Thanks to an influx of titles that have been sent our way in recent days, this week’s Weird + Small Apps is dedicated solely to a collection of small and/or weird little games.
Some are cool, including our picks of the week, Hoopster and Flight Control. Others, found at the end of the roundup, are just plain stupid. Read on for all the details.
Whereas some developers have viewed the iPhone and iPod touch as great devices for full-fledged sports games, others have used the App Store’s highly budget-focused pricing model as an opportunity to release mini titles that wouldn’t fly on game consoles. An example of the concept done very close to as right as can be is Hoopster ($3) by Red Knight Games, a free-throw simulator that does nothing more than provide you with basketballs, a hoop, and the opportunity to take shots from various angle and distances. This much, however, it does with great skill: thanks to an impressive 3-D graphics engine, great graphic design, reasonable music and appropriate sound effects, Hoopster looks like it could have been a bonus stage in Midway’s popular old NBA Jam series.
Shots are controlled by a flicking bar on the right of the screen, and you’re just trying to sink as many as possible—the game uses Jam-style flame effects to show a hot streak, icing the hoop for a cold or freezing streak, and offers a practice mode where you can control your angle and distance rather than running through the game’s timed sequencing. For such a small game, Hoopster is really well executed; with a little head bobbing and additional control twists, we could see it being even better. iLounge Rating: A-.
By comparison, Field Goal Frenzy ($2) by Skyworks Interactive is cut from the same conceptual mold, offering a football-themed title where all you can do is kick field goals. Unlike Hoopster, which used its 3-D graphics engine to create a surprisingly believable environment, Field Goal Frenzy uses a considerably simpler 2-D engine that doesn’t really push the iPhone or iPod touch hardware, and the inherent excitement of its gameplay—kick, wait, repeat—is just lower than Hoopster’s. But it’s compensated for, partially, by a single rock-ish audio track and believable crowd noises, plus a practice mode where you can set your preferred distance and angle for trial kicks. If you’re a real football fan, or just want to practice up for your big Scott Norwood day in the sun, this isn’t a bad little game, but Hoopster demonstrates that something so simple can easily be done better. iLounge Rating: B-.
Last and least appealing of the bunch is Reppy: Basketball PRO ($4) by Ritual Tea Company, a game we were sent for review but ultimately decided not to bother playing. Reppy is another basketball title, here featuring bland-looking 2-D artwork spread across a number of separate passing, shooting, running, and dunking simulations. A free version lets you train, a $2 version provides access to part of the game, and this $4 version unlocks all of the game without training. We booted the title up, saw that we had to provide an e-mail address and create an account just to play the game, and after noting a bunch of suspicious reviews on the App Store, decided not to bother going further with it. Note to game developers: this sort of mandatory sign-up for your services is a non-starter, and we won’t recommend any title that forces users to go through it. iLounge Rating: NR.
Two small airplane-themed titles came to our attention this week, one suggested by an amused iLounge editor, the other sent over by a small developer. Flight Control ($1) by Firemint Games is the cuter but more shallow of the titles, a one-screen game with deliberately retro aesthetics and a very simple objective: guide flights in for safe landings at an airfield. You touch the screen to draw paths for small, medium, and large planes to take to the landing strips, and also guide slower helicopters to a pad at the airport.
Different planes fly at different paces, and multiple flights want to come in for landings at the same time, so your goal is to land everything safely, delaying some and keeping them out of the way when others are flying or landing nearby. At first, collisions will happen within your first few flights; soon, you’ll land 40 or 50 planes without an accident. Fun enough for the $1 asking price, we wouldn’t consider buying it if it was more expensive, but Flight Control has charm and a neat little play mechanic on its side. iLounge Rating: B.
