Welcome to this week’s gaming edition of iPhone Gems. Major releases have been few and far between for the past couple of weeks, so we’ve dug around to find a few worthwhile games to recommend this time, and come up with some interesting options.
Pinball fans will be thrilled with The Deep Pinball, the best pinball title we’ve yet seen on the iPhone OS, while fans of puzzle games will enjoy Ragdoll Blaster. A promising but ultimately shallow little shooter called Minigore is also profiled; hopefully it will receive some updates that will make it worth purchasing in the future.
When Gameprom released Wild West Pinball back in April, we were pretty impressed, noting that it was “not perfect, but it’s the best pinball game yet released for the iPhone and iPod touch.” Now the company has returned with The Deep Pinball ($1), a sequel that is derivative, yet manages to substantially exceed its predecessor. Think of The Deep’s table as an evolved version of the Wild West one, with more targets, more objectives, more voice samples, and background music—basically, more and better everything, so long as you like the underwater theme.
As before, you’re presented with a 3-D pinball table that is primarily but not exclusively viewed from a scrolling, forced overhead view, starting from the bottom of the table; you get to watch as the flippers, bumpers, rails and other pieces of the board move gently upwards and downwards in perspective as the ball rolls through them. One target on the board will occasionally spin the table on its side so that you can take a “hunting” shot at pop-up targets, and a swirling whirlpool in the upper right corner adds a little bit of welcome surreality to the table, but otherwise Gameprom’s design is traditional.
It’s also very fun. Between the flipper and ball physics, which just feel “real,” and the numerous things you can do on the board—unlocking a treasure chest, moving a ramp over to a sunken ship, the aforementioned hunting, and completing “missions” by hitting targets—The Deep keeps you entertained and challenged for as long as you keep playing. It doesn’t have down moments like Wild West, where you feel like you’re flipping at targets and hitting the same few things again and again, but it also doesn’t have the high intensity level of some of the classic 16-bit pinball games that added moving targets and multiple tables to the mix.
The Deep Pinball’s only weakness is in its voice samples, which are frequent, but appear to have been recorded somewhat amateurishly. By comparison, its 3-D graphics are beautifully textured, almost always smoothly rendered, and presented from great camera angles; similarly, the light electronic music is very good. For the price, this is an excellent little pinball game, taking the “best pinball” crown from its predecessor; we really look forward to seeing Gameprom try a more radical departure in gameplay along the Alien and Devil’s Crush series lines. iLounge Rating: A-.
Style occasionally triumphs over substance in the video game world; ideally, a game will have both in surplus. Chillingo’s new Minigore ($1) is unfortunately one of the imbalanced ones, essentially a seriously cute but shallow rehash of the company’s earlier and similarly shallow iDracula. You take control over a Lego-like block character named John Gore, who runs around a grassy park-like area with a gun and tries to keep from getting eaten by “furries”—black fuzzballs who wander the park in packs and need to be shot before they touch you.
Whereas iDracula was a fairly serious game visually, and equipped your character with a wide range of weapons to help in the monster-shooting quest, Minicore tries the alternate cutesy approach in order to appeal to players. Your character, all of the enemies, and the landscape are toon-shaded, and there’s comparatively little blood being shed or items to pick up. Really, all you do is use one joystick to move and the other to fire in whatever direction you prefer, occasionally triggering an enemy to drop either a clover-like cross or an explosive box. Grab three crosses and you temporarily transform into a flaming bull who can destroy enemies with only a touch; shoot the boxes enough and they spread shrapnel around the field. Other than the increasing sizes of the enemies, that’s pretty much it; you keep shooting until you’re touched twice, at which point you die.
Visually and sonically, Minigore is nice. Apart from the flat landscape and its paper-thin objects, the graphics are all 3-D, and aided by an upbeat, Danny Elfman-esque soundtrack that keeps the action somewhat interesting. The lack of variety in backgrounds—something that was eventually remedied somewhat in an iDracula update—and monsters reduces Minigore’s appeal, as do the weak power-up system and relatively simple gameplay. There’s a good argument to be made that this title is really nothing more than a very cute technical demo with the goal of a high score as its only long-term attraction. That said, it’s a cuter and more compelling $1 app than many we’ve seen, and the subtitle – “Episode 1” – hints at an evolution that may transform this game into something better in the long term. Rated as it is now, there’s not enough here to recommend to everyone, but it’s very easy to imagine Minigore becoming a bigger deal as more content and objectives are added. iLounge Rating: B-.
One of our favorite early iPhone OS games, Touch Physics, now has a rival in the “cool physics-based game” department. Developed with a similarly brainy, half-serious, half-playful approach, Ragdoll Blaster – A Physics Puzzler ($2) by Backflip Studios presents you with a series of over 100 puzzles that start out by showing you their assembly from pieces—blocks, ramps, tubes, and a cannon—and then challenges you to use the cannon to propel “ragdoll” characters from point A to a marked tube on the screen.
In some cases, you’re firing a doll on a straight path from one side of the screen to the other, but most of the time, that’s not it at all; instead, you need to angle the cannon properly, set its power, and then fire in such a way as to push through or vault over obstacles that are in front of the target. Other levels make the target move, sometimes rapidly rolling off of the screen, so that you need to time your shot properly; still others see the cannon moving, including through recoiling with shots. You get as many shots as you need, as well as a reset button in the event that the target has disappeared entirely from the screen.
There are two neat little touches that make Ragdoll Blaster fun. First is the control scheme, which has been reduced to a highly intuitive “tap to select a target” system that uses your finger to take two factors into account: the distance from the cannon determines the power, and the angle relative to the cannon sets the direction of the shot. Having seen other cannon-based games transform these two simple measurements into sliders and the like, it’s obvious to us that Backflip has come up with the exactly right input scheme for this game. The other touch is the playful use of the classical song In The Hall of the Mountain King, a track that evokes and reflects a playful, gentle curiosity as you try to figure out the right way to hit your targets.
If there’s anything that’s less than totally thrilling in Ragdoll Blaster, it’s the almost primitive artwork, which is akin to high school-quality line art on pieces of grid paper, backed with a “ragdoll physics” animation engine that makes the bodies move semi-realistically as they’re bounced around the levels. To the extent that you’ll move through Ragdoll Blaster’s stages fairly quickly, there’s an argument to be made that wasting the time on detailed backdrops and more interesting-looking objects wouldn’t be worthwhile since they’re constantly just flowing off of the screen and changing from puzzle to puzzle, but there’s no question that more could have been done to gloss up the title; it’s the only area we’d say is worthy of a modest rating deduction.
Overall, Ragdoll Blaster is an excellent little puzzle game for its $2 asking price, packed with lots of stages and a great control scheme. An 18-level free version called Ragdoll Blaster Lite is also available for those who might be interested in sampling the action first; our gut feeling is that many people will be sucked into the demo enough to grab the full version. iLounge Rating: A-.