Welcome to our latest edition of iPad Gems. Today, we’re taking a look at two different types of strategy games, as well as a classic puzzle game that’s been brought to the iOS platform. Each of these titles are worth a look, but they’ll appeal to fans of different styles of games.

Our top picks in the bunch are Pocket RPG and The Incredible Machine. Read on for all the details.

Pocket RPG

Pocket RPG ($5) by Crescent Moon Games brings the visual style of games such as Diablo and Gauntlet together with fast-paced RPG fantasy adventuring. While the game provides little in the way of background or plot lines, it instead quickly immerses you right into the action. Players choose from one of three general RPG character classes—Blade Master, Dark Ranger or Battle Mage—and each has special attacks, weapons and abilities.


With characters selected, players choose their first quest and are immediately thrust into a dungeon to explore, find treasure and battle hordes of enemies. Pocket RPG uses a dual-touchpad control system designed for two-handed operation, allowing the user to move the character with one control while simultaneously powering and aiming weapons with the other. The control system makes for faster-paced action, allowing the player to more easily attack and move at the same time without necessarily doing both in the same direction. High-quality 3-D graphics add to the immersive feel of the game and are designed to allow the player to easily see where they’re going and attack surrounding enemies without being too overbearing.


As the game progresses, the player accumulates skill points by defeating enemy monsters, and can explore to find gold and other items throughout each level. Skill points and gold can be used to increase the player’s abilities and train on weapons and other magical objects to increase their effectiveness. Pocket RPG nicely keeps things simple here by avoiding getting into too much of a numbers approach—the game is more about levelling up and developing general skills than it is about hit points and character statistics. Skills and abilities are tied primarily to the items that you equip, providing for some diversity in the game play experience based on which items you choose and how you choose to use them.


Non-player characters appear throughout the game to provide context and useful tips, but don’t otherwise impact the gameplay—there is no back-and-forth dialogue or place for conversation choices. A straightforward inventory system allows players to see what objects they have equipped and what they’re carrying and easily rearrange their inventory as required. Shopkeepers also appear in various places throughout the game allowing the player to buy or sell items, but many items can be found simply through exploration. Game Center support is also included for both leaderboards and the tracking of achievements.


Pocket RPG takes a very pure and direct approach to the action RPG genre, allowing players to just jump right in and start fighting without having to worry about things like micromanagement of stats and inventory or following complex plot lines and character interactions. The result is a great “pick-up-and-play” arcade-style game that adapts well to varying lengths of play time, be it short five-minute sessions or an hour or two of continuous action. iLounge Rating: B+.

Swords and Soldiers HD

Swords and Soldiers HD ($5) is an interesting mix of elements from real-time strategy games and tower defense games mixed into a whimsical side-scrolling action game for the iPad; a nearly identical iPhone- and iPod touch-only version (not reviewed) is sold for $3. Chillingo’s game includes many of the usual RTS elements such as training workers and soldiers, but forgoes the usual open-world tactics in favor of a more linear two-dimensional approach; workers are automatically assigned to their tasks and soldiers basically march across the screen toward the enemy camp, attacking anything in their path.


Although this may make Swords and Soldiers seem almost too simple in comparison to more sophisticated RTS titles, the game is not without its challenges and variety. As the player advances, he has the opportunity to research new technologies, create different types of troops with different abilities and also learn a variety of magic spells that can be used to heal troops or deal attacks on the enemy soldiers or base. The game also provides three different groups with their own units and abilities, and both an organized campaign mode where the player challenges all three, or an open-ended skirmish mode to just jump in and play a quick battle. A split-screen multiplayer mode is also available to allow two players to easily go head-to-head on the same iPad.


The animation and storyline also contribute significantly to the charm of the game, with very cartoon-like characters and an outright whimsical background—the very first Viking mission is to “Defend the Holy Grill” and the campaign continues through a series of brutal quests to ensure that the Viking King’s barbecue goes off without a hitch. The characters and units are no less entertaining, ranging from basic berserkers to ninja monkeys.


Swords and Soldiers delivers a challenging action-strategy experience without bogging the player down in empire and campaign management details, making this a fun game to just pick up and play a round or two to quickly pass the time. At first glance the game seems simple, however there’s actually a lot of depth to the gameplay as additional strategies become apparent in choosing the best units and magic to deploy. The graphics and soundtrack fit the fun and lighthearted tone of the game very well, and are impressive in their own right, while the Game Center integration provides the ability to post and share high scores and achievements. Swords and Soldiers is a game that will be worth a look both for tower defense fans and RTS fans in need of a quick, bite-sized strategy experience. As with too many (but thankfully fewer and fewer) iOS games, the only real issue is that this title is unnecessarily being sold as two separate apps, rather than a single universal app, particularly disappointing for a game that lends itself so well to casual play. iLounge Rating: B.

The Incredible Machine

Another classic game brought to the iOS platform, The Incredible Machine ($2) is a physics-based puzzle game that challenges users to build or complete a series of Rube Goldberg/overly complex multi-part machines in order to achieve the objective of each puzzle. While other game developers have attempted to release their own variations on this theme, they haven’t always been successful; Disney’s iOS release of The Incredible Machine attempts to brings the experience of the earlier PC versions to the touchscreen, with universal support for iOS devices.


The general goal is relatively straightforward: arrange a series of objects and characters to make the “machine” work, thereby accomplishing whatever the objective of each puzzle is. Your objective is generally something simple like getting a ball into a basket or turning on a light switch, however you end up laying out a complex machine with pipes, conveyors, balls, trampolines, explosives, running mice, cheese, fans and more just to perform this relatively simple task.


The Incredible Machine divides the game into themed puzzle packs, taking the player through a quick four-puzzle tutorial before unlocking the remaining packs. Each puzzle pack provides fifteen levels and its own theme and variations on the machine designs and objects. Five packs are included in the game, for a total of 75 levels, with three additional packs currently available via in-app purchase for $1 each.


Disney’s adaptation of The Incredible Machine to the touchscreen has been mostly well-executed. Placing objects is simply a matter of tapping-and-dragging and objects that can be rotated or elongated, using intuitive touch gestures to do so. A relatively minor annoyance is that’s it’s not always immediately clear where an object can be placed, especially near the edges of the playing area or near other objects, which can sometimes result in needless fiddling to get an object exactly where you want it to go.


The most important caveat here for serious fans of the earlier versions is that The Incredible Machine for iOS is in many ways a much simpler “lite” version of the game, designed for more casual play. While the game is still quite challenging, users familiar with more open-ended free play modes and more complex puzzles with multiple possible paths to a solution may find the iOS version’s approach to be a bit more linear than they’re accustomed to—both of these features would admittedly be very nice additions. That said, however, The Incredible Machine for iOS is a faithful adaptation of the original game in spirit if not in every detail, and is definitely one of the better adaptations of this genre. It’s worth a look for anybody who enjoys puzzle games of this nature, and the $2 asking price is very reasonable, particularly for a universal app. iLounge Rating: B+.

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