On July 21, 2008, iLounge published iPhone Gems: The Best First Racing Games, a feature article looking at three different 3-D racers developed for the iPhone OS. This review focuses on Pangea Software’s Cro-Mag Rally (
$10 $6); you can read the full article, with screenshots of all of the games together, through the link above.
All three of these games are, at least as of press time, saddled with the same limitation: they’re forced to use the iPhone’s accelerometer and touchscreen rather than a traditional gamepad or steering wheel for controls. No matter what might be claimed about the iPhone’s integrated controls, they are—like the iPod Click Wheel—not well-suited to serious game play. Depending on the angle the device is held at, whether you’re indoors or outdoors, under harsh or soft light, and how you’re sitting or standing, you may find either steering or seeing the screen to be a challenge. We continue to hope that an add-on digital or analog game controller with dedicated buttons is in Apple’s immediate future.
Originally sold for $10 but reduced to $6 after our review, Cro-Mag Rally has a lot in common with Crash in concept, but it’s more ambitious in scope, if not always as fun to play. Like Crash and Mario Kart before it, you’re in charge of a character on a go kart who goes around a track three times collecting items, using weapons, and basically trying to keep ahead of other racers. On positive notes, Pangea’s graphics engine is both more advanced and better used than Polarbit’s, with superior frame rates, much more detailed karts and tracks, and smoother colors.
There are at least nine levels, each with different art, and the levels are positively packed with things to find, smash into, and get sucked up by—the first stage alone is littered with weapon icons, and lets you get sucked up by a whirlwind when you’re not crashing into cacti or other racers. Another stage, Atlantis, puts you in command of an underwater submarine rather than a kart; Pangea could easily release an entire iPhone game around this concept.
The negative differences between Crash and Cro-Mag are several in number. First, the characters are all cavemen. Though the polygonal models are very detailed, they’re on the ugly side, which doesn’t make the game as endearing as it could be; there’s also a lot of music, but it’s not great. Similarly, though the textures are smooth and fairly detailed, they don’t contrast enough with the characters at times, so it’s easy for the eye to get lost with everything that’s going on. Items tend to be easy to spot, but made from unattractive flat textures. Another visual issue is a bit harder to describe, but ever-present: for better and for worse, Pangea gives you more freedom of vertical and off-axis horizontal movement within a level. This is better in that you can drive up the side of a hill or off into a moat, but worse in that your viewpoint constantly is rotating. Unlike Crash, Cro-Mag lets you shift into a first-person mode in a settings menu, though the game is decidedly more difficult to play when you can’t see your kart, as you can’t always figure out what to do when you hit a wall.
Apparently, the correct answer is to “back up.” Unlike Crash, Cro-Mag makes you hold a finger on the screen at all times for acceleration, releasing it to slow down, hitting a brake to stop, and an R button for reverse. You also have weapon release buttons on the right side of the screen. Between the steering and the buttons, we found the interface here just a bit too complex for the iPhone; adjusting the iPhone’s steering sensitivity was also necessary, but not completely sufficient, to improve the game’s controls. Offloading similar steering and button features onto a joypad would have been fine. A second game play mode, Gather, lets you more casually explore the levels to collect items; some players may find that this is more their speed.
Overall, we were more impressed by the game engine in Cro-Mag Rally than the one in Crash Bandicoot Nitro Kart 3D, but there are reasons—control and theme—that some users will prefer one to the other. Because of the submarine mode and Pangea’s more ambitious design, we’d give Cro-Mag a slight edge and our general recommendation, but we think that some control modifcations and a lower price would make this game more compelling. Our strong hope is that Pangea reuses this engine, or a souped-up version, for a racing game with a better theme.
[Editor’s Note: Though we haven’t changed our rating, Pangea has as noted above subsequently dropped the price to make the game more appealing.]
Company and Price
Company: Pangea Software
Title: Cro-Mag Rally
Compatible: iPod touch, iPhone, iPhone 3G