Welcome to this week’s gaming edition of iPhone Gems! Though the biggest news of the week was Capcom’s release of Street Fighter IV for the iPhone, reviewed here, three other titles were also worthy of the spotlight in this roundup. All three are sequels to previously released and reviewed games, and all three include notable improvements over their predecessors, albeit with varying degrees of impressiveness.
All three titles this week received our strong general recommendation, though one also received a lower rating on older iPhone and iPod touch hardware. Read on for all the details.
While Polarbit’s September, 2008 arcade-style racing game Raging Thunder for the iPhone had its moments, we weren’t totally blown away by the $8 package. Flash forward to this week’s release of Raging Thunder 2 ($5), which benefits from an additional year and a half of development time, improved iPhone and iPod touch hardware, and a lower price. A free, one-track version called Raging Thunder 2 Lite is also available, offering a sample of the one-player and new multiplayer modes.
Though Raging Thunder felt like a Nintendo 64-quality version of Sega’s famous Daytona USA, Raging Thunder 2 has evolved into something more: a pocket-sized variation on Midway and Atari’s San Francisco RUSH titles. You’re still driving on loop-like tracks using accelerometer-based steering—acceleration is automatic, braking optional—but they now include jump ramps, secret alternate pathways, and numerous opportunities to charge up your boost meter and smash into competing cars for brief “tackles.” Your car can get damaged through tackles, on-course obstacles, and even explosive boxes that litter the tracks; if you don’t find repair icons, you slow down considerably and will almost certainly lose the race.
There are other changes from the first Raging Thunder, as well: six cars now race at once, rather than four, and the 12 tracks and six total unlockable cars each represent small boosts in numbers from the original Raging Thunder, which had 10 tracks and four cars. The new tracks are impressively colorful, each with a weather, locale, or elemental theme, and as you proceed through them, they become more challenging: one track removes some of its guide rails to let you fall off into active volcanic lava, another into the ocean beside a cliff, and so on. Another important addition: an Internet multiplayer mode with up to six people at once, plus text chat, is now available, though the game doesn’t do a great job of just depositing you into a session where you can start playing; from a central lobby, you need to hunt around for a meeting room that’s not yet a race in progress. A local multiplayer mode would have been nice.
But the single-player modes are surprisingly well-constructed, and at least on the iPhone 3GS and third-generation iPod touch, fast. An arcade mode lets you play through all 12 of the tracks in order for as long as you have enough credits and skill to keep racing; grabbing + icons for time extensions and wrenches to keep your vehicle running are keys to surviving, while using boosts, behind-competitor drafting, and hidden passages are necessary to place higher than fourth in a given race. A random mode lets you play a quick race at random, without concerns over time extensions, and a career mode lets you unlock the cars and tracks sequentially, earning dollars during your races. We really liked that the game doesn’t keep all of its tracks hidden behind one mode, and found the races to be uniformly fun—not the best we’ve ever played, but very, very good by iPhone standards. Polarbit creates the impression of speed both by whizzing the tracks by, and by using neat polygonal effects to simulate particle blurs.
Except for one thing. No matter which device you play Raging Thunder 2 on, the music is solid, and the sound effects are okay, but the graphics will vary a lot. This is a game that was clearly optimized for the iPhone 3GS and new iPod touch, as the frame rates are near-smooth on both of these devices, but choppy on older ones; only the 2009 iPhone and iPod touch benefit from motion blur and other special effects, as well. If you’re using one of these newer devices, Raging Thunder 2 is pretty close to a blast for the $5 asking price; on older ones, we’d go into it with greater reservations. iLounge Ratings: B+ (iPhone 3GS/iPod touch 3G) / B- (iPhone, iPhone 3G, iPod touch 1G/2G).
When Studio Radiolaris released Radio Flare a year ago, we were intrigued by the title’s concept—essentially, convert Sega’s famous music-infused lock-on shooter Rez into 2-D—but less than totally impressed by the execution, which struck us as a little dull on the audiovisual side. This week, the developer—now known as Studiolaris—partnered with Chillingo to release Radio Flare Redux ($3), a very considerably improved sequel that makes considerable inroads in background art, visual effects, and music while stepping back a little in character graphics.
Once again, you use your left finger to control an on-screen spaceship depicted from a side-scrolling perspective, confronted by waves of enemies that can be tapped on individually or locked onto simultaneously by holding down on the screen and dragging with your right finger. Individual taps are an unrealistic way of shooting down your enemies, as they’re numerous and designed to be chained together for sequential destruction; the game’s real challenge is in simultaneously locking onto waves of attackers while manuevering your ship to dodge their attacks.
Some enemies have life bars that require you to hold down on their ships for several seconds; others are killed merely by swiping for a split second to lock on. They all leave small collectible blocks when they die, increasing your score multiplier and giving you additional simple power-ups.
Where Radio Flare Redux dramatically succeeds relative to its predecessor is in the audiovisual department. In addition to a font swap that uses very fitting block lettering—a great fit for the art—Redux’s backgrounds have gone from bland shaded patterns to vibrant, colorful screensavers with pulsing polygonal effects, and optional filter modes built into the game let you apply different skins that alter the look of everything. The art changes from stage to stage as you traverse 33 different planets, including 7 major boss encounters, and the solid music—sometimes exciting, sometimes chill—is provided by a collection of different techno artists. Each planet has its own “duration” representing the length of the track you’re going to hear, and the shooting stops when the track runs out, sometimes in only a minute, other times for seven minutes. You can pick stages as they’re unlocked, visiting new planets or revisiting prior ones to improve your score. The level structure feels just right in providing new challenges while letting you backtrack if you desire.
The only bummers: the gameplay remains a little shallow, falling short of Rez’s high water mark by offering too little in the way of ship upgrades or alternate attacks, and as the levels progress, using left and right fingers to control your ship’s movement and attacks becomes a real issue—bosses aren’t afraid to use screen-circling lasers that require you to play Twister with your hands, obscuring parts of the screen in the process. While the music’s good, it doesn’t quite rise to the beat-building, memorably beautiful stuff in Rez, either. Still, Radio Flare Redux is so stylish and well constructed this time out that it’s worth seeing if you’re a fan of shooters and retro shaded and wireframe polygon-style artwork; Studiolaris has come a very long way since last year. iLounge Rating: B+.
We were very impressed when Ludia released the original Price is Right for the iPhone in 2008, somehow managing to bring highly detailed digitized artwork and nice zooming effects to a television game show translation that could have been really bland. But something happened in the year that followed: iPhone OS 3.0 came out and users began to report all sorts of problems with the app, which Ludia took a long time to fix, earning numerous poor ratings from subsequent customers.