We would guess that we’d get a “no” if we asked A.C.R.O.N.Y.M. Games whether its new title Sky Babes vs Fly Boys ($1) should even be discussed in the same section as Flight Control, but there are some initial similarities here: both offer overhead views of multiple planes flying and landing, each controlled by your touches. But Sky Babes is actually a light strategy game, where four players—you and three CPU-controlled characters—are competing to stay in business by doing short and long-haul cargo runs from city to city, and later, country to country. All you need to do at first is tap on a newly highlighted starting city, then on its specified destination city, and keep repeating the process quickly enough to keep earning money.
As time passes, the cost of fuel rapidly climbs, forcing slower players into bankruptcy and keeping the best one alive. Ultimately, while the game concept here is pretty good, problems with its pacing and its later multi-screen presentation and scrolling controls keep it from fulfilling what could be a much higher calling than Flight Control. For the asking price, there’s two or three times as much depth here as in Flight Control, but there’s also two or four times as much that needs to be fixed. Maybe a later version will make it more worthwhile. iLounge Rating: B-.
The iPhone and iPod touch’s multi-touch interface has proven to be a versatile if not completely ideal control surface for various types of games, and for some reason, Apple has attracted an unusually high number of block-matching game developers to its pocket platforms even since the dawn of the Click Wheel iPod game. Touch & Go! ($3) by The Game Creators is, in concept, “yet another block-matcher” where blocks fall from the sky into a pit and need to be matched before they overwhelm you, but there are a few differences. First, like Topple, you can continue to move blocks around freely in the pit after they’ve fallen, even pitching them upwards into the air. Second, as the levels progress, immovable items are added to the pit to make block-matching more difficult. And third, though there are some mild limitations, finding any way to make three or more same-colored blocks touch is enough to clear them from the screen, even if they’re not in a perfectly straight line. These little tweaks eventually make the slow-starting game interestingly chaotic, aided by the presence of block- and screen-clearing power-ups that appear when you match more than three blocks at once. Touch & Go isn’t as polished as we’d prefer, and at times, it feels a little like a demo, but there’s no doubt that it gets better as you play and stacks up to the more original titles in its genre. iLounge Rating: B.
Touch Touch Shapes ($1) by Monobyte is a simpler game, but elevated by a pulsing soundtrack and a low price. A sixty-second clock starts ticking. You’re presented with a screen full of shapes and a phrase that’s either obvious or oblique as to which you’re supposed to touch. Not green and not a circle? Look for blue and red squares or triangles. Blue square? There may be a few. The grid shifts from 3×3 to 4×4. And then time’s up. As shallow as this may be, it’s fun to play at least a few times; if there was more reason to keep playing besides to break one’s prior top score, it might be worthy of a higher rating. iLounge Rating: B-.
The last two apps today qualify for our “crap game” designation, thanks to a mix of terrible gameplay and unimpressive aesthetic implementation. Worse of the two is Green Machine ($3) by Zarko Bizaca, a fairly terrible little title with a nice enough theme—recycling—but truly awful execution. There’s a never-stopping flow of trash circulating from left to right on top of two bins at the bottom of the screen. You touch a button to open them letting whatever’s flowing on top of them to fall in. Match four of the same item and you get points. Mismatch and you get none. That’s it. A terrible, repetitive song plays as you look at all the trash floating by, and the art is both primitive and unappealing. If you’d even think of spending $3 on this game, you may well be a big enough fan of trash to deserve what you’ll get. iLounge Rating: F.
Only slightly less depressing is JunkSword ($1) by Hulabreaks, a mind-numbing paper-rock-scissors game backed by awful text dialogue. As JunkSword explains, in its original spelling, “Sword win Magic. Magic win Sheild and Sheild win Sword. That it. This game is just luck!” In other words, you just keep playing paper-rock-scissors with on-screen icons again and again as bad sound effects go off, with the goal of getting the most points possible. We anxiously await the day when developers tire of releasing games like this for the iPhone and iPod touch, as we feel like we lose a little bit of our souls—or perhaps just our patience—every time we spend even a little time testing them. JunkSword is aptly named, and barely worthy of being called a demo, let alone selling for $1. iLounge Rating: D-.
Hundreds of additional iPhone app and game reviews are available here.