Thursday, September 2, 2010

iPod Game Micro Reviews, Part I

A friend who is entering the world of iPod Touch soon asked me what games she should get. I decided to put together a list, and figured that, while I was at it, I might as well publish it. I'd love to do more micro-reviews of iPod games, as well as an analysis of my iPod usage (which is kind of obsessive regarding game deals), and a discussion of how Android completely sucks for games. Plus, I'm calling this "Part I" because I'm being optimistic and hoping to do more of them. :)

Keep in mind that patience can yield many of these apps for discount/free. I'll discuss my strategy for app hunting in a later post. The prices quoted are on Aug. 2nd, 2010. I'm not sure if some of them are on sale at the time, so they could end up higher.

(all scores are out of 10)

Classics: Ok, so it's hard to have a "classic" on such a young medium, but these are a few games that you really should pick up to be considered part of the iOS masses.

Flight Control - 7. Everyone's seen it, but this is the original, and it's still quite fun. They've added new layouts and a multiplayer mode I've yet to try, which adds some replay value to this $0.99 game. It's a simple high-score game, but it shows off the touch screen nicely and is easy to pick up and play.

Paper Toss - 8. Fabulous free game - almost good enough to not be worth upgrading to the "World Tour" version, which really doesn't offer a lot more content outside of new skins. The game is simple - toss paper into a trashcan while fighting the evil fan. It's great fun though, and easy to pick up and flick away for even just 30 seconds sometimes.

All-in-1 Gamebox - 8. Ok, it's not a "classic", but it's a great deal, and it wouldn't fit in any other category. Basically, it's 35 games (and counting) for $0.99. A lot of the games are crap, as you'd expect, but there are a few gems in there that I think easily make the entry price worth it. A great deal if you just want to check out a ton of cheap games. Perhaps some day I'll do 35 single-sentence nano-reviews of them, assigning each a value out of 10 cents. :)

Puzzlers: Puzzles are a great genre for the iDevice. They can often be played in short spurts and the touch interface is often perfect. I have a lot of puzzle games - here are some of my favorites.

Geared - 8. It starts out slow, but this $0.99 game is a great example of lots of content for a clever puzzle mechanic in a nice package. Once you get into it, it gets quite tricky! Nice interface, simple but effective graphics, and over 100 puzzles makes it a no-brainer. At least until you start playing. Ha!

Zen Bound - 9. Zen Bound is a very clever game that is an absolute joy to play. It's $2.99, but well worth it in my opinion for the fabulous graphics and style and the simple but compelling gameplay. Can get a little repetitive in the long run, but this is one of those games you can show to friends to show what your iDevice can do. I haven't played the sequel so I can't speak for it.

Bejeweled 2 - 9. It's crack. We all know it. But it doesn't matter, does it? This version includes the ultra-addictive Bejeweled Blitz, complete with Facebook integration. $2.99 is a lot cheaper than bag of cocaine, and just as addictive!

Theseus - 8. This one is for the real intellectuals out there. Or perhaps I'm just dim, I don't know, but these puzzles give me fits. Tons and tons of content for $1.99, this one will challenge you with it's simple rules but fiendish and complex mazes. Interface is slick, undoing is extremely intelligent, and just generally a high quality puzzler.

Hellsing's Fire - 8. A clever puzzle game with an entertaining pseudo-story and solid presentation, Hellsing's fire offers lots of maps with randomly-generated puzzles involving careful, ordered placement of exploding torches to vanquish foes. Graphics are strong and the overall experience is very good. However, some issues hold it back: random generation of puzzles lacks the cleverness of hand-crafted ones, and lack of a precision placing method can be frustrating. Still, a fun game and hard to argue for $0.99.

Physics Puzzles: See? I told you there are a lot of puzzles. So many that I had to split them up. Actually, on my iPod, I have them further divided into regular physics puzzles and "smash" physics puzzles!

Angry Birds - 10. This is quite possibly the best deal in iTunes. For $0.99, you get a great physics puzzle game with tons of content, loads of charm, great polish, and regular updates for more levels. Every iOS device should have this game. My only complaints are one - they should let you skip levels occasionally, some are quite hard and can get you stuck, and two - you should be told how many points are needed to get 3-stars. Nitpicks, to be sure.

Auditorium - 9. Yes, this is the same Auditorium that made waves in the indie PC world a year or two ago. Only here, you get the first chapter for free and pay a mere $2.97 to get the whole rest of the game. It is a beautiful, atmospheric, and clever game that everyone should play. So why only a 9/10? There's a subtle blip in the looping that drives me nuts and really hurts the experience for me. Some people might not notice (it's in the PC version too, so if you didn't notice there you'll be fine), but for me it's a significant flaw. Still, check it out!

Ragdoll Blaster 2 - 10. This one is right up there with Angry Birds in my book. It loses some value points for being more expensive ($2.99), but gains them back with fabulous style, solid physics, and some extremely clever and varied level designs (far surpassing Angry Birds in that regard). The levels do go by quickly, so even though there are 130 of them you can get through the game without too much time, but going back and trying to perfect your scores can add a lot of replay value. Definitely worth grabbing in my book.

Music Games: Come on - it's an iPod. Gotta have some music games!

