When Apple re-released a number of iPod 5G games virtually unchanged, but in a format compatible with the iPod classic and iPod nano, it sparked an uproar by forcing customers to pay again if they wanted the same titles to work on newer iPods. With the release of the App Store, this has happened again: developers are re-releasing last year’s titles for the iPhone and iPod touch, but this time some of the games actually include significant improvements that may actually merit new purchases.
Today’s iPhone Gems looks at 9 familiar game titles and lets you know whether the new versions are worth your hard-earned dollars. Most of these titles, except for the first two, have the same names and generally the same features as their Click Wheel iPod predecessors; for the updated full reviews of each title, take a look at the linked pages attached to each of the entries below.
Though its name is different from its iPod Game predecessor Bejeweled, Bejeweled 2 ($10) by PopCap Games is basically the same game at twice the price with a new coat of paint. Some of the post-level special effects lost in the transition from iPod 5G to classic and nano have been restored and enhanced, while in-game graphics have been updated for the iPhone’s screen. You can flip the iPhone on its side to play the game in widescreen mode, or keep it upright for vertical play; the experience is the same in both cases. Music is included and iPod audio pre-emptive.
Apart from price, the only major changes from Bejeweled to Bejeweled 2 are the newer version’s inclusion of Power Gems – bombs created when you match four of the same gem in a row rather than just three, detonating on a follow-up match – plus multi-gem eliminating Hyper Cubes, and touch-sensitive controls, all of which make matching gems easier than in the prior iPod version. You can switch between a countdown timer mode and a count-up timer mode, the former designed to put more pressure on you to quickly make matches, but the gameplay is otherwise the same from mode to mode. Had PopCap not charged such a premium for this title, which was barely worth the original $5 on the iPod and is certainly not worth $10 on the iPhone, it would have received a higher recommendation on account of its better AV experience, but as-is, our rating remains the same; there are now many other similar titles available for the iPhone at lower prices. iLounge Rating: B-.
Bomberman Touch ($8) by Hudson isn’t just the iPod version of Bomberman, reformatted for the larger iPhone and iPod touch screens; for that reason, we’re not rating it today, as it requires more of play-through time. Like the iPod title, you play as a “Bomberman,” a cartoony character who walks through single-screen mazes dropping bombs to destroy obstacles and roaming monsters. Hidden and obvious icons help you make Bomberman, known here as Bomber Jack, stronger and faster as he moves through the mazes.
In the first few levels, there are no exits to find, and the mazes are larger because of the devices’ wide screens; Bomberman Touch is played only in widescreen mode. Cut scenes have been added, as has a save system that apparently records the level you’ve reached, but not the specific stage. Unfortunately, the game feels like it’s harder to control because of Hudson’s implementation of the touch controls, which require you to swipe your fingers on the screen to move around, then press a dedicated bottom corner button to lay bombs; a second corner button is later used to kick bombs. It appears as if the mini-games included in the iPod version of Bomberman have disappeared here, as well.
Brain Challenge ($10) by Gameloft is a re-release of the highly recommended iPod game of the same name, featuring both graphic and gameplay tweaks to the prior “make your brain work faster” quiz and response time title. Gameloft now includes polygonal versions of the game’s male and female brain coaches, and new modes: Stress Test challenges are designed to overwhelm you visually with layers of distracting visual effects, while new mini-games such as Cubes let you rotate the iPhone to move and unite on-screen cubes. One of the Stress Test stages has you swiping cheese-hunting mice off the screen when you’re trying to solve a puzzle; another places leaves and other impediments in front of blocks you’re trying to identify.
There are two major positives in Brain Challenge relative to the iPod version. First, Gameloft has added enough new content to make this game better than its predecessor; it has also made solid use of the touchscreen to create an interface that is better than the one on the prior iPod. However, these changes aren’t enough in our view to fully justify doubling the original price. Had Brain Challenge been a little less expensive, it would have continued to merit our high recommendation, but as a not-quite-sequel to the first game, it shouldn’t be so expensive. That said, if you haven’t tried the iPod version and want a fun set of rapid-response puzzles, this should be right up there on your list of downloadable iPhone games. iLounge Rating: B+.
Bubble Bash ($8) by Gameloft is an almost exact re-release of the same-named iPod game. You’re still playing as one of two native islander characters who shoot colored balls from the bottom of the screen to match three or more of the same balls at the top of the screen.
The biggest change is the artwork, which is now presented vertically rather than horizontally, and slightly more detailed than it was on the iPod; Gameloft has also added in a new Gravity Mode that places your character on an oversized skateboard that can be moved left or right by tilting the iPhone, reorienting the position from which you fire bubbles. Though these changes are positive, we initially didn’t enjoy the new touch-based control scheme, which we at first found harder to use than the iPod Click Wheel to position shots—Gameloft lets you use most of the screen to change the blasting direction. However, if you stick to using a swiping area at the bottom of the screen, the game’s actually easier to play than the iPod version. We think that the prior price was right for this title; you pay for the additional control and art improvements, so our rating remains the same. iLounge Rating: B.
Sold on the App Store as Chess Classics, Gameloft’s Chess and Backgammon Classics ($10) is an almost identical remake of the same-named iPod title, only at twice the price. As before, you get a full chess game and a full backgammon game that can be played in 2-D, fixed 3-D, or simple camera-shifted 3-D modes, here presented solely in widescreen orientation.
