Version tested: iPhone
At the end of 2008, we thought we'd try and do away with roundups. On the one hand, they're a useful way of picking through the games we might otherwise miss out. On the other hand, there's usually a good reason for missing them out, and if we're interested enough to write about something, why not give it a day in the sun?
With the iPhone, though, there's just no avoiding it. Not only are the games far more numerous than their DS and PSP counterparts, but they're often much cheaper and smaller, too, and the quality level is rising. The bigger and better ones will get their own reviews - everyone wave to Rolando! - but we want to get through as many of the good and interesting ones as possible, if only to justify the itemised App Store bills that keep piling up on my desk. So here's some of the stuff I've been obsessing over lately.
- Developer: Area/Code
- Price: GBP 0.59 ("Special introductory rate")
- Download size: 5.3MB
Ever played Chain Factor? It's an addictive Flash game where you drop numbered discs to create stacks, and if the width or height of the stack matches any of the numbers on the discs it's made up of, those discs disappear. It's a thoughtful, well-executed spin on the usual colour- or shape-matching falling-blocks puzzler, and Drop7 is the same thing, give or take a few scoring details.
It does take a little while to get your head around, however, so let's do a couple of examples. Say you've got a line of six discs, and a disc with the number "7" appears at the top. By directing it to fall into the remaining gap to create a line of seven, it will immediately disappear - as will any 7s elsewhere in the line. This works horizontally or vertically, so unlike a lot of falling-blocks puzzle games you can actually delete buried discs by reaching the right height or width elsewhere.
This is also useful because a lot of discs are initially greyed out, and the only way to reveal their hidden number is by deleting two separate discs in adjacent positions (although rarely in the same move). Often this means going for buried discs, and once the grey disc's number is revealed, this often results in chain reactions, because if a 7 sheds its grey discy disguise in a line that's already that many discs wide, it disappears.
Also unlike a lot of its puzzly contemporaries, there's no time limit to pressurise you, and you only have to deal with one new disc at a time, but Drop7 does put the pressure on by introducing a horizontal line of grey discs beneath all the others every time you place a certain number of discs. The game's over when you run out of room at the top.
Initially it all seems a bit counterintuitive (not to mention complicated), but tactics gradually occur to you as you play (or not so gradually, presumably, if you're smarter than me), and you find yourself doing things like positioning numbers to create chains once the next grey line is introduced. You also learn not to do silly things like packing a bunch of 1s together in a corner halfway up the screen where they will be very hard to shift. It's just as important figuring out where not to place discs.
For 59p, it's a steal - and judging by the fact it had to be taken down and renamed late last year because of its similarity to Chain Factor, perhaps it is. Either way, I'm gradually becoming more dependent on it to murder boring train journeys, and like all the best puzzle games its simple rules disguise satisfying depth.
- Developer: Mobigames
- Price: GBP 3.49
- Download size: 9.5MB
As the name suggests, Edge is a game about rolling a cube through mazes in the sky. Wait, that's not what the name suggests. Nevertheless, that's what you're doing. Perhaps instead the name refers to the ever-present danger of tumbling over the edge into the abyss. Should you do so, your cube respawns a few steps back at a very sympathetic checkpoint, with no harm obviously done, although "deaths" are counted against your overall ranking for the level.
Most likely, though, is that the name refers to the way you can roll your cube onto the top of any surface of the same height, pivoting by the top edge. As well as using this to climb over obstructions, players can latch onto the edge of a moving block and hang there while it crosses over otherwise perilous gaps. It's a good foil for puzzles, and the game's 26 levels gradually make more elaborate use of it, often in combination with precision rolls and switches that move other bits around.
Otherwise the chunky, diamond-cut levels are a mixture of obvious, gently tricky manoeuvres (past rows of prodding blocks set to knock you into space; between the teeth of moving, occasionally interlocking platforms) and cute spectacle: a sort of robot AT-AT walker that forms out of the platforms beneath you after the cube lands on a switch, which you operate by moving back and forth between adjacent switches. The idea is to collect smaller flashing cubes as you go and finish on a sparkly goal square.
However, the control and level design never quite live up to the premise. You can move the cube around by dragging your finger across the touch screen or by using the tilt sensor (with a toggle in the menu), but the cube often rumbles around faster than anticipated, and clinging onto moving blocks is unsympathetic. Any number of levels aren't really sure whether they're puzzles or twitch-fests, either, and the game becomes too reliant on doing swishy patterns with moving squares to make up for the scarcity of new ideas. Despite the presence of a mini-map to help with depth perception, the isometric graphics also get the better of you now and then.
