Once upon a time, it looked like Apple would finish off Nintendo as the leader in mobile gaming and proceed to take on the big boys on the big screen. The App Store was booming and games were the biggest hits you could find. The easy availability and cheaper prices meant that players could stock up and play all kinds of different titles. Sales of the Nintendo 3DS sagged, which spelled real trouble for Nintendo. Apple could also provide what the competition couldn’t- a quality portable gaming experience on a bigger screen thanks to the iPad. It looked like things were really coming together.
While in-app purchases turned into dopamine-powered cash registers and Candy Crush knock-offs have dominated the App Store gaming scene in recent years, there are occasionally exceptions that show what is possible on the iOS platform and potentially what could haven been the norm. GRID Autosport from Feral Interactive (actually from CodeMasters originally, but ported to iOS by Feral), which was released for the iPhone and iPad a few weeks ago, is one such a example.
There are a lot of platformers, racing games, and puzzles on iOS, but there isn’t much in the way of unique strategy titles. People have tried to do real-time strategy games before, but games like Red Conquest just haven’t done very well (even though I thoroughly enjoyed that title). Subterfuge is a different take on real-time strategy because it’s basically turn-based in nature. Battles unfold over hours and days, instead of minutes.
But don’t worry: thanks to some really clever in-game features, Subterfuge manages to balance in-depth strategy with truly mobile and accessible gaming.
Capsule review: if you like sniper-style shooting games, Hitman Sniper for iPad is the best there is. The story is straight from the Hitman franchise playbook, and the gameplay, weapons selection, and shot control will make you believe you’re the Leon the Professional of your dreams.
While I was only mildly interested in the Hitman games on console, it took only one screenshot from the “new games” section of the app store to have me reaching for my wallet. For those unfamiliar with the Hitman games or the movie spinoff, in Hitman Sniper you play Agent 47, a detached, unfeeling assassin raised from a young child to be a cold-blooded contract killer. The barcode on the back of your avatar’s head completes the inhuman presentation of the character. You’re given missions to complete using only a sniper rifle, each mission including a main target that somehow seems like he deserves what he’s getting: you know, a drug kingpin, spy for the bad guys, international arms dealer, and the like. (Even if it’s only a game, the developers have let you assuage your guilt at being so cold blooded.) But ½-way into your second mission you will have forgotten about all that and be super-focused on completing all your mission objectives, collecting your fee, and avoiding the horrible, screaming, red-lettered “mission FAILED” verdict.
I have to admit to being one of the very few people who didn’t care for Angry Birds when it came out during the early days of the iPhone and iPad. I just never got the pigs, eggs, and shaky-structure thing. But blowing up zombies with hand grenades? Bring it on. The developers of the original Fragger game have recently released the sequel we’ve been waiting for: Fragger 2, with three new worlds and 90 new levels. It’s another winning casual game to fill in shorter holes in your schedule.
For the uninitiated, in Fragger you play a lone hand-grenade wielding soldier. Your job is to lob your supply of grenades, one at a time, at a number of zombies. You control your throw’s trajectory and force by drawing on the screen with your finger. A helpful guide shows the course of the grenade; the length of the guide shows the force with which you throw. Especially in the higher levels, you need to use finesse to throw hard enough to hit your target, but not so hard you over-throw. The grenade explodes when it comes to a rest wherever you have thrown it (not on impact).
While there are plentiful dirt-bike games for your iPad, Hello Moto HD strikes the right balance of fun gameplay, easy controls, and accurate physics to make it worth a spot in your games folder. Hello Moto is a side-scrolling challenge in which you guide your dirt bike over 24 tracks (if you make it that far) with increasing levels of challenges. If games can be judged by frequency of play, then Hello Moto has earned an A+ in my casual-game world.
In Moto HD you’re a dirt-bike rider that must guide his or her bike from left to right across a dirt track containing jumps, flips, and other tricks you have to master in order to reach the checkered flag. As you might expect, the tracks get harder and harder as you go along. Each time you miss a jump, or fall into a chasm, or run into an obstacle, you crash and then start at the beginning of the track again. This process is less tedious than it sounds as you learn each trick fairly quickly as you go. For example, you learn how to time your jumps to make it to the next platform, or how to make low jumps in order to not knock your block off on an overhead obstacle. Each track took me five–ten tries to master though of course your reflexes may be better than mine.
If you like continuous shooters, aka bullet-storm or bullet-hell arcade games, you’ll love Magenta Arcade. The game has all the good stuff you’d expect from the genre: lots of swarming baddies coming down from the top of the screen that you need to shoot before they touch you and blow you up. The App Store has hundreds or of these shooters: you control a plane or a tank or a person or some other avatar who constantly shoots a stream of bullets up-screen at the bad guys. Magenta Arcade has one innovation that sets it apart and makes it a lot easier to control: your finger on the screen determines the source of the bullet storm; there is no avatar per se. You move around the screen easily, aiming and dodging as quickly as you can move your finger around the screen. There’s no controller middle-man between you and the bullet storm.
