Welcome to this week’s second and super-sized gaming edition of iPhone + iPad Gems! Today’s collection includes a few new casual games, as well as a sequel to one of our favorite iOS titles, and an action-strategy game built upon a great Atari title.
Our top picks of the bunch are Shoot the Birds and Zombie Gunship, though we actually liked all of these titles quite a bit. Read on for all the details.
If you’ve played either of the previous versions of Chillingo and ZeptoLab’s Cut the Rope titles in the past, you’ll instantly be familiar with the graphics, sounds, characters, and gameplay of Cut the Rope: Experiments ($1, version 1.0), also available as Cut the Rope: Experiments HD ($2, version 1.0) for the iPad. Though these are sold as standalone games, they’re both really just the same collection of 75 new Cut the Rope levels separately packaged for the iPhone/iPod touch and iPad, now including a few neat new mechanics and something of a backstory. The idea’s still the same: Om Nom is hungry, and it’s your job to get a piece of candy safely to his mouth while getting the candy to touch all three stars along a pathway to the lovable little monster. You accomplish this by using finger swipes to cut ropes that are holding onto the piece of candy, causing it to fall and fly through the air depending on what it’s interacting with. This time around, Om Nom’s placed in lab-like settings for experiences, giving the developers an opportunity to add rope shooters and suction cups to the mix of objects that interact with the candy. The gameplay is still a blast, the art’s still charming, and getting all three stars on a particularly hard level is really rewarding.
We were excited about the way ZeptoLab seemed to be moving forward with Cut the Rope: Holiday Gift, which was shorter than the first game with only 25 levels, but was both free and universal across the iPhone and iPad. In Cut the Rope: Experiments, you’re getting pretty much the same game and animation as before, plus virtually the same sound effects and very similar music; it’s only the level designs that feel different. We have no objection to the asking price for Cut the Rope: Experiments, but given how little has changed here, an in-app purchase would have been better than a separate app, and there’s no justification any more for separate standard and HD versions. We like the new levels a lot, but we’re disappointed in just how they’re served up. iLounge Rating: B+.
Infinite Dreams is calling its new universal iOS game Shoot the Birds ($1, version 1.0) “Angry Birds meets Tiny Wings,” and though it actually has very little in common with either of those titles from a gameplay perspective, there’s plenty of overlap in the themes and addictiveness departments. In Shoot the Birds, you take control of a scarecrow that sits at the bottom center of the static single screen, armed with a bow and arrow. All you need to do is pull back on the bow, point it in a direction, and let go to send arrows flying in the direction of bird targets who fly above—something like a more challenging, less screen-populated version of Space Invaders. You have the in-game equivalent of one day to shoot as many birds as possible; once the dead of night hits and the moon comes out, the game’s over and your points are tallied.
Try playing it without the tutorial and you’ll notice that something weird—and Tiny Wings-inspired—is happening: sometimes, despite an unlimited quiver of arrows, the “day” will last only a minute, whereas at other times, you’ll find yourself playing for what seems like five minutes or longer before the moon goes bright. After nailing a number of shots in a row, you’ll catch on fire like an NBA Jam character and start shooting “fury mode” arrows, and if you miss a shot, they’ll disappear. As it turns out, this is all part of Shoot the Birds’ subtle power-up and timer system, neither made obvious until you look for them: every missed arrow makes the day end quicker, and certain types of arrow hits extend your time, so the better you play, the longer you play, and the more often you go into fury mode. While occasional obvious time bonus targets wouldn’t have hurt, Shoot the Birds accomplishes the same thing in an equally interesting way.
Similarly, even though the experience initially feels unstructured, you’ll quickly realize that if you start completing objectives shown on the game’s main screen, your scaregrow grows a little, your initial point multiplier goes up, and new objectives appear—shoot 50 birds in a sitting becomes shoot 30 birds using falling arrows—ones that hit indirectly after gravity pulls them from the sky—or shoot four birds with one arrow, each challenge making the seemingly simple game even more challenging and fun. It’s no stretch to call Shoot the Birds seriously addictive, and more to our liking in that regard than Tiny Wings, if considerably short of the sheer number of levels and backgrounds found in the Angry Birds titles.
One thing that this title has going for it is Infinite Dreams’ ever-intriguing art department, which continually finds ways to make seemingly plain game themes visually interesting. In addition to nice enough parallax scrolling of its mostly 2-D visual elements, the company uses a cool glowing sun, nice clouds, and gentle color shifting effects to move each day from sunshine to darkness, and between the iPad and iPhone/iPod touch Retina Display pixel-sharp art and the completely smooth animation for your arrows, it’s more impressive than screenshots might suggest. On the other hand, the audio is as threadbare as in Angry Birds, as there’s no in-game music—a banjo strums at the end of the day—and only farm noises and arrow sounds otherwise keep the game from being silent. Sonic omissions and even greater background variations aside, Shoot the Birds is a really cool little casual title for the $1 asking price, and we’d hope that it gets the attention it deserves. iLounge Rating: A-.
Temple Run ($1, version 1.1) is an iPhone- and iPod touch-only over-the-shoulder perspective endless running title from Imangi Studios. Set in Amazonian ruins, your job is to evade the pack of monkeys behind you and obstacles in front of you to collect as many coins as you can. The running is automatic, but you must swipe to turn, jump, and slide, and tilt your device to move side to side along your course. Collecting certain numbers of coins and running further and further distances unlocks Game Center achievements. Power-ups make this process easier; they can be upgraded using the coins collected, or with those that are bought through an in-app purchase. Levels are randomly generated, providing some replay value for what could otherwise become a purely repetitive exercise in running and jumping.
