Due to the release of the new iPod shuffle and announcements regarding iPhone OS 3.0, we temporarily put our app review columns on hiatus to deal with all of the news. As such, we have a huge backlog of new iPhone Gems just waiting to share with you over the next several days, starting with a collection of big-named games.
Today’s Gems features the game show titles 1 vs. 100 and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, plus its Lite version, the long-awaited shooter Metal Gear Solid Touch, the classic computer edutainment remake Oregon Trail, an odd little Excitebike-ish title called Space Bikers, and a puzzle game sequel, Topple 2. Without further ado, let’s get to the games!
We’ve previously reviewed a number of game show titles: Deal or No Deal, The Price is Right, and TV Show King have all done a pretty good job of recreating the look and feel of either real or imaginary game shows, and today’s titles are in much the same mold. Gameloft’s 1 vs. 100 ($5) places you in the role of a contestant who has to face a “mob” of 100 people who are answering the same trivia questions as you; with every passing question, you have a greater chance at a $1 million prize.
Like Deal or No Deal, 1 vs. 100’s gameplay is pretty basic. After choosing a difficulty level ranging from easy to hard, you’re introduced to the “mob,” then asked a question, and given a chance to eliminate mob members by answering questions correctly from three multiple choice answers. Several people get eliminated with every correct question, and the amount of money you earn per person continues to grow. At some point, you can choose to either take the money, ending the game, or continue to face the mob; three “helps” are available to assist you with tough questions, letting you ask, poll or stand with the mob.
To Gameloft’s credit, it has done almost as much with the license as it could without an actual human likeness as the host; the in-game art is all rendered or drawn, the only weakness in the title. Every one of the over 1,000 questions and every correct answer is read out in an actual voice, and there are occasional video clips and plenty of dramatic music and audience applause while you play. The questions start out significantly but not exclusively entertainment industry-focused, moving on to general trivia, and the answers—even on easy—will certainly challenge players. But unlike Deal or No Deal, which at least tried to offer alternate play modes to offset the simple game show, there isn’t much to do here other than play and replay the core game show with its standard rules. Winning the big prize doesn’t have much of an audiovisual payoff, either. If you’re a fan of the show, or a fan of trivia games in general, this is an easy title to enjoy; otherwise, consider it a pass. iLounge Rating: B.
By comparison, Capcom Interactive’s Who Wants to Be a Millionaire ($5) and Lite (Free) are based on the game show that was once insanely popular in the United States and hosted by Regis Philbin, later going into syndication with host Meredith Vieira. Like 1 vs. 100, it’s a $1 million trivia game, here with four answers per question rather than three, and a similar help system; three help options are available up front, with a fourth unlocked after five questions have been answered. The game uses dramatic music and a ticking clock to create time pressure, enabling you to bank time for the final question by answering questions quickly.
The only ways Millionaire bests 1 vs. 100 is in briefly including the likeness of Vieira herself during the introduction video, and a separate, comic touch: when you ask for help from a friend, the game picks names and photos from your contacts list, then has them deliver their suggested answer to you in on-screen text form – no one’s actually called. Unfortunately, the game falls short in most other regards: during the game’s 15 question-sessions, taken from around 900 possible questions, there’s no voice to be heard; when you win the $1 million prize, there’s similarly absolutely no fanfare. It’s a relatively plain game to watch and hear, except after questions, when the list of categories for upcoming questions and prize dollars is shown with some nice animation.
Unless you’re a die-hard Millionaire fan, there’s no doubt that 1 vs. 100 offers more questions, better use of voices, and a higher overall degree of challenge to keep players interested; as trivia games go, this one has little more than its license to draw players in. The Lite version gives you six questions before shutting you down, just enough to let you see exactly how limited the paid version is. iLounge Rating (Paid): B-. iLounge Rating (Lite): B.
