Welcome to this week’s gaming edition of iPhone + iPad Gems! This roundup includes an attractively-designed puzzler, a classically-styled point-and-click adventure game, a fun physics emulator, a football sequel, and a beautiful side-scrolling adventure.
Our top pick of the bunch is Contre Jour HD, but three other titles all warrant our strong general recommendations. Read on for all the details.
Putting aside the fact that it’s sold in separate versions—Chillingo and Mokus’s Contre Jour HD ($3, version 1.01) for iPad/iPhone/iPod touch and a less expensive iPhones and iPod touch one*—is one of those “iOS games you just need to see,” a title that’s facially derivative of a number of games we’ve previously reviewed, but manages to feel entirely different. Borrowing the dark, cartoony, and deliberately weird visual style of World of Goo and some gameplay elements from titles such as Cut the Rope and even Angry Birds, Contre Jour HD is a collection of single-screen puzzles that challenge you to move a cyclops-like creature named Petit by resculpting the world, then using ropes, slingshots, and propulsion objects to collect objects called “lights” before escaping to a glowing exit.
Early levels teach you to turn flat platforms into ramps or jumps, then later levels add dangerous spikes, nearly pitch-black conditions, and other challenges to overcome. Rather than controlling Petit directly, you swipe and tap the platforms and other objects—plus the effects of gravity and a physics engine—to make him move from place to place, hopefully gathering all three lights before he gets to the exit. Just like Cut the Rope, there are stages where you need to use tendrils individually or in concert to change his position; similarly, you’ll wonder just where the game’s heading when you spot the Angry Birds tribute with a destructible structure and a trampoline-like slingshot, but Contre Jour HD doesn’t try to borrow its rivals wholesale. They’re just influences, most but not all of them as quickly forgotten as raised.
Contre Jour HD’s first strong point is the initial collection of 60 levels, which span “Monsters,” “The Night,” and “Machine” worlds—at least one more world is promised—and already provide more than enough puzzle content to justify the $3 asking price. So too do the aesthetics, which show the sort of polish that would have been remarkable if World of Goo hadn’t previously gone even further in both visuals and audio. Recalling Jon Brion’s soundtrack for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, David Ari Leon’s score is so hauntingly moody as to be beautiful and depressing at the same time; the charmingly monstrous character, background, and object artwork all feels like a dark-roasted blend of Cut the Rope’s and World of Goo’s best elements. As a universal game for $3, Contre Jour HD merits an unmitigated A rating and our high recommendation.* We’re very intrigued by the prospect of additional content, and can’t wait to see what Chillingo has in store for the future. iLounge Rating: A. (Note: This review was updated after initial publication to note and reward the HD version’s universal iOS support.)
Demolition Master 3D HD ($2, version 1.1) from AppMania is an iPad game that presents you with a seemingly simple task: blow stuff up. If you’re looking to accomplish the same thing on the smaller screen of the iPhone or iPod touch, it’s a separate $1 download. The game lives up to the 3-D claim in the title with truly impressive graphics and immersive worlds.
Each of the 70 levels—spread across London, Paris, New York, and a bonus world only accessible when you “Like” the game on Facebook—presents you with the same basic task. You’re at a construction site, and have to take down the wood, concrete, and steel structures using four kind of explosives. In addition, extra stars are granted on each level for hitting certain items on the ground and getting the whole formation not just down, but below a certain height. The first few levels offer a tutorial on controls that wouldn’t otherwise be immediately clear, and the physics-based puzzles certainly get harder as the levels progress.
What we liked most about Demolition Master was the 3-D world it’s set in. Each level can be viewed from almost any angle above the ground, with the camera simply following your finger as it moves across the screen. Zooming in and out uses a pinching gesture. This actually adds to the gameplay too, because bombs can be placed on any side of the beams, which affects the direction in which they fall—a really impressive combination of graphics engine and gameplay. While there’s no music, occasional construction site noises—pipes clinking against each other, or hammering sounds—are present in each of the levels. There are also sound effects for the bombs and their controls that add to the experience. With so many levels, and the ability to get up to three stars on each, this game will keep players busy for awhile. For the $2 asking price, it’s worthy of a recommendation despite its lack of universal iOS support and music, but we’d love to see those features added. iLounge Rating: B+.
Hector Ep2 HD – Senseless Acts of Justice ($15/$7, version 1.0) is Telltale Games’ second game in the Hector: Badge of Carnage trilogy; we profiled the first chapter a few months ago. This version is for the iPad, and there is a separate iPhone/iPod touch title for $5. Hector immediately calls to mind the Sam & Max franchise that Telltale previously revived; this is similarly a point-and-click adventure, featuring the same kind of smart writing and bawdy humor that may be best appreciated by teenagers and young adults. It definitely earns its 17+ rating.
