In addition to our review today of Madden NFL 10, we wanted to bring you an edition of iPhone Gems focused on three recent and noteworthy releases. While we weren’t blown away by any of them, Taito’s classic Arkanoid, Gameloft’s Blades of Fury, and Marc Ecko’s Dexter the Game have all attracted attention over the past week or so, so we’ve covered them below.
Read on for all the details.
If you’d have asked us six months ago whether we thought Taito’s Arkanoid ($5) would appear on the iPhone and iPod touch without conjuring up more than a shrug, we’d have said “no way;” Arkanoid was one of our favorite brick-breaking games, and the first to really evolve the Breakout genre past Atari’s original scheme. Yet there have been so many brick-and-paddle titles for Apple’s devices, including ones made by Apple itself, that Arkanoid comes across as a relatively boring retread—a game that has been surpassed in most ways by more intense and interesting competitors.
As with most of the titles in this genre, you’re presented with a paddle at the bottom of the screen that moves from left to right to hit a ball towards an array of colored bricks that run from the top of the screen through its center; you succeed at completing a stage when all of the destroyable bricks have been removed. Whereas that was the only goal in Atari’s Breakout titles, the original Arkanoid added a number of power-ups, including lasers and multi-balls, to increase the action and reduce the tedium of just swatting the ball endlessly at brick targets; it also added moving enemies who popped out of the walls as targets.
That’s what happens in the iPhone version, complete with some modestly animated 2-D backgrounds and upbeat techno music that frankly seems more energetic than the game that’s being played. As it pulses with energy, you’re left to sit there bouncing the ball back at one or three remaining bricks over and over again, hoping that you’ll somehow wind up on just the right angle to eliminate them and move on. Better games have found ways to drop extra power-ups or add extra methods to eliminate these last-minute hold-ups, but Arkanoid continues to drag them out, and the results are seriously yawn-inducing.
To Taito’s credit, the game is easy enough to control; the company uses Atari’s Super Breakout strategy of allocating a swiping area at the bottom of the screen to control your paddle, and you can tap to fire your too-rarely-acquired lasers. But despite the contribution it made to the genre years ago, we’d really only recommend this title at this point to nostalgia seekers or those who really appreciate the game’s aged balance of paddling. It’s a relic and could really benefit from both visual and gameplay tweaks to remain relevant on a platform like this. iLounge Rating: B-.
We’ve been fans of Namco’s Soul Calibur series of psuedo-3-D weapon fighting games since the beginning—back when it was Soul Edge—so the idea of a similar iPhone game, even a fairly blatant knock-off, struck us as intriguing. What Gameloft has accomplished with Blades of Fury ($7) is essentially that, namely creating a “good enough” duplicate that iPhone and iPod touch users will be pleased to have something, even if they and serious Soul Calibur fans won’t be thrilled by the overall quality of the title.
Whereas Namco’s Tekken games were one-on-one martial arts titles, akin to Street Fighter, Virtua Fighter, and their peers, Soul Edge and Soul Calibur were different: they added weapons to their characters, enabling them to lock blades, nunchucks, and polearms rather than just fists and feet. Using three-dimensional characters with semi-3-D backgrounds, the early Soul games became distinctive hits both in arcades and on home game consoles such as the PlayStation and Dreamcast, but Namco found the games too difficult to translate to portable devices.
That left Gameloft in the perfect position to jump in, and Blades of Fury does so unapologetically, replacing Namco’s plotline and characters with ones that are all but transparently similar. There’s the knight-like Arthur, who fights on behalf of the Vatican, a girl named Elwyn who fights with a chain and sickle, a Voldo-esque Machiavel with knife-blade hands, and others; six characters are usable at the start, with four more unlockable as you play. Everyone, including the final boss, is a pushover on normal or easy difficulty, but more of a challenge on hard or very hard; a story mode adds some additional weak dialogue to the title if you want to read rather than just fighting in the standard arcade mode. There are also Wi-Fi and Bluetooth multiplayer modes, both for local two-player play.
To Gameloft’s credit, Blades of Fury isn’t a bad game. You’re given your choice of an on-screen joystick or D-pad to move your character, and buttons that represent horizontal and vertical attacks, defensive shielding, and a semi-powerful energy attack, with joystick and button combinations that approximate the ones in the Soul series. Grabs are possible, as are defensive dodges in and out of 3-D, and ring-outs on the rare occasion when you can force your opponent off the edge of the fighting platform. Jumps are handled through a combination of the defensive button and up on the joypad, which is a little non-intuitive at first, but fine. Due as much to the on-screen controls as the lack of great depth in the gameplay, Blades of Fury does feel like a button-masher at times, and not a particularly exciting one, but as with the original Soul Edge, the visuals are enough to partially compensate for some of the gameplay omissions.
Gameloft’s 3-D engine is around as fluid and impressive as the original Soul Edge’s was many years ago, with fighters and glow-trailing weapons that are detailed and well-animated enough to pass muster, but not to really blow anyone away by today’s standards; similarly, the 10 backgrounds aren’t quite as epic as Namco’s, but they’re all sort of familiar and unobjectionable. Audio, by comparison, is a mixed bag: the derivatively orchestral music is fine, while the sound effects range from okay to truly bad, with voice samples for the female characters that are worthy of mockery, and typical weapon clanging effects. From an overall aesthetic standpoint, if you set your expectations on “Mortal Kombat” rather than Soul Calibur, you’ll be satisfied, possibly pleased.
Overall, Blades of Fury is a good start to the one-on-one fighting genre for the iPhone and iPod touch, demonstrating that virtual D-pads and buttons can work to provide a fine approximation of the controls people have relied upon for such games for years; that said, the shallowness and button-mashing gameplay here, combined with the weak voice acting and story content, leave plenty of room for Namco or others to step back in and fill gaps left by this title. iLounge Rating: B.
Some people, including iLounge’s publisher, love the idea behind the TV show Dexter—the serial killer-slash-police analyst who was raised to feed his hunger for blood by only killing really bad people. Others of us are not totally thrilled by it, or by Marc Ecko Entertainment’s Dexter The Game ($6), which sees you controlling the title character as he goes on missions to investigate crimes, gather evidence, and then kill the people involved.
The issue is that Dexter mixes fairly monotonous, shallow gameplay with content that—for some of us, at least—will find a bit nauseating. Mission one, for instance, has you plod through a makeshift graveyard tapping buttons to dig up graves, then tape up a plastic murder room, stalk a killer of children, and finally torture him before cutting him up with touchscreen slashes. The storyline is original to the game, but it’s less thrilling than depraved.
Dexter’s single biggest highlight is its 3-D graphics engine, which isn’t the smoothest we’ve seen on the iPhone or iPod touch, but offers a generally impressive level of polygonal graphic detail, particularly in the characters. You’re provided with a joystick to move, a second joystick to position your head, and a set of context buttons to press as situations warrant. Most of the action is very simple—stalking for instance is just “stay away from the guy you’re following so that he can’t see you”—but you can enjoy looking around the environments while you’re moving from objective to objective. Voiceover dialogue is provided by Michael C. Hall, the actor behind Dexter, and there’s some creepy music in the background as you walk around.
The nicest thing we can say about Dexter the Game is that it obviously took more effort and talent to develop than CSI: Miami, another crime show-turned-iPhone title that seemed like little more than a mobile phone game with modestly updated graphics. Marc Ecko Entertainment has a fine engine here, and enough questionable content to sate some fans of the series; it just doesn’t hold enough appeal in terms of gameplay or story to hook those of us who aren’t into the show, and in fact, may do more harm than good in trying to win it new fans. iLounge Rating: B-.