We’re fans of Konami’s Metal Gear Solid series, at least, the full-fledged action and shooting games that have been released for PlayStations and Xboxes, so the announcement of Metal Gear Solid Touch ($8) for the iPhone and iPod touch was somewhat bittersweet. On one hand, we’re happy to see any popular game franchise make an appearance on this platform; on the other, it’s hard to imagine the iPhone at this point coming even close to the experience of the 10-year-old PlayStation original, let alone its sequels. Konami appears to understand as much, so MGS Touch is stripped down to a very simple shooting experience: you’re presented with two-dimensional shooting galleries based vaguely upon stages in Metal Gear Solid 4 for the PlayStation 3, and need to shoot humans and robots who pop up at varying degrees of distance from your character, Old Snake. Most of the time, they’re far away, poorly animated, and not especially interesting to look at, but occasionally, something—a Metal Gear robot, for instance—will come up real close and surprise you.
As simple as this may sound—and it’s in fact less ambitious of a game from a visual standpoint than Namco’s similar but fully 3-D Time Crisis Strike—it’s obvious that Konami didn’t just treat this title as a quick cash-in on the MGS license. Between the way you aim at enemies, namely dragging the cursor and then tapping on them to fire your gun, to the toggling you must do between your handgun and two scope-based weapons—a sniper rifle and an infrequently available rocket launcher—the game is a legitimate challenge as the stages go on; like Time Crisis, you duck behind walls to try and avoid being shot while you’re lining up shots, and have only so much time before enemies can succeed in depleting your life bar. In typical Konami fashion, there are little comic twists, such as the need to shoot colorful baby chicks for life or weapon upgrades, and a few cool twists, such as needing to shake the iPhone to clear the grime of the battlefield off your screen.
Unfortunately, the game does suffer a bit from the same issue as Metal Gear Solid 4, namely an overreliance on exposition—here in the form of simple single still image post-stage graphics and scrolling text—to try and stretch out what is ultimately a short and not totally satisfying game. It’s easy to blow through the 12 shooting gallery stages, and your reward for doing so is more text and parroting of the MGS4 storyline, neither as compelling as some simple 3-D cutscenes might have been. As an offset, the game has a “shop” where you can unlock art from the PS3 game by collecting in-game credits, and Konami promises to add additional stages to the title in the future. Right now, it feels like what it is: a title that wasn’t really complete when it was released, yet showed up in the App Store anyway to capitalize on the buzz it has generated, with plans to release a truly complete version whenever it’s done.
Though it represents a nice effort on the part of Konami to attempt to bring some sort of MGS experience to the iPhone, our feeling is that Metal Gear Solid Touch in its current form is too short and simple of a game to merit the $8 asking price; whatever excitement users initially feel in playing it will wear off after the first several hours—perhaps less—when they’ve completed it and are waiting for more. Count us as part of that group: we’re anxious to see what this title looks like when it’s finished, but for now, it’s a fine but not great demonstration of what can and can’t be done when bringing a high-quality console game over to the iPhone OS platform. iLounge Rating: B-.
There are times when it seems like Gameloft can hardly do anything wrong on the iPhone, and The Oregon Trail ($6) is one of those titles. Based on a classic personal computer game that let players recreate the experience of traveling West during pioneering days, The Oregon Trail has received a mighty and amusing graphical overhaul for the iPhone, with mini-games that are shallow but numerous and entertaining.
In essence, the game follows a family that travels from the right side of the screen through scrolling backdrops towards the left—the West—struggling to deal with various issues of proper pacing, injuries, and damage to their wagon and oxen, plus random events. The father leads the wagon either through running, walking, slow walking, or complete stops for rest, and everyone and thing behind him are put through the stresses of travel: people can get injured or sick and have to walk on broken bones, the wagon can get beat up and require repair, and everyone can get tired out from the strain of pushing forwards. The random events can range from encounters with hitchhikers to thieves to the sudden swooping in of a bird that steals one of the kids away, forever.
As an educational game, The Oregon Trail is something close to awesome. It’s a little funny, a little serious, always well-illustrated, and long enough to keep players properly entertained for the $6 asking price. Mini-games are constantly interrupting the wagon’s progress, forcing the player to shoot, fish, or search berry bushes for food, hammer nails to repair the damaged wagon, figure out a simple telegraphing system, and navigate other challenges relating to keeping everyone moving, fed, and safe. Fishing stands out from most of the other mini-games in offering a nice combination of challenging controls, unexpected rewards, and direct benefits to your characters’ longevity if you succeed. A simple currency system, chance meetings with various people, and occasional stops in towns provide the opportunity to stock up on supplies, go on side missions, and earn money. Gameloft has done a nearly superb job with the source material.