The 3-D graphics, while obviously polygonal, look quite good and are optimized for the iPhone 4 and iPod touch Retina Displays. Although it’s not quite as sharp on larger screens, it does scale pretty well to the iPad. A looping jungle beat in the background fits the art’s style—we just wish there was some variety—and sound effects are limited to your adventurer’s footsteps, grunts, and coin grabs. We liked how simple yet effective the controls are, although some swipes didn’t register as accurately as we might have hoped. While Temple Run is not that deep of a game, it’s fun for a while, and worthy of a flat B rating for the $1 asking price. iLounge Rating: B.
Atari’s 1990 title Rampart was one of the very best strategy games ever released in an arcade cabinet, combining the action and fun of shooting cannonballs with the quick thinking of Tetris-style block assembly to maintain your cannons inside fortresses. Subzero.eu’s new Zen Wars ($1, version 1.0) unapologetically borrows and builds upon Rampart, relying on Apple’s touchscreens rather than trackballs for controllers. A multiplayer mode is designed to let two or three people play locally or online, promising voice chat support; a campaign mode can keep a single player entertained for hours, as well.
Just like Rampart, Zen Wars provides you with an overhead view of a battlefield divided into two or three areas—one per player—and an initial set of castles that are surrounded by squares of brick walls. At the start of a turn, each player gets to place cannons and other weapons inside whatever fortress borders he has been able to secure with bricks, and cannot access any weapons that may have been placed within incomplete and thus unsecured borders. In single-player mode, the player targets opponents’ cannons with his own weapons, blowing up as many as possible as cannonballs rain down on his fortresses. After a post-offense break to rebuild the fortress by turning and placing Tetris-like blocks, the firing and rebuilding cycles repeat again until either all of the enemy’s resources have been wiped out or a set number of turns has passed. In multiplayer mode, players battle until only one person still has a viable fortress.
Zen Wars moves past the Rampart formula by increasing the number of weapons you control—thief units, super cannons, and laser cannons—as well as by changing the types of opponents you face from pirate ships into various types of land-based attackers, and enabling some of the single-player campaign levels to go on for multiple rounds past the point at which you’ve vanquished the current collection of foes. This latter point prolongs the single-player campaign, but also is a low point in the levels, as you can quickly assemble an absolutely overwhelming collection of fortressed castles that do little more from turn to turn than wipe out pesky little attackers. It’s worth mentioning that some of those attackers swarm your castle like bugs, complicating rebuilding, a high point in making the strictly timed block-moving stages more challenging. Unfortunately, the multiplayer mode had serious issues in our testing, suffering from such significant lag and disconnection issues even in local play that the game slowed down to half pace, then ended with inexplicable wireless hang-ups and disconnections rather than victories. These issues will hopefully be resolved in a post-release update.
Problems aside, Zen Wars is a very good $1 title in its single-player mode. While the game isn’t 100% iPad formatted as of yet, most of the graphics display at higher resolution when the iPhone-emulating “2X” scaling button is used, and Retina Display support is included for the latest iPhones and iPod touches. Beyond in the in-game art, Subzero.eu has also inserted some mildly amusing comic book-style intermission sequences between the levels, and includes a powerful classical music soundtrack to keep the energy level high. For now, what’s here is so good that there’s little need for an official Rampart port to iOS devices; with some additional work, Zen Wars could easily become a truly great replacement for Atari’s series. iLounge Rating: B+.
Our final app in this roundup is Limbic Software’s iOS-universal Zombie Gunship ($1, version 1.1), which is akin to a streamlined, zombie-fied version of Cobra Mobile’s iBomber and iBomber II. It is also a top-down shooter, putting you in the pilot’s seat in a war against everybody’s favorite undead monsters. But instead of having to worry about speed and steering, as in the iBomber games, your only concern is destroying the undead.
The game’s presented in a night vision view that’s not unlike actual wartime footage. At one side of the map is a secure bunker to which civilians are trying to escape, alongside zombies who are trying to attack. If one zombie makes it through to the bunker, that’s the end of the level. Zombie Gunship automatically—but subtly—circles around, so that you’re always looking from a slightly different angle at the polygonal landscapes and pre-rendered 2-D attackers. In the center of your screen is an reticule that can be moved around the map by swipe gestures. Zooming in to different levels brings up your firing controls. While the action starts out pretty slowly, giving you access to a 25mm Gatling gun that is rather imprecise and takes a fair amount of time to reload, you earn new and upgraded weapons by killing zombies and saving civilians. That’s when the game really gets fun. Of course, as is the case with so many iOS apps these days, the actual work can be skipped and upgrade coins can be obtained through an in-app purchase.
For better or worse, Zombie Gunship features no soundtrack. Instead, you hear a collection of ambient plane noise, gun shots, and voice-over communication from your commanding officer—this all actually works together to create a tense, believable atmosphere. Yes, it took us a few tries to get into the experience, but once we did, we really enjoyed it. That initial challenge of getting into the action is probably Zombie Gunship’s biggest issue; otherwise, it is a very satisfying and engrossing game, with really nice graphics and a great overall feel. We highly recommend checking this one out. iLounge Rating: A-.