Welcome to an abbreviated version of iPhone + iPad Gems! Today, we’re taking quick looks at a collection of titles that were either recently released or slipped under the radar over the past few months—games that we wanted to bring to your attention but don’t need to spend a lot of time discussing. They span a variety of different genres, ranging from racing to rhythm and match-three action-puzzles.
Our top pick of the bunch is Groove Coaster. Read on for all the details, and check out yesterday’s Gems piece for additional catching-up reviews of Pocket RPG, Swords + Soldiers HD, and The Incredible Machine.
Fast Five: The Movie Official Game HD ($5, version 1.0.1) was released by Gameloft to coincide with the most recent Fast and Furious film, and fans of 3-D driving titles will like what the company has put together here. Based on the company’s prior Asphalt titles, the impressive polygonal graphics engine takes advantage of the iPad 2’s new GPU for smooth frame rates and neat reflection effects, and includes a few neat twists on traditional racing gameplay, too: rather than just having you race around the same track several times, Gameloft triggers events in the midst of races—building explosions, for instance—that force you to dodge falling objects and adjust for the new track layout, and equips you with a limited use rewind button to let you reverse time, taking a second stab at a messy collision.
There are 10 chapters in the game’s story mode, each chapter with a track that needs to be raced multiple times with different challenges until you earn enough points to move on. In addition to a multi-lap race, you can choose from different tests on each track, including drag races, drift challenges, takedowns, and the like, all designed to keep Fast Five from being over in a flash. Limited turbos, as well as earnable underground upgrades to your car and limitations on rival cars, are used to improve your chances against rivals. Copious voice samples and nice but repeating dance-styled music help keep the intensity level fairly high, as well. While this isn’t the most amazing racer we’ve seen for iPads, it’s so solid across the board for the $5 asking price that it’s easy to generally recommend to driving game fans, even including people who aren’t fans of the film. It’s a true testament to how far the 3-D racing genre, and licensed games in general, have come on iOS devices in such a short period of time. That said, it should have been a universal release for iPhones, iPod touches, and iPads. iLounge Rating: B+.
If Taito’s new universal iOS title Groove Coaster ($3, version 1.0.0) follows in the path of the company’s earlier Space Invaders: Infinity Gene by evolving new features over time, we’re all in for some major treats ahead—and even if not, this is still a remarkable little game for its inexpensive asking price. Clearly inspired by Sega’s classic rhythm shooter Rez and the graphics style of Space Invaders: Infinity Gene, Groove Coaster is a simple one-finger rhythm tapping game with outstanding music and surprisingly compelling wireframe art; it’s a casual game by design, but it’s worth running, not walking, to download right away.
Taito structures each of the game’s levels to show you the progress of a spark traveling down a line—a pathway with polygonal background artwork, together moving at a pace that makes you feel like you’re watching a digital roller coaster. You quickly learn that you need to tap anywhere on the screen each time your spark touches dots in the line, and thereafter, that certain dots are followed by glowing “hold your finger on the screen” indications. That’s pretty much it for the gameplay, but between the camera motions, unexpected shifts in pacing, and the excellent qualify of the Japanese dance music, what’s here works incredibly well to keep players interested from level to level.
Each of the game’s stages has its own song, special effects—including some that directly reference Rez, Taito’s Arkanoid, Space Invaders, and other games—and a unique winding course that makes for a great first experience; you can customize the levels with different avatars, skins, and purchasable limited-use items, as well. It remains to be seen how much Groove Coaster will evolve over time, and whether Taito will try to sell additional stages for $1 each as it has done with two levels, but what’s here for the initial asking price is equivalent to a full music CD in content, and though your initial playthrough will feel as if it’s over too soon, replaying on higher difficulty levels is a worthwhile way to extend its value. Groove Coaster is definitely worthy of our high recommendation, as well as your consideration. iLounge Rating: A-.
There’s little more to say about Luxor 2 HD ($7, version 1.0.1) by MumboJumbo than that it’s a prettier and regrettably more expensive rehash of Luxor and Luxor: Amun Rising, two colored ball-matching games similar to PopCap’s Zuma series, only with Egyptian themes. Oddly, though MumboJumbo has added universal iOS support to its earlier Luxor titles, it has for whatever reason released separate iPhone/iPod touch and iPad versions of this game—a good reason to wait for a post-release universal update.
As with the prior Luxor titles, Luxor 2 challenges you to fire colored balls from a cannon at the bottom of the screen towards lines of balls that are snaking their way on a path towards an exit somewhere closer to the screen’s center. Match three or more balls and you eliminate them; if the line of balls touches the exit, you lose. Once again, MumboJumbo pretties the game up by dispensing tons of point bonuses and power-ups that glitter with beautiful little special effects, but the only real changes here are in the addition of fast-paced bonus rounds and new backdrops, the latter of which remain two-dimensional, but are rendered to look more three-dimensional than predecessors. Music and sound effects remain strikingly similar to the earlier titles; the real draw here is merely seeing the 88 new stages. This is a good game, but given how hugely similar it is to its predecessors, our advice would be to hold off until the price drops and/or universal support is added. iLounge Rating: B.
Our review of Protoxide: Death Race ($3, version 1.0) by HeroCraft Ukraine is the shortest of this bunch because we have the least to say about it: while initially very promising, this futuristic 3-D racing game turns out to be somewhat of a mess because of a lack of structure. With obvious inspiration from Sony’s Wipeout series, Protoxide gives you 12 different ships to control over 16 tracks, using tilt steering and automatic acceleration alongside limited-use turbo, shield, and weapon firing buttons. Somewhat intriguingly, you can pick targets by tapping on them as a lock-on reticule appears on screen, and from an aesthetic standpoint, the game has the advantages of semi-Retina Display support, a respectible frame rate, and nice techno soundtrack on its side. Lots of voice effects—albeit repetitive ones—are also included.
Unfortunately, Protoxide feels as if it doesn’t quite know whether it wants to be Wipeout or Unreal Tournament: the courses are so littered with power-up icons that they literally overlap one another as you race through the tracks, creating an overwrought deathmatch-style vibe rather than the nice balance of racing and weapon play that Sony accomplished in the Wipeout games. Over two weeks of testing the game, we never really found ourselves liking it very much, or wanting to play all the way through to the end. Despite the appealing art and music, it’s merely so-so as a game, and would really benefit from more gameplay balance, better writing, and universal iPad support, which is missing from this iPhone/iPod touch-only release. iLounge Rating: C.