Welcome to our latest edition of iPhone + iPad Gems! There are quite a few titles in this week’s gaming roundup, so we’re going to dive right into them—only two of the seven new games in here fall short of our general-level recommendation.
Our top picks in the bunch are Frisbee Forever, Gears, and Tapper World Tour HD. Read on for all the details.
Five months ago, we reviewed Big Blue Bubble’s Burn the Rope, a simple but fun little puzzle game that challenged you to turn the iOS device around, directing a flame as it burned through shapes made with rope. Bulkypix has one-upped this title with Burn it All – Journey to the Sun ($1, version 1.0), which gives up the tilt mechanism in favor of touch: here, you start with a small flame and need to swipe it to multiple lighting points on ropes and other objects scattered throughout 100 puzzles. The challenge is that each ignition depletes the flame, so you need to move quickly to hit each lighting point and then wait briefly as the flame recharges from a volcano at the bottom of the screen. You get diamonds as points for completing each level within a specified period of time.
While Burn it All’s gameplay initially feels a little shallow and underwhelming, it gets progressively better as the stages increase in difficulty, adding multiple colors (and burning speeds) for the rope, flying obstacles such as bats, static obstacles including bricks, falling drops of extinguishing water, and flame enhancements—different colors, jets of wind that push the flame across walls, and so on. Thanks to the creativity and additional animations these features add to the game, it manages to transcend its inspiration, and the universal app’s $1 asking price makes for an easy impulse buy. If you’re a fan of puzzlers, it’s definitely worth checking out; only slight imprecisions in the swipe-sensitive controls and a somewhat depressing soundtrack detract from what would otherwise be a high recommendation. iLounge Rating: B+.
If you can put aside the concept that Kiloo Games’ Frisbee Forever (Free, version 1.0.6) is effectively one big advertisement for Wham-O’s family of Frisbees—and you should—you’re going to be extremely impressed by what’s inside this game. The on-paper specs tell much of the story: over 100 different challenges spread across at least 10 different areas, plus more than 100 different Frisbees to unlock by collecting stars in the challenges, or by buying stars with in-app purchases. But it’s the graphics engine that’s the real superstar here, presenting cartoony 3-D worlds for your Frisbee to fly through as upbeat music loops in the background. The level designs offer fun beach, amusement park, and wild west settings, reusing objects but looking really nice nonetheless thanks to a smooth frame rate.
The controls and concept are really simple. You’re given a behind-the-Frisbee perspective, and initially perform one flick to start your disc flying forwards through the air. There’s no need to worry about manually controlling speed or height; all you do is steer the frisbee with taps or tilt controls, depending on your preference. Stars, hoops, boost pads, loop-de-loop ramps, and other things are floating in the air; you basically just try to keep touching as many of these items as possible to collect more stars, effectively veering off the path otherwise. Flying through the center of a goal ring gives you the opportunity to either repeat the course, gathering more stars, or move on. It’s a testament to the game’s design that you’ll actually want to go back and try again to do better. Our only major gripes with the game were the oversensitivity of the tilt controls, which otherwise might have made for a really fun experience in this type of game, and the music, which could have stood to loop less. For the price, though, it’s hard to complain. iLounge Rating: A-.
To get this point out of the way up front, Crescent Moon Games’ new title Gears ($1, version 1.0) is beautiful. It’s so beautiful, in fact, that its other failings are easy to completely dismiss, and we’re frankly quite willing to do so because of the price. At its core, Gears is a very straightforward game, challenging you to roll a ball through 27 overhead mazes that look quite similar to one another. Your challenges are to keep the ball alive as it collects cross-shaped objects for points, and traverses platforms, many of which are made from spinning gears. There are only two things keeping you from completing a level: the lack of rails around the gears, which will cause the ball to fall into oblivion if your movements aren’t precise, and a timer that offers you only limited opportunities to retrace your mistakes; checkpoints, and an option to disable the timer, will help any gamer to proceed.
