Welcome to this week’s gaming edition of iPhone + iPad Gems! This week, we’re looking at some big titles, as well as a lesser-known one that has the potential to become huge with some post-release updates. Most of the games here were aggressively priced enough to merit our strong general recommendation—and thus a “safe purchase” award if the themes are of interest to you.
The biggies this week are Angry Birds Rio and War Pinball HD, but Liqua Pop is worth seeing if you’re a puzzle game fan. Read on for all the details.
It’s tempting to start and end our review of the Angry Birds sequel Angry Birds Rio ($1, version 1.0.0) and its iPad version Angry Birds Rio HD ($3, version 1.0.0) with two words: same game. But we’ll be a little more descriptive just in case a few more words might help you decide whether or not to spend the cash on one or both of Rovio’s latest titles.
If you’ve played Angry Birds or Angry Birds Seasons, you’re not going to be surprised at all by the formula in Angry Birds Rio, an offshoot based upon the animated movie Rio. You’re still slingshotting the same familiar birds into precariously built stacks of glass, wood, and metal, seeking to topple as much material as necessary to make physical contact with specific targets on each stage. You swipe the bird back on a slingshot to pick a speed and direction for your shot, then sometimes tap the screen while your bird is in mid-air to trigger a burst of speed, change of direction, or fragmentation attack. Here, the targets are caged birds from the film rather than evil pigs, and the first half of the game is spent in a warehouse, with the second in a Brazilian jungle. Additional sets of levels are listed as coming soon, each for a specific month in 2011.
The good news: regardless of whether you’re playing it on the iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad, Angry Birds Rio is still plenty of fun. Rovio’s new levels are as addictive as the last ones, peppered this time with fruits, bonus rescue birds, and other objects that can be touched for extra points and trophies. Artwork is ever so slightly more colorful and detailed than before, and though there still isn’t in-game music—except for the simple, comic book-like intermissions—the sound effects remain good enough to keep your attention, if not particularly ambitious. A rousing track plays before the game begins, perhaps raising expectations a little too high for what’s to follow.
We’d be shocked if you didn’t feel as if Angry Birds Rio is almost exactly the same game you’ve already played through in past titles. We blew though the first 8 levels without interruption, and made very steady, rapid progress through dozens more, each time feeling as if we’d mostly played the same challenges in the earlier games. Rio’s only boss encounter comes at the end of the 60 initial levels, and there are only a handful of moments before then that feel in any way challenging; one stage challenges you to bounce a bird off of a donut-shaped trampoline, but can be completed even if you don’t. Almost everything is like that until you’re 60% through the game.
Should you buy in anyway? Sure. The iPod and iPhone version’s price tag is still low, and if Rovio doesn’t keep up with its promise to keep adding levels to the game every couple of months, it’ll have angry fans on its back—we know from experience that this is not going to happen. Start playing now and you’ll have plenty of fun between now and November, when the final update’s set to be released. But as we’ve said before, there’s really no reason that these games need to be sold in separate “HD” and non-HD versions at different prices, given the overlap in their content, and what’s here would be just as well suited to an in-app download as a standalone game. New title aside, this is highly familiar fare with a coat of new gloss. For many Angry Birds players, that’ll be enough to merit a purchase, anyway. iLounge Rating (iPhone/iPod): B+ / (iPad): B.
To call Electronic Arts’ and iChomo’s new Liqua Pop ($2, version 1.0.9) “mellow” would not be entirely accurate, but the vibe behind this title is decidedly different from the typical App Store puzzler—somehow more confident, polished, and comfortable in its own unique skin than most of the frenetic action puzzle titles we’ve tried in the past. Though it shares roots with many earlier match-3-style games, Liqua Pop relies upon neat visual tricks to create a somewhat new type of puzzle experience: you’re presented with a leaf that is gathering droplets of colored liquid, and need to move the droplets around to create fluid balls large enough to pop and disappear on their own.
Each four or more droplets you gather together will set a timer in motion within the fluid ball, which if left alone will cause the liquid to pop; a double-tap will reset the timer. You get points for small matches, more points for bigger matches, and even more for combos created by popping multiple balls at once. A level ends when you make enough matches to move a colorful frog up a reed on the left edge of the screen. As noted above, it’s not really mellow—you’re constantly making matches and moving things around on the screen—but the action has been polished enough that it doesn’t feel chaotic, either.
