Version tested iPhone
Affordability and ubiquity might be the crucial factors in the success of iOS as a gaming platform, but it's also the sheer immediacy that makes it such an attractive proposition for portable play. I've been spending a lot of time with Vita lately - chiefly thanks to the wonderful Virtua Tennis 4: World Tour Edition - but I'm finding Sony's machine is best-suited to those occasions where I have 10 minutes or more to fill. For those snatched moments of play, the wait for the microwave to ping or the kettle to boil - ah, the perpetual excitement of life as a freelancer - it's my iPod touch that comes out.
Fireball SE is the latest from one-man studio and former hero of Xbox Live Indie Games Luke Schneider (aka radiangames) and it's equally unwilling to waste the player's time. 15 seconds after pressing the app icon you'll be into the action and within around three minutes you'll almost certainly be out of it.
It's very similar in concept to Geometry Wars' Pacifism mode - you move a small, weaponless ship around a rectangular grid, and avoid enemies for as long as you can - except the gates that destroyed enemies in Bizarre's game are replaced by explosives here. You can fly through a bomb to trigger it immediately, or pass close by to briefly delay its detonation and blow up the blobs in hot pursuit. Enemies will relentlessly target your ship, though there are a few that float around aimlessly, and invariably they're every bit as likely as the chasing pack to be the death of you.
Your ship is responsive and easily manouevred with a single virtual stick, but when the pace picks up and you've got tighter spaces to navigate, you can press your right thumb against the screen to trigger Meltdown mode, which slows everything down to a crawl and allows you to wriggle through gaps you'd struggle to negotiate at full speed. This meter depletes the longer your finger remains on screen, but it can be replenished by picking up glowing sparks dropped by dead enemies.
These systems don't change across all three game types, though your approach will. Waves mode asks you to reach increasingly large kill goals before allowing you to move on to the next faster, tougher stage. Survival prioritises staying alive above all else, giving you 10,000 points for every second. Finally, Countdown asks you to amass the highest-possible score in three minutes, rewarding you for taking more enemies out with each explosion. If you're finding the old-school difficulty level a little spicy, you can cool things down with Chilled mode, which offers a gentler learning curve and bins the scoring mechanics.
And that's about all there is to it. Fireball SE can be a little characterless - its enemies are nondescript blobs and squares, and I had to just switch my iPod touch back on to remind myself what the music sounded like - but it's smart, polished, and above all, immediate. If you only buy one radiangames title on iOS this week, make it Super Crossfire, but if you find yourself tuning into the subtitled crime drama du jour a couple of minutes early, you'll find few better ways to fill the wait for the opening credits than this.
App of the Day highlights interesting games we're playing on the Android, iPad, iPhone and Windows Phone 7 mobile platforms, including post-release updates. If you want to see a particular app featured, drop us a line or suggest it in the comments.