Welcome to a rare app- and game-mixed edition of iPhone + iPad Gems, which we’re using today as a catchall to look at a mix of new and updated games, as well as a couple of noteworthy application releases.
The top-rated item in this roundup is Beast Boxing 3D, but Space Invaders Infinity Gene 4.0 is also most definitely worthy of your attention despite its lack of an updated rating. Read on for all the details.
So few legitimately good boxing games have been released for the iPhone and iPod touch that the one serious contender—last year’s Super KO Boxing 2 from GLU—was able to merely re-release itself for the iPad this year with the most modest of enhancements. With this week’s release of Beast Boxing 3D ($3) from Goodhustle Studios, a real challenger has finally stepped into the ring, bringing its own combination of advantages and disadvantages to the table.
Beast Boxing’s single biggest strength is its graphics engine, which takes advantage of recent OpenGL enhancements to render detailed and shaded polygonal opponents who look great in 3-D—well, apart from their deliberately ugly, fantasy beast faces, which contrast with the cutesy, Nintendo-inspired characters in Super KO Boxing. These boxers throw real-looking punches and have special moves that look like they’re straight out of Nintendo’s Punch-Out!! series, but their texturing and themes are comparatively original, and the “beast” theme enables Goodhustle to have occasional sprays of purple blood that won’t bother parents like the red stuff might. Repetitive but energetic music plays in the background as fine crowd, punch, and related sound effects keep the action enjoyable.
Where the title runs into some trouble is in the gameplay department, as yet another company has tried with mixed results to figure out Punch-Out!!‘s formula of combining action and strategy. Unlike most boxing games, you’re looking for two knockouts in three rounds—a Street Fighter-style victory—though management of your life and stamina meters is fairly typical; throw too many punches quickly and your stamina drops, forcing you to defend until it’s restored. In what initially feels like smart attempts to do something new, Beast Boxing rewards you for strategic blocking by letting you collect coins whenever your gloves are up, also replenishing your stamina meter, and also has you catch on fire when you’ve successfully landed a series of hits. But as you play, you begin to realize that it’s extremely hard to succeed with anything except for jabs, as swipe-based uppercuts and crosses more rarely connect, and the game winds up feeling more like an exercise in landing a flurry of jabs, stopping and defending to grab coins, and then repeating until your opponent has fallen to the ground.
To Goodhustle’s credit, the game’s career mode structure works well, using earned coins to power up your character as he makes his way through nine opponents, and the storyline is actually amusing, too. It’s only by comparison with the best-developed boxing games that Beast Boxing 3D falls short in the play mechanics department, and even then, it’s a $3 title, with such impressive visuals that it’s hard to hugely fault the game. What’s here is a very good start; we would love to see it expanded with additional characters and depth, both of which would easily make it worth a higher asking price. iLounge Rating: B+.
As one of our favorite console and handheld game developers for the past 20 years, it’s been hard to see Capcom struggling with titles in the App Store, so Capcom Arcade (Free) is—though still in need of some additional work—a very welcome step back towards making things right for the company’s releases on Apple’s devices. Capcom Arcade is essentially just a dollar collection machine and wrapper for an arcade game emulator, currently enabling players to enjoy a limited number of free plays per day on four of the company’s classic arcade machines, with the ability to purchase either 10 additional plays for $1, or unlimited access to a given machine for $3.
Regardless of anything else Capcom has done here, the trial, 10-token, and full machine purchase ideas are great, as is the idea of putting multiple games into a single app rather than selling them as one-off titles in the App Store. We have no issues with the pricing, actually liked the fact that wandering around in the 2-D arcade a little can sometimes lead to additional free trial games beyond your daily allotment of three “free” plays, and don’t even mind that Capcom is selling in-game cheats for $1 a piece—extra strength or defense, as just a couple of examples. The in-app purchasing system here just seems fair.
Capcom Arcade’s issues are in some of the specifics. Despite consisting of only a few flat, swipe-ready screens, the arcade itself is just too difficult to figure out at times—buying a full arcade machine required hunting around rather than just hitting a buy button on a given cabinet. The game also has some of the most glaring in-game advertisements we’ve seen, oddly starts games with largely opaque and intrusive virtual controls, and doesn’t provide the sort of control responsiveness players might hope for from Street Fighter II and Ghouls’n Ghosts, two legendarily precision-demanding titles.