Again, it’s the graphics engine here that will really grab you: steampunk-influenced ball and gear textures combine with deliberately deep-looking overhead 3-D perspectives to make you think that you’re really looking down into a cartoony but cool set of worlds. They combine with multi-route maze designs to make the levels feel worthy of giving second, third, and fourth shots for extra points. While the music is a little generic, it’s pleasantly energetic, and complemented by sound effects that blend in rather than standing out too much. Our only issues with the title were in length and control: Gears could benefit from an initial swipe calibration level to help you and the game figure out what level of finger interaction should lead to different levels of speed for rolling and jumping the ball. And the initial three worlds, each with nine levels, are clearly here as a teaser for more stages to come. But they should: as a universal app, this game looks gorgeous and plays quite well on Apple’s devices—it already feels like it’s deserving of a higher than $1 price, and as additional content is added, it wouldn’t be a surprise or unreasonable if the developer charges more. Get in now while you can. iLounge Rating: A-.
Since Square Enix has mostly been known for its somewhat expensive Final Fantasy re-releases and Crystal Defenders games for iOS, the release of Imaginary Range HD (Free, version 1.0.0) is somewhat of an oddity for the company—cheap and shallow, but nonetheless interesting. Conceptually, the idea seems to be that traditional comic books could benefit from greater interactivity—perhaps with incentives to explore their individual panels, mini-games to break up the reading, and background music to set the tone. So Imaginary Range HD fuses a manga-styled comic book with these elements: it can be read page-by-page, or explored panel by panel with swipes, occasionally including icons that can be grabbed with circular finger gestures, and mini-games that further the storyline.
The major issue we had with Imaginary Range HD was that neither the content nor the mini-games struck us as particularly compelling. Square Enix’s story feels thin—not engaging—and the mini-games are pretty close to bad, taking a minute or two of low-impact gameplay from “spot the hidden items,” “tile puzzle,” Harbor Master, and other forgettable titles. While the idea and some of the implementation behind Imaginary Range HD could work well with a great story and new games, what’s here feels like it’s just going through the motions to demonstrate what’s possible in next-generation comics. Perhaps that’s why it’s free. But it’s only an okay package, even as a giveaway. iLounge Rating: C.
As long-time fans of rhythm games, we’re always excited to see new developers and new spins on the genre; consequently, the iPad-only game Pulse: Volume One ($5, version 1.0.0) from Cipher Prime Studios appealed to us even before we saw it in motion. The screenshots tell most of the story: the screen is filled with a collection of concentric circles, a colored pulsing wave that starts at their center and moves outwards, and dots that need to be tapped as the wave crosses their path. Successfully tapping each dot or cluster of two to three dots leads to an burst and fading away of colorful icons—little jet planes, sunglasses, stars, or cherry blossoms depending on the song—and you’re scored with a bar at the bottom of the screen that grows longer as you get a higher percentage of all of the dots.
The rhythm element here comes from the approximate intersection of the wave’s position relative to the dots and the song that’s playing. While the game could be played entirely without audio, your taps on the dots are supposed to coincide with beats in the song that’s playing.
That’s where Pulse: Volume One sort of fell apart for us. Ranging from 1 to 2 minutes in length with a couple of roughly 3-minute tracks, the eight included songs include chiptunes and piano tracks that could have come out of mid-1990’s video games; they’re okay, not fantastic. More importantly, rather than structuring the songs so that your tapping contributes to the tracks by adding the percussion or notes, successful taps just prevent a chuff sound from playing when you miss a beat. We truly loved the stylish, clean design of the circles, the little glow motions of moving dots, and the whole UI of this game, down to the font selection. But good looks aren’t enough for a rhythm game, particularly one that’s short and selling for $5. Hopefully Volume Two will improve the sonic interactions and the soundtrack. iLounge Rating: B-.
