Welcome to our latest edition of iPhone Gems! This week, we’re taking a look at six titles that are iPhone- and iPod touch-only, unfortunately without integrated universal support for the iPad. As such, none of the titles rates higher than a general recommendation, though there’s one big standout in the bunch. Four of the titles are puzzlers and receive only mini-reviews, while a book with optional 3-D glasses support and a separate 3-D first-person shooter received our added attention.
Electronic Arts’ Battlefield 2: Bad Company is our top pick here, but there are a few other interesting titles below, too. Read on for all the details.
Depending on your past experiences with books, 3-D glasses, and video games, the words “3-D book” may conjure up different preconceptions: The Elements would be one, Grimm’s Rapunzel 3D another, and now See Here Studios is here with a third: 3D Storybook – The Wrong Side of the Bed in 3D! for iPhone ($2, version 2.0). The concept here is to present a traditional book with an option to use red/blue stereoscopic glasses, which See Here will sell you for roughly $1 per pair if you don’t have them already.
Putting the 3-D portion aside for a moment, The Wrong Side of the Bed is a 24-page illustrated children’s book with a looping music track, optional voice narration and the ability to use pinch or tap gestures to zoom in or out of each page. The story follows a boy named Mott, who awakens one morning on the “wrong side of the bed,” discovering that gravity’s pulling him towards the sky rather than the ground, though no one seems to notice but him. Most of the pages have been drawn to be viewed upside down and right side up, which is easily accomplished just by turning the iPhone or iPod touch around whenever you want. Though short, this a good enough book to be worthy of a $2 asking price on the merits of its 2-D content alone.
Our feelings about the 3-D content were mixed. While using the glasses with the app’s optional 3-D mode does make parts of certain images pop out, the 3-D effects are often mild, less three-dimensional than just flickery at the edges; this is a prime example of why red-blue glasses are third- or fourth-best for rendering objects in 3-D. In other places, however, closer objects do appear to hover above backdrops, and shadowed areas look further back than brighter ones, creating more convincing and occasionally interesting 3-D effects. Given the current debate over the safety of 3-D glasses for children under 6, and the fact that this story is best-suited for audiences around that age, we’re glad that The Wrong Side of the Bed works as well in 2-D as in 3-D. Consider the glasses strictly optional if the story appeals to you. iLounge Rating: B.
Combined with a crazy number of other game and accessory releases, the sheer ambition of Electronic Arts’ Battlefield: Bad Company 2 ($5) has kept us from fully reviewing one of the most console-like first-person shooters available for the iPhone and iPod touch—until now. Based on the console title of the same name, Bad Company 2 is a 14-level, action-intense title that has a lot in common with Gameloft’s Modern Combat series and Nintendo’s classic FPS Goldeneye. While the graphics rarely push Apple’s pocket hardware to the degree found in Gameloft’s best Retina Display-optimized titles, and there are issues with the controls, Bad Company 2 does far more right than wrong.
If you’ve played any of the other first-person shooters from the App Store, you have a good idea of what to expect here: dual joystick controls with an optional fine-aiming gun sight, multiple guns, grenades, and some diversity in missions—one has you carry and trigger tower-toppling explosives, while others put you in control of vehicles such as a tank or a helicopter. The single biggest draw of this title is the length of the missions, which can individually take 30 minutes to complete, with limited ammunition and varying distances from targets steering you away from merely shotgunning your way through each level.
EA has done almost as much as possible to make the walking, driving, and flying experiences feel console-smooth on pocket devices, and the play mechanics shift a bit due to differences in your guns: steering a tank, turning the turret and firing huge rounds is a real change between rifling your way through forest camps, or sniping enemies off of snowy military bases. Melee options—sneaking up on and knifing soldiers—provide stealthy alternatives to blasting your way through the game’s levels, too. On the other hand, a bunch of the weapons are variations on the machine or submachine gun, and it doesn’t seem to matter much which one you pick. Point-blank shots that seem like gimmes generally don’t even knock enemies back, and sometimes miss despite long odds.
