Though many of the submissions we receive for our Weird and Small Apps column would lead readers—and us—to conclude that there’s a lot of junk in the App Store, there are occasionally bright spots in the bargain bins, and this week we have three interesting releases to share. But we also look at two terrible titles that continue to illustrate the problems the App Store continues to have with quality control and its approval processes almost a year after its mid-2008 launch. Our pick of the week is Volkswagen Polo Challenge 3D; read on for the details.
Like the previously-reviewed title PixelContact, Alfonso Bozzelli’s new Persona – Avatar Creator ($3) is designed to do one thing: let you create cartoony images for your iPhone or iPod touch contacts. But unlike PixelContact, which used crummy artwork that couldn’t be customized, Persona gives you the choice of various facial features – eyes, ears, nose, mouth, facial and regular hair, glasses and background art – to use in creating your artwork. On the plus side, there are just enough options to make some interesting-looking 2-D avatar graphics for your contacts, but between the extremely limited color, background, and individual elements, it’s obvious that more choices are needed to justify a price tag like this one. Additionally, Persona’s interface doesn’t quite achieve the simplicity or user-friendliness that it needs to have: you’re initially presented with a completely blank slate and forced to dig through the menus to create your avatars piece by piece. For now, this app rates just below our general-level recommendation, but with a little more work in the UI and options departments, it could be a legitimately cool app for some users. iLounge Rating: B-.
Any serious iPhone camera user will immediately appreciate the value of Photo Resize ($1) from Stormtap Studios, an app that attempts to offer users of the iPhone OS 2.x the same multiple photo-mailing functionality that’s promised for iPhone OS 3.0. Load the app and you’re presented with collections of thumbnails taken from the standard iPhone Photos icon; you just tap on multiple images to add them to a “resize” list, then hit an e-mail icon. Pick a contact or type one, add a message, and hit send—the app resizes the images to 640×480 or 480×320 and sends them together in an e-mail. Sometimes.
Apparently, Photo Resize has a bug that makes it flaky at e-mailing photos over Wi-Fi. It also seems to have a bug that makes it flaky at e-mailing photos from certain e-mail addresses—the valid one that we initially used didn’t work at all over Wi-Fi or 3G, though we never received an error message; the photos just never arrived. All it asks for is an e-mail address to send files from, but it never requests a password or makes an obvious tie to a specific e-mail account on the iPhone. However it works when it does work seems like a little bit of voodoo. Given that the iPhone OS 3.0 is only a month or so away at this point, paying for a semi-functional implementation of what’s about to be a free included feature doesn’t strike us as a great idea, but if you’re in need of mass photo-sending functionality right now and willing to work around the app’s issues, it’s not bad. iLounge Rating: B-.
Audi and BMW have created promotional iPhone “games” to show off their flashy, expensive cars, and now Volkswagen is doing the same with Volkswagen Polo Challenge 3D (Free) by Fishlabs. Having played a rather impressive Volkswagen game for the Nintendo 64 called Beetle Adventure Racing, we’re not adverse to the idea of driving game based on a sub-$20,000 car, and after trying the Audi and BMW titles, we’re frankly thrilled to see a promotional car title with real 3-D background art and multiple stages—eight—to play through. With acceleration handled automatically, your goal in Polo Challenge is merely to steer the car and brake at the right times through turns, watching the backgrounds zip by as you try to beat specified track times. Music is simple and competent, as are engine noise sound effects, and the 3-D stages are surprisingly robust, a fact that’s somewhat attributable to the lack of other cars on the tracks. The other part is attributable to the smart graphics engine, which even includes lens flares, and dynamically adjusts the distance of your car from the camera as you drive.
Of course, there’s an option to see more information on the new Polo, which is scheduled for a European launch next month, but unlike the prior car promo apps, Fishlabs doesn’t push you to see that PDF-format document, or make you watch any other superfluous content such as cheesy promo movies. This mightn’t be a phenomenal racing game, but for a freebie, it’s very well-developed—entirely worth seeing if you’re a fan of the brand or interested in this specific model. iLounge Rating: B.
Not surprisingly, there are a couple of bad titles in this week’s batch, as well. On one hand, there’s Force Archer ($1) by UI Magic, a game which we would describe charitably as an attempt to bring the thrills of medieval fantasy archery and combat to the iPhone. Really, though, Force Archer places you in control of the angle, power, and one chosen magic-enhanced arrowhead of an arrow launched by one on-screen character at another. You try to guess what combination of arrow and power will hit the other person, and select an arrowhead to take off more or less hit points. Score a good hit or get hit yourself and you’ll hear an “ouch,” along with an on-screen number indicating how many hit points you’ve lost. After enough hits, or a good head shot, one person will fall before the other, and if you’re the survivor, you move on to another similar stage. The graphics, gameplay, and audio here are so banal that they wouldn’t make for a good free web game; we wouldn’t pay even a dollar for this type of title. iLounge Rating: D.
Then there’s Luigi Vs Pac ($1) from CSA Applications, which is no longer available in the App Store—a sloppy, awful little title that appears to have been released as a test of just how much obvious copyright and trademark infringement can appear in a game that Apple will approve for sale. The answer appears to be: a lot. With a title screen that copies mushroom artwork from Nintendo’s Super Mario series and a single background that copies both Namco’s Pac-Man and Nintendo’s Super Mario World, it would be hard to make a more obvious juxtaposition of content that couldn’t possibly be licensed by the developer. Then, there’s the text—“Press to play, Pac Man vs Mario,” an odd additional Mario series reference that some people might have noticed—and the presence of floating, unanimated Luigi and Pac-Man characters who play a one-player, first-to-five points game of Pong with an oversized red ghost (Blinky) as a puck. Frequently, if Pac-Man scores two points in a row at the start of the game, Blinky will get stuck, causing the game to all but crash since Pac-Man doesn’t know what to do. There’s no audio, and the score is kept with text on the top and bottom of the screen. That this title could have been approved at all demonstrates how screwy Apple’s App Store review process is; it’s such a terrible game in every respect from gameplay to bugginess to outright theft of content that its presence in the Store even for a minute boggles the mind. If apps are being reviewed robotically at this point, it’s time for Apple’s robots to receive a logic board replacement. iLounge Rating: F.
Hundreds of additional iPhone app and game reviews are available here.