Welcome to this week’s first gaming edition of iPhone + iPad Gems! We have a couple of legitimately exciting games to share with you today, including two universal iPhone/iPod touch/iPad-compatible titles that could broadly be classified as “casual games” due to their simple gameplay, but wind up transcending their seemingly retro roots. There’s also a new pinball game compilation, released in separate and buggy versions for the iPhone/iPod touch and iPad, which disappeared from the App Store after it was sent for review.
Our top picks are The Incident and Solipskier. Read on for all the details.
In its purest form, retro gaming evokes the fondest memories of years gone by, distilling the best parts from past generations of video games while removing impurities that were better off forgotten. Big Bucket Software’s The Incident ($2, version 1.0) is an example of retro gaming done properly—the equivalent of Pablo Picasso painting abstract art not because he had to, but because he could. With a deliberately simple control scheme, plot, and aesthetic style, The Incident manages to be more addictive and thoughtful than most of its retro peers, amusing you with every minute of play.
You control a man in the midst of a killer rain storm, more precisely, a man whose only goal is to survive seven levels that are filled by objects that fall from the sky one by one, creating mountains of climbable debris. A radar bar is placed at the top of the screen to show you where the next object is going to fall from; you tilt the iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch to the left or right to move your character, and touch the screen to jump, combining tilts and jumps to vault through the air in one direction or the other. As objects continue to stack up, your only option is to continue climbing on top of them or get buried, and the game is won if you succeed in climbing from flat earth up to space without losing all of your lives, each with three life bars. You lose a life bar when an object hits you on the head as it falls from the sky. Bars can be recharged through first aid balloons, preserved with a limited-use helmet, or lost through curse of death balloons, while both coins and gems can be collected as you continue to climb.
The Incident works in part because of its 8/16-bit-styled pixel artwork, specifically the hundreds of different objects that near-randomly fall and then rotate to form a pile, many conjuring at least little laughs as they fall. Losing your life to a falling Mac Pro, Easter Island Moai statue, or Smart Car quickly starts to become perversely fun—a function of the recognizability and amusement factor of the items. But the real reason The Incident feels great is the gameplay, which though simple is completely fair: the radar at the screen’s top always gives you the choice and ability to move quickly away or stick around for the chance at extra coins or maintaining higher ground. In the event that you’re buried, you can leverage the debris as a shield and then pop out with automatic assistance from a bubble, little touches that show a level of developer testing and thoughtfulness missing from so many “retro” games.
Is The Incident a perfect $2 game? No. A very catchy chip tune in the style of classic 8-bit action games repeats through all the levels, and though we loved it, it really could stand to have some in-game company. As the stages passed, we wished for at least a little more interactivity with the objects—they fall and then do nothing but gather—or for more storyline cues from the early backgrounds. But these sorts of improvements could easily be saved for a sequel. Let there be no doubt: the Incident deserves one. It’s the rare retro title that merits mainstream attention. iLounge Rating: A-.
Most of Gameprom’s iPhone and iPad pinball games were collected in the compilation title Pinball HD, but before they were bundled together and sold for $2 (iPhone) or ($3) iPad, they were more than good enough to sell alone for $1 each. By comparison, the Coderunners compilation pinball games PinballYeah and PinballYeah HD (version 1.0, aka Pinball Yeah!) are a mess, and though they were submitted for review last week, they’ve either been withdrawn from the App Store or were never actually published for reasons unknown—though we can guess why.
Though we could go into a lot of detail regarding these games, it suffices to say that Coderunners has bundled four mediocre pinball tables together into each application: “Liquid Bread – Old Irish Pub,” “Pirate Cove,” “A.i.” and “Coderuners”—the spelling theirs—all 3-D-modeled boards that initially range from “not bad” to “yuck” in design before falling to weak frame rates and bugs. There are small elements of quality and obvious desire to make something cool in each of them —the way-too-dark pub has detailed 3-D objects and moving characters, for instance, there’s an option to switch camera angles, and there’s some fine to good music in each area. It’s not all bad.
But these games were obviously not finished. On A.i., the ball got stuck inside a chamber that fills much of the first level of the table; on Coderuners, the automated ball plunger never even launches the ball into the table in the first place. While both versions of PinballYeah have fine music and some decent design touches, neither game was really ready for release yet, and they thus receive our “D for demo” rating for the time being. Hopefully the developers will go back and give each of the tables some considerable extra work before putting them back in the App Store. iLounge Ratings (Both): D.
The App Store has attracted more than its fair share of “casual” games—titles that are deliberately very simple and fairly easy to attract interest from people who might find full-fledged video games to be too difficult. On the surface, Solipskier from Mikengreg ($3) is a casual game, requiring you as the player to do nothing more than keep your finger on the screen, which draws a linear path for a white-garbed skier to follow. There’s minimal initial explanation, and the rock soundtrack at first begins to feel inappropriate, leading you to wonder what’s so exciting about keeping the little skier moving.
Then, as you watch and begin to experiment, Solipskier’s concept begins to make more sense. There are gates to ski through that are telegraphed in advance with arrows and countdown numbers, rewarding you if you keep hitting them in sequence, and “tunnels” of multiple gates in rapid-fire succession that give you bonus points. Bad gates must be dodged, and at some points, “jumps” appear and interrupt the path you’re drawing, forcing you to save your skier with a catching path that takes gravity into account. Best of all, the pace ratchets up rapidly if you build up momentum with downhill paths, and you’re further rewarded for tossing the skier up into the air for huge, fast jumps that bring olympic-style scorecards up on the screen. So yes, Solipskier can be played by merely drawing a straight line, but the rewards all come through experimentation.
Visually, the game is deliberately and stylistically sparse, with a dark gray background that’s overlapped with the snowy path you draw, and then by chalets and trees that pop up automatically to fill them. A rainbow path behind your skier and the blurring of the screen as you build up speed are the game’s biggest visual treats, though the music—inspired by Chopin—is superb, at least until it unceremoniously cuts out and leaves only the simple sound effects to amuse you. Fans of Canabalt will find Solipskier particularly compelling; this is an equally cool title with as much lasting power. iLounge Rating: B+.