Apple, a major player in the video game industry?  I never thought I'd see the day...

I'll admit that I was initially skeptical of Apple's series of handheld devices as game machines.  After all, the company never had much success in the industry before.  The Pippen, a collaborative effort between Apple and Japanese toy giant Bandai, was a catastrophe, and the selection of games on the Macintosh didn't come close to what was available on personal computers running Windows.

I also wondered how well games could work on a device without tactile controls.  The handhelds running iOS (which I'll collectively call "iPhones" for simplicity's sake) have just a few buttons, with each one hardwired to basic system functions.  That just leaves the touchscreen and accelerometer available to the player, and neither lend themselves well to the fast-paced action titles common on the Nintendo DS and PSP.

It took a while for developers to realize this, and even longer for major publishers like Namco, Konami, and Capcom to put their full weight behind the iPhone.  However, after a rough first couple of years, Apple finally swept the chaff of third-rate games and rude noisemakers out of its App Store, and replaced that dead weight with genuinely fun titles that either worked around the limitations of the touchscreen or made that interface work for them.

The next generation of iPhone games aren't just good; they're cheap.  Many releases on the App Store debut at under two dollars, with prices being sliced in half during frequent sales.  Games are even given away in promotions, with no obligation to the user... you just click a button and it's yours.  The unbeatable prices have made cash-strapped gamers reconsider their allegiance to Nintendo and Sony, especially since their own online stores are not only costly, but seem downright barren by comparison.

Against all odds, I've become one of those converts, accepting and even embracing my iPod Touch as a game system.  I'm still not in love with the touchscreen as an input device, but there's never been a handheld as convenient or versatile as this one.  The system's flash RAM means that you don't have to fumble with cartridges or discs, and when you're done, you can just slip it in your pocket and listen to music, or catch a stray wi-fi signal and surf the internet.

It's why I've decided to review iPhone games on this site... heaven knows I have enough of them!  For disclosure's sake, I should mention that I'm playing all these titles on a first generation iPod Touch, and that performance is likely to improve on more recent models of the system.  There are also games I can't review for the same reason, but there are still plenty of titles that'll run on first generation systems.


FULLY CHARGED.  An iPhone triumph!  Clear some room on your system for this one... you won't regret it.  Hey, you can always take more pictures of that comet when it comes back in fifty years!

LOOKIN' GOOD.  The great graphics, sound, and gameplay in this title guarantee hours of fun for the whole family... if they can tear the iPhone out of your hands!  It's not quite flawless, but it's still a gem.

HALF-FULL.  Or is it half-empty?  It's all in how you look at it... the optimist will credit this for the geniune effort put into its design, while the pessimist will point out its flaws.  At least the good and bad are balanced!

RUNNING LOW.  This is just one push-button fart away from total failure as an iPhone app.  Either it's an all-around dismal effort, or a promising idea doomed by flawed design.

OUT OF JUICE.  A creative void that lowers your IQ as it drains your batteries.  Who cares if it was cheap, or free, or the developers paid you to download it?  That's space you could be using for music!

Additionally, games which let you listen to your own music during play will be marked with the iPod music logo.  The games without this feature will have this icon greyed out.


Lakoo/Perception Studio


There are plenty of what I like to call three star puzzle games on the iPhone.  You know the kind... the designers start with a novel concept, build a realistic physics engine around it, and reward players with up to three stars based on how quickly or cleverly they finish each level.  Alex Panda is one such game, but it's not one of the better ones.


Let's be charitable and start with the one thing Alex Panda gets right... the graphics.  Alex is stranded on a remote island, but the lush, hand-painted artwork will make you wonder why he'd ever want to leave.  The animation is also more than adequate, with the panda protagonist haplessly flailing his arms as he's tossed around each level and bear-eating plants that snap their jaws menacingly if he gets too close.


Unfortunately, the gameplay has all the meat of the average panda's diet... which is to say, almost none.  You set your finger on Alex to pick him up, drag him to the exit, and release to finish the level.  That's it.  You'll have to drop him occasionally to let the stamina bar at the top of the screen refill, but that's not an issue if there's a platform nearby.  Even if there isn't, a flick of the finger will send Alex to the goal while barely putting a dent in the bar.


