Our latest game-focused edition of iPhone Gems is here, and the topic is simple: action! We love twitch action games, and of course have been hunting around for worthwhile ones to play on the iPod touch and iPhone.
This week, we picked a collection of titles that caught our attention due to cool titles, interesting themes, or reader recommendations, and though there are a bunch of duds in the pile, there are some worthwhile games as well. Skip right to De Blob and Space Buster/Ikanoid if you want to see the week’s best picks.
Have you ever wanted to crash an Apache helicopter? How about a dozen Apache helicopters? Now you can, or rather, you will regardless of whether you really want to. PosiMotion’s new game, if you can call it that, is nothing more than a screen with a landing pad that’s supposed to provide a target for you to land a helicopter on. As with any number of other iPod touch and iPhone games, however, Apache Lander (Free) gives you no ability whatsoever to calibrate or even see the on-screen vehicle’s controls, so you’re basically flying blind. All you have is a fuel gauge that is basically there to let you know you’re going to smash into the ground automatically if you don’t land quickly.
Thus, what you’ll see over and over again is a helicopter somehow rolling from left to right to left to right on the screen, typically hovering for a while before you smash it into the ground. An explanation from PosiMotion: “Please note that sometimes the accelerometer does not register in the game. Please restart the game and/or restart your device to resolve the issue.” Right. PosiMotion, we’ve been waiting for weeks to have your smart idea parking space finder application G-Park properly pinpoint our position on a map. We paid for it. And we don’t like being taken to your web site every time we finish crashing ten helicopters into the ground. Please consider giving up the awful game development and focus on getting your other apps working properly. Even for a freebie, Apache Lander sucks. iLounge Rating: F.
Audi A4 Driving Challenge
“Located in Denver, Factory Design Labs, Audi’s interactive agency of record, designed the game in just two weeks,” bragged Audi’s press release for the Audi A4 Driving Challenge (Free, aka Audi A4 Challenge). No doubt. This free simulator shouldn’t be confused with Sony’s 10-year-old Porsche Challenge, or really any other cool driving game released in the past two decades. Instead, it’s an overhead-view game where you’re doing nothing but maneuvering around test tracks filled with orange cones.
Drive poorly, as you probably will, and you’ll either hit a bunch of cones or steer so far outside of them that you won’t really be racing the course. In order to keep you from driving off the edges of the screen, the game basically pilots you around all of the curves of the track automatically anyway, so that you’re basically just trying to keep the iPhone or iPod touch turning gently enough—like a steering wheel—to stay on the road. Fun? Interesting? Informative about the Audi A4? Absolutely not. In fact, playing this is discouraging us from wanting to take a test drive; if driving the real car is anything like this, we’ll stick to what we’ve got. iLounge Rating: D.
For the last few weeks, we’ve been trying to figure out whether THQ Wireless’s De Blob ($7) was actually worth paying for. The screenshots didn’t exactly sell it, and we couldn’t figure out what type of game this was supposed to be from the descriptive text, either. Well, here’s the skinny: you control a gelatinous blob that roams around an overhead map of a city, covering buildings and the ground in paint. You’re given certain targets to paint in certain colors, so properly locating paint canisters to transform your blob into the right color is one part of the challenge, and then growing it to a certain size—basically, by absorbing more or less paint—is another. Touch water and you can shrink down, which is sometimes necessary to squeeze through passageways; crash into friends to get new mission objectives, and enemies to knock them out.
What we really like about De Blob is its originality and sense of having been designed as a complete real game. When you see how mediocre a job Audi A4 Challenge does at making an overhead map-based game exciting, De Blob’s constant action—even though it’s very imprecise based on touch-dependent controls—is at least legitimately fun. There are 16 different levels to go through, each with multiple mandatory and optional objectives, and though it’s possible to get a little distracted and lost, the interest level involved in finding the right paint colors and following arrows to tag targets is reasonably high by current iPhone game standards. The $7 asking price strikes us as high considering the overall quality of the art and control experience here, but there’s actual music in the title and enough levels that you’ll probably want to play through the whole game. It’s worthy of a solid B, and if it goes cheaper, perhaps a bit more. iLounge Rating: B.
Ikanoid (subsequently renamed Space Buster)
Taito created Arkanoid, which was perhaps the first game to properly reinvent Atari’s classic paddle-and-ball brick busting game Breakout. And with the exception of the Arkanoid titles, we’ve never played a clone that quite captured the same level of magic. Storybird’s Space Buster/Ikanoid ($1) tries to duplicate Arkanoid, and does well enough at its current asking price to be worthy of your attention, but even after several point releases continues to demonstrate the gap between professional and budding game developers.
