iPhone Review Round-up: February

I know this is now technically March, but this review round-up is for February’s iPhone releases. You’ll have to excuse us, but it’s been a pretty busy month for game reviews.

There’s some really solid game offerings this month. Today we have the debut of Square Enix’s flagship series on the App Store with both Final Fantasy I and Final Fantasy II. Activision’s Call of Duty: World of War brings zombies to your Jesus Phone. Also, we have a review of the new king of iPhone games: PopCap’s Plants vs. Zombies. Finally, for your semi-gaming pleasure, we have the iPhone version of the almost-not-a-game Noby Noby Boy.

Read on for our February review round-up.

Final Fantasy I / Final Fantasy II
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Square Enix
Released: February 25, 2010
MSRP: $8.99

Full Disclosure: I didn’t finish either one of these games for this review. That’s no biggie, as I’ve played them before. You likely have too as they’re 20 years old, and these new ones are basically iPhone reworked versions of the PSP releases. Rather than re-review games that you’ve likely already played, I’m going to talk about how they look and work on the iPhone.

Given that they used the PSP version assets, both of these iPhone ports look fantastic. Presented in landscape mode, I’d go as far as saying that they come off the screen a bit better than they do on the PSP. The look is crisp and clean, and the colors pop. Most of the on-screen text has been sized with the iPhone in mind, though there are a few menu bits that are curiously small. The music is the arranged score, so this will probably be one of the best sounding games on your device.

Control wasn’t an issue like i thought it would be. General navigation is done with a left placed virtual d-pad that is sufficiently responsive. Sliding your finger to change directions works well, unlike several other iPhone games. The lower right side of the screen works as a general confirm button. When roaming towns, holding it lets you run. It’s also your button to talk to NPCs, though you might come across the rare instance where a moving NPC is hard to stop. To access your menu/save functions, you’ll have to wait a second for the virtual button to disappear. When it does, tap, and you’ll be whisked away to the menu screen. Under these menus, you’ll be able to handle item management with simple screen tapping, doing away with the d-pad.

In battle, the iPhone touch control is great. In both games, a bottom row of buttons assigned to menu commands waits for your tap. To attack, for example, simply tap the attack button and then tap the enemy you want to attack. It’s much faster than in the classic games, though you might miss mashing X to rush through a battle. This scheme forces you to target.

Overall, the ports of Final Fantasy I and II are top-notch, and not the rush job you might have expected for mobile versions. They look great, sound fantastic, and control perfectly fine. They both contain all of the enhancements and additional content that the other recent remakes contained, including bonus dungeons. In the Final Fantasy heritage, they’re not the greatest games ever, but they’re both worth a play and are both welcome additions to the App Store RPG offerings.

I’m rating these as a 8/10 and a 7/10 respectively.I’m one of the few that dug Final Fantasy II (especially this remake), but even I have to admit that the balance and leveling system are pretty screwy, and kind of hold the game back. -Dale North

Final Fantasy I: 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.)

Final Fantasy II: 7 — 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.)

Plants vs. Zombies
Publisher: PopCap Games
Developer: PopCap Games
Released: February 15, 2010
MSRP: $2.99

The very first time I played PopCap’s Plants vs. Zombies, I found myself daydreaming of an iPhone version. Tower defense style games work really well already, but this…lawn defense game with its landscape presentation [no pun] and contained attack rows seemed perfect for the platform.

The wait is finally over, and the iPhone version of Plants vs. Zombies is everything I hoped it would be. There has not been a day since its release that I have not played it. I love it. It’s a brilliant port of the Mac/PC version, showing no compromises at all. You’ll tap to select a plant to plant (now lined up on the left of the screen), tap again to plant it, and tap some more to pick up sun, coins and other items. Somehow this tapping action makes the input feel even more direct, making the game even more approachable than it was before…if you can imagine that.

My iPhone 3GS properly handled anything the game threw at it. I’ve gone through multiple stages of having every lawn spot filled, tons of zombies on the attack, and many projectiles flying all at once, and the game never skipped a beat. This feat is even more impressive when you consider how great the game looks on the iPhone. I have heard that 3G users have seen some slowdown in the heavier levels, but it’s surely not a dealbreaker situation.

All the 50 levels are here, as are 49 plants and 26 types of zombies, including the Michael Jackson-ish dancing zombie everyone loves. I hate that guy. New additions include a Quick Play arena and more than a dozen new iPhone achievements. Nice little touches that really show the polish PopCap put into this port. One of my favorite little additions is the achievements menu. Flick to scroll the list and you’ll notice that the background continues to tunnel underground. You’ll pass fun little nods to other PopCap games, but continue scrolling long enough and you’ll eventually end up in China, complete with upside down people looking in the hole.

