Friday, December 10, 2010

Top iPad Games of the Week

What a week to be an iPad owner – or dreaming of one as a holiday gift. App developers have outdone themselves in recent days, launching a set of top-shelf games that are sure to impress, inspire, and enthrall you through your holiday downtime and well into 2011.

Infinity Blade is a must-buy for all serious gamers, bringing the Unreal 3 engine to a mobile device for the first time. It’s 3D, hack-and-slash gaming made gorgeous on the go, and you’ll be hacking your way through some of the best looking foes you’ve ever laid eyes on from the get-go.

Rock Band Reloaded (finally!) brings the familiar rock star-wannabe, candy-colored button mashing you’ve experienced on other consoles to your iPad. (It’s so good we can all forget the original try at Rock Band for mobiles, which soundly failed to meet expectations.)

Time Geeks is a light hearted, kid-friendly 8-bit version of Where’s Waldo that is sure to make that long drive to Grandma’s fly by, and Eenies will have you blowing up alien invaders in a fun Worms-like romp.

iPad Apps Reviewed

Infinity Blade: 3D gaming made gorgeous on the go. You’ll be hacking and slashing your way through the some of the best looking foes you’ve ever laid eyes on, thanks to Epic’s Unreal 3 engine (which is truly equal parts “epic” and “unreal” in terms of what it can do for games.)

Rock Band Reloaded: Successfully brings the familiar rock star-wannabe, candy-colored button mashing you’ve experienced on other consoles to your iPad.

Time Geeks: Find All! HD: Kid-friendly, 8-bit graphics-powered version of Where’s Waldo that is sure to make that long drive to Grandma’s fly by.

Eenies at War: Will have you blowing up alien invaders in a fun Worms-like, turn-based romp.

Read all of my Apple iPad and Google Android application reviews at Appolicious and Yahoo! Tech.

iPad App Reviews

Infinity Blade ($5.99)

Fans of hack and slash sword-fighting games should run, not walk, to the App Store and get their hands on this instant iPad classic. Coming from the creative minds of Epic Games (and its Chair division,) Infinity Blade is the first game running the full Unreal 3 engine on a mobile platform.

What does that mean? If you’ve seen Gears of War, Mass Effect, or Batman: Arkham Asylum, you’ve experienced this engine first-hand. It gives developers powerful tools for bringing rich 3D environments to life on any gaming console or platform. Now mobile can be added to the list.

Infinity Blade is the best-looking game to date for the iPad, with realistic castle environments, epically detailed fighters, and even pixel-perfect sunbeams, cloud cover, and other scenery touches that put you right in the action. The overall game field is curiously small, however, bolting your character to a set of rails as he fights his way into a distant castle to avenge the death of his father. Again. And again. And again...

This “bloodlines” approach to the game means you’ll start outside the gates, hack and slash your way through 10 opponents, pick up gold, weapons, armor, and health potions along the way, then end up at the top spire, only to be killed ever so quickly by the God King. Then it’s on to “18 years later” with your fighter and his upgrades/equipment miraculously respawned in the form of a son who continues the “bloodlines” cycle.

(If the God King was smart, he’d not let these corpses go back to your home village for recycling after each defeat. But let’s not drive an 18-wheeler through that plot hole and instead suspend our disbelief, shall we?)

The RPG elements kick in as you level up, allowing you to put points into health, attack, shield, magic, and more, while spending your gold on new equipment along the way. Each bloodline will have you coming back a little stronger and more well-equipped to one day take down the God King. How long that takes depends on your appetite for destruction and hours to burn. After three hours of play since launch, I’m on “Bloodline 4,” with no end in sight. And that’s a good thing.

Each battle uses your iPad’s expansive touch screen to enable finger swipes to block incoming attacks from all angles. Then it’s time to take advantage of the blocks to slash the stuffing out of your opponent with your sword, axe, etc.

Use your shield as your backup blocker, and don’t forget to touch the lower left and right sides of the screen to dodge quickly in those directions as attacks come your way.

At first, the battles will feel similar, and not all that difficult. Don’t fret. After a few levels, you’ll start to get a feel for the nuances of the battle engine, carefully eyeing each weapon swing to block it successfully, and knowing just when to cast a healing spell on yourself, or trigger a massive magical attack. It adds up to a challenging set of battles after level six and up.

