2 will likely blow everyone away.
Radio Flare Redux was a very effective audio-visual remake of the prior iPhone 2-D shooter Radio Flare, adding pulsing backgrounds, better music, and more stylish character art. Radio Flare Redux HD ($5) is the same game with higher-resolution artwork and a slightly higher price, now requiring a bit more finger action due to the greater real estate of the iPad screen and your continued need to trace your fingers across all of the enemies who appear to eliminate them. We’d like to see the iPad version’s joypad control option improve a bit, as it shifts to wherever on the screen you happen to place your first finger, but the overall experience of looking at and listening to this game is pretty cool.
Bravo to MobileAge for doing an in-line upgrade of its iPhone title Shanghai Mahjong to the iPad version—still called Shanghai Mahjong ($2)—offering iPad owners the ability to see all of the matching puzzle game’s tiles and backgrounds in higher-resolution detail. The gameplay, the free downloads of additional art, and the simple audio remain intact from the iPod and iPhone version, which has decreased in price since we reviewed and loved it back in mid-2008. A great value overall, and worth grabbing if you like the classic game of concentration.
We reviewed Sparkle the Game just last month, and liked developer 10tons’ take on the better-known match-three games Puzzloop and Zuma. Sparkle HD ($5) is the exact same game with higher-resolution art at a slightly higher price, benefitting somewhat from the larger display’s greater real estate—now you can actually swipe on your cannon to swap between the three colored balls it keeps in its cache, choosing the one you want to shoot into the snaking line that’s approaching your position. Orchestral music that sounds like a mix of themes from the The Untouchables and adventure movies make Sparkle HD feel bigger and bolder than the typical iPad game.
Gameloft’s card game Uno was too expensive at $8 when it first appeared for the iPhone, so it’s a good thing—sort of—that both it and the iPad version Uno HD are both selling now for $5. The only thing that doesn’t make sense is that there’s even a second version, at all: Uno HD is virtually the same game on the iPad as it is on the iPhone and iPod touch, down to the graphics, gameplay, and audio—only the most minor upscaling has been done on the cards and the background art for this device. One new feature, “One Device Multiplayer,” lets four people huddle around one iPad to play the game, while prior multiplayer over Wi-Fi is still offered. Small issues with the touch controls and greater improvements to the audiovisual content merit a post-release upgrade to this title. iPhone and iPod touch owners will likely feel burned by having to re-purchase this title for the iPad given the minor scope of the changes here.
Thousands of additional iPhone, iPod, and iPad app and game reviews are available here.