Rather than waiting until next week’s Gems column to tell you about three recent, interesting iPhone and iPod touch game releases, we wanted to put out a brief second Gems edition this week to show you what we’ve been playing. These three games are as different as can be—an overhead zombie blaster, a boxing game, and a plant-growing puzzler—but they’re all $1 at press time, and each good enough to merit our general recommendation at that price level.
The best of the three titles is Alive 4-ever. Read on for all the details.
First, there was iDracula. Then, there was Minigore. Now, there’s Alive 4-ever ($3) from Meridian, the latest overhead shooting game to give players two virtual joysticks and a rapid-fire quest to take out monsters on flat maps. Whereas iDracula’s visual theme was gothic, and Minigore’s was cartoony, Alive 4-ever’s is more realistic—apart from the whole “you’re being attacked by zombies” nature of the gameplay. You control a character armed with two guns, one unlimited and powerful, the other limited, slower, and weaker, and walk around an oversized room putting bullets into as many zombies as possible; just like iDracula and Minigore, you control almost all the action by walking with the left joystick and shooting with the right. Up to four people in the same room can play at once through a Bluetooth mode.
The good news is that Alive 4-ever has substantially greater depth and more impressive graphics than iDracula and Minigore did upon their releases; it still doesn’t feel like a complete game, but given the price, that’s somehow a little more excusable. You blast and blast at targets who try to swarm you, becoming more diverse and interesting as the stages progress, eventually including everything from slow-ish zombies to faster ones, fat ones, exploding ones, and zombie dogs. Pure shooting missions are mixed in with rescue-the-person and retrieve-the-item missions, using defined safety zones and an extra button that lets you pick up and drop both walking survivors and otherwise immobile briefcases that have been scattered throughout the almost entirely samey levels. When you’re not progressing in a linear fashion through the missions, you can upgrade several characteristics, use accumulated cash to buy better weapons from a cache of 16, and go back to prior missions to achieve secondary objectives. If the levels themselves were more diverse, or weapons were scattered around the levels as in iDracula, we’d be more excited, but the presence of occasional boss encounters is a nice break.
What works the best in Alive 4-ever is the artwork. Meridian has given the game’s monsters a surprisingly realistic set of animations, as well as some impressive blood splatters, which make up somewhat for the fact that the backdrops are dark and too often provide too little contrast with your character or the zombies. The audio is quite good, as well, with growling sound effects, decent enough gunfire, and music that’s a mix up energetic and haunting, depending on where you are within the game. While none of these overhead monster-blasting games has quite the appeal to us of the best arcade games in this general gameplay genre—Smash T.V., anyone?—this one is surely better than most, and every little improvement in this category is welcome. iLounge Rating: B+.
As we’ve said before, the App Store has yet to receive a truly great boxing game, but Handmark has taken the genre one step forward with Down 4 The Count ($1), a 10-opponent first-person boxing game that has more personality than most of the other titles we’ve seen in its genre, though it’s missing the gameplay and other audiovisual X-factors that could easily have taken it into the A category. You control an anonymous boxer who squares off against a variety of legitimately different fighters—not just reskinned generic characters—who start out relatively simple, and evolve into more interesting personas with different sorts of moves.
Your first opponent, Banker Bob, is little more than a punching bag who’s resilient enough to stay up if you don’t learn to manage your punching and fatigue levels; if you keep tapping the screen to jab or swiping the screen to cross, your punches will quickly become ineffective and his lifebar will increase rather than declining. Knock him out and you’ll move onto a zombie character who punches and spits a green gel, then Samurai Sake, who wears a zen blindfold and fights with both fists and powerful, quick knockout waves. Down 4 The Count doesn’t have quite the same balance or polish of Nintendo’s Punch-Out!! series, but it tries, and heads in generally the correct direction: your opponents give you little signals before they’re going to attack, you can wear them down through either timing or strategic punching, and proper play gives you a Fire Punch that can be used for a knockout blow. The art and animation for the characters is all 2-D but pretty decent—Super Punch-Out!! like—with occasional exceptions that will make you wish for a few extra frames and a little more pizzazz.
To the extent that Down 4 The Count has some fairly obvious omissions—weak pre-fight, mid-fight, and post-fight intermissions, a poor “training” mode that never quite feels right, somewhat threadbare backgrounds and mushy sound effects, plus gameplay that doesn’t feel as tight as it could be—it’s not the ideal $10 or even $5 game. But right now, it’s selling for $1, and so strong by reference to other $1 boxing games that some users will be completely wowed by the value for the dollar. Given that this is just an introductory price, with final pricing still yet to be specified, our level of excitement is held a little in check; that said, those looking for a fun little boxer will find this to be good enough for now. iLounge Rating: B.
Popcap released a game some time ago called Plants Vs. Zombies, brilliantly combining the disparate worlds of plant growing and zombie killing. Green Fingers ($1) from No Monkeys is Plants Vs. Zombies minus the zombies—a charming but simple little game where you go round after round cultivating five flowerpots from items that drop from the sky. Your goal is simply to keep up with the items as they fall, making sure that each of the plants receives only the item it is supposed to receive at a given moment—typically, first seeds, then water, sun, and in some cases helper bees. You can’t control the falling items, so you need to swipe to move the pots from position to position below the items; if the wrong thing touches a given pot, the game ends instantly.
Though there’s not much more to say about the gameplay than that—part of the reason that Plants Vs. Zombies got right the idea of introducing something more than just seeing and watering action into the mix—No Monkeys has done a legitimately very good job on the graphics and sound. The graphics may all be flat, but they have the same nice shading and cartoony design as Popcap’s designs, plus a bright backdrop, some nice little animations, and a pleasant enough song in the background. Nothing here is exceptionally fancy, but it works. Given the scope of the game and gameplay, it’s appropriately priced at its “special introduction price” of $1; should it become considerably more expensive, we’d be less enthusiastic about the title. iLounge Rating: B.