Welcome to this week’s first of two gaming editions of iPhone + iPad Gems! Today, we’re looking at three recent and very good iOS game releases—two are best-suited to younger players, while the third is definitely for adults. We’ll be back in a couple of days with another edition focusing on several other noteworthy games, as well.
All three of today’s titles merited at least a B+ rating, but Casey’s Contraptions stood out from the group as the best of the bunch. Read on for all the details.
Solely for the iPad, Snappy Touch’s new physics puzzler Casey’s Contraptions ($3, version 1.0) is similar to a handful of titles we’ve reviewed before—most notably the early iPhone/iPod touch release Enigmo—but with more cartoony graphics and a friendlier user interface. Casey’s a little boy tasked with solving over 70 different puzzles that require you to select parts from a drawer at the bottom of the screen, then place them in the right locations so that certain events take place in proper sequence when you hit a “play” button. For example, you’ll see a collection of junk suspended in the air at the top left of the screen that needs to be moved to the bottom right; you’ll need to position and tilt a collection of shelves and boxes so that the junk slides to the right after it falls.
There are more than thirty different items to use, several at a time, in the various levels. You unlock additional levels by completing sets of puzzles, and by collecting stars that open different “locations.” Currently, those locations include The Classroom, The Backyard, and Casey’s Bedroom; two additional locations, presumably with 30 or so more puzzles a piece, are listed in the game as “coming soon.” There’s also a level editor so that you can create and share new puzzles with friends—together, these features help Casey’s Contraptions feel substantially worthy of its asking price.
While none of these elements is strictly “new,” Casey’s Contraptions executes well on all of them. The 2-D graphics are all attractively illustrated, each foreground and background element working really well to create nicely contrasting cartoony scenes; animation is simple, but effective and appropriate to the gravity and other physics effects handled by the visual engine. Music is looping and very repetitive—acceptable only by bargain game standards—but it’s nonetheless cheery and clean. Where Snappy Touch really succeeds is in the UI, which unlike Enigmo gets out of the way to let you easily accomplish what you need to do: dragging, turning, and positioning items is effortless, aided by an auto-snapping feature that helps items to fit together rather than standing apart from each other. Younger players will particularly appreciate the look, feel, and fun of this title; particularly for them, but also for other players who don’t like the sci-fi and geeky bent of more complex physics puzzlers such as Enigmo, it’s worthy of our high recommendation. iLounge Rating: A-.
Kids’ app-focused iOS developer Peapod Labs is best known for its ABC series of edutainment titles—very similar but neat alphabet and word teaching tools—so it’s nice to see the company continuing to spread out into new genres. Firehouse Adventure ($2, version 1.0) is its second diversion from the ABC theme, and though it’s a very simple set of games, it’s a good pick for young children due to its firefighter concept and cartoony graphics. We also really appreciate its universal support for iPads, iPhones, and iPod touches.
There are eight different mini-games to be played here, each simple enough for any three-year old child to understand: Firefighter Gear is a swipe-based drag-and-drop clothing and equipment matching game, Ladder Rescue, Safety Net, and In The Trees are tilt-to-rescue-animals games, Firetruck Traffic has you jump a firetruck over vehicles, Put Out The Fire and Helicopter Drop are vehicle positioning and water-spraying games, and Find & Rescue is a tilt-based maze game. Any child capable of controlling and adjusting the tilt of an iOS device will be able to play almost all of the games. Apart from Peapod’s very cute Little Explorers character artwork, each one is simply animated and initially low on the intensity scale, becoming only a little bit more difficult before the player is rated on a scale showing the maximum possible performance. The same extremely simple, looping song plays throughout all of the games, along with cute siren and other special effects that won’t bother or particularly blow anyone away.
Firehouse Adventure is substantially like Peapod’s last title, Bugsy the Blue Hamster, relying on the charm of its art, theme, and simplicity to appeal to very young players. In all of these ways, it succeeds, and given the price tag, it’s easy to recommend to parents looking for an inexpensive way to teach their kids a little about what firefighters do. That having been said, it’s not as strong sonically as it could and should be, and older kids will find it much easier to put down than toddlers. It would be great to see Peapod develop gameplay that could optionally scale upwards and downwards to accommodate different ages and skills of young players, but for the target audience, this is a good release. iLounge Rating: B+.
Every once in a while, the non-game content of a game is so strong that the title is worth recommending on the basis of the complete package. That’s precisely why you should check out The Heist ($1, version 1.0) from tap tap tap/MacHeist, an inexpensive iPhone/iPod touch title that leverages some extremely cool cinematics to pad what’s otherwise a very simple set of four types of puzzle games. We’re not going to spoil the title’s broad ideas, but it suffices to say that they’re great, and get even better by the game’s end.
There are 60 puzzles, and you win the game if you complete roughly 75% of them. Tap tap tap keeps The Heist from becoming frustrating by letting you choose which 75% you want to do; though you will have to play at least some puzzles that you mightn’t like, you can quickly steer towards the ones you prefer, and sometimes skip ones that you’re confused by. There’s a symbol-matching game akin to Sudoku, a tile-switching game like the Mac’s Tile Game, a “push to align keys with locks” block-positioning game, and a “extricate the silver pill” dowel-pushing game, each with 15 increasingly difficult variations. Each of the four games has the same backdrop and pieces throughout all of the puzzles; they just climb in complexity as you play.
Yes, the puzzles feel so familiar and simple that each game would be hard to recommend as a standalone experience, but they’re wrapped together with a safecracking theme that encourages you to break locks on a bank vault in order to receive a reward. If you succeed in opening the vault, you actually get something from MacHeist, known for its aggressively-priced software bundles—a brilliant way to promote its products. The funky thief-porn music and storyline are so well-executed that they alone are worth the price of admission. We’re hoping for a sequel with more interesting puzzles, but what’s here is a very good start. iLounge Rating: B+.