Welcome to this week’s gaming edition of iPhone + iPad Gems! This batch of games includes two physics-based puzzlers, a horse simulator, and a truly impressive but crash-prone third-person shooter.
Of the four titles, we highly recommend Where’s My Water?, but Monster Island and Shadowgun are also likely worthy of your attention. Check out our full thoughts on each of these titles below.
Miniclip.com’s Monster Island HD ($3, version 1.0.1) is an Angry Birds-style physics game for the iPad; an iPhone and iPod touch version is available as a separate download for $1. Instead of trying to knock over structures, your goal is to defeat the evil monsters that have been giving the good ones on the island a hard time. How do you do that? By throwing mini-monster bombs at them, of course.
Your character—you start with one, but can unlock five alternates by collecting coins throughout the game—stands on the left side of the screen, and throws bombs at the bad guys across the way in attempts to blow them up. Aiming and throwing are controlled by by dragging your finger across the screen. An arrow will show the angle at which the bomb will be released, and a green line inside of the arrow will show the power behind the throw. You have a set number of bombs to complete each level, but using fewer earns you more stars, up to a maximum of three per level. There are five different kinds of bombs, ranging from the basic Xplode that blows up after a few seconds, to Sticky, which doesn’t blow up at all, but instead sticks to whatever surface it touches. Each level gets just a bit harder, and with 200 spread over three worlds, most players will spend at least a few hours playing through the game. If you get stuck in any level, the pause menu offers the chance to view the solution. Two are available for free, and after they’ve been used, a three-pack of solutions can be had for $1 through an in-app purchase. Unlocking all the solutions costs $15. You also get two skips for free, and again, three cost you a dollar, while the ability to unlock all the islands is $10.
We had a lot of fun playing Monster Island HD. It’s clear that Miniclip.com is expecting people to purchase solutions and skips, but they’re not necessary to fully enjoy the game. In fact, it takes a while for the difficult to really ramp up. Some harder levels balance out the difficulty and increase play time. The graphics are appropriately cartoony, with rich bright colors that look good on the iPad, and when playing the standard version, on the iPhone 4 and iPod touch 4G’s Retina Displays. We would’ve liked a more varied soundtrack, but the horn-heavy instrumental track fits, as do the sound effects when bombs are thrown and hit their target. The biggest drawback of the title is that fact that it is requires separate versions for your devices. Were it a universal game, it would be great. As is stands though, it merits a strong but general recommendation. iLounge Rating: B+.
As the name suggests, NaturalMotion’s My Horse (Free, version 1.1.2) is a freemium universal title geared towards horse lovers. A big part of that market is going to be young children, so the title’s heavy reliance on in-app purchasing is going to potentially be a big deal, as we’ve seen in the past. In this case, you’re managing a stable of horses, doing various tasks that each require real time to complete. Players can purchase clock-accelerating gems at real-world prices ranging from $1 to $100. The gems don’t change the actual gameplay, but simply speed up tasks that would otherwise take minutes and even hours, with each task deliberately set by NaturalMotion to incentivize those purchases.
For a free game, My Horse is surprisingly thorough. You begin with one horse to train and care for, and earn experience points and coins along the way. There are several ways to interact with the horse: activities such as feeding and grooming, care tasks including mucking out the stall, work such as showing at a fairground, and competitions. Each action has a different interactive control. When it’s time to feed your horse, you tap on the screen to measure out different ingredients, and spin your finger to stir the mix. Show competitions require you to press a button on the screen to time jumps, and friendly horse-petting segments require you to tap or stroke the screen to increase the horse’s happiness. Some actions happen in the background, and push notifications alert you to when they’re through.
My Horse is actually a somewhat fun game, at least at first, until it becomes rather repetitive. Even the competitions, which are arguably the pinnacle of the game, simply involve well-timed taps. The worst part is waiting for tasks to complete so that you can move on to the next—clearly intentional to motivate you to spend real dollars. The 3-D graphics are pretty impressive—comparable to a last-generation gaming console’s—though there’s no soundtrack to speak of. There are lots of sound effects, however, evoking the feeling of being on a farm. Fans of horses may well appreciate the virtual experience, but most others will get bored of it rather quickly. That, combined with the potential for it to become a money pit, prevents the game from earning our recommendation. iLounge Rating: C+.
The most obvious games people will think about after seeing Madfinger’s new ShadowGun ($8) are the console Gears of War franchise and the iOS title Infinity Blade—but go in with reasonable expectations when you load this third-person shooter up for the first time. Think of ShadowGun as Gears of War Lite, with just enough of the storyline, graphics, audio and gameplay to completely justify a much lower price; if that’s your frame of reference, you’re going to be thrilled by what’s here… except for the universal iPad/iPhone/iPod touch game’s surprisingly common crashes.
Our full review of ShadowGun is here, complete with lots of additional photos and details. iLounge Rating: B+.
Where’s My Water? ($1, version 1.0.2) is the latest iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad universal game from Disney. Swampy the alligator just wants to take a bath, but the other alligators in the sewer are doing their best to stop what they consider to be his weird behavior. In this physics-based puzzler, you have to get the water to the pipe leading to the tub by digging through dirt, which is handled by dragging your finger on the screen. At the same time, you need to battle obstacles such as toxic sludge and mines. Sometimes the water has to travel upwards, or activate switches to move different components around. It’s a simple concept, but later levels take some serious brainpower and others require very speedy moves. Each level has three rubber ducks you can collect; they end up unlocking new worlds when you collect enough of them.
Unlike a lot of the physics games we see, this one’s presented in portrait orientation. While most of the 88 levels are one screen tall, others require scrolling. And we enjoyed Where’s My Water? quite a bit. The digging mechanic is pretty unique, and is executed intuitively with touch controls. Like many App Store games, the 2-D graphics are cartoony, with bright and vibrant colors that are well-suited to this type of game. Music is comprised of simple instrumental tracks, and the sounds of the water and Swampy’s frustrated noises add to the overall experience. The goofy sense of humor is also pretty endearing. For $1, players will certainly get their money worth with Where’s My Water?, and we highly recommend it. iLounge Rating: A-.