Welcome to this week’s gaming edition of iPhone + iPad Gems! This roundup includes some neat new releases, including a line drawing driving game, two light action games, and a puzzler.
Our top picks are Jetpack Joyride and Swing the Bat, but the soundtrack and 1980’s-inspired artwork in Radballs also make it worth checking out. Read on for all the details.
Weighing in at a hefty 299MB, Chillingo’s DrawRace 2 ($1, version 1.01) is a drastically redesigned followup to RedLynx’s original overhead racing game DrawRace. A separate version, DrawRace 2 HD ($3), is available for the iPad as a separate download. The gameplay is the same in all of these titles: maneuver a race car around different tracks by drawing a path with your finger rather than steering with traditional controls. You draw the path before the race, then watch as your car follows the path, interacting only modestly with it to help it beat one or more opposing vehicles.
While this seems simple, mastering the courses can be a challenging task. Each track has three different levels of difficulty, staring with one opponent and adding another each time. To advance, all of the other racers must be beaten. Your path-drawing skills actually affect the results of the race dramatically: while a rough path will get you past the checkered flags, a well-drawn one with proper mastery of the curves will decrease your time on the course. There are no brake controls; rather, the speed of the car is dictated by how long of a swipe was used to draw each part of the path. The only in-race control is a limited-use Turbo Button that can increase your speed for a short period of time.
While the original game had very cartoony graphics, DrawRace 2 uses much more realistic ones: the courses, cars, and obstacles are presented with detailed 3-D polygonal artwork from a top-down view, and are all truly impressive, certainly attributable to the improved graphics hardware in the latest iOS devices. There’s also music between the levels, but during the drawing and racing segments, you hear only the sounds of tires screeching and motors running. Some players will like the game because of the simple controls that remove the need for more accurate driving; others will dislike it for that same reason. We like that the approach is unique, but felt that the drawing became repetitive rather quickly. And while new cars and courses are standard rewards for beating levels, they weren’t enough to keep us interested. Between the so-so gameplay and the lack of universal iOS support, a limited recommendation strikes us as appropriate. If you like racing games and are looking for something different, check it out, but don’t expect to be drawn in if you don’t already like the path-drawing genre. iLounge Rating: B-.
Although we haven’t hopped on the bandwagon to shower every one of Halfbrick Studios’ titles with unblinking adoration, the developer’s new universal iOS game Jetpack Joyride ($1, version 1.0) is unquestionably worthy of praise. This simple, inexpensive title is the very definition of a casual game—you only need one button to play it, and that’s to change the elevation of the game’s flying hero—but it’s executed so well that you’ll keep coming back for more. Every little detail has been optimized for fun: you fly by emitting an endless stream of machinegun bullets that keep you aloft while taking out people on the ground, collect coins, and attempt to achieve whichever of three current objectives the game gives you at a time. A single catchy synth pop tune plays through the never-ending level, which is generated semi-randomly from 16-bit-styled backgrounds, patterns of coins, and obstacle elements that look familiar but not identical from game to game.
You’re largely trying to dodge flying obstacles and grab power-ups that change the way you move, special characteristics that disappear after one collision. Though the power-ups make neat visual and gameplay tweaks—a teleportation suit, motorcycle, gravity-switching suit, and bird vehicle are some of them, each impressively animated—Jetpack Joyride’s replayability comes from other factors. Coins can be used to purchase outfits and compelling power-up upgrades, themselves reasons to keep playing. An end-of-game slot machine gives you chances to win additional power-ups or even a second chance to continue the level, another great idea.
More importantly, Halfbrick has created one of the best objective systems around, creating all sorts of interesting little twists that turn what would otherwise be a pointless flying exercise into nearly endless fun. One objective is to slide on your face for a specific distance of meters, which only happens when you’ve died and plunged to the ground at high speeds. Others include touching a certain number of lights or scientists in a level, neither normally designed to be interacted with, or dying within a certain range of distances. While the objectives aren’t particularly difficult, they serve to reinforce the sense that Jetpack Joyride is meant to be replayed repeatedly. And you will. It’s addictive, really well-polished, and totally worth the price. But not for the overpriced, optional in-app purchases, it would be a nearly flawless $1 game; even more backgrounds and music would make it even better. iLounge Rating: A-.
