Monday, October 25, 2010

Top iPad Games of the Week
Week of October 25, 2010

Apps Reviewed:

FarmVille by Zynga: As if you weren’t addicted enough to this Facebook game, move your virtual farm from its clunky Web interface to your iPad in all its HD, multi-touch glory.

Reckless Racing HD: Kick up some serious dirt and drift your way around backwoods racetracks in this instant classic. Cletus, Bubba, and the rest of this motley crew are waiting!

Samurai II: Vengeance: Breathtaking manga-style graphics combine with crazy-intense (gory) battle sequences in this satisfying hack and slash brawler adventure. Chopping foes in half was never this bloody fun.

Flight Control – AirCraft Carrier Commander HD: Original Flight Control fans can upgrade from ho-hum airport to battle-ready aircraft carrier, landing military assets, repairing them, and sending them back into battle against waves of foes.


You can read all of my past iPad application reviews at Appolicious -- click here.

FarmVille by Zynga (FREE)

Facebook (FB) games are all the rage, none more so than Farmville, which was created by those capitalistic overlords of social gaming at Zynga.

If you’ve used FB even a little (and who hasn’t?) the chances are good that your News Feed is filled with FarmVille updates from your friends. Millions of people play the game everyday, planting and tending to their virtual crops, swapping gifts with others, and even chatting through the service.

And hovering above your sun drenched virtual fields, barns, and other do-dads are the Zynga developers, who this week launched an updated FarmVille FB app for your iPad.

The app itself may be perfectly free, but playing the game costs real money. And that means micro transactions to the tune of $4.99 to $49.99 to purchase in-game cash. This virtual green allows you to buy seeds, items, and gifts, and is generally a requirement to get the most out of FarmVille. And it goes without saying that your iPad must be connected to the Net at all times to play the game. (No offline farming for you!) Add to this the central requirement of having an active FB profile just to open the game, and all but the FB faithful need not apply.

In fact, your first step once the app opens is to login to Facebook, and then watch as your iPad replicates your farm (or starts a new one) right on your multi-touch screen.

And that’s when things get interesting. Scrolling around your farm stutters at times, but is generally smooth and natural. The status update windows, which pop up when you harvest or plant items, seem crudely drawn. Pinching and zooming is also fairly clean, with some stuttering depending upon the size of your plots.

Clicking on your plots of land and other controls opens a series of menus that are far superior to their FB equivalents. Even receiving and sending gifts is a snap on the iPad, without forcing users to endure the multi-screened FB messaging system. A few finger presses and you’re done.

Push notifications help keep you in-the-know about your crops and other activities that need tending to every few minutes or hours. And, of course, the app makes it easy to post things to you and your friend’s FB pages to update everyone (who doesn’t know how to click Hide to stop the insanity) about your latest exploits.

After installing the app, I spent a fair amount of time visiting my FB friend’s farms, some so large the app crashed once or twice while I watched dozens (hundreds?) of individual, white “Loading” circles turn into grass, animals, barns, trees, corn stalks, and other assorted do-dads. (Really Mom, a dozen rainbow-colored cows? Acres and acres of corn that would make any ethanol producer blush? Plus a Farmer’s Insurance blimp floating above it all? It’s a crazy virtual mess in your world!)

This weeks updated version of the app offers graphical tweaks, a revised menu system to make it easier to get to certain tools and other resources, better support for all iDevices, and code enhancements to speed load times and reduce crashes.

These are welcome updates that will go a long way in keeping us addicted to FarmVille no matter where we may roam.

Reckless Racing HD ($4.99)

I’ve played just about every racing game available for the iPad. That’s why when Reckless Racing HD popped up in the App Store this week, I downloaded it with zero expectations. Would the eight race tracks (16 if you count reverse versions), numerous vehicles, and racing controls be smooth and make for a satisfying gaming experience?

I’m happy to say that from the first moment I pressed my gas pedal to the firewall to hear and see a cascade of virtual stones and dirt flying from my back tires, I knew this was going to be a truly unique racing experience.

