After a couple of weeks in which our Weird and Small Apps column skewed way more small than weird, the wacky is back for our latest edition. Between the insane iHoop and the less crazy but still amusing Need For Cheese, Ohmz, and Run From Hell, there’s a lot to tell you about this week; a bar code scanning and lookup tool called RedLaser and an odd Japanese slot machine simulator called Slot Japan! fill out the list.
Though none of the titles here merited our general recommendation, the highest-rated title this week was Need For Cheese. Read on for all the details.
Never afraid to put out a bad or just really crazy title, Global Net Value has struck again with iHoop ($4/$1), a title that manages to make the act of hoop spinning oddly creepy. The goal is simple: keep spinning one or more hoops around the body of a baby who evolves over time into an old, bony man if the hoop continues to spin.
You do this, of course, by shaking the iPhone or iPod so much that you can barely see what’s happening on the screen, and get to listen to robotic noises—no music—while you’re playing. We’ve included iHoop here not because it’s worth buying, but because it sets an all-new threshold for what we consider bizarre and useless on this platform; it’s demo-quality weirdness. iLounge Rating: D.
Need 4 Cheese ($1) by Spielhaus/Nicolinux is incredibly simple but surprisingly amusing. There’s a flat surface with circular floating icons: you control a mouse, and try to avoid touching a huge collection of evil creatures—black and red cats—while collecting occasional pieces of cheese and a serum that lets your mouse kill one cat before becoming vulnerable again; the gameplay is like an imbalanced, dot-free and maze-free Pac-Man where the ghosts keep becoming more numerous and the goal is merely to get the occasional piece of fruit or power pellet. Due to the accelerometer-based controls and an upbeat, continuously playing audio track, Need 4 Cheese is actually fun while you’re playing it, but it’s so shallow that it’s hard to imagine playing more than a few times for kicks. A free demo is available and offers everything you need to see; the full version is worthy of a limited recommendation for its amusement factor. iLounge Rating: B-.
Peggle has inspired plenty of clones over the past few months, and SCI’s Ohmz ($4) is if nothing else more original than the rest. You’re presented with what initially appears to be a familiar looking maze of colored pegs, but quickly realize that you wind up launching balls from one of two electrical towers on the left and right of the screen, using a power slider to indicate how much force each ball should have as it’s dispensed. Once that’s done, the ball bounces around in the pegs, releasing sparks and large energy orbs that need to be caught by a bucket you move with finger swipes on the bottom of the screen.
While all of these elements are genuinely novel twists on the Peggle concept, each one is executed with less polish than it really needs; the “do this, then do that” launching controls could really stand to be unified into a simpler scheme, there’s no music and only simple sound effects, and having to keep your finger on top of the basket you’re using to collect the falling orbs isn’t exactly a great idea. Plain graphics and too little visual or sonic awards for grabbing things don’t help much, either. What’s here is the basis of a good game, but it still needs a lot of work before it’ll get there. iLounge Rating: C.
By comparison, Visionaire Design’s Run From Hell ($1) isn’t the basis of a good game; it’s a bland, not so fun title with decent graphics and no in-game audio. You control a little devil who for some reason is adverse to flames, and needs to keep jumping on blocks that fall from the sky to rescue him from a growing wave of lava. The blocks fall at random, sometimes stacking on their predecessors, sometimes not, and you need to make the devil move left, right, and jump to get on top of them; only when they stack high enough to get you to a goal marker several screens up. You die and the game ends if you touch the lava at the bottom or get crushed by a falling block. Between the not fun button-based controls, the bland gameplay, and the lack of sound, there’s nothing to recommend this game except for the low price and fine theme. iLounge Rating: C-.
We thought we’d seen “bad” when we tried Griffin’s Lucky 7 Slots for the iPhone OS, but Slot Japan! ($4) by Ichikaku now shares Lucky 7’s crown: it’s a slot machine so boring that the developer includes an automatic play mode so that it can just keep spinning its wheels until something interesting happens. Based on Japanese Pachi-Slot machines, Slot Japan! offers three step gameplay—tap to insert coins, tap to start the three reels spinning, and tap on each reel to stop it individually. If the reels line up with matching icons, you get more coins, as well as the opportunity for more dramatic lights on the machine if matching icons are made repeatedly in sequences. As with Lucky 7, in the absence of financial benefit for the player, there’s absolutely nothing compelling about this title, with so little reward for play that you’re best off setting it on automatic mode and watching until something vaguely interesting happens. And seriously, who wants to pay $4 for that? Slot Japan! is an expensive snooze. iLounge Rating: D-.
Last but definitely not least this week is RedLaser ($2) from Occiptal, a title that is extremely useful in concept but crippled by the iPhone’s and iPhone 3G’s cameras. The idea: go into any store, point your widescreen iPhone at box packaging, and snap a picture of its barcode. RedLaser will identify the barcode, look it up on the Internet at a wide variety of retailers, and tell you how much you’ll pay to buy it online. While the premise is fantastic, and RedLaser tries to make it work by guiding you to hold the box at the correct distance for the iPhone’s camera, barcodes routinely come out blurry, get misidentified by the software, or yield no search results—often times, all three. Different sized bar codes are just one of the problems; scanning Apple’s tiny ones is a special challenge for this app.
The single biggest issue is the iPhone’s lack of autofocus and anti-shake capabilities, which would let you grab barcodes at closer distances with less blur; in the absence of a good shot, you’re left to manually type in the UPC code yourself. When it succeeds at photo IDing a product, you’ll be impressed by the comparative results it finds, if not the way they’re sorted or presented; thus, the only question is whether it’s worth spending $2 for an app with such a limited success rate. Perhaps it’ll work better on the next-generation iPhone; for obvious reasons, it’s incompatible with both versions of the iPod touch. iLounge Rating: C.