Though Bad Company 2 does a pretty good job of setting up scenarios that feel like real battlefields and challenging you to walk, crouch, and shoot your way through them without dying, the controls could use a bit more work. Due as much to the need for virtual controls and EA’s preference for minimizing their on-screen presence as anything else, your sense of where fingers should and shouldn’t rest is underdefined, leading to accidental button presses, missed targeting opportunities, and extra deaths. And then, the game also largely omits in-game music in favor of adequate sound effects and voice work, leaving the game’s spacious multiplayer maps feeling unnaturally quiet, and EA doesn’t include high-resolution iPad support. Overall, EA and original developer DiCE deserve commendation for what’s here, but a little extra polish could have made this game even better. iLounge Rating: B+.
We’re only briefly reviewing the other four titles in this roundup, though each may appeal to its own group of players. Big Blue Bubble’s Burn the Rope ($2/$1, version 1.1) leverages the work of past App Store releases Blaze Fire Puzzle, Cut the Rope, and Helsing’s Fire to create a familiar but new-ish puzzle game with 96 levels. Here, you’re given a wick that can be lit wherever you prefer, starting one or more flames burning from the initial point of contact; it’s then up to you to burn as much of the wick as possible. As with Blaze, you need to tilt the puzzle to guide the flames to light up an object; like Helsing’s Fire, the color of the flames eventually matters, and the name and cute factor are both inspired by Cut the Rope. To Big Blue Bubble’s credit, the game gets smarter and more challenging as the levels go on, ramping gently in difficulty as you learn to change the color of your flame and burn enough of each wick to move on to the next level. But the levels are repetitive enough in gameplay, visuals, and music that you won’t want to play extended sessions; it’s good to pick up and put down for short periods. For the low asking price, this is a good little puzzler, but name aside, it’s not going to light the world on fire. iLounge Rating: B.
Lazrhog Games’ new GeoSpin ($1, version 1.0) has an interesting concept in its favor: each of he 33 levels presents you with a spinning polygonal object made from colored triangles, squares, pentagons and hexagons; you swipe to rotate the object, then drag matching shapes to each of its exposed surfaces until only a wireframe is left. There are bonuses for matching pieces and colors in certain orders, and energetic futuristic music keeps the game feeling upbeat despite the repetition of the gameplay; increasingly complex objects demand faster and more accurate matches before you run out of time. While the flat-shaded, cartoony objects could really stand to be more interesting—and have more compelling background artwork, say nothing of additional stages and a stronger theme (think the hacking sequences in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s The Running Man)—this is another nice little $1 puzzler that has the potential to become better with subsequent updates. iLounge Rating: B-.
Apart from Battlefield: Bar Company 2, there’s no doubt that Spirits ($1, version 1.0.2) by Spaces of Play is the most thoroughly developed title here—a rethinking of Psygnosis’ classic puzzle game Lemmings with dreamier artwork and a greater focus on environmental factors. Spirits places you in a god-like role as little alien-like spirit creatures need to be moved from point A to point B on 40 side-scrolling maps, requiring you to stop and transform individual spirits to serve as guides for the others. In one place, you may have a spirit become a plant-like ladder; in another, it will become a digger, and in another, a cloud to blow other spirits into a circulating wind pattern. Though the gameplay feels very familiar, the graphics and music are top-notch by the standards of this genre, blending glittery particle effects with smoothly animated characters, interestingly shaded backgrounds, and moody ambient music. Secondary objectives, such as collecting plant spores along the way and rescuing as many of the spirits as possible, give obsessive puzzle fans opportunities to replay the levels for extra satisfaction. The deliberate pacing and think first, act later strategy won’t appeal to everyone, but the aesthetics are undeniably polished and many steps beyond what Lemmings and its ilk offered years ago. iLounge Rating: B.
Last up here is Untangle Space Out Pro ($1) by Apostek Software, another simple puzzler. Here, you’re shown an outer space background and presented with a collection of dots joined by lines; your goal is to move the dots so that all of the lines turn blue rather than red, indicating that everything’s in the right place. You’re supposed to be looking at the flattened equivalent of a 3-D wireframe, the lines and balls representing a mess that’s gradually untangled. Succeed and the game makes a squawk sound, for whatever reason saying “Game Over” after each level before prodding you to hit the next button to see another similar but slightly more complex stage. A futuristic song loops in the background as you continue to move through the infinitely generated levels. Though there’s nothing wrong with this title per se, and we actually liked the fonts, music, and concept, the repetitiveness and plain artwork got old pretty quickly. More interesting connecting lines, 3-D presentation, and additional types of challenges could make for a better sequel. iLounge Rating: C.