Welcome to a special iPad-only edition of our Gems gaming column! Today, we’re looking at three recent, eye-popping releases that wouldn’t have been out of place on dedicated game consoles—in fact, one of the games was previously released for Nintendo’s Wii, and another is also available for personal computers. Unfortunately, all three of these otherwise impressive games get knocked down a little from what would otherwise be higher ratings because of their needless separation into iPad and iPhone/iPod touch releases, which is complicated further by two developers’ decision to offer separate full and trial versions.
Each of these games is worthy of checking out if their genres interest you, but Anomaly Warzone Earth HD and Glowfish HD are a little stronger than NyxQuest HD. Read on for all the details.
Anomaly Warzone Earth HD ($4, version 1.0.1) has been described by developer 11 Bit Studios and publisher Chillingo as a “tower offense” game for fairly obvious reasons: it modifies the traditional tower defense genre by letting you choose a path for moving, attacking units to automatically follow through a collection of obstacles within urban battleground settings, then challenges you to keep the units alive as they’re shelled by mostly fixed defenses. By choosing the correct path—modifiable after you’re in motion—you can gather money for upgrades and additional units, deploy a collection of special limited-use items, and collect more of those items by blowing up targets. On the rare occasion that there’s not enough intensity for you in one of the three difficulty levels, a fast forward button lets you speed time up so that the action commences more quickly.
Apart from Chillingo’s decision to release Anomaly as separate iPad and iPhone/iPod touch apps, this is a truly impressive strategy game. You’re quickly forced you to make smart routing decisions ahead of time, modify them when necessary, and constantly keep on top of the challenges your units are facing. As the levels go on, Anomaly forces you to learn how to upgrade, repair, and augment your units in the midst of attacks, balancing defensive and offensive strategies, as well as the need to earn money versus the risk of getting destroyed while doing so. Increasingly alien attackers are shown in believable and devastated city environments, with everything presented from above using just enough camera tilt and sway to show you how three-dimensional the objects all are. Moreover, all of the game’s overlays—icons, text, and indicators of special weapon radiuses—are stylishly designed with wonderful contrast, so everything’s easy to see. By strategy game standards, this one’s definitely a UI and aesthetic standout.
If Anomaly has any flaw, it’s that the levels initially diverge far more in gameplay challenges and voice acting than art and music. As you proceed through the levels, you’ll see only small variations on the same backgrounds and music—both impressive enough that you won’t mind terribly—while the pre-battle voice narration and types of battles continue to change. This is a small price to pay given the quality of the rest of the experience, which would merit a higher rating if not for the separately sold iPhone/iPod touch version. iLounge Rating: A-.
MumboJumbo has made a name for itself by adding a beautiful lacquer of special effects and more detailed art to other developers’ concepts; Glowfish HD (Full) ($3, version 1.0.2) and Glowfish HD (Free/$3, version 1.0.0) are the latest examples of its talents. Borrowing themes and gameplay from Electronic Arts’ Spore and Hemisphere Games’ Osmos, Glowfish HD places you in virtual joystick control of a fish that moves through aquatic environments, rescuing other fish and using them to grow larger and larger. While the rescued fish are tiny, they can either follow the Glowfish character in a line—and be dragged around in a circle to fire projectiles at larger enemy fish inside the circle—or transform into a growing rotating shield that allows Glowfish to bump into equal or smaller enemies. Map and dash-swim buttons are also available to provide you with a view of the entire explored level and a faster way to move through it.
As is always the case with MumboJumbo titles, the artwork in GlowFish HD is gorgeous, now combining beautiful glowing elements with the sort of magical special effects that the company has made its signature. Animation is consistently smooth from object to object, with only occasionally ugly fish taking away from the otherwise wonderfully detailed, flowing character and background art. Pulsing, living coral serves as walls for the 50 maze-like stages, forcing you to find safe paths until you have enough temporary fish followers—or later, persistent helpers called GlowChums—to keep you alive during encounters with other fish, and then to unlock gates guarded by demanding shellfish. Upbeat Philip Glass-like synthesizer music bubbles in the background along with aquatic sound effects, each console-caliber.
Separate iPad and iPhone/iPod touch versions aside, the only thing that will confuse some potential Glowfish HD players further is MumboJumbo’s release of two iPad apps: one is a fully unlocked version, and the other is sold as a demo where you subsequently unlock the full game for the same $3 price. MumboJumbo’s app collection is rapidly becoming so loaded with different variations on the same game names and themes (see Luxor, Luxor: Amun Rising, Luxor 2, and various Luxor HD variations) that it’s begging for simplicity—say, a universal app with an unlock option, or better yet, a fully unlocked universal app at a fair price. Games this impressively polished are definitely worth paying for… but they’re not worth buying twice. iLounge Rating: A-.
Last up today is Over the Top Games/Chillingo’s NyxQuest HD ($3, version 1.01, aka NyxQuest Kindred Spirits), a high-definition version of a Greek-themed adventure title previously released for Nintendo’s Wii console. In NyxQuest, you control the goddess Nyx, who fell in love with the legendary flying human Icarus, and lands on Earth in an attempt to locate him. Though Nyx is initially limited to running, jumping, and floating with her limited wings, she’s quickly aided by the Greek gods—most notably Zeus—who give you the opportunity to control the world around her, brilliantly using touch gestures to manipulate her surroundings. Boxes, fireballs, and other possible obstacles suddenly become ridable objects and weapons in your hands, as you attempt to simultaneously move Nyx through the twelve side-scrolling levels and prevent natural or supernatural forces from killing her.
NyxQuest is a “casual” action game in the sense that the action isn’t terribly intense, nor are the puzzles so complicated or challenging that a player will want to abandon the game in frustration. Rather, Nyx is presented as a very small character within beautifully Greek-themed environments far larger than her body, enabling you to see substantially above and sometimes below her current position. The atypically small but still nicely animated polygonal character models provide a better sense of the obstacles she can jump, fly over, or push through with a god’s assistance; small foes such as harpies dot the otherwise platform-intense levels. Boss encounters break up the platforming action with relatively simple but beautifully animated larger attackers, and you’re given multiple lifebars—plus plenty of hearts to replenish life, and unlimited continues—to complete the quest. Serious gamers should be able to breeze through NyxQuest in a matter of hours, but others will revisit the levels to try and achieve top scores by collecting relics.
As with the other titles here, what sets NyxQuest HD apart from the App Store pack is the level of polish in the experience. Between the detailed polygonal background artwork, the full, hauntingly beautiful soundtrack, and the responsiveness of the controls, Over the Top Games has done a really nice job of creating a console-caliber casual game here; only the modest sound effects, light pacing, and lack of intermission sequences distinguish it from games you would have found on discs only a couple of years ago. While universal iOS compatibility would have made this a better title, what’s here is a good value for the current $3 asking price, and certainly worth checking out if you’re a fan of simple platforming action. iLounge Rating: B+.