This week’s iPhone Gems gaming column is legitimately exciting for us: a full 50% of the games inside are actually really cool. Of course, that’s because we’ve decided to highlight a smaller than usual selection of four titles this week, and then, only ones that we really thought were worthy of some attention.
Two of the titles this week will seem at least a little familiar to frequent readers of the iPhone Gems gaming columns: Crayon Physics Deluxe looks a lot like a previously reviewed title, while EA’s new version of Monopoly builds on the foundation of the earlier Click Wheel iPod game. The other two titles, Edge and Petri, are different from ones we’ve previously covered, and Edge is especially impressive. Read on for all the details.
We really loved Touch Physics by Games4Touch, one of the only iPhone games we’ve reviewed to receive a flat A rating. Now, Hudson Soft has released Kloonigames’ Crayon Physics Deluxe ($5), a game that looks a lot like Touch Physics but screws up a couple of big things that Games4Touch got right in the earlier, less expensive title. As much as we’d hoped we’d find this to be a worthy alternative, it’s not.
Like Touch Physics, Crayon Physics Deluxe presents you with what appears to be a piece of sketch paper and simple, crayon-drawn background artwork to create a cartoony 2-D environment; your goal is again to move a small rolling circle to a star on the other side of the screen. You accomplish this by drawing shapes that, like the circle, are affected by gravity and other simple laws of physics, enabling the circle to be jostled from its starting location over to the star if you draw the right shapes in the right sizes and places. Crayon Physics Deluxe even goes beyond Touch Physics in animating some of its pre-drawn art, and offering a pleasantly dreamy soundtrack that changes between levels, then loops.
The problem: Hudson’s physics engine isn’t so hot. In addition to feeling less fluid than Games4Touch’s, the objects here seem to move with false momentum, and the ones you create are sometimes even more awkwardly unfinished than the ones in Touch Physics. It also feels like it’s easy to cheat your way to completing the stages, many of which are downright simple and perhaps a little stupid—you can and will die multiple times trying to get two stars on some individual stages, without having to restart the level if you fail to get both—though they tend to be nicely illustrated and sometimes include cartoony interacting objects. A bug that makes the game unplayable, telling you that you need to delete objects even when none have been drawn, is apparently in the process of being fixed by the developers.
So given that Touch Physics is cheaper and better, why bother with Crayon Physics Deluxe? There’s a very simple level editor to let you create your own stages. The music is nice. And there are enough levels built in to keep you busy until Touch Physics gets a sequel. While we wouldn’t recommend that most of our readers shell out the cash for this title, Crayon Physics Deluxe is a better than decent alternative to a game that we really liked, and if nothing else, should give Games4Touch some new ideas to build upon. iLounge Rating: B-.
Every once in a while, a game comes along that successfully defies the conventional rules of modern game development and manages to feel both classic and new. Mobigame’s Edge ($6) is one of those titles—another title that will appeal as much to fans of action games as puzzlers, bridging the gap between retro gaming and contemporary. You do nothing more from level to level than try to move a cube from its starting point inside a maze to an exit point somewhere beyond the first screen, but between Edge’s clean, smart isometric 3-D visual presentation, its nice 13-song soundtrack, and its easy-to-understand gameplay, we’d be surprised if you didn’t find every one of its levels compelling.
Though Edge can be controlled with the iPhone’s accelerometer, don’t bother; it’s meant to be played by swiping on the touchscreen to move the cube from place to place. Initial stages make those moves fairly easy, but as you progress through the 26 levels, you’ll find that precision becomes more important, and little tricks—riding on your corner to grip moving platforms, shrinking your cube to climb walls, and so on—start to break up the gameplay. It is close to genius-level stuff, troubled only by the occasional need to fall from one height to another without the assistance of a shadow. Exiting a stage transforms your cube into a polygonal whisp of smoke, one of a number of cool visual effects that the developers have managed to include despite what is otherwise an almost old-school white, gray, and black cubic set of backgrounds. Subtle zooming in and out from the action is accomplished automatically, drawing you in or out from the action as is appropriate for navigation.
