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iPad Review Round-up: April

6:00 PM on 04.21.2010 // Dale North

We've got enough iPad games here to write reviews everyday, but we're going to spare you (and ourselves) by only writing up the ones that we're interested in, and the ones we think you'll be interested in.

That's not to say that we don't think your iPad game is worth our time, dear developers. It's just that we honestly can't play them all, and...well, we've been burned a few times. I'm not calling out any names, but I think we all know that there are some $.99 turds out there.

It's encouraging to see how many quality games are coming out already. The device just launched last month and we already have quality console-like experiences on Apple's tablet.

Here's what's on the menu for today:

  • Geometry Wars: Touch
  • Knights of the Phantom Castle
  • Babo Crash
  • Top Gun
  • Call of Duty: World at War: Zombies

Read on for our iPad review round-up for April 2010.

Geometry Wars: Touch
Publisher: Activision
Released: April 1, 2010
MSRP: $9.99

We already kind of touched (see what I did there?!?!) on this port of an Xbox 360 for the iPad, but we felt it deserved a proper write-up. Geometry Wars: Touch is really good, and is surprisingly almost as satisfying as the original console release. Almost.

This dual-stick shooter looks just about as beautiful on the iPad as it does on your HDTV. No, really. The nice high-res screen does the game justice, and the animation is just as fluid as it always was on the tablet device. Of course, it's just grids and shapes, but they're really pretty grids and shapes!

Much of my downtime is spent on the game's survival mode, which has you moving and shooting frantically to cover your ass from attackers coming from all angles. The control translates beautifully. I'll say that again: the control translates beautifully on the iPad. There's a neat fingers-anywhere control mode that places virtual analog sticks wherever you drop your thumbs, meaning that you can hold the iPad in whatever way you see fit. The game does require you to touch mid-screen screen for bomb placement, and this is where the "almost" from the first paragraph comes in. As you can imagine, this isn't conducive to the mindless game play that we look to Geometry Wars for. Sometimes I feel like I want to touch the middle of the screen with my nose, as it's free. Should I? (y/n)

Don't let that hold you up, though. Geometry Wars: Touch is one of the early examples of what the iPad can do graphically. If you want a game to show off your iPad, this one works well. It also serves as a fine example of how to do excellent analog control on a touchscreen. There's online leaderboards, tons of game modes and even multiplayer. Worth $10? Easily.

9 -- Superb (9s are a hallmark of excellence. There may be flaws, but they are negligible and won't cause massive damage to what is a supreme title.)

Knights of the Phantom Castle
Publisher: Hudson
Released: April 1, 2010
MSRP: $4.99

 Here's an iPad game that's not afraid to be an iPad game. And it's not afraid to be retro, either. For both of these reasons, Knights of the Phantom Castle is my go-to iPad RPG.

I would have never expected a full-on, retro, sprite-heavy, console-ish strategy role-playing game on the iPad. At least, not so soon. But Hudson has a fantastic one here with KotPC. You tap, flick and poke your little warriors, archers, healers, soldiers and more on dozens of maps with tons of quests and challenges. These challenges range from timed survival to things like defending a bridge from attackers. They're all fun, but they get really f'n difficult after awhile, just like any good real-time strategy game. But, unlike other strategy games, you won't be leveling up your troops. They're stuck at one skill level, leaving you to do all the fancy fingerwork to keep them going. The Camp mode (more on that later) helps a bit, though.

On that fancy fingerwork: Each of the classes has a few basic moves. Their basic attack usually has you pointing to them and dragging to an enemy. A charge move is usually like a special attack, and is executed by holding your finger down on the character for a bit. Lastly, a flick move lets you do a special attack. The archer, for example, shoots a kind of laser beam with this attack. You only need to lightly graze your fingertip across the iPad. Any more and you're dragging. A light touch does it. They work really nicely provided you paid attention to the tutorials.

What reeled me in is the lovely look of the game, which, again, reminds me of Chrono Trigger and other 16-bit RPGs. There's the cute little spritey warriors themselves, and it gets better when set against lovely retro backdrops. Even the enemies are cute. The anime-style opening and little art flourishes are like icing on the retro cake. The game also uses the iPad's screen in portrait mode nicely, with maps being tall, with most scrolling upward as you advance.

In Camp mode, you'll do things like check your stats and objectives as well as equip your army with items and weapons. There's also item creation functions and a bestiary. All of these are good things. Too bad the Camp menus are ugly, cluttered and sometimes confusing. Unfortunately, they feel like a hassle when you have to go to them between fun game play sessions!

The drag-to-attack is crazy fun for the most part, but things get really confusing when there's too many enemies on the screen. It's hard to keep track of who is attacking what. I continually scream at my healer, asking her what the hell she's doing. She's cute with her little dress and healing heart icon, but we don't get along when she's wandering aimlessly when my dudes need healing.

Knights of the Phantom Castle isn't flawless, but it's fun. Lots of fun. This is exactly the type of game I was hoping to see on the iPad. Hopefully this does well and urges Hudson to create a more polished sequel.

8 -- Great (8s are impressive efforts with a few noticeable problems holding them back. Won't astound everyone, but is worth your time and cash.)

