Welcome to the latest edition of Weird + Small Apps, a collection of mini-titles that caught our attention through either pricing, unique features, or sheer oddness. This week’s eight titles are heavily game-focused, with five full games, one sort-of-game, and two apps that may appeal to certain niches of users.
Our top picks are iYamato and Warpack Grunts, with the brief but free and off-kilter A.D.D. Lite also meriting a general recommendation. All the details are below.
Nintendo’s Wario Ware was brilliant, a collection of dozens of amusing and sometimes nostalgic mini-games designed to be played with one or two buttons, each for two or three seconds, in rapid succession. And like all Nintendo games, the chances of a Wario Ware game appearing any time soon on a non-Nintendo platform are pretty close to zero. So IUGO Mobile Entertainment has come up with its own version, A.D.D. Lite (Free), the 16-level predecessor to a full, paid game that Apple has not yet approved for sale. Unlike Wario Ware, which gently pushed the boundaries of good taste, A.D.D. Lite walks right over the edge: one of its quick games (“pound ‘em back”) has you swipe the screen to move an on-screen character who’s drinking shots at a bar, another (“panty raid”) involves pulling underwear down from a clothesline, and still others have you pop pimples, drop a pencil strategically down the back of a woman’s pants, and so on. It’s not for young kids. It’s not original. And the 16 free games are far too few in number, so the demo only lasts couple of minutes. But just like Wario Ware, this is a bona fide fun game while it lasts, and we’re anxious to see how the full final release turns out. iLounge Rating: B.
Having loved the original version of the action chess game Archon many years ago on old Atari computers, and written about a number of sorta-sequels and wannabes over the years, we were genuinely excited to try Archon Classic ($4) from React Games. Just as with the Atari game, you’re presented with a chess-like board, light and dark sides to choose from, and individual pieces with differing move characteristics. Unlike chess, the emphasis here is on bold moves, and even the pawn-like characters can travel quickly across the board, with the screen switching to an overhead combat view when one character walks onto another’s spot. It’s not just enough to land on a square; you need to swipe on-screen to move your piece on an obstacle-littered battlefield and tap to use whatever simple weapon it has—near-reaching or long-range—to kill the other piece first. The first player to occupy every on-board power point or eliminate the other side wins. Though Archon Classic is a more or less faithful port of the original gameplay, and has a decent coat of new visual polish, neither is really up to modern standards, and other Archon-inspired titles such as Wrath Unleashed have done a much better job of updating the premise. For $4, this one’s for computer game nostalgia buffs only. iLounge Rating: C+.
Battleships by Pen ($1) from RedMadRobot is the latest variant on Battleship, the classic two-player strategic guessing game in which a grid is populated with war ships and players take turns trying to find and sink each others’ ships. Deliberately amateurish in presentation, Battle of the Pen recasts Battleship as a mostly blue pen-sketched game played on lined paper with a person making “pssht” and “kablow” sound effects. A faster mode lets players take one shot per turn for every boat they have remaining in their fleet, while classic mode is one shot per turn, period. While we found the voice samples to be grating and the artwork less amusing than plain, the lower than typical price tag may attract some players to this version over others that are more aesthetically polished. iLounge Rating: C.
While we’ve never had a great desire to stack cards into towers, there’s now an app that lets you do so from the comfort of your iPhone. Card Tower: The House of Cards ($1) by Karma World requires you to arrange virtual playing cards in a matrix that won’t collapse under its own weight, touching two fingers to the screen at once to assemble upside-down V’s of cards, position them safely without knocking over other cards, and then adding individual cards to their tops to help create a larger structure. Though the game’s 3-D engine is very simple, representing the cards on a table that can be scaled and modestly repositioned as you build the house, the physics engine is realistic, imbuing each new card you hold with the ability to balance gently or cause a collapse. As nichey as this title may be, it’s a fair value for the current price; unfortunately, the developer intends to charge more for it, so you can decide whether to invest in the app or in your own deck of cards. iLounge Rating: B-.
