Version tested: iPhone
The iPhone's excellent App Store has been around for a few months now, and gaming's biggest names are starting to take an interest. Following our recent reviews of Super Monkey Ball and Bejeweled 2 (now discounted, incidentally), we thought we'd catch up and find out what else the big publishers have been serving up. Next time we'll bring you the latest on the best and most interesting in the indie scene, followed by the best freebies we've come across. But for now, here are some of the biggest and best mainstream games available for iPhone and iPod Touch.
I Love Katamari
- Publisher: Namco-Bandai
- Price: GBP 4.99
- Download size: 83.8MB
Of all the games on the iPhone, few have carried the weight of cult expectation like I Love Katamari. Uniquely bonkers as ever, it places you at the whim of the infamous King of All Cosmos, who demands you roll your katamari around various real-world environments picking up anything you come across. Items small enough to stick to your katamari attach themselves as you roll, and before you know it you're gathering up cats, dogs, people and even buildings, ships and mountains to appease the beardy king.
Set over five levels, this neatly cut-down version looked certain to be one of the must-have games on the iPhone, at least until we played it just before Christmas. It was barely playable at that stage thanks to a dreadful frame-rate and the impact that had on the tilt-based controls. Since then, a patch has been hurriedly released and fixed most of what was wrong with it, and since you can't buy it without the patch any more it seems only fair to review it with this in mind.
In this state, I Love Katamari is a real treat. Stripped of the twin-stick control system of the original, moving the katamari around the environment is more straightforward and involves little more than tilting the device in the desired direction. As with several other tilt-based, ball-rolling titles on iPhone, basic navigation is intuitive and in most senses works brilliantly.
That said, as much as the game has been optimised since its original release, there are still occasions when the camera trips up and leaves you staring balefully at scenery. Likewise the frame-rate's by no means perfect - particularly when the game 'levels up' your katamari. During these freak-out moments you're liable to lose control and end up confused and disorientated. At times it does appear the game is stretching the iPhone beyond its capabilities.
Another thing that's worth bearing in mind if you're thinking about playing this on long journeys is how quickly it drains the battery. It's a complaint common to many iPhone games, but here it's particularly severe, no doubt because of its heavy reliance on that pesky third dimension.
Five levels also might seem light in terms of content, until you realise that this is basically half of a full katamari game for less than a quarter of what you'd normally shell out. And with Story Mode, Time Attack, Exact Size Challenge Mode and Eternal Mode available for all five stages - not to mention the insanely brilliant music - there's plenty of replay value.
I Love Katamari certainly isn't perfect. The tilt controls take a little getting used to and occasional frame-rate and camera glitches conspire to spoil the fun at times, but these niggles quickly evaporate in a rainbow of psychedelic nonsense. If ever a game deserved to be prescribed as a happy drug, Katamari would be it. For the money, it's well worth it.
- Publisher: THQ Wireless
- Price: GBP 2.39
- Download size: 8.8MB
Soul-destroyingly overlooked upon its Wii release (and not even in our Top 50 - heretics!), this fantastic little 'colouring in' game has been translated surprisingly faithfully to the iPhone. Once again the premise is that the evil I.N.K.T. Corporation has outlawed colour, and it's your job to guide a jolly gelatinous blob around the land restoring its colour.
Viewed from an overhead perspective (think old-school GTA), you bound and splat your way around, collecting paint pots, mixing colours and bumping into walls to colour them in. Once you've filled in enough of the level, a gate opens and you can head off to the next zone or carry on and try and max out your completion rating. There are also a number of sub-quests, including races and other colour-specific challenges, but you can choose to ignore them if you're not bothered.
You have the choice of an accelerometer-based system where you simply tilt in the direction you want to go, or, if you prefer, touch-screen controls, where you push - but sadly pushing quite often obscures the action at a vital moment, leaving you vulnerable to enemy attack. A little bit of fiddling about with the tilt sensitivity though, and you start to get into the groove a lot more there, and the game becomes all the more enjoyable. Just like the Wii version, it's wonderfully relaxing, and yet it's been suitably trimmed so it's perfect for handheld sorties.
Visually it's a simple yet strikingly pretty affair, only let down slightly by the occasionally choppy frame-rate. With a bit more optimisation, and a slightly larger array of levels, this would have been near flawless. As it is, for the ludicrously low price, you can't grumble. De Blob is a lovely game that deserves more attention. Give it some.
Brothers in Arms: Hour of Heroes
- Publisher: Gameloft
- Price: GBP 5.99
- Download size: 81.6MB
It was always going to be a tall order trying to translate the Brothers in Arms gameplay to the underpowered confines of the iPhone, and so it has proven.
Played out from a third person perspective, it controls rather like a typical action game, with a touch-based d-pad nestling in the bottom-left of the screen for movement, and your right index finger dictating the aiming and firing duties. At first it's all a bit confusing to get your head around, but with an excellent tutorial helping to show you the ropes, you're soon pulling off headshots with the sniper rifle, lobbing grenades and taking out enemies with aplomb.
But that's the problem. Hour of Heroes doesn't offer much in the way of a challenge, with weak enemy AI, and a succession of incredibly short, linear levels making progress all-too straightforward. Within an hour you'll have romped through most of the 13 levels, and been bored by most of them. It really is elementary stuff.
Worse still are the horrendously blocky 3D graphics, which look like they've been parachuted in from an early PSone game, rather than coming anywhere near fulfilling the promise of the iPhone's "near-PSP" capabilities. Animation is poor, character models are as chunky as we've seen in years, and the environments are spectacularly ugly, with dreadful texturing. This sort of thing might have been deemed as acceptable on the mobile scene in the past, but this does little to sell the iPhone as a viable gaming platform. Save your money.
Guitar Rock Tour
- Publisher: Gameloft
- Price: GBP 4.99
- Download size: 149MB
Can we say rip off? Yes we can! But it hardly matters when someone comes along and makes a 'tribute' version of Guitar Hero that's as much fun as this. Gameloft has essentially lifted the beloved rhythm-action formula and presentation wholesale and adapted it for touch-screen controls with a minimum of fuss. Featuring decent cover versions of 17 much-loved rock classics, including "Message In A Bottle", "Heart-Shaped Box" and "Beat It", you can play it on guitar or try your hand at touch-screen drumming. No one will judge you when you're playing it on the train (although they might mug you - depends on the train).
The guitar mode is simple and intuitive, and works exactly as it does in Rock Band and Guitar Hero, with note patterns running down the chart to the bottom of the screen. As notes appear, you're tasked with tapping them at the right time or holding them for sustains. Hitting enough consecutive notes builds up a score multiplier, and hitting enough star notes builds up a star meter. Once it's full, you drag a little lever down to activate Gameloft's equivalent of star power. It really couldn't be much more like Guitar Hero. Even the animated groups and the load menus look familiar.
If you're put off by the derivative nature of the guitar-playing, then perhaps the slightly simplified drum mode will pique your interest. The lower right portion of the screen becomes your kick drum, while the right side is the snare/tom tom, and either side of note chart is the cymbals. You keep the beat by pressing on icons as they reach the bottom.
There's not an awful lot more to Guitar Rock Tour, but for the price it hardly matters. The touch-screen controls work well, the choice of tracks is excellent, and the presentation is spot on. With three skill levels and a career mode to get stuck into, it's a great handheld game in its own right - and great for those pining for rhythm-action kicks on the move.