Welcome to this week’s gaming edition of iPhone Gems. The loose theme of these Gems is color—colorful puzzles in Colorbind and Colorbind Lite, irradiated raindrops in the tap-to-pop title Color Storm, and colorful flute playing and crystal gathering in two Nickelodeon kids’ games based on Dora the Explorer and Diego the Animal Rescuer.
Our top pick of the week is Colorbind. Read on for all the details.
There are more puzzles in the App Store than any other genre of games, and the number of similar releases makes it very difficult to know for certain whether a specific title is completely novel. But Colorbind ($2) from Nonverbal, as well as its free version Colorbind Lite, certainly feel like something new. Colorbind places you in control of one or more colored paper ribbons, challenging you to lay down each ribbon in a manner that connects all the same-colored dots on the screen. You swipe on the ribbon to roll it out further, or backwards on the ribbon to make it roll back; the level ends only when all of the dots have been turned opaque. There are two primary challenges: the ribbon only connects dots when it’s being rolled on a 90-degree angle—you can’t fill a dot if you turn the ribbon on that space—and when there are multiple ribbons on screen, you need to figure out how to make them interact with one another, as vertical strips can be laid on top of horizontal strips, and different rules govern when overlapping ribbons will fill the dots.
Colorbind is not a flashy game: the backdrops and animations of the ribbons are utterly plain, there’s no music, and the sound effects are absolutely minimal. Additionally, the game’s challenge level is significant, ramping up unexpectedly in the middle of the “easy” levels—there are 84 total levels spread across “easy,” “medium,” and “hard” screens, and it’ll take a relative brainiac to finish even the easy collection. Had Nonverbal spruced up the art, added some music, and made the challenge more gradual, it could have appealed to many more prospective players, but the core of what’s here is certainly very compelling: connecting the dots with the ribbons is initially just challenging enough to rope you in, and as you begin to complete the puzzles—unlocked several at a time to let you skip ones that are causing problems—cool patterns begin to form in the simply textured paper strips, leaving the completed puzzles looking like simple works of zen art. The Lite version lets you sample both easy levels and a a few of the medium ones; players looking for a puzzle game with no time limit, very limited action demands, and real head-scratching solutions will find this to be a worthwhile purchase. iLounge Ratings (Both): B.
A major difference between the games available for competing platforms and those in the App Store is polish: indie developers routinely release iPhone and iPod touch titles that wouldn’t have a prayer of showing up on the PlayStation Portable or Nintendo DS. But due to low prices and simple themes, they also occasionally resonate with certain types of casual gamers, and Color Storm! ($1) from Daniel Oliphant is an example: it is, in essence, a more animated version of the bubble wrap-popping games that appeared soon after the launch of the App Store. Color Storm! uses primitive graphics to represent a house under siege from irradiated raindrops, challenging you to move from room to room protecting key items inside by popping the raindrops into oblivion. Like the early bubble-poppers, it has no music, and only limited sound effects that signal the bursting of the raindrops.
Color Storm! can be played with relatively little thought or depth: you’re presented with a flat view of one room at a time, given the ability to pan up, down, left, or right inside, and pinching can zoom in or out of the scene. Tap, tap, tap and the raindrops pop, splintering into smaller raindrops and power-ups. At the maximum wide view, the raindrops are tiny, popping them isn’t especially satisfying, and the game feels like a button-mashing exercise. Zoomed in a little more, you begin to see more detail in the raindrops, but have less of a chance to effectively keep them from touching their target. Three frequently dispensed power-ups—“Wind” that blows the drops around, “Power Hit” that does more damage, and “Freeze” that stops certain drops in mid-air—feel like they’re activating more or less randomly as you pop the raindrops, and coins appear to let you upgrade each of the power-ups if you want. You probably won’t really need to do so; the seven levels aren’t especially challenging, and the fun in Color Storm! is primarily to be had through just popping as much as possible as quickly as possible. It’s a time waster, and truly a casual game, but for $1, it’s not bad. With more polish in the art, audio, and gameplay, it could have been pretty impressive. iLounge Rating: C+.