There’s a Joseph Gordon-Levitt movie called Premium Rush that’s all about bike messengers weaving through the traffic in New York City. The main character visualizes all the wrong approaches and simulates several awful crashes before finally landing on the right angle of attack, which he then executes perfectly. It’s that kind of keen spatial projection that will get you through each level of Does Not Commute.
This is a game about driving and finding small moments of beauty in all of the chaos, like when you skid perfectly between two incoming cars and reach your destination without a scratch. You drive one car at a time from point A to point B, and once you arrive at your goal, you’ll take the role of a different car somewhere else on the level. Once you’ve finished a few runs, you’ll realize that all of the cars you’ve previously driven are now whizzing by you. You’ll suddenly rue your reckless driving from only 30 seconds earlier as past versions of yourself make it hell for you to skid around a corner in one piece. If that sounds chaotic, that’s because it is, but the “crashendo” builds so slowly that you’ll always understand just enough to navigate your way through it all.
Add a countdown timer for each level and a set of tantalizingly placed timer refills around the map, and you have yourself a recipe for some nail-biting vehicular puzzles. You’re playing the long game in Does Not Commute, and you may find you’ll have to return to previous puzzles to allow yourself the time to finish the next ones. Fortunately, well designed power-ups you unlock along the way make the experience more forgiving and expand your options, even as the puzzles get harder.
Does Not Commute can be a punishing, but satisfying game with pockets of well-written humour to ease the stress, and it’s one of my favourite titles to come along in a while.
Here’s an App Store link for Does Not Commute; it’s free to download with an In-App purchase option to add checkpoints for $1.99.
Ultraflow is a unique puzzle game that combines the gameplay of bumper pool, min-golf, Breakout, and some of its own chops in one fast-moving milieu. While the play can be very hectic with lots of moving parts and bouncing around, the color palette is subdued to give your senses some calm place to rest.
The object of each of the 99 puzzles is the same: use your finger to launch a small circle so it bounces into a larger circle. There will be myriad types of obstacles in your way: bumpers as in pinball, brick walls to break down, energy-sucking barriers, or one-directional energy boosters that speed your ball on a one-way path. On each level your ball has only so many bounces allowed before it explodes. For simpler puzzles that number is very low, maybe 3 or 4. For complicated puzzles such as those with the bricks, your allowable bounces range well into the double digits, sometimes 40 or more.
The gameplay is very quick: you either solve the puzzle or die within a very few seconds. Some of the puzzles are easy, which provides a nice mental respite from the puzzles that can be frustratingly difficult. As with most puzzle games, once you figure out a geometric trajectory that creates a win, it seems obvious after the fact. There is a merciful hints function that you can turn on or off. Hints take pity on you when you’ve died many times in a row: a suggested path shows up on the screen.
I have to confess at the outset that pinball arcades were a frequent venue for a large part of my misspent youth. Fridays would find me and my buddy Dave at Pinball Pete’s. We got good enough to play all night on $2, as if that were something to brag about. Pure Pinball is a pinball simulator done right on the iPad. It’s super-realistic and beautiful to look at. In short, if you like(d) real pinball, you’ll love Pure Pinball for your iPad.
The makers of Pure Pinball went to considerable lengths to make sure all the gameplay, graphics, and physics match what you’d find on a real pinball table. From the way the plunger launches the ball, to the gravity of its descent, to the way the bumpers fire, to the spinning of the targets it all matches the real deal. The layout of the table is as busy as late-model tables became before their almost extinction. There are buzzers, bells, ramps, and chutes of every description. Point-making opportunities come and go, announced by the game’s Mr. Big Voice, and lights on the table. You will do well to pay attention to these specials as they can quickly multiply your score. There are three tables available and you unlock the second and third by doing well on previous tables.
Space Marshals for iPad is a top-down shooter that pulls you in quickly and will have you surprised when you next look up at the clock. It has great arcade graphics, easy-to-learn controls, and plentiful levels for you to explore while you accomplish missions and avoid the bad guys.
In Space Marshals you play a western-style marshal, complete with six-shooter and ten-gallon hat. You’re on an alien planet, hunting down escapees from a prison break. An AI computer and various human characters show up along the way to help you through a series of missions, each taking place on a different part of the planet. For example, in an early mission, you sneak around a base, trying to disable tracking radar so you and your buddy can make a clean getaway in a stolen ship. A helpful overview map stays in the top right of the screen giving you a condensed view of the level and your goals.