Welcome to the 21st edition of Weird + Small Apps, our weekly look at inexpensive micro-applications and games for the iPhone and iPod touch. Fairly heavy with animal-themed apps, this week’s edition is divided into four sections: “launching games,” “more animal games,” “additional mini games,” and “slideshow makers.”
None of this week’s titles is a real standout, save for Hands-On Mobile’s Kitten Cannon, an offensively awful title that once again demonstrates that something is really wrong with Apple’s App Store approval process, and Enviro-Bear 2010, an illustration of the types of interesting games the App Store has also inspired. The highest rated app of the week is Pix Remix, a photo slideshow application that received a flat B recommendation. Read on for all the details.
Of the three “launching games” we look at today, Saga Catapult ($2) from Silverlode Interactive arguably has the most potential, though it starts out slow and has interface issues that prevent it from being reliably fun. It’s something close to a first-person tower defense game, presenting you with the fixed-perspective view of a field and the medieval catapult you control, and the challenge of killing various, increasingly powerful soldiers before they make it from the left side of the screen to the right. You do this by targeting them with stones launched by your catapult, which gets upgraded over time to have more power, a wider blast radius, and faster reloading, amongst other characteristics. If it wasn’t for the controls, which vary from fast but imprecise in one configuration to slow and more precise but still not great in the other, this game would be more worthwhile; the stream of 3-D rendered warriors and machines that appear before you becomes more engaging as the levels go on, and though the art is never beautiful, the challenge, theme, and medieval music will be enough to sate some players. iLounge Rating: B-.
By comparison, Yetisports Pingu Throw ($2) from ROOT9 MediaLab is a simpler game in both design and execution, but it’s also more fun from moment one. Here, the sort of dumb, sort of fun idea has you controlling a Yeti who plays baseball with penguins, launching them into the air with a club and then tilting the iPhone left and right to help them fly through the air. In every level, the goal is to get the penguin to glide a specific distance and eat a certain number of fish along the way, which is accomplished by judging the air flow and properly tilting the iPhone to keep the penguin in the air rather than skidding to a stop against the ground. Birds in the air can be used as springboards, and sometimes as ways to eat fish in mid-flight. The two-dimensional graphics are only modestly impressive—mostly for the little details you’ll notice as the penguin is flying—and with non-existent music, the so-so sound effects stand out more, but this isn’t a bad game; it’s just a little light on depth to justify the $2 asking price. iLounge Rating: B-.
What qualifies as bad is Kitten Cannon ($1) from Hands-On Mobile, a title where kittens are launched from a cannon into fields filled with dynamite, venus fly traps, and metal spikes, bleeding as they hit the grass. Your goal is to see how far you can blast a kitten, as determined by the angle of the cannon and the number of propulsion items it hits on route to its death. To be clear, iLounge’s editors aren’t cat lovers—almost all of us have dogs—but to say that there’s nothing redeeming about the theme of this title would be an understatement; it appears to have been cynically concocted to generate controversy. In that, it succeeds, showing its developer to be willing to stoop to the lowest levels of depravity for attention, and Apple to be still behind the curve at keeping such trash from polluting the App Store. If you think for a minute of spending a dollar to buy this, we’d strongly urge you to hit this link instead; cruelty to animals isn’t funny or worth supporting. iLounge Rating: F.
Though we—and most people—strongly abhor animal cruelty, hunting wild animals is another story; legal and permissible, if not universally acceptable. For that reason, we have no issue with the content of Hands-On Mobile’s Alaskan Hunt ($1), a deer hunting game, but its mediocrity and shallowness prevent it from being a title we’d recommend. Ever since deer hunting video games became popular a number of years ago, developers have realized that there was a goldmine in populating plausible 3-D environments with long-horned bucks and turning the player loose with a rifle to take them down. Alaskan Hunt is no exception, placing you in the center of a forest and letting you rotate your gun around until you spot deer, using up your limited ammunition to take out as many as possible; over time, the sunlight changes, more deer appear, and you can upgrade your equipment. But as with the developer’s Kitten Cannon, bad taste and unimpressive development talent are on display; bullets launched from your scoped rifle are marked “Greetings From Hell,” and the deer have next to no intelligence—artificial or otherwise—when initially appearing or when scattering as shots ring out. There’s little skill here, and the environments are boring. While Alaskan Hunt has the basics of a legitimate hunting title down, it’s not worth considering a purchase until there’s more and better content. iLounge Rating: C-.
