Welcome to this week’s edition of iPad Gems! Our latest roundup of games is focused primarily on titles for Apple’s tablet, though each of the titles either includes iPhone/iPod touch support or sells alongside a similar standalone app for that purpose—the former is obviously strongly preferred.
Our top pick of the bunch is Pirates vs. Ninjas vs. Zombies vs. Pandas, an amusingly named rival to Rovio’s Angry Birds. We’ve also published standalone reviews today for Back to the Future Ep 1 HD and Gameloft’s Starfront: Collision. Read on for all the details.
Thanks to the success of Rovio Mobile’s Angry Birds and PopCap Games’ Plants vs. Zombies, clones and “if you liked them, try this” titles have been steadily increasing in numbers over the last year. Pan Vision’s Pirates vs. Ninjas vs. Zombies vs. Pandas ($1) is an unapologetic attempt to appeal to fans of both games, but primarily Angry Birds, by bringing a wider variety of characters and play modes to the same game we’ve played before. The core of this title and Angry Birds is the same: you fire a slingshot at structures made from bricks and other objects that collapse upon enemy targets below, and complete each physics puzzle level by eliminating all of the targets, preferably in as few shots as possible.
Here, and as the long title suggests, you’re given a handful of different character types to use together to defeat one type of enemy: five of the six initial modes are called “Everyone vs. Pandas,” “Everyone vs. Pirates,” “Everyone vs. Ninjas,” “Everyone vs. Zombies,” and “Santa Ninja vs. Panda Claus,” each making clear who the enemy targets are likely to be, while ending the level if you accidentally hurt any allies who might be on the screen. There’s a sixth mode called “Football Sunday,” which lets you use a mix of pandas, pirates, ninjas, and zombies against football players; a seventh mode is listed as “coming soon.” Each mode has 10 to 15 puzzles with the prospect of scoring up to three stars based on performance; most are locked until you have earned 15, 30, or 45 total stars, which feels entirely fair.
While Pirates vs. Ninjas vs. Zombies vs. Pandas uses a different and only modestly less satisfying swipe and fire mechanism than Angry Birds, it offers gameplay versatility that outstrips Rovio’s design. Though an upcoming update promises additional content, there are already nine different types of pandas, pirates, ninjas, and zombies to choose from, some merely dumb bullets while others have intriguing redirectional abilities that make the Angry Birds seem tame. Pan Vision also lets you reorder the projectiles in your queue so that you can choose whether to use a certain type of shot early, in the middle, or near the end of trying to topple obstacles. Together with the very Rovio-like artwork and music, which switches with every mode to reflect the natural environments of the enemies you’re targeting—pirate ships, bamboo gardens, football stadiums—this feels as much like an Angry Birds sequel as a rival company could achieve without bringing birds or pigs into the equation.
There are some small hiccups. Besides the derivative nature of the gameplay and graphics, and the comparative lack of charm relative to Angry Birds, PvNvZvP occasionally pauses for a second when figuring out level-ending conditions such as an accidental collision with a friendly character, and we did experience a couple of crashes along the way, as well. The game’s introductory video is longer and a little more amusing than the one in Angry Birds, but depends upon YouTube for streaming—actually a smart workaround, though one that leaves the game bare if you’re not near a network—and there are unfortunately separate iPad and iPhone/iPod touch versions, just like Angry Birds, despite substantially overlapping content. But the game’s $1 price on each platform and overall value for that price mitigate these issues. Until Rovio gets a proper sequel to Angry Birds out, this is a title we’d definitely recommend as a time-filler, and with additional work, Pan Vision will have a marquee-quality franchise of its own, assuming it can fit all the words on to the marquee. iLounge Rating: B+.
Because we’re not willing to blow another $9 to unlock the full version of this iPad-only re-release of the 2009 game Ridge Racer Accelerated, what follows is not a full review of Ridge Racer Accelerated HD ($9, version 1.0.0), the latest dump of a game Namco has deposited in the App Store. Instead, it serves only as a gravestone to remind us and you of the prior iPod touch and iPhone version’s profoundly disappointing execution, which effectively wrecked the classic, popular Sony PlayStation 3-D racing franchise with a sloppy port and cheesy in-app purchase system.
Rather than just fixing the game with iPad support as a service to the franchise’s fans, Namco instead decided to release a standalone version that—despite the name and iPad-only design—doesn’t even bother to format all of the graphics for the tablet’s 9.7” screen, or smooth its performance for its improved graphics processor. Frame rate stutters found in the original game remain here, now with controls that float in the middle edges of the screen rather than at the bottom corners. The resolution has received an upgrade, looking closer to a PlayStation 2 game than a PlayStation Portable one, but the textures and animations remain underwhelming. Rather than reformatting the in-game menus for the iPad’s more square screen aspect ratio, Namco just uses the black bordered space to slip a banner ad into the mix. Nice.
Though Namco is giving away the app while keeping almost all of the content save for time trials locked behind a $9 paywall, we wouldn’t even advise you to grab the free demo; it’s still a major disappointment, and certainly not worth spending the cash to unlock for the first time, say nothing of re-downloading the levels we previously bought on the iPhone and iPod touch just to see them on the iPad. As the old saying goes, “fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.” With titles like this, Namco is making fools of all of its customers. iLounge Rating: NR.
Napoleon Games’ Dot 2 Dot Cosmic ($1) is beyond simple: a connect the dots game with a starfield theme, creating faux constellations by offering players the chance to swipe from one star-shaped dot to the next until a large graphic appears on screen, generally with additional details that weren’t directly on the star-to-star path. Properly targeted at kids aged 3-7, Dot 2 Dot Cosmic features options that let you activate additional “which dot’s next” clues such as sequential numbers or letters, or instead rely solely on sets of glowing stars to make each additional connection.
While we liked what’s in Dot 2 Dot Cosmic, we had problems getting the app to save progress, such that reloads brought us back to a completely locked catalog of puzzles we’d previously completed. We also noted that the app restarts the 30 relatively easy puzzles in a loop, rather than randomizing them for a more fun “pick up and play” experience for kids a la Darren Murtha’s Shape Builder. What’s here is a good start for a $1 app, but more puzzles and some extra work on the back end will make this title even better. iLounge Rating: B.