Is a great soundtrack enough to justify a game purchase? Here’s your chance to decide. While the name Neil Voss probably won’t register with many readers, we were incredibly excited to learn that the musician responsible for the incredible ambient soundtrack of Nintendo’s Tetrisphere—a brilliant Nintendo 64 3-D puzzle game—had created the music for Glow Play’s universal iOS puzzler Radballs ($3, version 1.0.1), and his name alone was enough to clinch the purchase. Thankfully, Voss has once again outdone himself with this soundtrack, which combines upbeat synthesized techno with sonic odes to the 1980’s, matching the game’s heavy reliance on that decade’s visual themes. Underneath it all is a fun 2-D puzzle game that could have been a lot more challenging, but instead lets you make virtually uninterrupted progress through levels as you enjoy the music and artwork.
If you’ve played Puyo Puyo/Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine or dozens of similar games, you probably know what to expect here: there’s a pit full of blobs, and you try to create bigger blobs by matching four or more same-colored pieces in 2×2, 2×3, 3×3, or larger block-like shapes. The only major difference here is a Lumines-style light bar that travels from the top of the pit to the bottom, triggering any large blocks to explode—and filling a progress bar at the top of the screen. Not surprisingly, you fill up the bar faster if you create larger blocks, but Radballs has a twist: if you swipe back and forth on the light bar like a DJ scratches a record on a turntable, during the point at which the light bar’s touching the big blocks, they’ll begin to glow and explode, giving you even more points towards your progress meter. To Glow Play’s credit, this lets you actually interact with the music, creating scratching and rewind effects that sound great, and makes the experience even more fun. Power-ups—lightning bolts, freeze effects, and explosives—are introduced early, making it even easier to rack up points.
That’s really Radballs’ only major flaw: it’s just too easy. While the art changes considerably as you move through the levels, ranging from Miami Vice-inspired pastel art to 8-bit computer-styled pixel graphics, all really nicely animated with glowing, frost, and ball-shattering effects, the stages just keep on thematically repeating with very little sense of peril. On our first attempt, we made our way through around 50 stages without interruption, stopping only when we became tired of playing. There are plenty of songs—great songs—and enough changes to the art to keep it going, but not enough variations in the puzzles or the challenges. For the $3 asking price, Radballs is worth experiencing solely for aesthetic reasons; with a little more work, it could be greater than the sum of its parts. iLounge Rating: B+.
Chillingo’s Swing the Bat ($1, version 1.0) borrows heavily form the gameplay concepts of Tiny Wings; luckily, this iOS-universal title does it pretty darn well. The result is a game that is fun all around: fun to look at, fun to listen to, and most importantly, fun to play over and over again.
Despite the baseball theme that this game’s title may conjure up, Swing the Bat actually involves controlling a flying mammal as he swings through the air, between bamboo forests and the caves separating them. Tapping and holding on the screen causes his legs to extend and latch on to whatever may be in their direct path, while releasing breaks the bond. Different points in the arc of the swing get you further than others; there’s an optional guide that shows the best point to release for the furthest distance. There are two gameplay modes: in Dusk ‘til Dawn, you must attempt to outrun the rising sun, while in Night Fire, it’s the flames underneath that you’re trying to avoid. As in Tiny Wings, the end of a game feels inevitable, but moving through the world more efficiently prolongs how long your game lasts. The other characteristic of the game that is borrowed heavily from Tiny Wings is the objective system. Each level has three tasks which must be completed, and while you don’t have to accomplish all of them in one run, each goal must be met before you can move on to the next level.
Swing the Bat’s visual elements are cartoony, with lots of solid, bright colors. While some aspects don’t look as well designed as others—the monkeys are one example—the game certainly looks very nice on both the iPad’s large screen and the iPhone 4’s high resolution Retina Display, and the animation is smooth throughout. We also liked the upbeat, bongo-driven instrumental music present throughout the levels, although we would have preferred some additional variety. The sound effects do add some more character, particularly when you’re attaching to trees or collecting pieces of fruit. With dozens of goals to accomplish, we can see players easily sinking at least a few hours into this game. Our biggest complaint is that it sometimes goes on too long; that is, the level will continue even after all three goals have been completed, forcing you to manually stop the game by falling to the ground. Little issues aside, however, we highly recommend Swing the Bat, especially because it plays so well across all of Apple’s portable devices at one low price. iLounge Rating: A-.