In the classic Tapper arcade games, you controlled a bartender dispensing drinks to thirsty customers; one version was designed with beer for adult arcade settings, the other with root beer for kids. The controls were simple, the games were fairly popular, and the games haven’t been updated much over the years. So we were curious to see what Warner Brothers could accomplish with its remade version, which originally launched earlier this year. Illustrated by Don Bluth, whose animated contributions to the Laserdisc arcade games Dragon’s Lair and Space Ace were more legendary than their gameplay, Tapper World Tour HD ($2, version 1.5) was updated last week to add “40% more gameplay”—additional bars to tend. There are now four different regions, North America, Mexico, Europe, and South America, most with multiple cities to visit; each city has a different backdrop, with several increasingly difficult bar setups to master.
Initially, the game is easy: there are three, four, or five long bars, each with a tap you use to fill glasses or mugs. You need to tap the tap—appropriate—to cause a drink to slide down the long bar to a customer, who is making his or her way from one side of the screen to the center. Serve well and the customer will grab the drink, sliding off the screen with its momentum; dispense too few or too many drinks and you’ll be confronted by angry customers or shattered glasses. Additional difficulty is added in steps: multiple customers advance on you from increasing numbers of long bars, returning empty glasses that need to get caught, and returning themselves for additional drinks. Limited-use power ups are awarded to slow customers down with bar-themed stage performances, get tips by offering them “happy” drinks, and otherwise improve your server’s performance. Halfway through the game—in alien-themed Nevada—the pace actually whips up to frenzied serving, and immediately thereafter in Hollywood, you need to start changing between multiple kinds of drinks, another huge challenge. Fans of the original will love the new challenges; newbies will appreciate them, too.
Visually, Tapper World Tour HD is solid. Bluth’s cartoony artwork has the hand-drawn lines and more modern soft shading one would expect these days from the artist behind Dirk the Daring, Daphne, Dexter, and Kimberly; the alternately selectable cute female bartender Nikki and older father Sam are the game’s aesthetic highlights. Backgrounds are flat but highly detailed, improving considerably on the classic game’s art, but the patrons who come out are similarly two-dimensional and not particularly well-animated. Music is sort of plain, with peppy and appropriately themed but not particularly memorable tracks for each city; sound effects such as smashing glasses pop over the songs. There’s unquestionably enough here at this point to justify the $2 asking point, and the iPad’s touchscreen is ideally suited to handle this sort of gameplay; only little aesthetic tweaks would make this title better. iLounge Rating: A-.
Last up this week is a seriously bizarre little title from Popcap Games’ new 4th & Battery label: Unpleasant Horse (Free, version 1.0.1). It’s a universal app, the first of a couple of ways that it’s a major departure for the normally sunny casual game developer. Originally rejected by Apple for the App Store, Unpleasant Horse is an “experimental” and deliberately provocative game that feels like the product of a creative exorcism—an opportunity for some of Popcap’s talented people to flex their evil muscles a little between work on happier games.
Using simple tap controls and timing, you take control of a black, “unpleasant” flying horse that jumps from cloud to cloud through the sky, eating birds and wrestling unicorns to the ground. But the game’s a little more complex—and deliberately a lot more inflammatory—than that. Each bird you grab lets you perform one double jump, enabling you to fly upwards and escape from a missed jump to another cloud or unicorn. And each unicorn you grab is dragged down into a waiting collection of circular saw blades, ground up into bloody chunks while you leap up to escape. Johann Strauss II’s The Blue Danube plays in the background, providing a deliberately placid, cherubic accompaniment to the cartoonishly horrifying action.
The game opens with a wink and a twinkle, and never stops winking throughout; it’s 100% dark humor, wrapped up with a happy little bow. In the end, it turns out that there’s not much here to accomplish other than shredding unicorns and trying to keep on flying, which the game tracks statistically; it keeps a running tally of the jumps you’ve made, clouds you’ve darkened, birds you’ve grabbed, and unicorns you’ve ground up. Since it’s free, sort of funny, and from Popcap, older gamers should take a look regardless of how shallow it is. If anything, Unpleasant Horse primarily serves to remind us of how impressively developed the company’s bigger titles are, and make us wish that more of them were available in the App Store—as similarly universal apps, no less. iLounge Rating: B.