Space Buster has all of the prerequisites—simple touch-based control of your paddle, a collection of power-ups that expand or shrink your paddle, create multiballs, or even add lasers to blast bricks—and now includes a little background music, 55 different levels, and particle-like brick exploding effects. But you lose your power-ups after every stage, and it’s missing compelling level designs; there are some stages that feel utterly boring until and unless you hit a multiball to start destroying three or four bricks at once. So far, neither this nor Break Classic really seems to have gotten the formula perfect, but we’d put them in generally the same league; we’d pick Break Classic for the more interesting art and graphics engine, but Space Buster is currently good enough to merit our flat B rating. iLounge Rating: B.
Ah, Puzzloop. We knew you on Click Wheel iPods as Zuma, after PopCap Games took this game—originally developed by Mitchell—gave it a different coat of paint, and released it with Apple for $5. The concept was interesting: a cannon’s in the center of a spiraling collection of variously colored balls, and you have to shoot balls from the cannon to match up colors before the spiral reaches you. Now the game’s being sold for $8 for the iPhone and iPod touch by Hudson Soft.
The good news: Hudson and Mitchell’s version is a lot more colorful than was Zuma, and this game is a bit more challenging thanks to additional on-screen obstacles, such as flying bats that can block your shots. The bad news: instead of using the comparatively intuitive Click Wheel for control, iPhone and iPod touch users need to touch the screen to rotate the cannon around, which can be a challenge given both the size of the spiral and the way that Hudson has designed the controls to fire a ball when you release your finger from the screen. Simply trying to move the cannon to make color matches can be a problem since your finger may be overlapping the balls you’re trying to shoot; lifting your finger to check results in a ball being fired anyway. While this port would have been great for the iPhone at a lower price and with different controls, it’s on par with the older iPod version as-is, just for different reasons. iLounge Rating: B-.
Shovel De Touch
To quote from the App Store description of Junpuusha’s Shovel De Touch ($3): “This game will realize your childhood dream that you used to want to operate an excavator.” We’ll pause for a moment so you can read that again. Including the part about $3.
Shovel De Touch is a Japanese simulation of a construction site dirt excavator. You get two on-screen joystick-like controls for the excavator arm, enabling you to move the arm into different poses, as well as moving the excavating claw at the end. Lest you think for a moment that you’re actually going to excavate anything in this game, or be able to, say, move the vehicle around, rest easy: you can’t. Instead, Shovel De Touch puts shadows on the screen to challenge you to move the excavator’s arm into various “poses.” You do this until you have beaten your previous record for putting the arm into these poses. And if you’re in the mood, you can try a Balloon mode where you use the arm to pop flying balloons.
In Japan, where it was developed, Shovel De Touch would be described as “kusoge,” a word with a meaning that we can’t print here. It’s almost staggering that this title is being sold for anything, and that the App Store is filling up with software of this caliber. We spotlight this only because the title is so ridiculous and because the comments on the App Store—normally a breeding ground for fake positive reviews—are so amusingly angry. iLounge Rating: F.
Toy Bot Diaries
First things first: hats off to IUGO Mobile Entertainment for trying to make an original iPhone OS game with novel gameplay, device-optimized artwork, and a reasonable price. Toy Bot Diaries Entry 1 ($4) is a platform game of sorts, which means that you’re walking and jumping from platform to platform while interacting with objects, though this isn’t the same type of platformer as Super Mario Brothers, Sonic the Hedgehog, or other famed entrants in that category. It’s actually more of a cerebral, puzzle-oriented game, where the fact that you’re walking around isn’t what’s important; rather, you’re trying to find ways around obstacles that have been placed in your way.
Your character, a toy robot, wanders through stages in an effort to recover cell phone-shaped “datapads” that contain pieces of his lost memory. He has a grappling hook, activated by touching certain surfaces, and magnetic boots, which both enable him to stick to special surfaces and attract certain items. At some points, you’ll be grappling from wall to wall, while at others, you’re trying to figure out how to use your magnet boots and hook together to pull a quarter above some gears, deposit it in a slot, and then trigger a door to open. There are four levels, each with multiple parts, and the “Entry 1” name suggests that there are more to come.
While Toy Bot’s a cute and pretty smart game with pleasant music, it’s still not in the same league with platformers we’ve played on top handheld devices. Put aside the bugs—we’ve walked through a closed doorway, found our game in progress erased, and so on—and the platform game that’s left is so-so on control, relying on tilt gestures to move your character and touch gestures to activate the hook and boots, their inaccuracy tolerable only because the game is forgiving and not on a timer. It’s obvious that IUGO is trying hard to make a game that uses the device well, and that they’ve delivered more actually developed software for the price than many of the brazen people out there, but we’d wait for the inevitable sequel to see what this team can really do. Serious portable or console platform game fans will either breeze through Entry 1 or stop shortly after starting; others may find the action more compelling. iLounge Rating: B-.