Welcome to this week’s second gaming edition of iPhone + iPad Gems! Due to some major mid-week App Store releases that were worth covering right away, we’re going to have two different Gems roundups today: this one focuses on three new titles, while the other is a collection of smaller casual games, including Deo, Draw Slasher, Fractal, Rogue, and Spy Mouse.
Our top pick in the bunch is the universal game Edge Extended, but both Peggle HD and Sprinkle are also worth checking out. Read on for all the details.
We loved Mobigame’s late 2008 action puzzle game Edge for iPhones and iPod touches, seriously appreciated the enhancements and iPad support that the company subsequently added, and hungered a sequel even before we knew one was underway. The just-released Edge Extended ($1, version 1.02) is and is not that sequel: it’s best understood as 44 new levels for the first Edge, only with a subtly improved and completely universal iOS graphics engine. It doesn’t feel like “Edge 2,” and even the new music sounds familiar, but no one will complain about the quality or quantity of new content Mobigame is offering for $1.
Edge Extended continues the saga of a multi-colored cube that rolls through platforms, steps, and occasionally huge drops, triggering switches and collecting prism pieces along the way to an exit. Presented from an isometric perspective—one that was largely static in Edge—Edge Extended’s new 3-D engine now occasionally bends your viewpoint just a little, bringing foreground or background elements into slightly distorted perspective as a visual tease, and presents you with even more complex and interestingly cube-based mazes to navigate. The gameplay themes—defying gravity by hanging on the edge of a wall, shrinking or expanding your cube’s size, and being tugged around by moving platforms—are all still the same. But when you start with a title that’s as great as Edge, there’s nothing wrong with that, even though it’s obvious that Mobigame is holding the big changes for a true Edge sequel that’s currently in production.
Beyond the new level designs, the slight 3-D viewpoint tweaks mentioned above, and an updated 23-song chiptune soundtrack, the biggest change in Edge Extended is the rendering of the flat-shaded artwork, which now takes place at up to 60 frames per second with full-resolution support on each iOS device—plus 4x multi-sampling anti-aliasing on the iPad 2. Edge never looked bad on earlier iOS devices, and continued to improve steadily after its initial release, but these pixel-level sharpness and smoothness tweaks only improve the apparent detail and fluidity of an already solid experience. In short, Edge Extended is everything that its predecessor was, only a little better, and if you’re a fan of cleanly designed abstract action games, it’s certainly worthy of your time. iLounge Rating: A.
PopCap Games’ brilliant pachinko and pinball hybrid action-puzzler Peggle was the best game ever released for Click Wheel iPods, and though it wasn’t quite as platform-defining when it arrived a year and a half later on the iPhone and iPod touch, the core game remained very good, and later became great with free updates; PopCap even opted to add the semi-sequel, Peggle Nights, as an inexpensive in-app purchase for the original title. Two things were missing, though: Retina Display support, which was just added in another free update for iPhone and iPod touch users, and iPad support, which now is offered in Peggle HD ($5/$3, version 2.0) a separate download for iPad owners.
As a general rule, we’re not fans of separate iPhone and iPad versions of the same game, particularly when—as here—the content is virtually identical, with only small tweaks to accommodate aspect ratio and resolution differences between the devices’ screens. Developers should be and now generally are releasing titles that support all iOS devices, But as a great legacy title developed well before the iPad’s release, and one that has spent most of its iOS life priced significantly under the Mac, PC, and console versions, Peggle HD mostly gets a pass from us; only a control issue precludes it from receiving a high recommendation.
Having previously covered the game numerous times before, we won’t rehash all of the details of the gameplay here, beyond to say that you fire a limited number of silver balls from a cannon from the top of the screen into a collection of pegs and bricks, attempting to remove as many pegs as possible. Each level ends when you remove all of the red-orange pegs, and there’s a special bonus for clearing all the blue ones, too, with additional points to be earned through Extreme Fever—a slow-motion ending to each level, in which you get a bonus depending on which of five pits at the bottom of the screen your ball falls into. Peggle’s full soundtrack is filled with playful, occasionally mysterious music, interrupted only by a powerful rendition of the classic song Ode to Joy when Extreme Fever mode starts. There are 55 entirely different levels in Peggle, with an additional 60 new levels in the Peggle Nights in-app purchase for $3. They’re all fantastic, and tied together by jokey text-based dialogue from a collection of cartoony helper characters called Peggle Masters.
