Welcome to this week’s first game-focused edition of iPhone + iPad Gems! Today, we’re looking at four titles—three different games, and one app that’s unusually designed to turn specific iPhones and iPads into accessories for an iOS or Mac game.
Our top picks in this collection are iBlast Moki 2 HD and Cubes vs. Spheres, but Phoenix HD is also worth checking out as a free overhead shooter. Read on for all the details.
There are two ways to understand the appeal of ShockPanda Games’ new universal iOS game Cubes vs. Spheres ($1, version 1.0): as it is right now, and as it could be. It’s great enough for the price to be highly recommendable in its current form—an abstract and more complex version of Skee-Ball, letting you flick balls in 3-D at moving targets in the distance, while attempting to keep the cube-shaped targets from rolling into a circular target zone surrounding your position. ShockPanda complicates it by allowing you to be attacked from more than just one screen width of targets, such that the cubes come at you from the far left and right, beyond what you can initially see looking forwards. That’s where the game’s “could be” appeal comes in: think back to the “virtual reality” craze of the mid-1990s, where companies were trying to popularize games with 3-D goggles and head tracking. Cubes vs. Spheres could have been the killer app that helped the virtual reality niche go mainstream, and if it evolves further, who knows what it could do with iOS devices and the Apple TV?
At first, Cubes vs. Spheres is simple: you touch a blue ball icon to make one sphere at a time pop out of a hole at the bottom center of the screen, then flick that ball at red cubes that are rolling towards you. One ball at a time, you eliminate the cubes until all that’s left is a boxy, white-shaded horizon. As the levels progress, the number of cubes increases dramatically, and you also earn in-game cash to unlock additional weapons—fireballs, homing balls, freeze balls, and so on—which can be used mostly in a very limited fashion to dispatch multiple attackers at once. An expensive ball tripling weapon works like the blue Angry Bird, splitting your unlimited-use standard ball into three with a tap while it’s in motion. You’ll very quickly need to use it to keep the hordes of cubes away, as they evolve into harder-to-see clear versions, multi-hit black versions, and other variations. The difficulty increases quickly and devilishly, but the challenges remain manageable, a trademark of good design.
Proper use of a cool theme is the reason Cubes vs. Spheres is already great. There are thirty levels spread out across three difficulty levels, and the block-themed levels don’t get old: the 3-D shaded polygons are beautiful despite their simplicity, like the cubic introductory screens and levels of Mobigame’s Edge, and the relatively simple, looping chiptune-styled soundtrack fits the action quite well. ShockPanda’s choice of fonts and other UI elements all fit the blocky style to a T, and the universal iOS support is another welcome plus for the price. Apart from added levels and music, the only major tweaks Cubes vs. Spheres could use would be even better perspective-shifting controls—tilting and swiping are both less than ideal as implemented. Evolved into the virtual reality-esque experience it could easily become, this title could be huge; as is, it’s a ton of fun with great style. iLounge Rating: A-.
Every once in a long time, we come across a game that’s just so obviously well-developed that we don’t even want to bother writing the full review—it would almost suffice to say “go check this out right now if you like this genre.” GodziLAB Games’ new universal iOS app iBlast Moki 2 HD ($5/$3, version 1.0.0) is one of these games—a title with such polish, cuteness, and quality content that we’d just suggest you skip the rest of this text and grab it if you like puzzle games. All you really need to know is this: it’s a collection of nearly 100 individual 2-D puzzles that challenge you to position a limited number of bombs, colored paint balls, and machine parts in various places, enabling one or more cute little Mokis to get blasted or rolled from point A to point B. You’re given a tray of items and a one- or more-screened map with start and end points; you win the level if all the Mokis exit through an animated vortex, and score bonus points if you collect all the items scattered between the entrance and exit.
iBlast Moki 2 is so well-executed in big and small ways that it’s had to criticize. Once you get the hang of the initial controls, which just see you dragging bombs to a given position, testing their physics to see how hitting the explosive trigger causes events to unfold, and then repositioning elements to make the explosions unfold, you’re off to the races. The levels just get better and better as additional types of colored paint bombs—glue, slick sliding, bounce, and so on—are introduced, and as strategic timing elements begin to require consideration as well. Later levels add additional items such as ropes, balloons, and gears to create flying and rolling machines as alternative forms of transportation for the Mokis. A $1 In-App Purchase lets you unlock all of the game’s worlds if you don’t want to play through them in order, but the challenges will make the most sense if you proceed in sequence. Once you complete the game, you can create additional stages with an integrated level creator; there’s even an online sharing feature for user-created stages.