Part of that is due to Liqua Pop’s aesthetics. You use one finger to drag a droplet around on the screen, grabbing same-colored droplets, and watch as the fluid smoothly shifts and grows as you move it—including Retina Display levels of detail. Timers, pops, and glowing light trail effects generated by matches are subtle and pleasing, aided by the increasing visual interest generated by additional colors and power-ups, the latter in the form of bugs that appear inside of certain droplets. Once unlocked, the seven different types of bugs can shift the color of adjacent fluid balls, pop whatever they’re around, or increase your score, amongst other tricks. Rainforest sounds, chirps, and chimes fill the air so completely that the lack of a soundtrack isn’t particularly important here, particularly at the low $2 asking price.
Liqua Pop’s only failings are attributable to two things: repetition and the lack of true iPad support. Though unlocking the new bug power-ups is fun, the levels feel substantially similar to one another, and you continue to make progress through them merely by making quick matches and—whenever you want—shaking the iPhone or iPod touch to trigger pops. The 3.5” screen also has a tendency to quickly crowd with colored bubbles, making matches fairly easy but also contributing to a sense that the game’s cramped, and could do better with ever-so-slightly larger droplets on a larger display. A little more structure within the title could make it truly phenomenal; for now, this is a very nice little time-waster with the sort of highly competent presentation and universal theme that most developers would die to have stumbled upon. We hope to see it evolve in the near future. iLounge Rating: B+.
There’s no question at this point that Gameprom makes the App Store’s best pinball games: its 3-D graphics engine could be paired with any sort of textures and sound effects to create a highly realistic pinball table, a feat that the company has repeated again and again with titles we’ve loved. So when we say that War Pinball HD ($3, version 1.0) for the iPad and iPad 2 offers more of the same—but with benefits for fans of master warlock Charlie Sheen and tough guy Chuck Norris—that’s not to say that it’s bad. But the past formula’s getting stale, and though this title delivers plenty of value for the dollar, it doesn’t do complete justice to the three B-class action movies it’s based upon.
War Pinball HD includes three separate pinball tables: the Charlie Sheen movies Platoon and Navy Seals, plus the Chuck Norris classic Missing in Action. They’re all different in the sense that they all have unique textures, color schemes, ramp layouts, and audio effects, and as is always the case with Gameprom’s titles, you can choose from a fixed-perspective landscape orientation, a dynamic camera-shifting portrait orientation, or a fixed-perspective portrait mode. Viewed in either fixed mode, the tables feel somewhat boring and distant, but if you’re willing to use the dynamic portrait view, the incredible levels of texture detail and interesting to-and-fro swaying of the camera will keep your eyes locked on the screen.
Each table has its own soundtrack, plus so many voice samples and gunfire sound effects that there’s really nothing to complain about on the audio side. Platoon has an eerie theme that sounds like it was inspired by jungle combat, Navy Seals the uptempo beat of a late 1980’s action film, and Missing in Action the sort of overly earnest adventure track you’d expect from a Rambo wannabe. You can switch between tables at any time, preserving your current score and play status in each one.
Here’s the big “but.” The tables may look and sound different, but they all feel almost the same—not just like one another, but also like prior tables in Gameprom pinball games. Apart from a small second-level area on the Navy Seals table, which contains bumpers that can easily rack up a million points before the ball escapes, you’re basically just using four flippers to drop balls into pockets and against bumpers, triggering gunshot and voice sample sound effects. Platoon feels like it’s teasing you with a semi-hidden subterranean area, as well as an oversized calendar marking off the length of your tour of duty; both increase the table’s depth, but you’d probably never discover how to use them on your own without consulting the help system.
Call it shallow, but given that this is a war-themed title, we were surprised that Gameprom hasn’t included any explosions here—it would have been the most obvious visual special effect possible in a game of this sort. Instead, War Pinball HD settles for the occasional spinning helicopter blade and a 3-D bust of Chuck Norris. As good as this title is at the fundamentals, and it’s very good in that respect, it really misses out on a clear opportunity to evolve the company’s formula rather than repeat it. Fans of the movies will get a kick out of this title, particularly for the asking price, but if you’ve played other Gameprom pinball titles, you can safely hold off on this one unless you’re looking for more of the same in a new package. iLounge Rating: B+.