Only modest user interface changes have been made to the iPad version, which preserves the swipe-based cannon positioning controls and right-of-screen fine-tuning knob, both somehow managing to feel less precise than they did on the iPhone and iPod touch. This imprecision is one of the reasons Peggle HD falls short of its predecessors. Additionally, due to the iPad’s narrower screen, the fine-tuning knob now shares screen space with the indicator of how many balls remain, swapping between them when the knob’s not in use. Other small text changes have been made, as well, but they’re largely inconsequential, and the iPads’ lower-DPI screens tend to make the same graphics look fuzzy rather than Retina Display razor sharp. While there was obviously work done to port Peggle HD to the iPad, it doesn’t look like anything worthy of the extended time PopCap took to release it.
Although many iPad users will chafe at having to buy Peggle again for their devices, there are two factors to consider: first, the iPhone/iPod touch version continues to work just fine in upscaled mode on iPads, and second, PopCap’s prices for Peggle and Peggle Nights were always incredibly aggressive for iOS devices. The Nintendo DS bundle of both Peggle games sold for $20, so you’d be considerably ahead even if you purchased both iOS versions separately. In the future, PopCap’s titles should be universal, but Peggle HD gets a pass on account of its evergreen gameplay; hopefully the company will offer further optimizations to bring this iPad port up to snuff with the capabilities of Apple’s tablets. iLounge Rating: B+.
Fire fighting as a puzzle game? That’s a great idea, and the new universal iOS release Sprinkle: Water Splashing Fire Fighting Fun! ($1, version 1.0) by Mediocre AB does a very good job of capitalizing on it. But Mediocre also plays with fire by incorporating a tricky little in-app unlocking system. For the $1 asking price, you get 22 one-screen levels, each with a limited amount of water to use in putting out fires. If you have enough water left over at the end of a stage, you can unlock the next stage or stages for free; only if you’ve had a perfect performance on every stage can you unlock another 24 levels, 12 at a time, without paying $1 for each of the two sets.
The good news is that Sprinkle’s 2-D levels are really well-designed and fun: you control a fire truck that can raise or lower a crane with a hose, as well as change the angle of the hose, each using controls that are responsive but not initially intuitive. A red button fires the hose, depleting your water supply in order to extinguish fires spread all across the screen; you merely change the angle and the height of the water. But Sprinkle quickly becomes more complex than that: you’ll need to learn to push the wonderfully-animated water through holes in rock walls, up and down hills, and onto objects that change the liquid’s flow. Water pressure and duration become implicit concerns in triggering certain object motions; flaming rocks drop into the stages, starting fires that weren’t there before, and timing becomes a factor, too. You’ll have a few hours of fun with the 22 initial levels, for sure, and the combination of cheery music with funny little sound effects keeps the action enjoyable as you try to develop solutions.
On the other hand, Sprinkle’s unlocking requirements for the remaining 24 levels are almost punitive: on our first pass through the first ten levels, we scored perfectly on only one of them the first time through, and the numbers obviously dipped thereafter. Opening the next sets of levels for free will require lots of replaying of the first stages: though the puzzles aren’t hard to beat, they’re considerably more difficult to master, and if it wasn’t for the way the levels are locked, many players probably wouldn’t bother going back to them. There’s little question that the developer wants you to pay the extra $2 here, but there’s also a reasonable chance that you’ll want to do so, particularly given the low initial asking price. Additional levels with more distinctive background themes, and further control improvements are really all we’d add to what’s otherwise a very good little puzzle game. iLounge Rating: B+.