Alex Panda ends after twenty stages, with the option to purchase more.  However, after you've had the first course, you probably won't be hungry for seconds.  To be blunt, the game's dropping and dragging doesn't have the shack-smashing catharsis of Angry Birds, the mental gymnastics of Cut the Rope, or the careful precision of the Dark Nebula series.  It's simplistic and unrewarding.  When Jobs was handing out ideas for iPhone puzzle games, Alex was clearly out doing his business in the woods.




After the developer of this popular puzzle game was devoured by online gaming giant Zynga, the cost of Drop7 plummeted from its usual five dollars to the much more agreeable zero.  It's important to note that the free version of the game is also the ad-free version, without commercials or restrictions.  What was Zynga's angle in offering this high-profile release free of charge?  If it was to get them noticed in the extremely competitive iPhone market, well, they certainly got my attention.


However, Drop7 didn't keep it for long.  Like most block-dropping puzzlers, your goal is to keep a stack of pieces from spilling over the playfield.  However, instead of matching colors or fitting shapes, you set numbered balls in rows and columns, until the total number of balls in the string equals the number printed on the balls.  Yes, it didn't make sense to me, either.  Even after you get the hang of it, it's tough to set up combos with this awkward play mechanic.  Unless you've got the foresight of Bobby Fischer (without the anti-semitism or the appaling personal hygiene), you won't be seeing any elaborate chains unless you stumble on them by chance.


I'd mention the sound and graphics, but they barely warrant it.  The artwork is crisp but incredibly plain, with shadowed numbers that look like something Peter Max would punch out on an off day.  The soundtrack has exactly one tune, and it's distracting in the worst possible way, sounding like the Maxwell House commercial from hell.  Audiovisuals aren't a dealbreaker in a puzzle game, and there are just enough modes to keep the game lively for players who can wrap their heads around its odd play mechanics.  However, Drop7 seems like a relic next to other iPhone puzzlers, which have abandoned the decades-old Tetris paradigm for clever new ideas and vibrant characters.

Nyarlu Labs


Reviewers throw the term "classic" around a lot when describing games from the distant past, partly out of a misplaced reverence for the software of their youth.  However, there's an important distinction between a game that's a true classic and one that's merely old.  The dividing line is the thought put into the design... while the developer of an unremarkable retro title will throw together a handful of play mechanics and hope they work together, the creator of a classic will make sure of it.  Every idea in the game is a keystone, and removing any of them puts the entire design in jeopardy.


This careful craftsmanship is what separated Time Pilot from the terminally dull Time Pilot '84, what set Donkey Kong apart from its increasingly strained sequels, and what makes Forget-Me-Not a successful retro revival in a crowd of imitators.  This release by Nyarlu Labs brings together the cat and mouse capers of Pac-Man and the overwhelming chaos of Robotron: 2084, then throws in fresh twists to help the game stand out from its ancestors.


The most important of the new ideas in Forget-Me-Not is grinding.  There are no energizers to get you out of a tight spot and your laser fire often won't be enough to fend off the crowds of thick-skinned monsters.  Your best means of offense is scraping against the walls of the maze to build up a static charge.  Charge up enough and you'll glow an angry red, letting you steamroll the enemies in your path. Charge up too much and you'll take out a large chunk of the maze in a messy explosion!  You'll have to find the right balance between weakling and bloodstain, all while juggling your other duties in the maze... sweeping up all the flowers, snatching the key (from a sticky-fingered monster if necessary), and making a break for the exit once it appears.


Each level is built on the fly, and they vary wildly, ranging from linear paths with a couple of harmless sparks patrolling them (the boring ones) to mammoth mazes that swallow the screen whole and are teeming with monsters.  Forget-Me-Not is at its best when it's at its most chaotic... the diverse creatures create an ecosystem with each member struggling to survive.  It's fun just watching the insanity that results, and even better when you're thrown in the middle of the chaos, snapping up flowers while dodging trigger-happy cubes, kamikaze bombs, and anything else the game can throw at you.


The graphics and sound add energy to a game that's already boiling over with it.  Your character radiates light that glints off the maze walls, keeping him from getting lost in the onscreen chaos, and there's a chirpy sound effect for every action, keeping your ears as busy as your bulging eyes.  The sensory overload makes Forget-Me-Not an authentic retro experience, but it's the brilliant design and spellbinding gameplay that make it a classic.