In the end Edge is a promising idea inconsistently developed, and while I was happy to play it to the end, I could just as easily not have done. GBP 3.49 isn't a lot of money by console game standards, but adrift in an ocean of cheaper, frequently better games, it feels like a bit too much.
- Publisher: Fieldsystem Inc.
- Developer: Route24
- Price: GBP 0.59
- Download size: 8.6MB
As the name suggests, Newtonica2 is a game about ducklings in space. Wait, I've done that one. Oh well, too late: that's not what the name suggests, and neither does it suggest that it's a game about what are effectively snooker trick shots with celestial hazards, but it is, and it's a pretty good one at that.
Each of the 36 single-screen levels presents you with a duckling, which needs to be transported to a circular vortex somewhere else on the screen. You can influence this directly by tapping a very small number of circular icons, which emit shockwaves that push the duckling away. Said duckling bounces off certain smiley icons and crashes unhelpfully into others, so there's an element of clearing to be done too, although your shockwaves only affect certain items.
Following a few basic introductory levels, developer Route24 complicates matters to the extent that you have to activate shockwaves in a certain sequence, or activate two simultaneously, or move one along a small track to choose its starting position. There are other obstacles to consider too, like blocks hanging over exit vortexes and fields of smiling pea asteroids. Certain levels also have donuts to collect, obviously, which stud an interstellar bonus collar.
Retrieving these on your path to the goal is increasingly difficult as you draw to the end of the game, but the last half-dozen or so levels are hard enough to complete at all. Conflicting shockwaves add spin to your duckling's movement, and in some cases the game's reduced to trial and error. Lots of error, and sadly you have to exit out to the level-select screen to restart.
It's easy to forgive though, partly because it's cheap and cheerful (very cheerful: I'm particularly fond of the mother duck leading her rescued ducklings along the completion screen for each level), and partly because individual tasks only last a few seconds, so there's no great sense of loss if you fail, and because you can skip levels if you get stuck. Fail a few times and you're also prompted with a star, which trails stardust along the duckling's suggested path to give you a hint.
It's certainly not the best game on the iPhone, or even the best puzzle game, and the role of spin and lack of an instant restart are perhaps a little awkward for something that's otherwise very accessible, but if you like to nibble at brief, cute little puzzles on your way to work, then this will doubtless keep you happy for about the same price as a newspaper and probably for longer.
Jetset: A Game for Airports
- Publisher: Persuasive Games
- Price: GBP 2.99
- Download size: 9.8MB
On the surface of it, the banned items list at airports makes a lot of sense. "Fireworks", "paint stripper", "viruses". But then it gets a bit peculiar. You can have toothpaste, but only 100ml. Ditto soup. There's an entry on the BA website called "The North American liquid policy". And until you're in the queue it's impossible to predict whether you will need to remove shoes, your laptop from your bag, your things from your coat, your coat from yourself, and so on. On one occasion, I witnessed a burly security man at Seattle-Tacoma airport demanding a woman remove the booties from the sleeping infant strapped to her chest before she could pass inspection.
Jetset puts you on the other side of it. You're a security guy at the airport, and you deal with the people coming through the queue ahead of you, checking their bags and clothing for banned items, which - guffaw - change arbitrarily on a regular basis. So one minute you're confiscating laptops, hats and trousers and next it's bacon and make-up. You keep going until the queue of Playmobil people stretches out the door, or you let too many banned items through, or ban too many allowed items (you get five mistakes in total). Then it's game over.
Control is smart enough - the screen displays close-ups of the person and the contents of his or her suitcase at the bottom beneath a bigger image of the rapidly backed-up queue, and to select banned items you just toggle them with a tap. If the conditions change while you're inspecting someone, you can give them their trousers back or remove an errant water bottle before letting them through.
In other words, it's tidy and repetitive but absorbing satire, and there are some neat touches which may or may not be in on the joke: all the passengers look bored and unhappy, and if you're actually in an airport then the game notices and unlocks special "souvenirs" - particular items that might appear in that place. Sadly my review budget didn't stretch to getting the train up to Gatwick.
Nor though did my interest, which is down to one, simple, game-breaking thing: frequently you get knocked out not because you failed to observe something, but because the rules change just as you're tapping the "Proceed" button, so you get stung with a rights or security violation before you can react. There's no obvious reason why it can't safeguard you from this - never changing the rules when you have an item already toggled, for example - as the need for observation under the pressure of a growing queue would have been sufficient to keep you interested and challenged.
As such, and particularly given the higher GBP 2.99 price point, Air Traffic Chaos is a better response to your isometric airport needs.