When Apple released the iPhone 3GS, it made few specific claims about the new device’s performance—the new model was roughly 2 times faster than its predecessor, it said, and offered “updated 3D graphics” capabilities that developers could tap into. But what did these vague promises really mean? Clues began to emerge in the form of demonstration videos, including a highly impressive 40-car version of Firemint’s Real Racing, but apart from higher frame rates in existing titles, actual games that used the device’s new capabilities have been few and far between.
With the weekend coming up, we’re taking a brief look today at four titles we’ve previously covered, each with supposedly iPhone 3GS-specific features: AirCoaster 3D, Blue Skies, Rockchinko, and Surroundead. While none of these titles is likely to blow away 3GS owners, and two of them in fact are annoyingly being offered as paid upgrades to the prior versions—a good reason for past buyers to skip them—they’re all worth discussing.
Kudos to Ziconic for continuing to update and improve an application that was pretty cool when we looked at it back in February 2009. Back then, it was called SkyCoaster 3D, and now it’s known as AirCoaster: Game Mode, having added a balloon-popping “Game Mode” to the title as one of numerous free additions over the past five months. Previously, AirCoaster let you create 3-D roller coaster tracks and zoom through them in first-person perspective with different backdrops; the current version lets you customize your cart, the sound effects and music, the backdrop, the track, and even gravity, then the game mode adds balloons that can be touch-popped as you’re moving.
What’s 3GS specific here other than the smooth frame rate is the use of the device’s magnetometer compass for perspective positioning—a feature that Ziconic correctly refers to as immersive. Switch this feature (“Sensor Mode”) on, and AirCoaster lets you turn your head’s position in the game around as you turn the device around, looking up, down, left, or right as you’re riding the track. Previously, you needed to use swipe gestures to achieve the same aim, a feature that remains intact if you prefer it or don’t have an iPhone 3GS. While there’s even more than could be done with this title on the new iPhone, the fact that this new addition and so many others are free provides a very strong incentive to recommend a purchase and supporting this developer’s future endeavors. This is a fun little $1 demo of any iPhone or iPod touch’s capabilities. iLounge Rating: B+.
We reviewed Blue Skies Air Force Academy (iLounge Rating: B-) back in September 2008, having paid $10 for the relatively plain overhead helicopter shooting title. Since then, the game has received some minor graphical upgrades and seen its status bar move from the top of the screen to the bottom, while its price has fallen to a more reasonable $3. This week, developer Rocking Pocket Games released Blue Skies 3GS, a $1 version that adds “per pixel bump mapping and amazing dynamic animated water” to the prior game, essentially a new layer of paint for last year’s title.
That paint is nice, but not worthy of a second purchase. Previously represented with a bland blue texture, and then updated for non-3GS users as shown here, the 3GS water now is more richly colored, has multiple layers of apparent depth, and moves with an animation that approximates the gentle blowing of wind. Other textures also have more believable depth, though the vehicles, their gunfire, and their explosions all remain fairly cartoony, and not especially impressive. Interestingly, the developer’s choice to try and sell the 3GS version separately has had to lead to an App Store warning – “NOTE: THIS VERSION REQUIRES AN IPHONE 3GS. FOR OLDER DEVICES BUY THE REGULAR VERSION OF BLUE SKIES! YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!” In our view, adding the 3GS-specific visual code as a free upgrade would have been a much better idea than trying to sell multiple confusing versions of the same app, but it will be interesting to see whether anyone picks up this game anyway. iLounge Rating: B-.
We covered the Peggle clone Rockchinko back in May of this year, giving the $3 game a flat B recommendation level on account of its gravity-defying gameplay, solid music, and novel power-up system. Today, the game is going for only $1, and a separate version—Rockchinko 3GS Edition—is being sold for $1 as well.
What’s new in this version? Updated intermission screens and text. Slightly faster gameplay. Slightly smoothed-out peg edges. And seemingly nothing else. To say that this doesn’t feel like an iPhone 3GS game would be an understatement—the changes would barely merit a free upgrade of the original version, let alone iPhone 3GS hardware, or an extra dollar. This is still a good game at an attractive price, hence its recommended rating, but as a demonstration of anything in the iPhone 3GS, it stinks. The improvements should have been folded into the prior version rather than split off, and price aside, it wouldn’t be surprising to see purchasers of either the prior or the new version upset by the supposed “3GS” release. iLounge Rating: B.
Last up is SurrounDEAD, which we covered only last month as a very early game that supported the iPhone 3GS magnetometer as a control scheme. Now developer Handheld Games has released SurrounDEAD – EP2: The Shotgun Arrives ($1), which adds new device-agnostic features: a shotgun as an alternate weapon, an “enhanced level structure” and “enhanced zombie behavior,” plus a third control scheme: “D-Pad turn control.”
To be clear, neither the shotgun feature nor anything else save for the compass-based control scheme in SurrounDEAD is actually iPhone 3GS specific, and as we noted in the review of the prior version of the game, the title is “repetitive and shallow… interesting only in that the threat of being munched by the zombies is ever-present.” The use of the compass as a control scheme is actually more trouble than it’s worth, as you’ll need to spin yourself around constantly in real life to see the zombies that are attacking you from your sides and back, and Handheld Games’ addition of a more natural but still not great D-pad style, swipe-based turning control scheme is as much an acknowledgement of the prior version’s unimpressive control options as a feature addition. While the new features add tiny hints of improvement to the prior game, they’re relatively minor—the shotgun shows up in the fourth level and does more damage with similarly bad visual effects, and the changes to the zombies make them a little more menacing, but not much. This is still more an inexpensive curiosity than a true game, but it’s nice to see that the developers are continuing to work on making it more interesting. iLounge Rating: B-.