Ostin Games


This... probably wasn't such a good idea.  Kiss Island is technically sound, but the premise it's built around makes some very irresponsible, even dangerous statements about gender relations.  You're a beefy ship captain who crashes onto an island, and the first thought to cross your mind is not to gather food or make shelter for the night, but to kiss the entire population of big-breasted natives.  The Amazons scatter in all directions as you approach, so you do what any rational man would do in this situation.  No, you don't take the hint and accept that they're not interested in you!  You stun them with rocks as they race past, then snatch them by the arm and pull them into your embrace.  While you're looking for love by any means necessary, you'll be hunted by packs of male apes and the plump Amazon queen... get kissed by them three times in a stage and you'll never live down the humiliation!


Domestic violence, homophobia, "no fat chicks," and the old gem that women will learn to love your sexual advances if you're persistent... this game is just chock full of enlightened attitudes!  It's all played up for laughs, with silly music blaring in the background, but without context beyond a horribly localized storyline, it feels more like Custer's Revenge than a Benny Hill sketch.  There are also issues with the gameplay, like the way your stones slip through their targets and an overall lack of technique, but the subject material alone will likely be enough to keep you off this island.  It's a shame too, because Kiss Island at least demonstrates potential with its impressive comic book artwork and an engine that runs smoothly even on first generation systems.  Put all that in a game that doesn't make me want to take a shower and you might have a winner next time.




Core Fan

You can have anything you want, in Alice’s Adventure… excepting entertainment!  For all its polish, this game doesn’t do anything that hasn’t been done better on other handhelds, and even the iPhone itself.  It’s an aggressively generic, often kludgy side-scrolling platformer, with a thick coat of pastel paint applied to cover its flaws.  Imagine Super Princess Peach for the Nintendo DS without the innovation, charm, or the PMS powers, and you’ve got a pretty good idea of what to expect.

I wish I could offer up much in the game’s defense, but the developers have made that tough.  The animation is stiff, split-second pauses throw a wrench into the flow of the action, and a control scheme lifted from the superior Pizza Boy doesn’t result in control that’s on par with Pizza Boy’s.  The virtual buttons on the bottom of the screen usually respond to your input, but will sometimes be stubborn at the worst possible times, with poor Alice paying the price.  Sometimes the buttons will even “stick,” sending her charging headlong to her death.  It would be just as foolish to spend a dollar on Alice’s Adventure when that money could be invested in a better action game… like Pizza Boy, to name an example.  (You just knew that was coming, didn’t you?)

Rovio Mobile

I’ve got an awful confession to make.  No, I’m not talking about those bodies in the basement… I mean that unlike the rest of the world, I didn’t enjoy Angry Birds at first.  The zoomed-in viewpoint makes it tough to target enemies on the other side of a very wide playfield, and the slightest mistake forces you to restart stages over and over until you finally hit those sweet spots.  However, I didn’t realize that you could bridge that gap by pinching the screen, and that some of your fine feathered friends have abilities which widen the margin of error.  Cranky canaries pierce through wooden barriers, perturbed penguins explode, and belligerent bluebirds split apart to cover more ground, all with a properly timed tap of the screen.

Once I understood the finer points of Angry Birds’ play mechanics, I found myself clearing rounds more quickly, and having a lot more fun doing it.  Its grenade-lobbin’ gameplay dates all the way back to the days of Scorched Earth on PCs, and Artillery Duel on some of the earliest game consoles.  However, instead of the tedious process of adjusting your cannon’s altitude while compensating for wind speed (zzz…), you just load your bulbous birdies into a slingshot and fire them into the hideouts of the green pigs who have stolen their eggs.  Targeting the swine directly is good enough in the first few stages, but eventually you’ll have to weaken the foundations of their precariously built houses and let the laws of physics do the rest.

Angry Birds includes over a hundred stages for your pig-pulverizing pleasure, with more available in free updates and still more up for grabs in reasonably priced holiday packs.  There’s even a “mighty eagle” upgrade that lets you turn entire stages into smoking holes for a little under a buck.  How much Angry Birds is too much?  Judging from the game’s rabid and growing fanbase, the developers haven’t found the answer yet.