Thumpies - 9. I really enjoy this game. I'm not sure if it's the creepy style or the slick original tunes, but the game is just plain fun. The interface is a little different and involves playing drums when eery floating heads fall onto them. Yeah, it's weird, but I love it, and for $2.99 I'd call it a solid deal.

Beat It! - 7. I like the concept of this game, but ultimately I feel that the execution could have gone a little smoother. The idea is that you train your ear to listen and pick out beats, and then key them in to a simple drum machine. Very clever, but somehow the execution feels somehow repetitive and a little uncompelling to me. That said, it's worth checking out the free version to see if it appeals to you. (Strangely, this appears to not be available in the US any more...did Michael Jackson's zombie sue??)

Rock Band - 9. A little pricey at $6.99 (haha, listen to's 10 times that on the consoles!), the game includes a large library of music and some solid gameplay as you'd expect. It's almost cliché, but for good reason. One major issue keeping it from getting a 10 - the lack of horizontal orientation support. Yes, I know it'd be harder to see in front of you, but I have fat thumbs, okay? It's a little narrow to be doing a two-thumbed rhumba with precision. Still, loads of fun to be had.

Leaf Trombone - 8. Ask my wife what the most annoying game ever is and she'll immediately point to this one. It's marvelous - I absolutely love it. For $0.99 you get a trombone simulator, complete with all of the intonation problems a beginner 'boner will have. Plus, it has a nasally reed sound, to make it extra annoying. Great fun, really! Only drawback is that all songs are user-created. There's some great stuff in the library, but it takes some looking, and the browsing system is pretty weak. Also, the multiplayer, while clever, ultimately bored me.

Melodica - 8. While it isn't a game, and isn't loaded with features, this extremely simple and intuitive music-creation app is mesmerizing and can be played by anyone, regardless of musical aptitude. I got it for free, but I imagine it's normally $0.99, which is worth it if you enjoy making trancey mixes.

Action Games: I'm using this as a sort of catch-all for a variety of games that I didn't want to make individual genres for. In general, expect timing and reflexes to be important here. And potentially big explosions.

Tilt to Live - 9. Perhaps the current champion of tilt-controlled gameplay, Tilt to Live feels more precise than you would expect. It's a simple "dodge all the stuff trying to kill you" game, but it has a fantastic style, good sense of humor, clever designs, and enough gameplay variety and achievements to justify its $2.99 price tag.

Impossible Game - 8. This little $0.99 game isn't going to win awards for depth of content, but its simple premise and good presentation make it a lot of fun. Plus, if you're obsessive, you can try to do insane things like beat the game without dying. Replay value is a little low, even for $0.99, but it's a fun ride while it lasts. If you're a gamer-masochist.

Defense: Those who know me well probably know about my tower defense fetish. It love these games, and there are a few gems in the iTunes store I'd like to share.

Pro Zombie Soccer - 9. Not a tower defense game, but defense none the less, Pro Zombie Soccer manages to combine clever level design, fun mechanics, and some excellent humor into a zombie game that actually doesn't feel derivative at all, which is saying something. Not cheap at $2.99, but a fun experience that stays compelling as you progress, even if replay value is somewhat limited.

Space Station: Frontier - 8. If you liked Harvest: Massive Encounter or The Space Game, you'll feel right at home with this one. It's almost a clone of The Space Game, though has an upgrade system that allows you to power up your various stats and weapons. It can be pretty difficult, but it has a nice interface, solid graphics, and is generally a fun experience for $1.99 if you enjoy the genre.

Besiegement - 8. I really want to give this one a 9 or a 10, but I can't shake the fact that, in general, the game is just a bit too easy. I lost on a few levels, but unless there's a hidden "hard" mode I haven't unlocked, this game is just weak compared to some more hardcore TDs. That said, at $0.99, the game is a blast. Presentation is a little amateur, but I can forgive it for the fun, polished TD experience. A variety of towers, lots of upgrades, accurate placement, speed up buttons, health bars - all the essentials are there and well done. It's not the best TD on the market, but it's solid, especially if you want a more casual experience than some of the other kick-your-ass TDs I'm about to discuss.

geoDefense and geoDefense Swarm - 9. these will get in and tear you to pieces. The Easy levels are generally doable, but expect to spend multiple attempts on the normal and hard levels, if you ever get through them. I really enjoy the Geometry Wars style and the simple but clear tower designs. Both games are $1.99, and the difference is just mazing (Swarm) vs. non-mazing (original). Pick your poison, or grab them both. Each offers 30+ challenging levels, plus downloadable content.

Save Sylva - 9. I've only had this one for a few days, but I'm really enjoying it, in a truly masochistic way. The game blatantly rips its style off of Pixeljunk Monsters, but fortunately it expands on the gameplay offering a number of new ideas (including moveable effect areas and clever upgrade paths for tower specialization). Maybe I'm just having a brain block so far, but the normal mode on even early levels is kicking me around, and I've only beaten one hard mode. I'm loving it for $1.99, but non-pain-loving gamers might be turned off by the difficulty.

And yikes...I kinda just kept going with these. I forced myself to stop after the tower defense games, though I'm only maybe halfway through the solid games I wanted to discuss. More genres and games to come later!