Babo Crash HD
Publisher: Playbrains
Released: April 1, 2010
MSRP: $0.99

 Babo Crash is one of those $0.99 games that does not deserve to be grouped in with the other $0.99. For the price, you're getting a killer puzzle game. Sometimes I think that games like this are selling themselves short with the low price.

Babo Crash is...Bejeweled. Well, not exactly. But it does have that match-three game play. But there's a twist. There's always a twist. Actually, in this case there's a few twists, and they make for a game that's more immersive than Bejeweled.

You're still swapping gems to match three to clear, but Babo Crash is packed with a bunch of strange power-ups that will help you clear the board faster, and they come with larger matches. You'll need these guys' help as the levels are timed. All these power-ups come in the form of strange faces, or "Heroes," that do different things. One barfs a slime that clears all gems in the direction of the projection. Another dashes to clear all gems in its way. The ultimate is a robo-faced thing that shoots out beams that clear all things in a diagonal placement. Again, I think these Heroes are really strange looking, but I appreciate what they do for me on the game board.

The other "twist" is a bit more literal. You can tilt your iPad to control how the gems fall once you've cleared some. This adds a whole new level of strategy to match-three play. On top of this, many of the Heroes' aids can be controlled through tilt. Later, a ticking time bomb has you tilting to move gems to diffuse it. Eventually it gets to the point where if you're not clearing a level in the allotted time, you can be sure you're not doing enough creative tilting.

I like the tilting challenge and the bomb diffusing as new twists to the formula, but I don't care for their twist on the immovable piece. In Babo Crash this is a creature named Chompii. First off, they look really gross -- like a round, bump-covered, gaping maw. As you'd expect, you match a gem touching it to eliminate it, but these nasty things pop up everywhere, making the game quite frustrating at points. Of course, you can match four and use a hero to clean up the board.

Ugly Chompii aside, Babo Crash is a fine puzzle game. If you like Bejeweled, I feel safe in saying that you'll probably ditch it for this one after trying it. It's that good. And for $0.99? Come on!

8 -- Great (8s are impressive efforts with a few noticeable problems holding them back. Won't astound everyone, but is worth your time and cash.)

Top Gun
Publisher: Paramount Picture
Released: April 1, 2010
MSRP: $2.99

 Top Gun as an iPad game is as silly as the movie was. That's silly in a good way, mind you. In case you were wondering if the game had any relation to the 1986 film...well, you wouldn't if you played the game. Boot it up and you instantly hear that moody guitar ballad, the "Top Gun Theme." Start a mission and "Highway to the Danger Zone" blares out of the iPad's speaker. I don't know if I was supposed to laugh, but I did.

When you get playing, it's a pretty enjoyable dogfight type tilt-to-fly game for the iPad. It's an upgraded version of the iPhone game of the same name. The upgrade here is mostly visual, with pretty nice high-resolution graphics and little in the way of pop-in or jerky low-frame action.

You're not exactly on rails, but...okay, you're on rails. Tilt to aim and then tap to fire. You've got missiles too. You'll dodge missles that fly directly at you by quickly steering (tiliting) out of the way. By the way, the screen flashes "danger zone" when those missiles approach. Nice. You'll fly an F-22 or B2 bomber through lovely skies, and now you can kick in an afterburner to get out of a hairy situation.

Here's the deal: This is basically an iPhone game in high-resolution. It's not a bad game, but it's not one of those you'll write home about either. The music is fun and the shooting action usually is too. You'll want to blow past the silly dialogue scenes that they didn't even bother to scale up to iPad resolution, though. At a price of $2.99 it's hard to complain, but the prior review shows that sometimes you can get a better game for a lower price.

6 -- Alright (6s may be slightly above average or simply inoffensive. Fans of the genre should enjoy them a bit, but a fair few will be left unfulfilled.)

Call of Duty: World at War: Zombies
Publisher: Activision
Released: April 1, 2010
MSRP: $14.99

At $15 on the iPhone we had to make that inhaling through the teeth sound. That sound that says, yeah, I dunno. That's the total price of the base game, Call of Duty: World at War: Zombies and the "Verruckt Map Pack" on the iPhone. That inhaling sound is nothing against the game, mind you. It's a solid shooter with impressive graphics for a phone game, but there isn't a lot of game there for the money. Two maps, people. Just two.

This iPad version really doesn't have more in the way of content, but it feels more like it's worth $15 with its nice higher-res visuals and better draw-in and scope. Squint your eyes and it looks like an Xbox 360 game. Kind of. It's actually even a bit easier to play as your thumb isn't hogging up most of your view anymore. The virtual sticks still have a slight bit of a learning curve, but it comes to you after a bit, and you'll be able to get right into the game. My only beef with the control is that the placement is at an angle where you're kind of thumb-reaching over the edges of the iPad, which can hurt after awhile. Maybe they should have gone with Geometry Wars: Touch's thumbs-anywhere control method (see above). Oh, and don't bother with the tilt control scheme. You'll barf.

Otherwise, this is the same game, just as we reviewed it before. It's a solid game, sure, but it still feels a little pricey for what it is. I could still recommend it for the iPad, but I feel like it's asking a bit much if you already have the iPhone version. If you've got lots of money like Activision, go for it.

7.5 -- Good (7s are solid games that definitely have an audience. Might lack replay value, could be too short or there are some hard-to-ignore faults, but the experience is fun.)

Dale North, Former Dtoid EIC
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