Welcome to an abbreviated edition of iPhone Gems, focused on three recent releases that we wanted to briefly spotlight as we head into the Christmas holiday weekend. Two games are sequels to previously released and popular App Store titles; the third is from an established developer branching out into a new genre.
Our pick of the bunch is Gameprom’s Jungle Style Pinball, but all three games receive at least our general-level recommendation. Read on for all the details.
Flight Control and The Battle of Pirate Bay have a new competitor: 2XL Fleet Defense ($2). 2XL Games has taken the basic “touch to steer an vehicle from overhead” concept from both games, turned it on its head, and upgraded it with more impressive graphics and sounds. The result is something different, fun, and challenging, but not quite as flashy as it could have been.
In 2XL Fleet Defense, an aircraft carrier sits in the middle of the ocean with a lone jet as its defender. You control the jet as it tries to intercept various planes and boats that are arriving to destroy the aircraft carrier with missiles and torpedos; anything that even gets close to the carrier can launch an attack from a distance, and after a certain number of hits, the ship sinks. Rather than steering your jet, you touch enemy vehicles to move your plane close enough to launch its own missiles, and the second a missile is launched, you can move on to the next target. The challenge is in managing an ever-increasing array of attackers at once, moving quickly enough from attack to attack that your ship takes no hits; after a certain number of successful strikes, a button appears to enable the ship to use one sweeping close range firebomb assault to clear everything out of its midst. After that, you’re back to using missiles until the powerful attack recharges.
Where 2XL Fleet Defense simultaneously goes right and wrong is in its graphics engine, which teases you with pinch- and expand-gesture controls that can zoom in a lot on your ship, but are practically useless due to the crazy number of enemy attackers you need to focus upon by just the second wave, say nothing of the third, fourth, and so on. Keeping your field of view zoomed out, and then panning around a far larger ocean than one screen can contain, is your only prayer of surviving for any length of time—sadly, this means that you can’t see all the detail in the ships, missiles, or explosions. But to the extent that 2XL includes nice music and at least tries to feature better art than some of its rivals, this is a nice title, and worth checking out if you’re a fan of the Flight Control genre. iLounge Rating: B.
Though the iPhone and iPod touch still don’t have their own Pilotwings, there have been a bunch of games that approximate various aspects of Nintendo’s seminal 3-D flying game, and Glyder from GLU Games was one of them. Now there’s a sequel called Glyder 2 ($3), and the game is very substantially the same, albeit with new levels and a little more depth and polish than the first version. You still use accelerometer tilt controls to move Eryn, a girl who glides through 3-D environments collecting crystals, and now have the opportunity to take on race-like challenges with set flight paths laid out with “waypoint rings.”
We had contemplated giving Glyder 2 a full, standalone review on the basis of its zen-like gameplay: it is uniquely dreamy, relaxing, and fun to the extent that you can just relax and enjoy the art of steering your way through the six worlds, collecting items. As before, the single biggest challenge is in maintaining speed and altitude, strategically using dives to build up momentum and air currents to elevate Eryn back into the sky. As you improve in the control department, you might discover additional semi-hidden challenges, or you might just laze around enjoying the scenery. GLU doesn’t do much to encourage you to move forward: the crystals are all over the place to be grabbed, with only scant explanation as to what will happen if you succeed. Find one gold crystal and you’ll be told that getting all of the gold crystals will unlock a secret. That’s about it.
The more we played the game, the more we felt that GLU had again missed the opportunity to give Glyder the structure it desperately needs: you’re dropped into one of the island levels, and basically need to figure your way through any number of open-ended challenges, and once again slowly plot your way over to distant, similar islands. Even by the low standards of most portable games, Glyder 2 provides too little plot, obvious goals, or structure; there are often so many glowing crystals in a given environment that you wouldn’t even see a special place to land if it was flashing right in front of you.
But what’s here is, again, a fine enough title for those who are just looking for an excuse to fly around and collect things. The levels are heavy on Gouraud shading and light on textures, packed with crystals and colors, plus occasional moving objects that vary from waterfalls to rock formations, windmills, and weird little flying animals. Everything’s set to calm, looping music, and the controls are entirely responsive, though not always satisfying: Glyder 2 lets you upgrade your wings and outfit to make item collection, speed boosting, and other things more fun. With an optional linear path through the game, in which moving from challenge to challenge and collecting upgrades was more straightforward, GLU would have something great on its hands; as is, the title just feels a little too unstructured. Fans of the first game will be thrilled by the improvements; others will wonder why anyone’s making a fuss about it. iLounge Rating: B.
Gameprom has released the best pinball games for the iPhone, but has one constant issue: its games are specifically targeted at narrow niches. The first title, Wild West Pinball, was a fun game with an old-fashioned cowboy theme, and the second, The Deep Pinball, offered even better graphics and sounds with a vaguely futuristic underwater setting. The company’s latest title is Jungle Style Pinball ($1), which is—you guessed it—a sorta tiki-Lost-Mayan ruin game with even more stuff going on than in The Deep Pinball, though once again, the theme’s either going to hook you or not.
A few cool things in Jungle Style Pinball: Gameprom wasn’t afraid this time to add some innovative elements to the table, including a portion of the board where hitting a target raises tall totem poles as targets, a “maze” in the center that rotates when other targets are hit and matched, and keys that can be received at one part of the board and installed elsewhere. Visually, the game hooks you by tilting the table’s perspective gently as you tilt the iPhone or iPod touch, drawing your eye to a glass reflection on the circular central maze, and there’s a soundtrack with a slow, mysterious jungle beat to go along with the clangs of bumpers and an awful lot of ticking noises from hitting targets. Apart from the theme, which didn’t really excite us much, the sound effects are the only other way in which Jungle Style Pinball steps down from The Deep: the prior game had so many voice samples that it actually sounded overly chatty; this one sounds comparatively droll.
As we’ve said before, however, Gameprom has its gameplay engine so finely tuned that the only thing we’d hope to see improved there is the introduction of surrealistic elements—walking creatures and the like that couldn’t appear in a real pinball machine but, as demonstrated by Naxat Soft, work great in video pinball. Those seeking a gussied up but otherwise realistic pinball title will find little to complain about in Jungle Style Pinball, particularly for the $1 asking price, which continues the company’s trend of offering way more for the dollar than its competitors. It’s a great enough value that we’d recommend the title even to those who aren’t jungle fans. iLounge Rating: A-.