Welcome to this week’s first edition of iPhone + iPad Gems! Today, we’re looking at five recent shooter releases that vary from title to title in iPad compatibility: three are for the iPhone and two are iPad-only, but one of the iPhone games looks surprisingly good on the iPad, as well. One is an overhead bombing game, another is an overhead shooter, while the others are third-person adventure-shooting games from Gameloft.
Our top picks of the week are the iPhone releases iBomber 2 and Zombie Infection. Read on for all the details.
Last year’s release of iBomber was surprisingly exciting: Cobra Mobile’s first-person overhead target-bombing game used 2-D graphics that looked surprisingly detailed as they rotated around on the small iPhone and iPod touch screens, giving you an eagle-eye view of enemy military installations that needed to be blown to smithereens. iBomber 2 ($1) is a direct sequel with 12 new and more colorful stages, rousing World War 2-themed music, and appropriate environmental sound effects that evoke the 1940’s guns, bombs, planes, and vehicles you’re seeing on screen.
Once again, the gameplay is very simple: you tilt the iPhone, iPod, or iPad—yes, the art even looks very good upscaled—to turn the plane and increase or decrease its speed, while using a large “bombs away” button to drop unlimited bombs on targets below. As you hit certain enemies, you can replenish your shields and health, acquire different types of bombs, and add fighter escorts, but the core experience is in learning to properly time your drops to hit moving targets while your own plane is in motion. It’s challenging, fun, and aesthetically very appealing for a 2-D title.
If there’s any issue with iBomber 2, it’s that the missions can be a little repetitive and dry at times, as you hunt around a map for numerous similar targets that might or might not be in motion. Destroying battleships is almost endlessly exciting—particularly given that they’re animated so well throughout the sailing and sinking process—but blowing up bunkers gets boring quickly. If you approach the levels correctly, taking out stationery and moving targets at the same time, fatigue doesn’t sink in, but if you clear all the moving targets first, you’re left with a lot less to enjoy as you mop up the rest of the enemies. This is a small complaint for an otherwise well-developed and aggressively priced game; we’d highly recommend it to anyone who finds the World War 2 bombing theme to be interesting. iLounge Rating: A-.
Because of the early lead it established as a developer of “any genre” iPhone OS games, Gameloft has become the “go-to” company for licensed adaptations of feature films—Avatar was its last title, and neither bad nor great. Iron Man 2 ($7) and Iron Man 2 for iPad ($10) continue that trend as relatively premium-priced releases that check most of the boxes players would expect from a game based loosely on the Iron Man movies, but without any of the genuine energy serious gamers would hope for.
The game’s positives are fairly obvious from the get-go. You control plausible, reasonably animated 3-D versions of Iron Man and War Machine in nine similarly 3-D, largely urban environments that look enough like real cityscapes—minus serious vehicular or pedestrian traffic—to pass muster. There are moments when the levels, as viewed from the skies, are actually impressive by “cell phone game” standards. There’s a rock-influenced soundtrack, complete with an instrumental rendition of Black Sabbath’s Iron Man song, and plenty of in-game banter that sorta-kinda sounds like Robert Downey Jr. as he quips his way through acts of super heroism. A joystick’s on the left of the screen, with the right devoted to punching, flying, action, and laser buttons, each appearing as is necessary. Some of the game is spent in melee combat on the ground, with other parts flying through the air or zooming underwater, and still others have you defusing bombs in puzzles. Experience points can be used to upgrade your capabilities.
Where Iron Man 2 breaks down is in the execution. Putting aside the iPad version’s long load times, which are attributable to its higher-resolution textures—the game otherwise looks basically the same—the game’s pacing just feels way off, like an overly structured set of mini-events that have been chained together to keep you moving through the levels without much excitement. A bunch of enemies pops out of nowhere and you destroy them. Then you walk or fly somewhere. Then you snuff out some bombs. And then you repeat, awaiting a boss encounter that might or mightn’t have anything to do with the movie, not that that’s a bad thing. There’s little freedom to explore, and frankly too little reason to want to do so. The enemies are boring, and the game relatively short—only a few hours to explore it all.
As with so many producers of movie-licensed games, Gameloft has little incentive to make Iron Man 2 a truly awesome title; the name will sell copies anyway, and so long as the gameplay is decent, few people will mind. So that’s what’s here, a game that lets you go through the motions and have a few hours of modest thrills. We’d pass on this one unless you’re a really big fan of the movies, and even then, wait for the inevitable price drop. iLounge Rating: B-.
