Welcome to this week’s edition of iPhone and iPad Gems! This has been one of the biggest weeks for game releases in the App Store’s history, as three major new games came out today alone, while others arrived just before them. These new and interesting titles range from action games to puzzlers, and two were big enough to merit the full reviews linked below, while others receive shorter reviews and updates.
The sure-fire winners in the group are Cut the Rope, Modern Combat 2: Black Pegasus, Peggle Nights, and Tilt to Live HD, but all of these games are worth knowing about. Read on for all the details.
There’s a hungry little green monster on the screen, and candy in the air above him on a rope—that’s the basic premise of Chillingo and ZeptoLab’s Cut the Rope ($1) and Cut the Rope HD ($2). Your goal is to get the monster fed while touching the candy with up to three stars as it moves closer to his mouth, so although you win and can move past the stage if you feed him, you’re supposed to try and get bonuses for each star you touch along the way. The challenge: to get the stars, you need to use swipe and tap gestures to slice ropes and animate objects that make the candy sway, float, and dangle in different ways. Cut the Rope starts with 100 different levels, using your successes at star gathering to unlock themed “boxes” of additional stages, promising that more are forthcoming.
Regardless of whether the concept has been done before elsewhere, ZeptoLab’s implementation here is nearly pitch perfect: the Om Nom monster and simple backgrounds are cute, but most of your attention focuses on the smoothly animated ropes that hold the candy, then on the timing and physics required to swing the candy in the right ways towards stars and his mouth. Thereafter, the addition of other objects—bubbles, blowers, spikes, and more—transforms what initially seem like simple puzzles into more complex challenges, with the prospect of seeing the third and fourth themes (foil box and gift box) adding incentives beyond the raw fun of the action to keep on playing. On the other hand, Cut the Rope’s pleasant but looping music is good, but not great.
Though Chilingo really shouldn’t have put out two separate versions of this game, either one is worth trying; for the time being, there’s a free Lite demo only for the HD version. If you’re a puzzle fan with an iPad, check it out without delay; our advice to iPhone and iPod touch users would be that the full version is a safe $1 investment, too. iLounge Rating: A-.
Gameloft’s military-themed first-person shooter Modern Combat: Sandstorm won our 2009 iPod/iPhone Game of the Year Award for good reason: it was a breakthrough release in the App Store, bringing portable console-caliber gameplay, graphics, and audio together in a way that no other App Store title had before. Flash forward a year and there’s a sequel, Modern Combat 2: Black Pegasus ($7), which will sate fans of the last game without completely blowing them away in the same way: it offers generally impressive graphics, solid audio, and the same sort of gameplay, each with little tweaks rather than wholesale changes to the prior formula.
See our full Modern Combat 2: Black Pegasus review for all of the details; it suffices here to say that while this game mightn’t be as ambitious as the very best releases in its genre for other devices, it’s very close to completely excellent as a $7 iPhone and iPod touch title—omission of true iPad support aside, it’s impossible to ignore the value that Gameloft is offering here. That said, iOS first-person shooters have come a long way in both performance and expectations since last year, and this sequel offers more of the same rather than charting new territory as its predecessor did in the App Store. Overall, Black Pegasus is worthy of our high recommendation, albeit with some small caveats that take it out of the rare flat A category that Sandstorm helped to define. iLounge Rating: A-.
Some things take so long to happen that when they finally do take place, they’re hard to get excited about no matter how great they are. Well, PopCap Games’ Peggle Nights ($3/$1) has finally arrived for the iPhone and iPod touch after two years of waiting, and though it mightn’t be exciting news at this point, there’s no doubt that it’s great—and an incredible value for the price. Sold as an in-app purchase within the previous release of Peggle, a game that won our iPod Game of the Year Award back in 2008, Peggle Nights adds an additional 60 puzzles and accompanying intermissions to the original title, plus new challenges and awards.
Though our prior full review of Peggle covers all of the major gameplay details, it suffices to say that both games involve shooting a ball 10 or more times from a cannon at the center top of the screen, attempting to remove all of the red-colored bricks and pegs from a maze-like collection of blue, red, green, and purple items. The gameplay is simultaneously simple and compelling, made more challenging as more pegs are added and different limited-use special powers are linked to the green pegs every handful of stages. PopCap initially scotched the otherwise impressive iPhone and iPod touch release of Peggle by leaving out music, later quietly adding it back, and Peggle Nights takes advantage of the same upbeat soundtrack and simple sound effects as you play.
All of the game’s original “Peggle Master” characters return in Nights, along with a new character, each made even funnier than before thanks to sharper writing and edgier, “night time” personalities. Bjorn the Unicorn, for instance, becomes a masked crime fighter whose levels have gritty urban backdrops, while Marina the Electric Squid appears with the ability to fire electricity as a limited-use special power. While the finer background details from the beautifullly illustrated Nights are all but impossible to see on the iPhone and iPod touch, they’ve been preserved as best as possible for a game without Retina Display support, and the new levels remain as compelling as they were when Nights debuted on computers two years ago.
While Peggle and Peggle Nights aren’t 100% identical to the PC and Mac versions, which have benefitted from additional expansion packs and content, the incredibly low prices for the initial game—currently $1—and the in-app purchase, which varies from $1 to $3 depending on when you buy it, make this a must-see title for puzzle gamers. That PopCap has been so quiet and slow about the updates to this title has come as a continued surprise to us, as they continue to make a very good initial release even better; the overall package and the Peggle Nights purchase now both merit our high recommendation. iLounge Ratings (Both): A-.