1942 and Commando aren’t as completely affected, as they are shooters with automated firing turned on by default, leaving you to focus on swipe gestures to move in eight directions. The emulation engine also has a couple of bugs that could use attention: Street Fighter II lost its music temporarily in our testing, and each game briefly froze during screenshot grabbing. Though Capcom is offering the true arcade games here, it’s not that difficult to emulate late 1980’s and early 1990’s titles on devices with the horsepower Apple includes.
For now, Capcom Arcade is a good release that could easily become better with updates. More games, better controls, and a refined arcade interface will eventually make this title worthy of keeping installed full-time on an iPhone or iPod touch. True iPad support rather than just upscaling will do the same for Apple’s tablet. iLounge Rating: B.
Rather than re-re-reviewing Taito’s Space Invaders Infinity Gene ($5), which today reached version 4.0 with the same quiet but potent evolutions we’ve covered in the past, we wanted to briefly highlight the latest improvements to a game we’ve repeatedly acknowledged as one of the App Store’s best. This time, Infinity Gene has added Retina Display and universal iPad support—both welcome features although the game’s deliberately pixelated graphics only benefit marginally from the improvements—as well as Game Center tracking, and a new Survival mode with multiple endings. Taito has continued to make this game better over time, and if it didn’t grab you before, consider the latest additions even more reason to consider a download.
Although we’d like to be able to tell you that we liked Yasmin Studios’ Hansel + Gretel – Children’s Interactive Storybook HD ($1), we weren’t really impressed by the overall polish of this application, which offers a very nicely illustrated but brief, poorly animated, and choppily narrated rendition of the classic Brothers Grimm story. In short, you flip pages through a storybook that has music, voices, and text to move you through the story, all good ideas in the abstract that are undercut by so-so execution.
Images of Hansel, Gretel, their father and stepmother are all easy to appreciate against colorful backdrops as the kids are repeatedly deposited in the forest by a jealous new parent, who disappears after casting them out of their home. However, the on-screen text telling of the story is small and weakly formatted, at one point becoming partially unreadable because of the background art, and though the developer attempts two-person voice narration, the reading is a little off-pace, at times emphasizing the wrong words in sentences—it’s also fighting for your attention with music that plays too loud, returning automatically page after page even if you hit an on-screen mute button to shut it off. Fine-tuning could make this iPad-only app worthwhile, though it has three other direct iPad competitors telling the same story in their own ways, at similarly low prices. iLounge Rating: C+.
Last in today’s roundup is Skyfire 2.0 ($3), which briefly appeared in the App Store yesterday to let users avoid the battery-draining, Apple-forbidden Adobe Flash while still playing some Flash videos through a web browser. Skyfire was withdrawn from the App Store due to what developer Skyfire Labs has called overwhelming demand, but in our testing, the application did what could at best be called only a decent job playing back some videos, while failing to display others at all.
Skyfire is essentially a reskinned version of Apple’s Safari with a couple of tricks up its sleeve, namely the ability to work with the company’s servers to convert some Flash videos to play on the iPhone and iPod touch, as well as a contextual searching button that can be pressed to bring up related content—one or more words on the page you’re reading—for one-tap searches. Though it doesn’t include iPad compatibility and essentially just runs the low-resolution iPhone interface in either 1X or 2X mode on Apple’s tablet, Skyfire’s UI is otherwise pretty slick, including an array of six icons on the bottom of the screen and a simplified settings button alongside URL and search bars up top; the settings let you load pages as if you’re on the iPhone or a desktop browser, plus activate private browsing—handy for trying to get to certain types of Flash videos that might be disabled otherwise on the iOS devices.
Some of the content we tested with Skyfire worked, albeit at reduced frame rates and with occasional stops and starts that we wouldn’t exactly call iPhone-quality. There is a multi-second pause before a video starts—sometimes 10 or 15 seconds—and then interruptions in the middle for “buffering” in which the video just disappears or freezes, combined with a potential loss of sound. Tests with South Park and Daily Show episodes recommended by Skyfire yielded watchable but not really good results that were slowed in animation and lower in frame rate than we’d expected.
While hiccups are common in technologies that transcode one video format to another, the reality is that Flash videos just won’t look as good on Apple’s devices as ones that were optimized at the source; you’re paying $3 to gain so-so renditions of free content, and even then, a lot doesn’t work with the browser at all. Hulu is a complete loss, for example, and we couldn’t get Flash videos to play in NBC, MSNBC, or some other sites we tested. Consider Skyfire when it reappears on the App Store if you’re really desperate to view Flash content and don’t mind the prospect of a diminished or unfulfilled experience; you’d be better off spending $3 worth of your time writing a letter or two requesting HTML5 videos from the web sites you visit. iLounge Rating: C.