Welcome to a special budget gaming edition of iPhone Gems! Today’s roundup is focused entirely on inexpensive and free iPhone and iPod touch games that are worth checking out—in a couple of cases, as quickly as possible. There’s an overhead shooter that needs to be seen to be believed for the $1 price, a great puzzler, a nice solitaire title, and two other games that might be of interest to different types of players, as well. Several of the games have standalone iPad versions that we haven’t reviewed, chiefly because the iPad titles offer nothing more than support for that single device; we made an exception in one case due to the game’s extremely aggressive pricing.
Our top picks of the week are AirAttack and AirAttack HD from Art in Games. Read on for all the details.
Even though there are thousands of bargains to be found in the App Store, very few games come across as such incredible steals that we’d advise you to pounce on them immediately. Art in Games’ AirAttack ($1, version 1.0) and AirAttack HD ($1, version 1.0) are on that extremely short list, overhead shooting games with such impossibly excellent music, impressive graphics, and solid gameplay that we can’t help but offer each game our highest recommendation. If you’re familiar with overhead shooters, nothing about the concept here will surprise you: you take control of a WWII-vintage fighter and bomber that automatically shoots, leaving you only to steer and double-tap to drop bombs—the latter largely for bonus points. Power-ups scattered throughout the level are augmented by an in-game shop that lets you use the bonus currency you’ve found to buy extra lives and weapons. A settings menu lets you switch over to joystick and alternate touch or tilt controls, but the joystick’s overly sensitive on the iPhone and iPod touch version; the relative touch controls are the best of the bunch given the need to bomb ground targets.
What’s incredible about the AirAttack titles is the quality of what you get for the dollar asking price. Even on the small iPhone and iPod touch screens, which presently lack for Retina Display support here, the quality and scope of the game’s animations and backgrounds feels lifelike—on the iPad, the detail is downright spectacular. Planes fly in twisting, 3-D formations, trains explode as you bomb the bridges they’re on, and dramatic camera shifts let you focus in on boss encounters.
The game’s eight stages are long and reasonably challenging, too—enough for five or so hours of continuous play—plus fueled by an epic retro-techno score that is simply cooler and better than what we’ve heard in games for five times the price. This could easily have been a sequel to Gameloft’s Siberian Strike, a highly accomplished overhead shooter in its own right, but it’s not. Does it need anything else? A single universal download would have been great, but even without it, dropping a buck per platform is more than reasonable. If you like overhead shooters, get thee to the App Store, now. iLounge Rating: A.
GLU Games has published two separate dreamy flying games in the Glyder series, placing you in control of a winged person who needs to fly in 3-D from island to island collecting things while using wind gusts to keep from crashing into the ground or ocean. Inspired by the “virtual band” Gorillaz and album Plastic Beach, Gorillaz – Escape to Plastic Beach ($2, version 1.0) by Matmi New Media is essentially Glyder with guns, considerably shorter but more structured levels, and a slightly harder visual edge. Nestled amidst the cheery colors are crashed planes, rough-looking boats, and bombs that need to be dropped on targets, all items that wouldn’t have any place in the happy-go-lucky Glyder universe, but fit the band’s style just fine. Here, you’re controlling Murdoc in a glider equipped with machine guns, trying to simultaneously grab bonus items, shoot down targets, and fly through colored hoops to avoid running out of time.
The chip-style music doesn’t have the energy or lyrical accompaniment one would expect from the band, and the action’s a little slow-paced and me-too for our tastes; if it wasn’t for the still intermission scenes, it would be hard to place this as a Gorillaz game at all. Consider it only if you’re a real fan of the band or need an edgier take on Glyder. iLounge Rating: B-.
At its core, Helsing’s Fire ($1, version 1.0) from Clickgamer.com/Ratloop is a very simple puzzle game, but as with some of the iPhone’s other bargain-priced gems, it offers a lot of value for the dollar asking price. This cartoony overhead-view telling of the Helsing versus Dracula story places you in control of a torch that shines fancy-looking light into single-room levels, indicating which of the creatures inside you will destroy by dropping potion-bottled tonics. All you do is move the torch on the screen until you’ve cast rays onto each of the creatures you need to kill, then hit a tonic button to slay them. Buildings in the center of the screen can block the light in certain spots you want to avoid hitting. Simple, right?
Not so fast. Dracula’s minions come in multiple colors—and sometimes possess colored shields—so you need to match the correct tonic to the spotlighted creatures, and can’t kill creatures if you run out of tonic. Moreover, if you use the wrong tonic on a creature, it just becomes more powerful. There’s a very limited supply of each tonic, so you can’t make a mistake and survive; each use of tonic needs to precisely target the right enemies—a smart balance that keeps the game challenging and fun. Later stages introduce additional colors, humans who you need to avoid accidentally injuring, werewolves who can be shocked back to humanity, and bosses, with 30 stages for each of three boss-controlled worlds. A fine musical score and some amusing intermissions really help to set the right tone, too. Fans of thoughtfully original and funny puzzle games will be impressed by this neat little game; though it could stand to have Retina Display and iPad graphics support, we’d still call it worthy of our high recommendation given its asking price. iLounge Rating: A-.
Next up is Electric Oyster’s Solitaire Classics ($2, version 1.5), an iPhone and iPod touch card game that has recently been updated to support the iPhone 4. Thanks to the use of what appears to be scanned hand-drawn artwork and deliberately organic card-tossing, Solitaire Classics’ high-resolution cards and backgrounds look nearly photorealistic on the iPhone 4, with the option to turn on or off a player shadow to give the table full of cards a little extra visual depth and challenge. A double-tap lets you zoom in on the details of the cards, which look every bit as believable up close, though the game’s realistic presentation requires everything to be presented in landscape mode, without a cramped or awkwardly scaled portrait alternative. One- and three-card versions of Klondike, one-suit and four-suit versions of Spider, Freecell and a secret unlockable bonus game are included, tied together with a novel user interface that looks like a hand-drawn notepad—complete with instructions for each game.
Novices might well find it useful to be able to pull up these instructions mid-game; frequent players will be less than thrilled with the limited scoring and the absence of further options such as instant completion when all of the cards have been revealed and organized. But Solitaire Classics is otherwise a really cool-looking way to show off the iPhone 4’s screen, and as worthy an upgrade to Apple’s old iPod solitaire titles as we’ve seen for the Retina Display, though it has game-ruining visual glitches—hopefully only temporary ones—on the iPad. A universal version with iPad-maximizing art would be welcome. iLounge Rating: B.
Though it’s nearly two months old at this point, we decided to toss No Monkeys’ Super 7 (version 1.0.2) into this roundup for two reasons—it’s currently free, and as a universal iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch application, it includes support for the iPad’s high-resolution screen. Because the free price is for a limited time only, it’s worth grabbing now. The concept is simple: numbered “discs” float around the screen, and you need to draw lines to merge discs together until the number on top is seven; like Flight Control and similar games, the lines create a gravitational attraction and path for the discs to follow, so you can create loop-de-loops or halting lines to keep unwanted discs temporarily at bay.
Any accidental merger that creates a number larger than seven via addition or multiplication ends the game instantly, while wildcard and subtraction discs help make matches or reduce currently large numbers. Simple music, rainbow-colored high-resolution art—albeit with minimalist backgrounds and animation—and fine gameplay make this worth checking out as a freebie; it’s a fun mix of action and brain teasing that could become great with more amazing aesthetics. iLounge Rating: B.