If you’re even remotely into racing games, this is a must-buy. The top-down view sports rich HD graphics, and the tracks are just curvy enough to challenge your drifting abilities. Add a quality musical score and lots of “Yeehaw!” hootin’ and hollerin’ when you take a jump or cut off a fellow racer, and you can’t help but smile and enjoy the ride.

Take some time to play with the controls and remember that a few small taps on the directional buttons make for good turns; hold down left and right at your peril. (But an occasional stone-flinging donut is fun, right?) After a few minutes of practice you’ll be finger-tapping your way through the field of backwoods competitors with ease.

And when I say backwoods, I mean “the heart of Dixie.” That’s where Bubba, Otis, Lurlene, Cletus, and Floyd are waiting to challenge you.

Starting each race presents you with a litany of choices. Are you up for a dirt rally, hot lap time trial, or delivery time trial? What kind of vehicle do you want to drive? What color should it be? Want to try a dirt or asphalt track? Plus, as your skills increase, you’ll work your way through the bronze, silver, and gold difficulties as well.

Looking for an even greater challenge? Dive into the multiplayer to compete with the best of the best, then post your best times on the leaderboards for all to see. You can even trade ghost races with anyone you wish, and an in-game chat module adds an additional layer of smack-talking to this top-quality iPad gaming experience.

Samurai II: Vengeance ($2.99)

One minute, ten seconds. That’s how long it took before my virtual samurai beheaded his first victim. In rapid succession I then sliced several foes in half (both ways, mind you) and generally littered a jaw-droppingly rendered Japanese fishing village with dozens of corpses, grunting out a litany of “HUTs!” as my razor-sharp blade did its dastardly dance.

Samurai II: Vengence, an age 12+ title from the minds of MadFinger Games, is unapologetic about its intense, bloody-brilliant hack and slash game play. Coming at us a full year after its award-winning predecessor -- Samurai: Way of the Warrior -- cut its way into the top-seller charts, the new iteration sports full 60 frames per second animation, along with upgraded graphics and sharpened controls, so even diehard fans of the original will appreciate the attention to detail in this must-have 3D brawler.

This time around, Daisuke is on a quest to take down his arch-enemy Orochi. He’ll stop at nothing, and spare nary a soul, as he hacks and slashes his way from a seaside village to a flying fortress and, finally, to the Isle of the Dead. Along the way you’ll set up special attacks, enjoy bullet-time animations of the goriest kills you’ve ever seen on your iPad, and deftly roll away or towards your foes to progress through the action.

Add in a healthy dose of karma-collection (cut open those barrels!), environmental puzzles, crazy traps, and hidden items to boost your stats, plus a full-on gorefest in the new survival mode, and Samurai II is destined for a well-deserved place on every manga and brawler-style game fan’s iPad.

Flight Control – AirCraft Carrier Commander HD ($4.99)

As a long-time fan of the original Flight Control app, I’ve lately succumbed to what I’d call flight controller fatigue. Guiding commercial aircraft of all sizes, along with those pesky-slow helicopters, to their proper landing spots has left me a little bored and prone to causing accidents just to hear and see the results. (The humanity!)

That’s why I was excited to see Flight Control – AirCraft Carrier Commander HD pop up in the App Store this week. Gone are the pedestrian jumbo jets and Cessna’s. Now you’re in control of seven kinds of military aircraft, launching from four distinct aircraft carriers.

Of course, you’ll still need to safely guide your planes, jets, and attack choppers to their landing zones. But once on the deck, you’ll need to quickly assess their damage and apply one of three distinct repair services to make them flight-worthy again.

And once they’re fixed, you’ll need to send them back up to – wait for it – counter incessant incoming waves of enemy bogies who are tying to bomb your carrier back to the stone age.

This is clearly the all-new Flight Control game I’d been waiting for. Ignoring the repetitive soundtrack (one looped sample), broken English in the interface (It’s Step not Stap, Mr. Chen), and need for multiple touches just to move to the next level (odd), each level is intense and the app does a good job melding line drawing action with critical time management pressures. There’s 48 challenge levels to survive, along with two dozen “coach levels” to choose from.

Goodbye flight controller fatigue, and hello post traumatic stress syndrome. Stay frosty, my friends. This is one gaming experience that requires you to stay on your toes and think fast, lest your carrier sink to the bottom of the ocean.

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