TechnologyGuide’s E3 coverage kicks off next week as the gaming showcase opens in downtown LA. But before getting to the best iPad games of tomorrow, let’s take a look at what the App Store has to offer today.
With thousands of games available for the iPad, how does one go about finding the top five? Difficult, extensive research to start, along with a brief consultation with my friend’s 12-year-old son. After testing many games using my iPad 2, I found that I preferred casual strategy games to first-person shooters on the tablet, even though Apple’s second-generation tablet can handle more intensive graphics than the original. A game like Dead Space looks great on the iPad 2, but I like it better on a console in front of an HDTV with a physical controller. You should also know that I am a board-game dork. Lastly, I left Angry Birds off the list. It’s a fantastic game for the iPhone and even better on the iPad, but at this point, it’s a given that the hugely popular Angry Birds is one of the best games for the iPad.
Plants vs. Zombies HD (PopCap, $6.99)
PvZ may be approaching Angry Birds in popularity, and after playing it for a few minutes, you’ll understand why. It has the same simple-but-engaging graphics and pleasing audio as Angry Birds, along with an underlying logic that begs to be figured out. After playing only a level or two, you will give more thought to how to stop a hoard of zombies with a carefully arranged garden of plants than you would have ever imagined.
The game starts slowly, but it quickly gets harder as the number of zombies grow. There are 26 different types of zombies and 49 different types of plants spread over 50 levels. There are 18 mini-games sprinkled in as a change of pace, and you can use Quick Play mode to jump in and play your favorite levels after completing the campaign. You can unlock Survival Endless mode, where you protect your house for as long as possible, wave after wave of zombie attack. PopCap also armed the iPad version with an exclusive mini-game called Buttered Popcorn in which you butter the tops of the zombies’ head and then fire at them with corn-cob cannons. Strange but true. The iPad version of the game also supports 11 simultaneous touchpoints, should you need help from a friend to battle particularly aggressive bands of zombie in later levels.
This tower-defense game would be fun even without zombies. Add zombies with their requisite groans for brains, and you have an entertaining and addictive game, even if it costs a bit more than your average iPad game at $6.99.
Death Rally (Remedy Entertainment, $2.99)
I’ve been a fan of top-down racing games since Ivan “Ironman” Stewart’s Super Off Road arcade game. I loved the realistic physics of those trucks bounding around the track, and I devoted many quarters in my youth to Ivan Stewart’s 401k. Death Rally is another top-down racing game that offers great action, trading Off Road’s aerials for weaponry. And as you earn points each race, you can upgrade those weapons and your car. There are also five cars to unlock and upgrade (speed, handling, armor).
The graphics and gameplay are excellent. The racecourses look realistic; cars kick up dust on dirt tracks, and their headlights shine on road tracks at night. The cars themselves are finely modeled; they make it look like you are racing very detailed Matchbox cars. You have your choice of two different steering controls: a stick control you spin around a circle or left and right buttons. I liked the stick control, which lets you spin around hairpin corners more effectively.
Races are typically three laps and take roughly a minute to complete. Like Off Road, you can pick-up items as you make your laps, from money and ammo to nitro bursts and health points. A revolving challenge race mixes up the pace, running only one lap, racing without guns or a single type of gun, or racing in the opposite direction from one other car and playing chicken.
With its polished graphics, variety of races, and addictive upgrades, Death Rally is a game that lives up to its ominous name.
World of Goo HD (2D Boy, $4.99)
This award-winning physics puzzle game and the iPad are a perfect fit. Using the touchscreen to drag goo balls strategically around the display feels strangely natural as you construct a tower or bridge or other structure to help direct the goo balls to the escape pipe on each level. It feels like a cross between Mario Bros. and Angry Birds.