There are ways that Edge could be better: it could be a little less expensive, offer more levels or puzzle stages, and—of course—benefit from a more precise, external controller that made some of the later levels easier to handle. But as iPhone games are concerned, this one is otherwise about as close to a must-have as we’ve yet seen, thanks to its intuitive design and strong presentation. What it lacks in Rolando-style charm, it makes up for in smarts; consider it worth your time if the screenshots here appeal even slightly to your sense of aesthetics. iLounge Rating: A-.
Electronic Arts did a fine job with Monopoly on the iPod. But Monopoly Here and Now: The World Edition ($8) for the iPhone is, apart from its higher price, seriously impressive. It’s probably the best example yet of how a popular board game can be converted to the iPhone OS with enough panache to satisfy both fans of the title and fans of Apple’s hardware, making equally good use of the Monopoly license and the chips inside the iPhone and iPod touch.
This isn’t, an ad might say, your grandpa’s version of Monopoly. The game’s hipper playing pieces and purchasable properties include global icons—Park Place and Boardwalk have been replaced with Montreal and Riga, the utilities are now eco-conscious, a $200 salary has been converted to $2 million, and if you land on Community Chest, you’re more likely to get $100,000 from hosting a Karaoke club night in Tokyo than a $100 life insurance payment. Other than that, the mechanics are the same: roll two dice to determine how many spaces you can move, roll again if both dice match, and acquire as much property as you can along the way.
Proven gameplay aside, what makes Monopoly so compelling on the iPhone is presentation. EA has rendered the board and player pieces in 3-D, spinning the board around as your piece moves from location to location, and animating events such as getting tossed into jail and shaking the dice. While neither the engines nor the animation are stunning, they definitely draw you into the experience on a greater level than the iPod version, and it’s obvious that EA has done way more than just the bare minimum this time. This also isn’t a gimmicky attempt to salvage a mediocre license, like Yahtzee Adventures. Thankfully.
That said, EA’s $8 asking price puts the new version of Monopoly outside the range of most games of its sort these days, and it’s not surprising to see the title selling for $5 as a brief discount on the day of this review. We consider it worthy of our general recommendation and B+ rating at the standard asking price, but if you can get it for $5, you’ll be extremely impressed by the new and old features that have been included in this package. iLounge Rating: B+.
The last of the games we review today is Petri ($1) by Matthew Gillingham. We’re not going to tell you that this is a phenomenal game, or that it’s a really great use of the iPhone’s hardware. It’s not. But it’s a yet another interesting suggestion of how Apple’s touchscreens continue to inspire developers to come up with new gameplay ideas.
Petri is named for the classic petri dishes that are used to examine and/or grow microorganisms for scientific research, and each of the game’s 100 similar levels places you inside a simple, multi-colored dish that can be understood as empty where it’s black, and full of spreading organisms wherever it’s colored. A simple shading technique called Gouraud shading, popularized 15 years ago, allows the developer to show you how the organisms fan out from wherever they begin, eating into other blotches of color as they move. The bottom right corner of the screen contains a color that the entire petri dish needs to contain, so it’s your task to touch-erase all of the other colors on screen and help the correct color spread out to fill the entire rectangle.
While the game is monotonous, Gillingham changes it up by representing the organisms in several different ways during levels, ranging from big blocks to small blocks, tiny triangles to large ones, and so on. Your progress through the levels depends as much on the pace at which the competing colors spread as the speed you employ to eradicate them; the entire screen can be cleared of color, but then, you may need to create some yourself by double-tapping. Sometimes, you’ll beat a level in 30 or fewer seconds; other times, it may take more than a minute. If you challenge yourself to work quickly—the game doesn’t, other than putting up a timer for your progress—Petri can actually be fun.
Is Petri really worth even $1? We’re on the fence. The visuals look nearly classic computer quality and the soundtrack is fine, though a bit amateurish in its simple, synthesized drum track; similarly, the gameplay is so samey from level to level that it’s hard to get too enthusiasic about what’s here in any way. But the core idea here could easily inspire other developers—or even this one—to develop something a bit more deep and aesthetically pleasing, along the lines of a Dr. Awesome sequel, perhaps. We’d rate Petri as above demo-quality but not quite worthy of a general recommendation, at least yet. iLounge Rating: C+.