We make no excuses for this week’s gaming edition of iPhone Gems: after a very eventful last few weeks, this week’s four featured titles could be summed up collectively as slim pickings. Two of them are apps that we’ve been trying for weeks but couldn’t work up the enthusiasm to fully review, while the other two are very recent big-name releases that are underwhelming in execution. We’re expecting something big tomorrow, but couldn’t feature it in this edition due to timing.
If you’re looking for more noteworthy games to check out until then, see our full reviews of Electronic Arts’ Need For Speed Undercover, Gameloft’s Terminator Salvation, and Paramount’s Top Gun. Continue on for this week’s four-Gem roundup.
We’ve watched American Idol, bought some of the artists’ albums, and still tune in on occasion to witness its annual crew of unknown singers working their way up to something approaching stardom. So when we say that we went into American Idol: The Game ($5) by Electronic Arts with an open mind, trust us, we did; if this had been a really good game, we’d have been glad to play it.
But it’s really not, and though that’s not surprising from an Idol-licensed title, it does fall below the standards we’ve come to expect from Electronic Arts—AI: The Game is essentially just a choose your own adventure with a mediocre, Flash-quality “singing” game at the core. You start out by choosing to play as a male or female character, then interact via multiple-choice answers with fellow AI contestants as you work your way from the cattle call initial lineup at a stadium to on-stage performances at the finals. To keep fans of the series amused between the “game” segments, EA includes numerous video clips from the show, including plenty of Ryan Seacrest, plus judging sessions with Simon, Randy, and Paula—no Kara. You’ve probably seen these clips or ones virtually identical to them before, as they’re based upon previously aired material, and that material is mostly the same in dialogue and look from season to season.
Ultimately, what sinks American Idol: The Game is how shallow the play mechanics are. Most of the game is spent choosing from obvious paths—practice the song, hang out at the pool, or go shopping—and accruing “style,” “fame,” and “talent” points that do little more than suggest how far you are through the game. You’re also forced to converse with loons, like the delusional line-waiter who thinks she’s going to win the competition, and the annoying roommate who snores and wants you to hang out with him, plus go through the questionable “excitement” of the results show in text and bar chart format. While an American Idol game mightn’t seem the same without these well-known elements of the show, they’re not the parts people love, and there are better ways to sneak them into an interactive game than forcing you to deal with them again and again in a short period of time.
All of this unspectacular role-playing is interrupted by the simple Flash-class action game, which consists of two things: tilt the iPhone to steer a star through a warbling path of notes that need to be hit, each triggering a second of playback of a pre-recorded vocal track, then occasionally tap the screen for percussion when stars appear. The challenge is simple—hit too few stars and you get fewer votes, subjecting yourself to a higher risk of elimination—and as the game goes on, it’s harder to hit all the notes. You get to pick each song from a list of three choices, including the incongruous “guy singing Material Girl” track, and if you practice, you get to hear the songs twice.
While EA may have been in a difficult situation with the American Idol license—how do you make a great game about a singing competition when the player can’t actually sing, and you’re practically limited to a $5 asking price for the game?—the end result here is far from satisfying. People watch American Idol not for the bad song performances, but in hopes of hearing great ones and discovering one or more promising new artists. AI: The Game is filled with way too much of the annoying, amateurish filler that has made people turn away from the show, and far too little great singing. We’d pass. iLounge Rating: C-.Dig Dug REMIX
At one point in Namco’s history, Dig Dug was one of the company’s best-known arcade games, and even today, there isn’t anything exactly like it. You controlled a character who looked like a spaceman as he moved through underground tunnels filled with weird enemies—dragons and walking mutant tomatoes—and your mission was to use an air pump to snag and then explode enough enemies to clear the screen. Your character could and typically had to dig new tunnels to reach the enemies, who paced back and forth waiting for your arrival, but if you waited too long, they’d find ways to get over to you first. If you succeeded in popping or occasionally dropping rocks on most of the enemies, sometimes others would make their way to the surface at the top of the screen and just run away.
Dig Dug REMIX ($6) offers you access to the original Dig Dug game, presented vertically on screen with your choice of a fake joypad or swipe controls, plus a remixed version with much-enhanced widescreen graphics and additional power-ups. Though the core gameplay remains the same, the remixed title has you grab boots, pump extenders, and other items to increase your power and speed, while facing a more complex array of enemies and boss characters. The new graphics aren’t great, nor is the music, but they’re more interesting than the ones that came before. Control in both of the titles is either swipe-based with a pump-firing button—the better version—or dependent upon a small on-screen D-pad. Neither is as precise as a game like this deserves, but either is workable.
Ultimately, Dig Dug REMIX would have been fine but somewhat underwhelming even as a $5 Click Wheel iPod release, and doesn’t fare much better as a $6 iPhone title. It’s a title for Dig Dug fans only, and like so many of Namco’s other arcade classics would do much better as one small piece of a larger, value-priced compilation than a standalone game. iLounge Rating: C.Glyder