It’s hard to complain too much about a $2 game—especially one that’s pretty well-made—so we’re going to take it easy on GameLab Innovation Center’s Roswell Fighter HD ($2), a vertical overhead shooter with 12 total levels and a retro 1950’s airplane and flying saucer theme. You fly through the levels, blasting from the bottom of the screen upwards through thousands of planes, spaceships, and tanks, using tilting or a finger anywhere on the screen to move your plane. Shooting is handled automatically, and a rockabilly soundtrack plays as you clear a path through enemies, grabbing points and power-ups.
In a nutshell, Roswell Fighter HD is to overhead shooters what Iron Man 2 is to third-person action games, a nice-enough looking but uninspired and repetitive title that has the old formula down but never quite brings the energy level to where it needs to be. Though the artwork makes good use of the iPad’s high-resolution screen, the animations of all of the vehicles are very limited, and the stages all sort of blend together visually; enemies change from level to level just enough to not be identical, and your activity consists almost entirely of swiping back and forth as your automatic peashooter takes out enemies. Red stars charge up an unlimited electricity-firing weapon, medallions build your pea-shooter up to a spread-firing gun, and smart bombs can be used occasionally to clear everything on the screen.
There’s nothing wrong with any of this, except for the intensity level, which remains at a constant simmer even throughout the seven boss encounters, and the controls, which desperately need a virtual joystick for accuracy rather than swiping—it’s a good thing that you can absorb quite a few bullets before dying, because you’ll accidentally run into them with frequency just trying to control your plane. Overall, this is a better than decent game, but really would benefit from some post-release control and enemy AI fine-tuning. iLounge Rating: B-.
Capcom’s “survival horror” shooters Resident Evil 4 and 5 were big deals in the console world, so it’s no surprise that Gameloft has used them as inspiration for its own title, Zombie Infection ($7). As with many of Gameloft’s action games, Zombie Infection makes little attempt to mask the source material it draws upon: you control male and female characters as they shoot their way through 12 levels of a South American zombie outbreak, with enemies that are less controversial than the allegedly racist African enemies in Resident Evil 5.
Though Capcom’s own earlier rendition of Resident Evil 4 for the iPhone and iPod touch precludes Zombie Infection from feeling completely new to this platform, the extent to which Gameloft has captured the essence of Capcom’s titles with this game is still fairly impressive by this platform’s standards. In addition to the control scheme, which sees you moving your character around with a virtual joystick, turning the camera angle with swipe gestures, and hitting action, kick, and gun buttons as necessary, the balance of a Resident Evil title—picking up ammunition and items, solving little puzzles, and blowing the limbs off of zombies—feels intact here, even if Zombie Infection does suffer from the classic Gameloft over-compartmentalization we’ve noted in several recent games. Thanks both to the power of the guns you find and the weakness of the zombies you face, the little missions within levels feel discrete and so manageable that there’s little fear of dying or being overwhelmed, and that’s arguably the game’s biggest weakness: zombie titles do best when you’re afraid that you, too, might wind up infected. Gameloft’s decision to get rid of the over-aggressive item management systems of the Resident Evil titles is a welcome one, but it also reduces your sense that ammunition and health are precious resources.
But in all other regards, Zombie Infection delivers great value for the dollar. While the graphics don’t look phenomenal when upscaled to the iPad, they’re nearly as strong by iPhone and iPod touch standards as any title we’ve previously seen from Gameloft, and a more than worthy rival for the overly dark, grainy Resident Evil 4. The stars of this show are the animations, which really make the zombies interesting—they’ll jump out from large rocks, climb up from the water, or appear behind doors, chowing down on fellow villagers. Music is appropriately heart-racing, voiceovers and cinematics are numerous, and the zombies groan with enough diversity to make the game interesting to hear as you fire off rounds. If there’s only one thing we’d ask for from Gameloft in a sequel—which is deserved—it would be to deviate more from Capcom’s gameplay formula; Resident Evil might be the most successful survival horror series out there, but the “pick everything up manually” action could stand to be further streamlined. Even more intense action could make Zombie Infection games more exciting than their console inspirations. iLounge Rating: A-.