Welcome to this week’s gaming edition of iPhone + iPad Gems! This week, we’re looking at four casual games: one is a word game, another a world-builder, and the final two are puzzle platformers.
Our top pick in this collection is Tiny Tower, but we’d also recommend that you check out Hanging With Friends. Read on for all the details.
Zynga’s Hanging With Friends (version 4.05, $2*) is the follow-up to the popular Words With Friends, a turn-based, asynchronous multiplayer Scrabble variant that led to this similarly-structured Hangman-style word game. As with its predecessor, you can play online against friends or random opponents, or with two local players in a pass-and-play mode; there’s no CPU-based AI player, but there’s an optional text chat mode for simultaneous discussions.
In Hanging With Friends, each player has to choose a word—minimum four letters, maximum eight—using 12 randomly distributed tiles, then attempt to guess a word chosen by the other player. One space in each word doubles or triples the value of one letter or the entire word; any word’s acceptable so long as it’s in the game‘s dictionary. When you’re guessing your opponent’s word, you’ll see a series of question mark tiles in which the last vowel is always revealed, and you’re permitted a varying number of strikes depending on the length of the word. Three different types of “lifelines” are available for purchase using in-game coins that are earned by correctly deducing letters: “Suspects” highlights four letters, one of which is in the word, “Extinguish” removes four incorrect tiles, and “Revive” removes one strike. Failing to solve the word results in one strike; five strikes end the game.
The 2-D graphics are cartoony, but nicely drawn; we would have appreciated more backgrounds than the one that’s included, an Easter Island-like setting with an erupting volcano. Zynga’s soundtrack is also pretty limited, using a simple repeating rhythm over the sound of the volcano gurgling in the background. Each button press has an associated sound effect, and there are noises for right and wrong guesses, but that’s pretty much it on the audio side. A big part of the title’s appeal is being able to have multiple games going at once—up to 20. For those who want to play the game but are willing to put up with ads, Hanging With Friends Free is also available. It’s fully playable, but the ads between each move quickly become annoying. The $2 price of the full version is introductory, and it looks like the final price will be $3 or $4, which leads to a flat B rating and general recommendation for Hanging With Friends. It’s a fun, casual word game that can be played on your own time, and as much or as little as you choose. Since there’s no “beating” the game, there’s an almost unlimited replay factor, bounded only by the repetitiveness of the artwork and audio. iLounge Rating: B.
Tiny Tower (version 1.2.1, Free) is a universal game from Nimble Bit with a very simple concept: build your 8-bit-styled, 2-D-rendered tower higher and higher, adding residential and commercial floors along the way. Each new floor requires more time and resources, including managing people and businesses inside the building. Your primary goals are to continue construction, give all of the “bitizens” jobs based on their interests, and keep all the businesses fully stocked so they can sell their wares. And like the Tamagotchis of yesteryear and Farmvilles of today, the game goes on even when you’re not playing it, so whenever it’s reopened you’ll see the results of what’s happened in the meantime.
The formula is surprisingly addicting; a quick glance at the building can easily turn into a half-hour excursion. Every few seconds, a visitor shows up at the building and it’s your job to get him or her to the desired floor by controlling the elevator with a simple up/down button. While playing, you’ll earn Tower Bux which can speed up tasks such as restocking shops or building new floors, and this is where Nimble Bit makes its money on the “free” game: you can buy more Bux via in-app purchase. It’s not required, and except for the “wait around” pace, the game doesn’t change if you don’t spend real-world cash. For those that are going to be investing a lot of time and energy into Tiny Tower, it’s nice to have the option to speed things up a bit.
Tiny Tower uses simple pixelated graphics that work well for this sort of casual game. All of the characters are variations on the same few sprites, although identifiable when necessary. The simple, elevator music soundtrack is just as catchy as the gameplay, and is quite appropriate. You may well start humming along without even knowing it. Sound effects are basic, with lots of doorbells and cash registers throughout. Additionally, as there’s no final floor, you keep playing for as long as you like; the replay value is high. As a free game, it’s a lot of fun and a good way to kill a few minutes here and there. The sheer addictiveness is truly impressive, and earns the otherwise very simple-looking game a B+ rating. iLounge Rating: B+.
Chillingo’s Feed Me Oil (version 1.1, $1) is more of a traditional level-based game, a 2-D iPhone puzzler with a simple goal: get a certain amount of oil from the source pipe into mouths found in living scenery by placing a variety of different tools on the screen. Each tool can be rotated and moved freely, although that openness actually makes the game pretty tough, since imprecise positioning can lead you to fail.
Every level has hints available to help guide you if you’re stuck, showing exactly where individual pieces should be placed. After thirty seconds, another hint can be used. Players who find themselves getting stuck a lot or who just want to blast through the game can pay $1 through an in-app purchase for unlimited hints. We see these as both a benefit and a weak point in the game: while it’s nice to have some help, many people are going to rely on the unlimited hints and skip the worthwhile experience of figuring the puzzles out on their own.
Feed Me Oil contains 60 levels spread across four worlds, as well as some bonus levels and the promise of more to come soon. There’s a full soundtrack, with songs alternating between levels, including bass-heavy jazz and the tinny sounds of a classic music box. The moving parts provide mechanical noises, and the sound of oil has an appropriate “goop” factor to. We like the cartoony graphics as well, which look pretty good on the Retina Display; the oil animates smoothly, but not much else is going on visually during each level. For the time being, Feed Me Oil is a pretty good title that could benefit from a little more gentleness in its hand-holding—puzzles that help you figure out solutions with something other than straight answers. With additional levels and a little more polish, it could rate higher. iLounge Rating: B-.
The final game in our roundup is Big Blue Bubble’s Paper Munchers (version 1.1.0, $1), which is regrettably available as four different apps: full and lite versions for both the iPhone and the iPad—we’re reviewing the paid iPhone version. Its name refers to the really beautiful paper craft graphics, used for good-looking characters and gorgeous backgrounds. The goal is to get polygonal monsters into the waiting mouths of larger Paper Munchers by blowing them up with bombs—a task that’s not quite as easy as it sounds. It’s a combination of cute and grotesque, and we liked the game’s style.
Paper Muncher’s physics are rather impressive. Rather than relying on any sort of predestined paths, you have full control over where the bombs are placed and therefore, where the monsters go. As nice as that freedom is, the game play does get repetitive pretty quickly. Although each level is laid out differently, it feels like you’re doing the same thing over and over: placing bombs in locations that you think will work and hoping they do the job. There’s no fine control. Through in-app purchases, you can get more bombs to help on the tougher levels—something that may be necessary for some players to advance.
Each level is worth beating simply to hear the monstrous intonations of the words “duh-licious” and “yummy;” other sound effects are similarly truly satisfying, although the music loops too quickly. Five worlds with 75 total levels may keep some casual gamers busy for quite some time, but in our testing, Paper Munchers didn’t have the sort of staying power that we hoped for. We see this as the kind of game a lot of people will pick up, play for a few levels, and never look at again—a title with a lot of promise, but ultimately too little incentive to play through. Improved controls would help it to become more compelling. iLounge Rating:C+.