We had no idea what to expect when we first loaded iYamato ($1) from Geppetto, but what this Japanese developer has accomplished is actually pretty cool for a dollar game. You’re presented with the side profile of a large, famous Japanese battleship, dual controls at the bottom of the screen to select the angles of its sea-to-air guns, and the ability to occasionally launch more powerful, cannon-like blasts. From stage to stage, your ship is ambushed by a stream of planes and bombs that are trying to sink it, dropping as much ordnance as possible to make it tip into the ocean. By sweeping your guns back and forth, you blow up falling crafts and bombs before they hit you; the game ends when the Yamato is fully submerged. That’s it. What makes iYamato work is its combination of detailed, smoothly animated graphics, epic music, and overwhelming intensity, which are guaranteed to make you feel initially like you’re on an impossible mission to keep the ship afloat; the challenge of trying again and again to do better is actually fun. Geppetto promises additional ships and weapons to come as downloadable content; we look forward to seeing how the game evolves over time. iLounge Rating: A-.
Shrug off the idea of paying for e-Cards if you will—we have—but if there’s a market for Hallmark cards, surely someone will be interested in an app such as rupa eCard – I Love You ($1) from Rupa Publishing. The idea: there are 16 different postcard-styled e-Cards stored in the app, each highly similar but attractively graphically designed to say “I Love You” in a specific language—English, sign language, Braille, Russian, Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, and so on. Click on a card, customize it with a note, and it gets sent to your chosen recipient as a PDF file with both sides of the card on a single PDF page. While the idea’s a cute one and the price is low enough that those accustomed to sending real cards mightn’t mind, the appeal of an app that practically will only be used once or twice is somewhat low from our perspective; unless you “love” a lot of people, or have a recipient who just wants to receive 16 PDFs, you’re not going to want to send out a bunch of similar-looking cards from this program. Our advice to the developer: since you’re not really sending post cards, lose the two-sided PDF format in favor of a nice single-sided JPEG card, and mix up the types of cards people can get in your apps. An e-Card app with art as good as this could easily be worth keeping around if it was useful for more than one or two recipients over time. iLounge Rating: C+.
Earlier this year, a cool typeface-generated portrait of Steve Jobs debuted to much acclaim, and viewers wondered how the artist had pulled off such a beautiful, interesting feat. Now there’s an app called TypeDrawing ($1), created by Hansol Huh, that enables far less talented artists to play around with similar text-based drawing tools, giving them the ability to create similarly memorable pictures using different type faces and their fingers. The premise of TypeDrawing is great, turning your finger into either a fixed-size text brush or one that varies the size of text based on the speed at which you swipe, but the results are limited to mere 320×480 exports, and the collection of typefaces is very limited—six fonts, plus bold versions. Consequently, the app is more for your fleeting amusement than for actually creating anything with long-term value. A deeper interface with higher-resolution output would take this out of the “neat demo” category and make it more of a worthwhile creative tool. iLounge Rating: C+.
Over the past year, Freeverse has specialized in making fairly big, high-impact games for the iPhone OS, so Warpack Grunts ($1) is an unusual but welcome diversion: an inexpensive, fun little action game that doesn’t have the weight of a known, licensed name or any expectations to drag it down. Initially, you’re placed in command of a squad of soldiers who are armed with machine guns and controlled from an overhead perspective; you touch the screen to move them around as a group, select targets to fire at, and interact with secondary items—bazookas, grenades, binoculars, and sniper rifles—each of which remains solely available for use until you find and touch another secondary item. Forty missions see you commanding the grunts through jungle and city levels, taking out enemy armies while attempting not to kill everyone in your squad, and eventually vehicles can be commandeered to wreak more destruction; explosion effects are for whatever reason especially cool here, with all of the other visuals looking competent, but decidedly more subtle. As with other Freeverse releases, the price of Warpack Grunts is in and of itself a major reason to consider giving this game a shot—it’s a very good value for the dollar—but the less than precise and intuitive control scheme and the deliberately dry “who cares, it’s you versus a bad guy” storyline could use some work. iLounge Rating: B+.