Over the last month, we really tried to get into Nevercenter Ltd.‘s Shibuya ($2), a game named for our favorite district in Japan—one known for its bright lights and young, energetic crowds of people—but we couldn’t get excited about it; it’s just too simple. A well in the center of the screen fills with translucent bars that you tap one at a time, filling them with colors that are listed in a queue at the top left corner. Your goal is to make matches by strategically filling the translucent bars such that two or more adjacent ones fill with the same color, which then enables you to tap the matched bars to eliminate them from the well, making room for more.
While Shibuya isn’t a bad game, and the music included by developer Nevercenter is actually pretty hip, the plain colored bar visuals are pretty boring—not up to the game’s namesake by any stretch of the imagination—and the experience never really builds in tension; you either get what you’re supposed to do and waste some time doing it, or don’t get it and feel like you’re confused, again wasting time in a negative way trying to figure it out. It could get better with a larger well and some interesting alternatives to just stacking one block on top of another, but in its current form, it feels only a bit better than a demo of a partially finished game. We hope that it improves over time, as the basic concept is sound, and just waiting for added excitement and diversity to spice up the experience. iLounge Rating: B-.
We were Sonic the Hedgehog fans early on in the series, and continued to pick up occasional release thereafter, but we felt that the franchise was broken—conceptually bankrupt—long before it became fashionable to say so. So when we say that Sonic the Hedgehog 4 Episode I ($10) is little more than a brief, graphically improved, and less than totally polished rehash of the side-scrolling platformer Sonic 2 with small elements taken from later games in the series, fans will know exactly what we mean. And they’ll probably still buy it anyway, because the franchise has been so abused that rewarmed content has a better chance of being worthwhile than something new.
While our full review of Sonic the Hedgehog 4 Episode I discusses all of the details, we’ll say this much here: putting the ridiculously long period of hype aside, this is a good but not great title that stands out more because of its updated graphics and largely iPhone/iPod touch-friendly controls than anything else. It’s better than Sega’s last two Sonic ports were for the iPhone and iPod touch, but would not have stood on its own as a 32-bit console release, and might have even faltered as a full-priced Nintendo DS or Sony PSP title. The initial $10 asking price is too high for what feels like less than a full game full of rewarmed stages and action, so wait until the inevitable price drop—or the release of additional “episode” content to fill this game out—unless you’re a die hard Sonic fan. iLounge Rating: B.
As the latest faux-16-bit game in the App Store to attract some mainstream attention, Deceased Pixel’s Super Mega Worm ($1) is a small but amusingly developed title that places you in control of a burrowing and flying segmented monster. Presented from a side-scrolling perspective with a slider or joypad to control the worm’s angle and buttons to activate different earned abilities—acceleration and spitting, as examples—the game initially seems like little more than a set of retro-themed visual jokes, but reveals itself to be deeper and more challenging over time.
Characters wander around on the surface of the planet waiting to be devoured, with funny speech bubbles appearing on screen as distractions from the constant action. Eating as many people, animals, and objects at once to score combos is a goal, as is surviving what eventually come to be numerous and more powerful attacks on the worm, depleting a limited life bar. But when you discover that you can’t fly high in the air unless you learn to juggle yourself on certain above-ground objects, and that things are hidden in the skies and within the dirt below if you want to search for them, Super Mega Worm becomes more than just a blood- and particle-filled comedic horror game; it’s a novel form of platformer, one that keeps you constantly in motion.
Earning points is what enables you to progress through the 24 stages, each styled with deliberately blocky Super Mario-style graphics that improve only a little as your worm continues to grow. On the iPad, the graphics are just as chunky but the control slider occupies less of the screen. Music is forgettable 8-bit-styled chip fare, but generally fits the look and feel of the action. While Super Mega Worm isn’t incredible, it’s another example of how a low price point and interesting game play can make a seemingly simple concept surprisingly compelling; it’s worthy of our B+ rating and general recommendation. iLounge Rating: B+.
Though the concept was extremely simple, Tilt to Live was one of the best new games this year for the iPhone and iPod touch, and its just-released sequel Tilt to Live HD (Free/$4) is—wait for it—even better. While developer One Man Left Studios hasn’t changed a ton from the original game, a one-screen exercise in precision tilting to keep your arrow-shaped ship away from chasing hordes of killer red dots, it has done three things to upgrade the experience: first, it has expanded the playfield rather than keeping the objects proportional to the larger screen, which provides more room to move and more space for enemies. Second, it has redrawn the stylish artwork to be even more eye-popping than before while preserving the music—still some of the catchiest we’ve heard in the App Store.
And third, it has redefined the rules of Gauntlet mode, one of three new game modes added after the initial release, transforming it into an instant death game with a huge collection of attackers rather than the more focused quick-dodge set of obstacles found in the iPhone/iPod touch game. Gauntlet, Code Red, and Frostbite were all added to the iPhone/iPod touch title after our initial release, each with an interesting enough twist (and later new music), collectively raising the game’s overall appeal and rating from a B+ to an A-. For a game with such a simple concept—just keep tilting to avoid getting killed, grabbing power-ups to destroy enemies whenever possible—the updates have made it amazingly addictive.
Though Tilt to Live HD is largely the same title with new graphics, there’s enough new content and replay value to make the game worth grabbing twice—something we generally would not say is the case for titles such as this one. That’s solely because Tilt to Live grew so much better with updates than it was at its original $2 price tag; Tilt to Live HD is right-priced at $4, interestingly using an in-app purchase to extend the initial free demo download to a full game. Like several other games we’re reviewing today, we consider it to be a must-try title, and the new demo-to-full title structure will make this particularly convenient at first, then problematic only if the application is uninstalled and redownloaded, forcing the in-app content to be re-activated. We haven’t been able to pull Tilt to Live off of our devices since we initially installed it, so this is unlikely to be a real issue for the HD version, either. iLounge Rating: A-.