That brings us to Justin Smith’s new release Enviro-Bear 2010 ($1), which we started playing yesterday and thought worthy of a news story based on its bizarre sensibilities and design. To answer up front the first question we had before downloading it: yes, the 2-D style graphics are actually fully animated with faux 3-D scaling effects, and surprisingly, there is a lot of motion when you’re driving around. You control a bear who has five realtime minutes to gather fish and berries in a forest before he hibernates for the winter, and need to get him into a cave before snow falls and floods his car. That’s a risk because your bear, and even more amusingly, other bears, are driving around the forest, using one paw to alternately depress the accelerator or use items to do so, steer, and grab food that falls into the car as they smash into fish and bushes along the way.
While the developer here has come up with a truly funny concept and executed it with a deliberately primitive yet memorable design, the core of the game—driving and steering—isn’t anywhere near as fun as it could and should be, a decision that some have suggested was deliberate. We don’t know whether it was intentional or not, nor do we know if the thousands of other games out there with bad controls were intended to be less enjoyable than they could have been. For that reason, as much as we liked the premise of this game, and actually found ourselves chuckling at it, it’s not one that we’d pick up and play multiple times; try it if you’re interested in a laugh, not a strong driving title. iLounge Rating: B-.
Though the App Store’s 65,000 apps and hundreds of thousands of app updates preclude any definitive statement that one app was “first” with any given feature, SurrounDEAD ($1) from Handheld Games is the first game we’re aware of to try and use the iPhone 3GS’s built-in magnetometer as an alternate control scheme. Think of SurrounDEAD as a modestly more intense version of Alaskan Hunt, where you’re standing in the middle of a city rather than the forest, and confronted by hordes of zombies rather than deer. Here, the zombies actually advance on your position, becoming increasingly dangerous as they come closer. You have a simple gun that fires eight shots before requiring a reload, and the challenge is to keep turning in 360 degrees to stop the zombies before they grab and kill you. Unfortunately, the game is repetitive and shallow—even more so than Alaskan Hunt—and interesting only in that the threat of being munched by the zombies is ever-present; the levels all look the same, just with more zombies to kill. The 3GS compass control scheme is as unreliable as the 3GS compass itself, and seemingly a gimmick, as it requires so much spinning that you’ll likely pass out in real life from all the turning. With greater depth, this could be worthwhile. iLounge Rating: B-.
The classic electronic kids’ game Simon was a hit for years before video games became popular, and Zaptap (Free) from Trippert Labs recreates it with a little more finesse on the iPhone and iPod touch. From level to level, you are presented with a series of dots that need to be tapped in a specific order, starting with simple three-dot, three-note patterns, and graduating upwards to more dots and more complex patterns. Gentle 80’s style synthesized music plays in the background, and every tap you register leads to simple pre-rendered electricity shooting from the dots; finishing a stage leads to on-screen “rad” or “bogus” commentary. We’re not going to rate Zaptap given that its price has been cut from an implausible $5 to free “for a limited time,” but fans of Simon should give it a shot while it’s available at no charge. iLounge Rating: NR.
Two photo applications we look at today are both designed for the same purpose: to create miniature slideshows from your photo album without using the integrated slideshow functionality in Apple’s Photos app. PlayPix 3 Snaps ($3) from LivingImage lets you select three photos to see spliced into an animated theme, complete with upbeat music. Seven themes are downloadable over the Internet in addition to one that’s included with the app. Frankly, nothing here is worthy of the $3 asking price, as PlayPix 3 Snaps is doing little more than playing back cheesy videos and then doing a mediocre job of inserting your pictures at their center; widescreen images for instance sometimes show up in the wrong orientation. This is a waste of money, save for your ability to e-mail or YouTube a slideshow from the app, a feature handled through files generated on the PlayPix server; this would be nice to see added to Apple’s Photos. iLounge Rating: D+.
By comparison, Pix Remix ($3) from Jump Associates is better: it too lets you make a slideshow, but doesn’t limit you to three images, and includes four dynamic 3-D transition effects that transition from image to image. It also includes a Collage mode, which lets you create a table-like surface with animated falling pictures in your preferred orientation, and three effects to watch them drop, plus a Pan and Zoom mode that lets you pick spots in each image to focus on. As with PlayPix 3 Snaps, Pix Remix gets fooled sometimes by wrong-direction image orientation, but it offers the ability to e-mail slideshows, or post them to Facebook and Twitter, all viewable through a Pix Remix web page rather than actually generated movie content. All that’s missing here is a wider variety of transitions in the Slideshow and Collage modes, but what’s here is pretty nice—better for sure than what Apple includes by default in Photos. You can decide whether it’s worth the $3 to you; we’d say it’s a close call. iLounge Rating: B.
Hundreds of additional iPhone app and game reviews are available here.