Apart from the price, the big bummer here is that Gameloft has actually cut down one of our favorite features from the iPod version: themes. There used to be seven different themes for the chess board and six for backgammon; now chess has only four, and backgammon three dull ones. The backgammon set textures don’t look to have been improved much, either, in the process of enlarging the graphics for the iPhone’s screen. While the gameplay engine remains solid, neither of these games lives up to the standards of what the iPhone can really do, and at this higher price, we’d be very much inclined to look elsewhere. iLounge Rating: C+.
Electronic Arts’ Scrabble ($10) is, like a few of the other games here, basically a no-frills remake of the same-named iPod game at twice the price. Presented solely in vertical orientation, the classic table game shows you the full Scrabble board with the same workmanlike graphics and general concepts as the iPod title; you zoom in on the board when you go in to place tiles.
Gone is the game’s toggle between two types of music, but the point- and round-limited modes are preserved, along with the option to play against one computer opponent or up to three other people via “Pass ‘n Play” handoffs. While the game is easier to play with the touchscreen than was its predecessor, that’s really the only benefit here, and not offset by the higher price level. Unless you’re a real Scrabble fan, we’d pass. iLounge Rating: C+.
Unlike Electronic Arts’ Tetris, which received a major gameplay and visual overhaul for the iPhone, its translation of Sudoku ($8) takes the same strategy as Scrabble: keep everything the same as the Click Wheel iPod version and charge more. As we noted in our iPhone Sudoku Gems roundup, EA’s transition screens and music have a wonderfully Japanese look and sound, but there’s no user customization of the experience to match the best other Sudoku titles we’ve seen. Consequently, you’re stuck with a clean but single on-screen grid arrangement with one font, plus button-pressing, versus Gameloft’s cool 16 fonts, 14 backgrounds, and 11 songs—all sold for $5 versus EA’s $8.
EA’s Sudoku continues to offer a newspaper puzzle solver, easy mini markings for square possibilities, and an easy to understand interface. Five levels of difficulty are included, the latter two unlockable, and an error checking mode can be turned on or off. You can also tap a button or shake the iPhone to show all of the possible options, a feature called Auto-Fill Helper. Overall, this is a nice Sudoku game thanks to its Japanese theme, but you can do better for the price on the iPhone. iLounge Rating: B.
Apple has used the iPhone’s release as an opportunity to substantially overhaul its original iPod 5G poker game Texas Hold’em into a better version for the same price. While the new version isn’t any more fun to play than the original—you’ll either like or dislike this gambling-heavy, card-limited version of poker pretty quickly—the graphics, music, and multiplayer modes have received very substantial overhauls.
On the graphics front, there are new backgrounds and countries for 10 stages, better-digitized and -animated characters, and profile information. Apple has also improved the audio, replacing not only the honky-tonk introductory song, but also the in-game stage music and sound effects. More interestingly, there’s a new two- to nine-player multiplayer mode that depends upon the iPod touch or iPhone’s Wi-Fi network connection—we tested it using both devices—to create a simplified, virtually animation-free widescreen version of the game. On a positive note, it’s cool to have the ability to wirelessly play cards with someone else, but Apple’s multiplayer visual interface leaves something to be desired: thanks to tiny on-screen character icons, you can get a few dogs or aliens to play poker together, but you can barely make out their faces.
Give that it represents a big improvement over the prior version and doesn’t jump in price, Texas Hold’em merits a higher rating on the iPhone than it did for the iPod touch. We’re still not huge fans of this style of poker, but there’s no doubt that this is an ever-improving alternative to playing the real thing with cards and chips. iLounge Rating: B+.
Out of all the revised Click Wheel iPod Games we’ve tried on the iPhone, Electronic Arts’ Tetris is definitely the best. Unlike Scrabble and Sudoku, which the company ported with little thought or attention to the iPhone platform, Tetris has received a huge overhaul from the original iPod game. The Tetris well is now bigger, more detailed, and more colorfully framed than before, with cool little touches of animation during level-to-level transitions; similarly, the music is better, more upbeat, and interestingly composed. We miss the original Nintendo Game Boy Tetris’s user-selectable music—a hint of the best old tune appears in a nicely animated introduction to EA’s iPhone version—but what’s here is actually quite good.
The big news here, however, isn’t audiovisual; it’s the gameplay. EA should really have considered christening this title with a new name like Tetris Touch, as it’s a few steps beyond the original game in terms of interactivity. You can play the classic block-dropping game as everyone knows it, or you can enter Magic mode, where a collection of new touchscreen-friendly powers have been added to the game: one transforms the whole board into bubblewrap to let you pop problematic blocks, another lets you draw the block of your choice to replace whatever’s currently dropping, another lets you shake the iPhone to eliminate empty spaces, and still another drops wrecking balls around to crush whatever you shake them into touching. These tricks add a lot of fun to the classic Tetris formula, and a Holding area—a place where you can store one block for deployment at a time of your choice—further improves the experience.
If there are any issues with the new version of Tetris, they’re two: the touch controls and pricing. EA’s gesture-based control over the blocks works wonderfully most of the time—better than the ill-fated original version of Tetris for the iPod 5G—but there are times when you’ll accidentally quick-drop a block when trying to bring it down gently, thanks to overly similar finger motions that should be differentiated. Additionally, the $10 price remains pricey given the range of great $5 iPhone titles out there. But given how much EA has done to really make good use of the iPhone and render a once-great title even better for this device, we think the premium here is as close to worth it as we’ve yet seen. The new version of Tetris is highly recommended. iLounge Rating: A-.
Click here for our earlier editions of iPhone Gems, featuring all sorts of interesting games for the iPhone—and soon, much more.