Welcome to this week’s gaming edition of iPhone + iPad Gems! The three titles we look at today represent entirely different genres—a bullet-dodging game, a Peggle-inspired action puzzler, and an update to a popular arcade-style basketball release.
Our top pick is Coin Drop!, but all three games here merited at least our general-level recommendation. Read on for all the details.
Developed by Mobigame and released by the human rights organization Amnesty International to commemorate its 50th anniversary, the iPad/iPhone/iPod touch universal game Bulletproof ($1, version 1.0) is a short but surprisingly thought-provoking tapping title. After watching a video of a man condemned to death by firing squad, you’re presented with a first-person perspective of one, two, three, four, or five executioners at a time as they fire bullets at you. In each of ten stages, your goal is to touch the bullets before they hit you; depending on the stage’s difficulty level, you’ll have between 10 and 150 bullets to stop, with only a handful—say, three—misses.
Beyond the value of supporting Amnesty International’s mission, Bulletproof wins as a $1 game because it begins the experience by making you consider the human consequences of failure. In real life, a single well-placed bullet would be enough to kill a man on the wrong end of a firing squad, so you begin to strive for perfection—up until you’re facing a single particularly dangerous gunman, or an array of 90 or more bullets, at which point you just hope to survive the experience and make it on to the next level.
Mobigame’s aesthetic design for the game is simple but effective: an almost entirely grayscale representation of a firing squad in a single room, presented starkly, without any sense of compassion or detailed animation in the crowd. In fact, the firing squad looks a collection of two-dimensional cutouts, but light sources illuminate them and cast moving shadows that compete for your visual attention. Your primary concern are the bright yellow indicators of where the bullets need to be tapped, and the copper-toned bullets themselves, which appear as 3-D projectiles and get flicked away a la Neo in the Matrix when you succeed. Audio is as simple as the sound of firing bullets, without music or other accompaniment.
Is Bulletproof the best $1 game we’ve ever seen? No. It’s simple, changing only in difficulty level between stages, and will keep good players occupied for only a short period of time; it also could have been rendered even more realistically. But it kept us thinking the entire time about Amnesty International’s mission, put a human face on something that’s all too easy to ignore, and did so without browbeating the player. Mission accomplished, Mobigame, and well played. iLounge Rating: B+.
Coin Drop! ($1, version 1.0) from Full Fat Productions has been described as the next Peggle. It’s not; Peggle is a work of almost unparalleled genius in game design, and Coin Drop! is considerably lighter weight. But by $1 game standards, it’s a highly impressive new title, and deserves special praise for appearing immediately as a universal iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch title, with full high-resolution support on each platform.
Like Peggle, circles fall from the top of the screen to the bottom, bouncing off pegs and scoring points in the process. You control their initial starting position by tapping where you want them to come from, then leave the rest to them and the objects on the screen. But that’s where the similarities end—mostly. Coin Drop’s 60 levels let you drop up to five coins from wherever you prefer at the top of the screen at once, ricocheting off of still and moving objects as they fall. While there are bonuses for hitting pegs and eventually for demolishing other items, including bricks and structures made from wood, your real goals are to collide with “bad pennies” and later rescue “girl coins” from traps in the levels. Touching pegs to change their colors is inevitable, but if you haven’t eliminated all the bad pennies from a stage, you won’t be able to move on to the next one.
While the early stages in Coin Drop! feel like happy but low-rent versions of Peggle’s levels, complete with five baskets at the bottom of each screen that help you earn extra bonus points, you’ll be impressed by the complexity introduced in later levels—shaking your device to bounce coins upwards and off to the sides, shattering the boxes that are holding the girl coins, and interacting with warp portals, magnets, and other objects. The action isn’t hugely complex, but like the classic pachinko machines that inspired this genre of games, the results feel satisfying, and the extra points you earn translate into stars, which nicely go towards unlocking additional levels and coins.
Similarly, even when the game feels a bit looser than Peggle in intensity, the graphics are full of starbursts, rainbow glowing effects, and fun signage that alerts you to the bonuses you’ve earned—all great visual tricks, combined with nice fonts and cute little character art atop packs of themed backdrops. Equally plucky sound effects, dynamic rather than just blending into the background, play nicely on top of an upbeat, cleanly composed soundtrack. The production values here are well above the game’s $1 price level.
As it stands, Coin Drop! is easy to highly recommend at its current price: as a universal app, it’s an equally great purchase for any iOS gamer, and while the gameplay isn’t as deep as it could be, there are enough levels and challenges to keep players entertained for at least a few hours. More content will only make this title better over time. iLounge Rating: A-.
Back in February, Electronic Arts released the iPhone and iPod touch version of NBA Jam—the latest release in a popular two-on-two basketball series dating back to 1993. Now there’s an iPad-only version called NBA Jam by EA Sports for iPad ($10, version 1.0.2), which doubles the price for the exact same game, this time displayed at full resolution on the iPad’s and iPad 2’s 9.7” screens. Additionally, a couple of changes have been made since our original review two months ago.
Though that review contains most of what you need to know, it suffices here to repeat that NBA Jam is an action-packed, dunk-heavy game on each platform, giving the player a virtual eight-way joystick and three buttons—initially shoot, pass, and turbo, alternating with defensive moves—to use in scoring two or three points per possession. Fouls and penalties are virtually non-existent, except for the occasional call of goal tending, and games move briskly once you’ve chosen which two players will be on your team. A collection of current NBA stars is included in the title by default; additional players are unlockable through a combination of successful play and easter egg-style codes, or purchasable via an in-app system. The Beastie Boys can play against George W. Bush and Sarah Palin, or Shaquille O’Neal can dunk on a team of mascots, EA staffers, or the original NBA Jam’s developers. It’s a ton of fun, the control’s pretty tight, and between the mix of digitized 2-D graphics and 3-D character bodies, NBA Jam looks pretty cool; excellent voice samples keep the excitement level at a fever pitch.
One of the changes to NBA Jam since our first review merely tweaked the rosters to reflect some player changes, such as Carmelo Anthony’s noteworthy move to the New York Knicks, Raymond Felton’s switch to the Denver Nuggets, and Deron Williams’ switch to the New Jersey Nets. While it would normally be easy to write this change off, the fact that it was done at all gives iOS users a leg up on console gamers, who haven’t received a mid-season patch. More important, we’d argue, is the more recent addition of local Wi-Fi or Bluetooth multiplayer mode, which lets two friends play together and/or against one another. The iPad version can connect with the iPhone and iPod touch game, and vice-versa, which is as it should be. On the other hand, we noted some surprising lag over a Wi-Fi connection that briefly interrupted a test game multiple times, sometimes with text-based pauses, and at other times by seeming to warp opposing players from one place to another. The experience wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great, either.
Though it’s no surprise at this point that EA would re-release the same game for the iPad at a higher price, we continue to feel strongly that this is doing a disservice to iPad owners, particularly in the case of titles offering in-app purchases or significant unlockable content. There’s really nothing different between the iPad and iPhone/iPod touch games that justifies a $5 premium for the tablet version of this title, nor the need to re-spend additional dollars—or time—unlocking the game’s hidden players, balls, and options. Moreover, there’s no good reason that the more expensive version of the game shouldn’t be playable on all iOS devices, or at least include some extras that weren’t found in the lower-end version. Given the choice between buying the iPhone and iPod touch game for $5 and playing it on the iPad in artificially low resolution, or getting the iPad-only title for $10 and having no option to play it on the other devices, we’d go with the more compatible and less expensive option any day. Hopefully EA will stop forcing gamers to make the choice in the near future. iLounge Rating: B.