If you have a child and a television set, there’s a very good chance that you’ve heard of Dora the Explorer and her older cousin Diego—Nickelodeon cartoon characters who go on adventures that teach simple Spanish words and puzzle solving techniques. Two App Store releases from Nickelodeon, Dora Saves the Crystal Kingdom – Rainbow Ride ($2) and Go, Diego, Go! Musical Missions ($2), are designed solely for younger players—skip right ahead, everyone else—and may be fun for parents with iPhones and iPod touches to share with their kids. Both titles feature limited but nice animations of their characters, complete with clear narrated voices and simple music.
Go, Diego, Go! sees Diego and Baby Jaguar in six stages—Ocean, Savannah, Arctic, Desert, Rainforest, and Holiday—each trying to rescue a different shy baby animal by playing music on a flute. The game gives you sequences of four to seven notes to play in a row, showing you the right way to play the notes, then gently letting you play them—with mistakes, if necessary—until you’ve completed a few segments of the song. All that’s needed is color-matched tapping, hitting green, then blue, then blue, then red, and Diego encourages you whether you’re playing well, or poorly. But each stage is very short: after playing roughly 20 or 25 notes, the game takes over and plays the rest of the song, showing the animal coming out of hiding. Play Itsy Bitsy Spider in the Savannah and you’ll rescue a baby lion from a cave; Jingle Bells brings a squirrel monkey out in the Holiday stage, and Mary Had a Little Lamb brings an octopus out in the Ocean. There’s no reward for finishing all six stages, and nothing else to do when you’ve completed them; this is a brief—arguably too brief—way of getting kids to learn how to match patterns to create music.
Dora Saves the Crystal Kingdom is based on a recent extended episode of the Dora the Explorer TV show, and features even better introductory art and animation than Diego—surprisingly impressive for an inexpensive application, complete with some nice music and strong voice samples. But like Diego, the actual gameplay here is very simple: by tilting the device, nothing more, Dora rides on 3-D rainbows through six extremely similar stages collecting crystals, with each stage’s “special” crystal varying in color from green to purple to red. Different backdrops and music provide more diversity than the very samey rainbows and crystal layouts; Dora only animates a little as she rides each rainbow. You can also collect plain crystals and speed up crystals, and pick up mostly useless butterfly-winged versions of Boots the Monkey and Allie, but the only thing you’re scored on is how many of the ten colored crystals you get from each level. Even so, there’s no reward for getting them all, or punishment for getting too few; you’re told “Excelente!” and “Great Job!” for grabbing only three of the ten. The game is entirely upbeat and gently paced, with plenty of “woo hoo!” sound effects and happy music to keep kids playing.
Unlike Diego, Dora Saves the Crystal Kingdom also offers a second section: a coloring book with a bunch of black and white pictures that kids can colorize by tapping colors at the bottom of the screen, then empty sections of the picture to auto-fill. Perhaps not surprisingly, Nickelodeon initially offered one coloring book page as a sample and tried to charge $1 for 17 additional pages as an in-app purchase, but it has now unlocked all 18 pages for free. The coloring book isn’t especially well-done—properly coloring the pages actually requires colors that aren’t available in the simple palette, so the game includes a magic rainbow color that properly colors everything you tap on. Kids might have fun with it for a little while, particularly now that there are so many pages to color, but it’s not great.
As parents, we really like the fact that Diego and Dora applications are available and relatively inexpensive—$2 per app seems like a really reasonable price point for small, fun apps with voices and animations of this caliber. But the actual games behind both of these titles are really pretty weak, and though they’re paced properly for kids, they both offer too little incentive to do well or keep playing. Unlike many developers, Nickelodeon has some very high-quality art, music, and sound effects on its hands, but it really needs to improve the quality of its games if it’s going to live up to the standards of its popular shows. iLounge Rating (Dora): B-. iLounge Rating (Diego): C+.