Picking up right where the previous title left off, the game starts out with a sizable cutscene, putting you in control of Hector with no items in his possession. Controls are as simple as possible: you simply tap to move or interact with different on-screen elements. There are a number of different locales, and the game requires you to move back-and-forth between them rather frequently. While you’ll enjoy the game more and get some of the references if you played the first game, part 2’s story stands on its own. You have to explore the surroundings, collecting and combining items to accomplish different tasks. This time, you switch off between controlling Hector and his inept partner Lambert for different portions of the game. While the dialogue can seem somewhat long-winded, you’re rewarded with good writing if you sit through it.
We liked Hector’s graphics quite a bit: Telltale uses a unique cartoony style, with detailed but static backgrounds, and solidly-colored characters who really pop out. The soundtrack is understated, and plays second fiddle to the solid voice acting. At times, the dialogue actually borders on being a bit too much, and if you’ve listened to it all there’s no real benefit to playing the game through again. If you appreciate raunchy humor, you’ll get a kick out this game. The one thing that holds us back from offering a high recommendation is the price—while it might be justified if the app were universal, the fact that it’s as expensive as it is and separately sold for different iOS devices takes the rating down a bit. A $15 asking price for the iPad version—discounted to $7 initially—plus a $5 iPod/iPhone charge is quite steep. Our advice would be to buy in at these prices only if you really value interactive storytelling; otherwise, wait for a sale. iLounge Rating: B+.
There’s a point at which EA’s annual sports game franchise updates turn the corner from merely modest tweaks to actual neglect, and that’s what’s happened with the new football game Madden NFL 12 by EA Sports for iPad ($10, version 1.0.2). Rather than wasting a lot of time discussing all of the things that have stayed the same from last year’s version to this one, it suffices to say this: Madden NFL 12 is effectively the same title with new menu screens, the promise of additional updates to the game’s player rosters, and—wait for it—new bugs. Though the App Store page claims that Madden NFL 12 is “optimized for the iPad 2,” the game has such profound frame rate and other problems on the new iPad that it actually looks worse than Madden NFL 11 did, stuttering from the time you start your kickoff through every major play. It’s staggering to see individual tiles of the swipe-based kicking meter popping into place, and other on-field graphics that were basically trouble-free in the prior game becoming problems here. Something seems to have gone seriously wrong with the iPad 2-specific code prior to release. While bugs like this might be somewhat tolerable if EA was selling universal versions of Madden that worked on a load of different iOS devices, the fact that this one’s an only modest update to last year’s version, iPad-only, and comparatively expensive makes the problems unforgivable.
There are no great surprises in the rest of the experience. While the 3-D character and stadium graphics are modestly updated from last year’s versions, and remain the most detailed yet seen on the iPad, they are essentially the same as the ones we’ve seen before (and praised) on the iPhone and iPod touch—plus some new animations, and minus the smooth frame rates. Play-by-play audio has been updated, but remains less than totally impressive, particularly given that statements made by the commentators don’t necessarily match up with text that appears on the screen: what is verbally referred to as a big loss of yardage is depicted by both measured numbers and on-screen text as a short loss. Madden 11’s in-menu music content has been swapped for different tunes, and both the menu art and play books have been changed just enough to seem new, but not particularly fresh. Additionally, just in time for NFL 12’s release, EA pulled NFL 11 from the store and seemingly discontinued its ability to download current rosters as an incentive to buy the newer version instead. Our advice is to hold off: the football season may be here, but Madden NFL 12 for iPad needs some extra work before it’s ready to take the field. iLounge Rating: C.
Finnish developer Mikrotie’s Treemaker ($1, version 1.2) is the only iPad- and iPhone/iPod touch-universal title in this roundup, and it’s also the most artistically unique. The goal of this 2-D side scroller is to move a plant-monster around by swinging from and landing on different platforms, collecting yellow orbs along the way. Whenever an orb is collected, the silhouette of a tree grows in its place. Although we found the game to be rather difficult at first, repeated attempts revealed better ways to play and it became less frustrating over time.
Without a doubt, the aspect of this game that stands out the most is the graphics. While you move solely in two dimensions, the platforms are very nicely 3-D-rendered, and though the backgrounds are primarily changing hues between the three worlds, they’re all static drawings of tree shadows—beautiful stuff. Leaves float by in the background, and like the rest of the graphics look great even when you’re zoomed in close to the action. That said, the zoomed out mode makes gameplay much easier and generally is a better default view. Though repetitive, the woodwind-filled music matches the overall feel of the game, and while the sound effects are rather limited, we liked the ones that are there; a rubber stretching effect plays when a tree starts growing, and a gentle thump can be heard when you land on a platform, for example. Unfortunately, the game is quite short, as there are only 18 levels across the three worlds, so once you’ve collected three stars on each level—not an easy task, mind you—that’s it. Given the low price, Treemaker is worthy of checking out for its artistic elements and gameplay, but it’ll leave you wanting more, and likely willing to pay more for the privilege. iLounge Rating: B+.