Aesthetically, iBlast Moki 2 HD takes a step or two beyond Angry Birds: there’s happy instrumental music themed to match each of the game’s worlds, cute little characters and explosions, and enough smooth animation to make everything look as charming as cartoony puzzlers come on iOS devices these days. iPads and Retina Display devices are fully supported with high-resolution graphics that look great even when they’re zoomed in; only early iPhones and iPod touches are left out of the fun. Our suggestion would be to get in on this one now: the regular $5 price is discounted, additional levels are promised in future updates, and what’s here right now is great enough to merit our rare flat A and high recommendation. This is a smart, wonderfully polished puzzler with plenty of content and universal support—GodziLAB has given users every reason to want this, and no major reasons to object to it. iLounge Rating: A.
We really wanted to like Namco Bandai’s recently-released app iGunCon (Free, version 1.0.0), which the famed arcade game developer has touted as a virtual iOS and Mac-compatible version of the company’s PlayStation light gun controllers, but the app turns out to be cooler in concept than in practice. The idea: you load the game Time Crisis 2nd Strike on one iOS device or the Mac, then download the free iGunCon app onto either an iPhone 4 or iPad 2—a second device, dedicated solely to iGunCon. Then you hold the iPhone or iPad as if it’s a handgun, and use it to aim, fire, and pop out from behind objects in Time Crisis. Namco includes three different GunCon models within the app, as well as international color and name versions for each one, and lets you make various types of gun sounds in a “toy” practice mode when you’re not using the app to play Time Crisis.
While Namco’s various GunCon iterations have worked well with past PlayStation Time Crisis games, and were surely essential to the success of the arcade games, iGunCon’s attempt to replicate the experience using Apple’s devices as controllers falls sort of flat. Rather than holding the iPhone or iPad with its screen facing you, you’re supposed to hold it like a gun, with the headphone port facing the screen of the Mac or iOS device running Time Crisis 2nd Strike, and then use the various gun and pedal buttons on the screen as controls. It just doesn’t feel great, and isn’t helped by the somewhat laggy responsiveness between your Wi-Fi-shared gyroscope and digital compass motions and the movement of the targeting reticule on screen. You’re better off just mousing, trackpadding, or touching the Time Crisis controls without an accessory, and we say that as huge fans of both the franchise and the original GunCon controllers. Even for free, it’s not worth wasting your time on this app. iLounge Rating: C-.
Last but not least this week is Firi Games’ universal iOS app Phoenix HD (Free, version 1.0.3), a relatively simple overhead shooting game with a noteworthy pricing structure. The title can be downloaded at no cost, and enables you to play as one of three ships—the all-around good ship Phoenix—for free. If you instead want to use the more powerful Corsair, which has a lock-on weapon, you pay $1 more; there’s another $1 charge for the Mirage, which adds laser weapons that become more powerful when it’s kept sitting in one place. And finally, there’s a $1 charge if you want to participate in online leaderboards for the game. In sum, you needn’t pay anything for the game, but if you want to try the extra ships or compete against friends, you have the option.
And honestly, you just might want to bother. While Phoenix HD’s theme is familiar enough, the quality of the artwork is very impressive for a free game thanks to nice glowing weapon and explosion effects, plus art that’s high-resolution enough to look great on the screens of iPads and Retina Display-equipped iPhones/iPod touches alike. Heavily mechanical backgrounds and robotic spacecraft enemies aren’t particularly distinctive but have plenty of detail; they take a backseat to the special effects. Epic-styled music is fitting, with relatively simple sound effects that aren’t particularly memorable or intrusive.
Even at its lowest difficulty level, the intensity of the action is as impressive as you’d expect from any top-notch “bullet hell”-style shooter—very high—with the same general play mechanics: enemies appear on screen and dispense hundreds of little bullets in patterns that must be dodged. You’re only given one ship to make it through the game, so you constantly need to keep yourself in motion. Yet the additional ships do change the way the game plays. Switching ships changes the amount you move around, as well as the special effects of your gunfire. Since shooting is almost entirely automated, you use swipe commands to move around on the screen and a double-tap to fire limited-use special attacks, but are largely dispensing round after round of ammo from the lower half of the screen to enemies moving around the upper half. It’s a well-established formula, executed well here for a free game, and with a pay-for-more system that seems very fair. Consider this one worthy of checking out if you’re a fan of overhead shooters.iLounge Rating: B+.
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