What really makes this game is that it’s portable and playable anywhere. By simply exiting out of a match the game will save, letting you pick right back up whenever you have a free second. Unless you hate tower defense style games, this is a must buy, no question. The real kicker here is that this fantastic game is only $2.99. What are you waiting for? -Dale North

Score: 10 — Flawless Victory (10s are as close to perfect as you will get in a genre or on a platform. Pure, untarnished videogame ecstasy.)

Noby Noby Boy
Publisher: Namco Networks
Developer: Namco
Released: February 15, 2010
MSRP: $1.99

I don’t know what I’m doing in the iPhone version of Noby Noby Boy half the time that I play it, but I’m glad it’s on my iPhone anyway.

The creators of Katamari Damacy wanted to spread the stretchy insanity of Noby Noby Boy to the iPhone, and they have, though you’ll quickly find the experience is quite different in mobile form. In this game, the point is to stretch Noby Noby Boy as much as you can using your touchscreen and your fingers. The more he stretches, the more hearts he earns. These hearts are passed along, via internet connection, to GIRL. Your hearts increase her length. GIRL’s goal is to stretch across the universe, so I’m sure she appreciates any length you can send her way.

You can grab both sides of Boy and stretch all you want, but that will only get you so far. Luckily, a random “toy” button in the game will generate strange contraptions for Boy to interact with. The idea is to wrap Boy around these items to increase his length. You can also take a photo of something and interact with that, stretching around it as much as you’d like. One of the more interesting features lets you use your iTunes music to not only stretch around creatures made out of your album art, but also listen to that album’s music in the background.

Once you’re done with your stretching session, you can send these hearts over to girl in a hilarious eating sequence always cracks me up with its over-the-top presentation and insane music. Your contribution is logged in multiple ways, too. By connecting to Facebook, your Wall is updated with your heart and length contribution to GIRL. The iPhone’s location services plots your contribution on a world map. Yours and other iPhone users’ contributions are added to the same pool that PS3 gamers also add to in the console version.

The above described game play only scratches the surface of what you can do in this weird social experience. I haven’t tried it, but it’s said that you can use the GPS to stretch boy between locations you have traveled. You can type messages on Boy and save them as an image to email to others. I’m sure there are many more strange features that can be uncovered by playing around.

Noby Noby Boy is less of a proper game and more of a socially collective time waster. I think it goes over better than the PS3 version did. It’s been said often, but I’ll say it again: You need to play this game to get it. Even then, you may not get it. Hell, I don’t even know if I fully “get it,” but it’s still right at home in a library of Apps I queue up in my downtime. It’s just that Noby Noby Boy is different in that I feel like I’m doing something at least somewhat constructive. I can say that I feel like I added to GIRL’s current length of 814,122,480,907 meters. Jupiter is right around the corner! -Dale North

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.)

Call of Duty: World at War: Zombies “Verruckt Map Pack”
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Activision
Released: February 11, 2010
MSRP: $4.99

Late last year, Activision released a technically impressive third-person Call of Duty title for the iPhone and iPod Touch, to some surprise. The title’s focus, the survival mode from the console release “Zombies.” Unfortunately, despite being a solid and enjoyable experience, the game only shipped with one real map, making the game’s $9.99 price tag hard to swallow.

Now, Activision is adding to the value of the title, by releasing the “Verruckt (Zombie Asylum)” map pack. Downloadable via the title’s in-game “store,” the addition doesn’t simply add a new area where you’ll fend off a neverending torrent of zombie hordes, but a handful of new weapons –including the PPSh-41 and the Springfield bolt-action rifle — as well.

The Verruckt map also allows you to turn on the power to the asylum, which comes with a bonus — the ability to electro-shock zombies. While a bullet to the cranium can drop a zombie with ease, there’s something particularly satisfying about frying the undead. Other players perks can also be found on the map, via Perks-A-Cola machines, which come in handy during the later waves, which can get a bit crowded with shambling corpses.

In comparison to the original “Nacht der Untoten” map — which seemed more like a tech demo, a small portion of what you might expect from a full product — Verruckt definitely feels more complete, in just about every way. The map is decidedly bigger than the one that ships with the base game, with more places to move and hide, as well as multiple floors.

With that said, the $4.99 price tag (in addition to the $9.99 you’ll have to spend for the core Zombies game) is a bit hard to swallow. That’s not to say that the game isn’t an impressive display of what the iPhone is capable of; it looks great and runs smooth even on my “last-gen” iPhone 3G. Sure, the “phantom analog” touch screen controls take a bit of getting used to, but the payoff is a fun shooter, especially when played cooperatively via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth.

Still, even with all of the great new additions that come with Verruckt, you’re looking at a $15 package that still doesn’t truly feel complete. It seems fairly obvious that Activision intends on releasing more content down the line, and will most certainly continue to charge for it. In a space where high quality titles are regularly released at value pricing, Zombies still feels a bit out of place. – Nick Chester

7 — 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