World of Goo boasts a stylish look and enjoyable background music. Like the action in the game, the writing is fun and lively. The mysterious Sign Painter provides clues, helping you as you go. The game feels a bit odd at first, but you’ll quickly feel a sense of pride as you grow as a goo architect. There a different types of goo balls, each with its own properties, and each level presents unique obstacles to overcome as you lead the goo balls to freedom. You have to use the goo balls strategically or you’ll run out shy of the escape pipe. And keep your structure balanced; one misplaced goo ball can send it collapsing down under its own weight.
World of Goo has all the elements of a great iPad game. It takes you to a lush, engaging world where the simple, straightforward gameplay lets you immediately jump in to get going. The levels slowly get more challenging, allowing your goo architectural skills grow as you progress through the different chapters and levels. And unlike many iPad games, the writing and music support the narrative rather than detract from it. The game should come with a warning: Goo balls can be habit forming.
Super Stickman Golf (Noodlecake Games, $0.99)
You do not need to be a golfer to enjoy Super Stickman Golf. It’s more like playing a quick round of putt-putt than actual golf, and who doesn’t like putt-putt? Unlike putt-putt, however, you have more than one club at your disposal. But it’s still worlds apart from an intricate, time-consuming golf simulation game like Tiger Woods Golf. The layout is blissfully 2D, and you carry a grand total of two clubs in your bag: a wood or iron to take full swings and a putter for when you reach the green.
Visually, Super Stickman Golf is simple yet arresting. Each course features its own unique look, with a winsome background wallpaper. The holes feature multiple levels where you are aiming for a platform up at the top of the screen or trying to squeeze the ball through a little gap to let it run down to a target toward the bottom of the screen. The controls are dead simple: use the arrows to adjust the angle of your shot, tap a button to start your swing, and then tap again to stop the power meter at your desired level. Your stickman will then swing the club, which results in a satisfying “ping” when it strikes the ball.
Each course is nine holes, and there are 30 courses in all. As you complete each course at or under par, you unlock the next course. There are also 30 achievements to unlock, which provide various power-ups for additional clubs and golf balls with special qualities. That motivation should keep you going in single-player mode, and the new multiplayer mode lets you play against opponents online or locally via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi.
Multiplayer features an awesomely creative twist: instead of competing for the fewest strokes, you win a hole by simply getting the ball in the cup first. A bad stroke doesn’t count against your score but costs you valuable time as you race to get the ball from the tee to the green and in the hole. Call it a speed-round skins game. It’s ingenious because it prevents opponents from taking their sweet time setting up a shot.
There’s little chance that Super Stickman Golf with turn iPad owners into actual golfers because the game is more fun than actual golf. And a lot easier to master.
Ticket to Ride (Days of Wonder, $6.99)
I always suspected I was something of a board-game dork, and I my suspicions were confirmed one weekend last year when an out-of-town friend of mine showed up with his kids and Ticket to Ride. I saw the box, grew excited, and asked if he played Ticket a lot. He replied, “Yeah, we play with the kids all the time.” I then admitted that my wife and I often times plan a Friday or Saturday night around the game, eating early and inviting friends over for a Ticket to Ride double header. Thus, I was excited when the iPad version of the game was released last month.
The iPad version is true to the board game, though gameplay is drastically faster. You can play against up to four computer bots, or you can play online against up to four human players. Currently, there is no pass-and-play option for multiplayer on a single iPad, though at that point, you might as well get the actual board game out and make a night of it. A game of four on the board game takes roughly an hour; I was able to complete a game against four bots in 10 minutes. After playing a handful of times, I don’t think the computer bots are the most skilled players. It’d be nice if you could select a skill level of your computerized opposition. I found it far too easy to cash in on the bonus for longest continuous track each game in solo mode.
The $6.99 price gets you the U.S. map, and you can purchase the Europe map for $3.99 and Switzerland for $1.99. For the uninitiated, you are attempting to complete train routes on the map between two cities to earn points, while hopefully getting in the way of your opponents’ routes. You have three options each turn: draw train cards, lay trains on the map to complete a section of a route, or select another route card. You’ll quickly get the hang of it, but it’ll takes much longer to master the strategy. Luckily, you can speed through game after Ticket to Ride game on the iPad.