Welcome to this week’s gaming edition of iPhone Gems! Today, we look briefly at three recent releases: the puzzle game Cubetrix 3D, the billiards game Pool Pro Online 3, and an interactive version of the Where’s Waldo? book series subtitled The Fantastic Journey.
All three of these games are worthy of recommending to readers who are interested in the genres they represent, but for different reasons; Cubetrix 3D is the best overall of the bunch by a small margin. Read on for the details.
For the first fifteen minutes we played Mobicle’s new puzzler Cubetrix 3D ($3), we weren’t entirely sure what was going on. There was a flat board, a collection of colored cubes, and one cube that we could move around using three confusingly labeled buttons—the first two with circular arrows, the third blank. It was obvious that we had to match cubes to remove them, but what was the secret to making them disappear? Each new level helped the game make a little more sense: you clear cubes by filling either a complete row or a complete column with the same color, and keep repeating the process until you have only one row or column left—at that point, everything that remains is eliminated. Do it quickly enough and you earn an “S” (Special) rating, otherwise, you get an A, B, C, or D. Fail to beat the clock and you have to do the stage over again.
You do this by controlling one cube at once, rolling it left or right around the perimeter with the two arrow buttons, and then hitting the third button to push the current row or column inwards, inserting your selected block and popping out the one at the other end of the line. That’s the core of Cubetrix 3D, but after 20 “easy” levels of it, the game switches up in “normal” mode, adding some stages with numbered blocks that need to be eliminated in order—1, 2, 3, 4, 5 of the same color—or, more easily, if you can get them in a shorter row of only 1, 2, and 3. Subsequent “hard” levels include bomb pieces that need to be matched even more quickly with standard cubes, or else they explode, rearranging the entire board and drawing down the clock. They’re legitimately tough stages, forcing you to think and move a lot faster than the puzzles that came before. A separate 30-stage puzzle mode gives you a limited number of moves to win each level.
Cubetrix 3D has upbeat but repetitive music, clean though not flashy 3-D cube graphics, and gameplay that starts out a little confusing yet soon begins to make sense, thereafter feeling really quite smart and challenging. For the $3 asking price, it strikes us as a very good title that will disappoint only in its longevity; with very few changes to the gameplay apart from variations on the existing theme, the game would benefit naturally from a sequel with even more impressive art, music, and more stages. iLounge Rating: B+.
We’ve reviewed quite a few billiards titles for the iPod touch and iPhone, but haven’t looked at any new ones in a while. Pool Pro Online 3 ($5) from Namco is, in short, a highly competent though relatively low-frills rendition of 8-ball, 9-ball, and snooker, with a solid 3-D engine that provides seamless, smart views of your and your opponent’s shots, plus simple, jazzy music as you play. Though the music is way too repetitive, relying on Apple’s standard iPod music interface to let you choose your own audio to hear instead, the game’s visuals are quite nice: you’re shown a zoomed-out first person view behind your cue stick for shooting, assisted by directional arrows, with a zoomed in perspective once you’ve taken your shot and are watching the glossy, smoothly animated balls sink into the pockets; you can toggle overhead or other views as you prefer.
Completing games earns you “scratch” that can be used to unlock five additional locales, different pool table felt, and more cue sticks. Unfortunately, Pool Pro Online 3 keeps you in the same initial room until you earn enough money to unlock the rooms, a bummer given that other pool titles offered a number of different locales, some right from the start. Character personalities, storylines, and other sorts of extras are absent here; only the unlocking system gives you a chance to customize your experience over time, which may deter those looking for a deep single-player experience. Namco makes up for these omissions with a very intuitive control scheme, positioning your stick for a good shot up front, letting you make the necessary up, down, left, and right adjustments with swipe gestures, and then using a right-of-screen power meter to shoot. We picked it up in an instant, and enjoyed actually clearing the table each time we played.
Perhaps the single most compelling feature of Pool Pro Online 3 is the “online” component, which unlike competitors is cross-platform: by connecting to a Namco server, you can play against PPO3 participants around the world and on different types of devices, including computers and—in the near future—the iPad. A simple text-based chat mode is included, as is a wager system that lets you propose a pre-game bet of scratch, which your opponent can counter back before starting the match. The iPhone and iPod touch version also offers Bluetooth and Wi-Fi peer-to-peer modes, as well as a “pass and play” game; other than turn-based board games, pool is about as easy to play through any of these modes as any type of game out there. Though this isn’t the most advanced billiards title we’ve ever seen, particularly as a single-player experience, the smooth graphics and straightforward controls make it worthy of checking out if the multi-platform online functionality appeals to you. iLounge Rating: B.
Some books translate better into electronic form—and iPhone/iPod touch games—than others, and Where’s Waldo? The Fantastic Journey ($3/$1) from Ludia is an example of a children’s book that works quite well on a small touchscreen device. The books place gangly, nerdy-looking Waldo in the middle of deliberately visually dense crowd scenes, challenging you to locate his white and red-striped shirt amongst thousands of other eye-catching details; this application provides you with 12 different scenes that now can be explored at a relaxed pace without a timer, or in a structured mode with multiple people and items to locate per scene, with a chiming countdown for each objective.
It’s not that Where’s Waldo is an amazing use of the iPhone and iPod touch hardware, or a phenomenally deep game; it is simple, and true to the books, the challenge is merely in matching items with their locations on each page. But in addition to the touch interface serving as an ideal way to locate things—swipe to move, tap, then move on—Ludia has done a very nice job of making the experience fun: a limited number of clues can be offered by Woof the dog, unexpected screen-shaking events take place during searches to challenge you, and your search area is dynamically limited or expanded for each item to make hunting a little easier or more difficult.
In other touches not included in a Waldo book, relaxing music plays as you search, and little animations in each of the images draw your attention in a way that a flat book page might not. The challenge level might be light for adult players, but for kids, Where’s Waldo does a nice job of evolving a traditional childrens’ book into an interactive form, and is worthy of its standard asking price—at $1, it’s a steal. iLounge Rating: B.