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iPhone Roundup

Flying, shooting, hooping, praying, threading.

In honour of Rowntree's Randoms, which I'm currently struggling to overcome a soul-crushing love for, we've ditched themes for this instalment of the iPhone Roundup, in favour of a selection of games that capture the almost frightening range of the App Store. Be warned: there are some obscure genres like flying, shooting and sports in the five titles that follow, but I've also thrown in some more traditional offerings, like finger-powered heretic-smiting and at least one good ol' needle-threading sim.

Ace Combat Xi: Skies of Incursion

  • Developer: Namco Bandai Games
  • Price: £3.99

Have you a grappling hook? And night-vision goggles? I've got a Taser (do not ask me why) and glass-cutters, and I thought we could team up. I'm thinking of paying a midnight visit to Namco Bandai, in order to see just what exactly was left on the whiteboard when the Ace Combat crew selected "Skies of Incursion" as the best of all possible subtitles for the latest episode of its jet-fighter saga.

It's no use wondering what they were thinking, probably, just as it's no use pointing out that, if the good lord had wanted us to steer planes with smart phones, He would have stuck a "Chocks Away!" button somewhere in the voicemail settings. Don't question it, just play: and in Skies of Incursion's case, you'll probably end up having a pretty good time until the short campaign is over.

Skies of Incursion is pretty but rather brief, then. The opening cinematic and the sharp in-game presentation make it clear that someone spent quite a bit of money on this: the handful of plane models are beautifully animated, while the ground zipping past somewhere beneath you is detailed and quite pretty.

The game's handful of missions are over almost before they've started, however - the game originally launched with just five, and I think the latest patch has upped it to eight - and you're left with the option to replay the game on a higher difficulty or wait for another content update.

Brevity is hardly a sin with iPhone games - after all, I'm about to get all misty about an NBA title that gives you four basketballs, a single hoop and a high-score table - but Skies of Incursion's presentation and sense of brooding grandeur tricks you into thinking you're going to be getting more.

That said, it's no disaster. There's a handful of different planes to unlock, two different camera views - in-cockpit and chase - and the controls, a mixture of tilting for steering and on-screen buttons for weapons, work better than you might suspect, although while you're getting used to them you could spend quite a bit of time plummeting towards the ground, all the while unseen bogeys whittle away at your undercarriage with all manner of delightful rockets and machinegun bullets. At least it will pad things out a bit.

There's a sense, ultimately, that this is a work in progress: hold off for a few months, and chances are good there may well be quite a bit more game to enjoy on your first playthrough. If you're desperate for a jet-fighting sim today, however, be aware that this is slick but rather empty at present.


Mini Squadron

  • Developer: MrFungFung
  • Price: £1.79

Here's a little-known fact about Mozart: he composed some of the music for Mini Squadron on the iPhone. It was nice work, too: pacy, melodic. I don't know why it was left out of Amadeus.

Tak Fung's arcadey shooter turns to the - copyright free - classics for its soundtrack, mostly after putting them through some kind of Clockwork Orange-themed plinky-plonkifier, and it's a refined score for a refined game. Screenshots may have suggested you were buying into a traditional sidescrolling shmup, but Mini Squadron's actually a fast-paced arena blast in which you take on wave after wave of enemy planes while zipping about tightly-bound maps with some lovely cartoon backdrops.

Art is a real strong point, actually, and much of the long-term pleasure comes from unlocking a generous range of new plane designs. Sure, they all come with slightly different handling models, but more importantly they have nutty paintjobs and some even boast funny propellers too. The various aircraft are so pleasing to fiddle around with, I almost always find myself focusing on how the planes look rather than how they fly when I'm making my selection.

And yet Mini Squadron's far more than merely pretty: sneaky stall mechanics add an element of trickery to master once you've got to grips with the otherwise straightforward screen-overlay controls, and the enemies, even in the early stages, are every bit as manoeuvrable as you are. A range of handy power-ups and modes - including local Wi-Fi multiplayer - add depth to the endless attacks of the buzzing baddies, and while variation isn't the game's strongest suit, MrFungFung's debut can still exert a real hypnotism.

It's a simple game, then, but an extremely polished and engaging one. That said, I would like everyone who downloads it to send a quick email to MrFungFung petitioning for the removal of sections in which you have to shoot ducks. Ducks are our friends.