Welcome to the 20th edition of our Weird and Small Apps column, which looks at mini-apps released for the iPhone and iPod touch. This week, we’re excited to be able to show you two very inexpensive highly recommended games—the free puzzle game Tatomic and the simple but cool $1 tapping game Volcano Planet—along with a number of other games and apps that may be of interest to some users.
Another standout this week is the slightly pricey Weather Machine, a nice update to the iPhone’s integrated weather application for those who need more than just simple temperature and condition details. Read on for all the details.
Though derivative of the Sony PSP title Lumines, Tatomic (Free) from VGViews is one of the best free games we’ve played on the iPhone. In Tetris style, puzzle pieces drop from the top of the screen into a well; like Lumines, the well is wide, and the aim is to connect and eliminate a collection of same-colored blocks. Novel in Tatomic is the concept of matching criteria—you need to connect fewer orange atoms to make a match than green ones, fewer green than blue, and fewer blue than red—and the visual representation of the atoms becoming excited as you come close to their required numbers; as with all of the games in this genre, you’re rewarded more for “chain” combinations of cascading matches than single matches. If there’s anything about Tatomic that’s less than impressive, it’s the graphic design of the touch-based user interface, which is simultaneously easy to learn and a bit too visually present, but it’s made up for by a very good, relaxing soundtrack, a high frame rate, the addictive gameplay, and the price. iLounge Rating: A-.
Volcano Planet ($1) from Jelly Biscuits is very close to the ideal $1 iPhone game: fun, easy to figure out, and impressive both visually and sonically. We’ve seen the basic concept before in Radius—spin a globe around using your finger, tapping on emerging danger points to disable them. But what Jelly Biscuits has done is to transform those danger points into global warming-induced volcanoes that become active and steamy, and the globe into a planet that explodes if you don’t stop the volcanic gases in time. UFOs occasionally pop out of nowhere and need to be tapped, as well, releasing gas suppressants. You use the suppressants, found at the bottom left and right of the screen, to calm the jittery planet down.
On top of all this, Volcano Planet adds a neat little musical concept: every time you stop a volcano from exploding, a musical note plays, and the more volcanoes you fix, the longer the song is at the end of the game. Though an in-game soundtrack would be even better, what’s here—3-D whack-a-mole with a planetary theme—is a lot of fun for the low price, and worthy of a high recommendation. iLounge Rating: A-.
As is obvious from past Weird + Small Apps columns, we love puzzle games, so when we say that we’re not huge fans of Droplitz ($2) from Atlus U.S.A., understand that we were actually excited about this one going in. The idea: you’re given a well filled with circular pieces that need to be rotated via taps into positions that allow balls to flow from the top of the screen down into receptacle circles. These receptacles can be at the bottom of the well, or higher up, and if you can get enough balls into them, they disappear and take connecting pieces with them, requiring you to rebuild the pathways. While the concept’s solid, the pacing is way off—the limited number of balls fall so quickly that it’s hard to connect all the pipes before they run out, making what could be fun into an exercise in frustration. Try it only if you like a serious challenge and are willing to struggle past the learning stages to enjoy it. iLounge Rating: C.
Shuffle Ball ($1) from ibis is a three-dimensional Pong-in-a-fishtank game, placing you in control of one paddle—located on your “end” of the tank—while a computer-controlled paddle floats around in the distance at the other, deeper end of the tank. All you do from stage to stage is bounce a ball back and forth with the other paddle, trying to make it miss and crack the screen; the game progresses from similar level to similar level while spacey synthesized music plays in the background. While Shuffle Ball delivers pretty much the exact experience one would expect from the genre and the description, it’s not an especially compelling game, or delivered with any special features that make it stand out from the other 50,000 apps released in the last year. iLounge Rating: C.
While we’re always glad to try new casino gambling games, we wouldn’t pay for one that does little more than provide an image of a roulette table, a timer to place bets, and a tiny, bland wheel that spins in the corner when the timer expires. That’s basically ASD Roulette ($1) from ASD Soft, which follows European convention in removing the double zero (00) from the wheel, and provides you with tiny chips that must be slid over from a tray area one at a time to the table. With no frills in interface, visuals, or audio, ASD Roulette is one of the most plain representations we’ve yet seen of this classic game. iLounge Rating: D.
Everyone’s making money by selling things at the App Store, right? So how about an app that tells people how to make money? That’s Entrepreneur ($5) from Jeff Maynard, a title that could charitably be called an “e-Book” but is really something closer to an e-Pamphlet, a main page connected to thirty or so short pages of text and a glossary of terms. The content is a straightforward look at the process of creating a business plan and attempting to pitch it to investors, complete with some do’s and don’ts; it’s the sort of information you could easily find for free online if you did some Google searches, only organized into a simple though not completely polished book reading user interface. If you’re looking for font adjustability or a full-length tome on the topic, consider options such as Kindle-based books instead; this is a simple primer at a price that would be less of an issue with either more content or a better UI. iLounge Rating: C+.
When we created Weird + Small Apps, the goal was to make it possible for us to cover a wide variety of small applications in very abbreviated form—one or two paragraphs each—but on rare occasion, an app doesn’t really seem worthy of even a paragraph. iSamurai ($1) from Toy Kite Software is an example, an app that lets two people use their iPhones or iPod touches as “swords,” complete with occasional clanging sounds, and lots of horrible, annoying voice samples. The screen does nothing but display a piece of manga-styled artwork and a “surrender” button, the look of which changes if you try to play the game in one-player mode against the computer. We couldn’t get the two-player mode to work properly—the devices saw and connected to each other but didn’t register any sounds or error messages to explain what was going on—and the one-player mode was so moronic that we felt bad even wasting the time to install the application. iSamurai is a goofy idea with bad execution. iLounge Rating: F.
Last but not least is Weather Machine ($4) from Massimiliano Torregiani, a surprisingly sophisticated weather tool that places a ton of information within finger-swipe distance. The main screen displays the current temperature, conditions, and four-day forecast a la the iPhone OS included Weather app, then adds a wind chill offset, plus information on barometric pressure, humidity, wind speed and direction. You can then swipe forward to see more detailed information for each of the forecasted days, and flip the current day’s panel to see moon phase, sun and moon rise and set times, and high and low temperature details. While there are some little interface issues, the developer has come up with a nice enough interface and concept that Apple should take some lessons for its own app; until then, the only question for users will be whether it’s worth paying $4 for the additional details Weather Machine adds. iLounge Rating: B.