Infinity Blade is an excellent beginning, showing us the true power of the Unreal engine on Apple’s device. Future updates are well underway for this must-buy title, adding fresh enemies for us to vanquish, a full multiplayer environment, new equipment, plus an all-new “Dread Dungeon” level (yes, please!) that will present unparalleled challenges that go far beyond the God King in the form of Titan Guardians. Yikes.

Rock Band Reloaded ($9.99)

I count myself among those gamers who truly can’t get enough of Rock Band and Guitar Hero. My living room is cluttered with all manner of plastic guitars, drums, and microphones, each giving my family and I the ability to play “rock star” for a few hours.

Rock Band Reloaded hit the App Store a few days ago, and it successfully brings the familiar rock star-wannabe, candy-colored button mashing you’ve experienced on other consoles to your iPad.
After launching the app, you’ll want to link it to FaceBook (which is where new song info can be found, friends’ challenges extended and accepted, and accomplishments posted.)

Once done, you’ll notice a full set of 15 ready-to-rock tracks in your set list, with 10 more available via free download from the Music Store. With initial songs coming from groups like Duran Duran, Nine Inch Nails, and Beastie Boys, it’s a good start. Time will tell how much new songs will truly cost, and which bands are tapped to fill out the for-pay offerings.

Once in a song, you’ll notice that the developer’s have turned the experience on its side, going fully vertical vs. the horizontal playfield we’re used to on other devices. It will take you a few seconds to get used to the new location for several interface options, and to know just when (and how!) to trigger your Star Power.

The iPad’s touch screen makes holding and sustaining notes a breeze, with a little wiggle in your digits serving as the whammy bar to add extra points and grab extra Star Power during sustained white notes. As usual, your multi-star performances will earn you cash and fans, as well as unlock a seriously-deep set of new venues in which to perform.

The app also brings voice recognition for aspiring singers out there. This takes the entire experience to a whole new level -- the original Rock Band app was sadly lacking this feature -- so long as you’re in a quiet place with little background noise (or people who will stare at you as you belt out yet another tune into your microphone-available iDevice.)

Plus, the game includes Bluetooth multiplayer, as well as same-device multiplayer which takes over both sides of your screen in landscape mode. If you’re not worn out by these kinds of games (yet) and are looking to get your rock on no matter where you may roam, Rock Band Reloaded is a perfect purchase this holiday season.

Time Geeks: Find All! HD ($1.99)

My nine-year-old is a huge fan of the Where’s Waldo? series of books. We’ve spent more nights than I can recall scouring jam-packed, oversized pages for Waldo and his friends, family, pets, and more.

The 80’s teenager in me immediately took a shine to Time Geeks: Find All! HD, which marries this familiar seek and find experience with Pixel Art graphics (think 8-bit) and a truly retro style that harkens back to a time when video games were enjoyed in mall arcades and graphics were blocky. (In other words, perfect!)

You and your kids will spend hours working your way through each level, challenging you to find people, animals, and objects and then selecting them so they instantly return to their proper locations. You see, the Zoorgs have created a tear in the space-time continuum, and it’s your job to get everything back to its proper place. (Captain Picard to the bridge, red alert!)

You’ll want to use pinch and zoom to get close to the action to find each hidden item as quickly as possible. There’s six game modes to explore (history, challenges, arcade, relax, mini-games, and editor), along with 140 challenges to master.

Best of all, you can take on the role of level maker to drag, drop, and rearrange items on a level of your very own. When you’re done with your masterpiece, you can easily share it with your friends and family on Facebook.

Time Geeks is the rare app that will engage multiple generations of gamers on your iDevice, and is my kid-friendly pick of the week.

Eenies at War (FREE)

For years, kids of all ages (hint!) have been blasting their way through hostile environments, arming cute worms with all manner of rifles, grenades, missiles, and other ordinance, in order to take out baddies (and each other.)

Titles like Worms and Scorched Earth have successfully addicted at least two generations of gamers on this turn-based, aim-and-fire game play mechanic. Now there’s Eenies at War, and it’s time to hook the iPad generation on this strangely addictive style of gaming.

This time around, everything is customizable. Equip and fully arm mobiles and avatars, switch your strategy based on the kinds of enemies you’re facing, and grab new equipment along the way. Each round (12 in all in the single campaign) grants you xp points, and you can upgrade yourself to level 64 as you progress. With more than 2,000 weapon combinations, you’ll find all manner of creative ways to make the bad guys go SPLAT.

The secret sauce of this Worms-clone is massively multiplayer battles. Join with up to seven opponents to blast your way across multiple battlefields. But wait your turn, please. This is turn-based Worms-style combat, remember?

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