But that source material and edutainment theme aren’t going to appeal to everyone. Thanks to a lack of supporting narrative, some users—particularly those who aren’t familiar with the concept of Manifest Destiny, and those outside the United States—won’t really understand what’s going on, and thanks to intentionally limited dialogue, the occasional appearance of people along the trail only offers small clues as to the historical motivations behind the characters’ actions. It would have been great to see The Oregon Trail feature two modes, one with more educational narrative and another, like what’s here, with little narrative. On a stability note, we experienced a number of crashes during our Oregon Trail games, forcing us to re-play extended stretches of the game that we’d already gone through: for whatever reason, the title doesn’t auto-save during each of its frequent, extended loading screens. In its current form, The Oregon Trail is an impressive little piece of iPhone software; our feeling is that it could be truly great with a little extra development time and more educational content. iLounge Rating: B+.
The least impressive of the titles we review today is Space Bikers ($3), which we’d describe as a technology demo that tries to use unusually impressive graphics as a hook for pretty mediocre gameplay. Using oversized translucent on-screen buttons, you control a kid on a bike as he tries to maneuver left, right, up, and down through on-screen obstacles. The goal is to collect spaceship parts scattered throughout levels that have been created with 3-D polygonal objects, but are presented strictly from a side-scrolling perspective.
Ultimately, it’s the 3-D artwork and the temporary $1 asking price that give this game a prayer of appealing to people. The developer Mobirate has included a ragdoll physics engine that makes the bike and its rider appeal semi-believable as they bounce around, and when the rider falls off and crumples up like a… ragdoll. Background objects and the bike aren’t beautiful, but they’re surprisingly detailed and always at least a little interesting to look at; there’s also pleasant enough background music playing during the game.
Unfortunately, the gameplay is pretty close to terrible. Every time you die, which is often, you have to restart the level all over again, recollecting items that weren’t fun to collect in the first place; the old-fashioned Excitebike-style handling of your bike with the on-screen buttons makes the whole thing more of a chore than a joy to go through. Physics in some of the levels’ objects, such as a stack of books that you can collapse by rolling over them on the bike, contribute to an unpleasant sense of randomness: hitting the stack as you must to collect an item on top can sometimes result in the books falling over and making the item unreachable, forcing you to restart the level. Space Bikers is, in short, a very good-looking title in need of real gameplay and revised controls; in its current form, we wouldn’t recommend it even for $1. It’s for masochists only. iLounge Rating: C.
Last but not least this week is the puzzle game Topple 2 ($3) from Ngmoco, sequel to a free game that we’ve previously reviewed and liked. Essentially, Topple 2 makes the original Topple into its Lite version: the prior game was just about stacking Tetris-styled blocks on top of one another to reach specified “goal” heights, and this one includes 30 levels and new types of challenges while preserving the first game’s whimsical music and cartoony artistic themes.
What’s new? There are more timing-based challenges. Upside-down levels where you stack the blocks from the top of the screen downwards into the ocean, defying gravity. And missions where you need to rescue those pesky eggs rather than just tossing them away. You can toss three blocks away per stage without ending the game, and retry stages as many times as you want when you don’t succeed initially.
Sadly, that seems to happen all too often in Topple 2. Between the very aggressive timers, the randomness factor of blocks—they come out differently every time—and the still somewhat floaty controls, which let the degree of the device’s tilt affect the stability of the blocks you’re stacking, Topple hasn’t become much more fun, deep, or compelling than the prior game—it’s basically like a level expansion pack for the original, but with a price tag. If you’re a fan of Topple and are willing to drop a few bucks to keep playing more of the same sort of game, Topple 2 is a nice enough sequel, but in our view, the first free title was priced about right for the overall quality of the experience. More than just minor updates would have made this one more worthy of a purchase, and since Ngmoco notes that the $3 asking price is “introductory” only, our feeling is that it’ll need to drop rather than going up in order to be worth picking up. iLounge Rating: B-.
Hundreds of additional iPhone app and game reviews are available here.