GameLoft has a reputation- largely deserved, mind you- for making iPhone games that are unnervingly close to best-selling franchises on home consoles.  However, the world's most creatively bankrupt studio has taken a slightly different approach with this series.  With scalpel in hand, they've snuck into the graveyard of games long dead and carved off bits and pieces from the last decade's most popular racing titles.  After much dark surgery and a jolt of lightning, an unholy creature was brought to life, with the drifting of Ridge Racer, the full-contact aggression of Burnout, and the customization (and bimbos!) of Need for Speed: Underground.  It's alive!  ALIVE!  I mean, ASPHALT!


Past games in the series on the Nintendo DS and early cell phones were as stiff and unnatural as Frankenstein himself, but the fifth title in the series does a better job of stitching together the game's component parts.  It's less of the shambling simpleton from the movies and closer to Shelley's original vision of the character... still an affront to God and nature, but with some small scrap of a soul.  The tracks are refreshingly diverse, the graphics are gorgeous even on older iPhone models, and the pumping techno soundtrack will keep your knuckles white from the moment the race begins to the instant the checkered flag starts waving.


However, for all its improvements, there are still moments when the stitching that holds Asphalt 5 together is impossible to ignore.  The physics, always a sticking point for this series, still kind of stink.  Tapping the brakes, even lightly, instantly snaps your car out of a drift, and the traffic checking from Burnout is weirdly inconsistent.  Sometimes your rivals seem like they're made of lead, and other times you'll force them off the road without even trying.  Also, customization is limited and even superfluous.  As you win races, you'll unlock girlfriends who can be used as power-ups, but are more effective as unintentional comic relief.  You're trying honey, I know, but you're about as sexy as my aunt during a laughing fit... and she snorts.


These things tend to happen when you put together a racing game from spare parts, rather than build it from scratch.  It's also why Asphalt will never be the equal of the games that unwittingly gave it life, but it still offers plenty of racing fun for the buck.  Until it murders your bride and runs off to the Arctic, anyway.

Mobile Art


"The Penguins Comes!," this game shouts in its best imitation of English at the start of each level.  You won't want to be around to greet them.  Beyond the admittedly impressive hand-painted cartoon artwork, there's nothing redeeming about this shameless clone of Plants vs. Zombies, frozen dead in its tracks by sluggish gameplay and a total lack of originality.  Sure, the title character is gathering fish instead of sunlight and all the units have been given an arctic makeover, but all that's cosmetic.  What ultimately stands out the most is the action that crawls with just a few onscreen characters and the game's leaden, often bewildering comedy.  Replacing the Peashooters with ovulating seagulls kind of makes sense, but why are the stand-ins for the Wall-Nuts turtles sitting on the toilet?  Can turtles even survive in the North Pole?  For that matter, aren't polar bears and penguins supposed to be on the opposite ends of the globe?  These are the kinds of questions you'll be pondering to keep yourself entertained while you're playing Bear vs. Penguins, because the game certainly won't do it for you.  Sure it's free, but Plants vs. Zombies costs just ninety-nine cents whenever PopCap Games holds a sale, and that's pretty often.  Do yourself a favor and splurge... you can have that cup of coffee tomorrow.

PopCap Games

While other developers try to shoehorn intense action games into a format that’s poorly suited to them, PopCap Games plays its smart, making software that makes sense on the iPhone.  Bookworm in particular is a perfect fit for Apple’s device… the touchscreen that’s the source of frustration for so many other iPhone games makes it a cinch to tap out words, and the action is laid back, yet more than challenging enough for those cunning linguists with the skill to make it past the first handful of levels.  There’s even an option to pause a game in progress and return to it later, exactly as you left it, a blessing for when you’re distracted by life’s pesky obligations.

If you’re not yet familiar with the joys of Bookworm, think of it as a head-on collision between Scrabble and Bejeweled.  Lettered tiles arranged in a hexagonal pattern fill the screen, and it’s up to you to find words hidden in the jumble.  The lengthy words you paid through the teeth to learn in college will turn other tiles on the screen to gold and even glittering diamonds, making them worth bonus points in future words.  However, if you dare to insult the game’s intelligence with a three letter utterance, you’ll be punished with flaming tiles that burn through the letters below them, and set the entire playfield ablaze if they’re not dealt with quickly.

The developers included plenty of little features, bringing fizz to an already flavorful formula.  Word collections give you a goal beyond mere survival, and esoteric terms (like, uh, “esoteric”) bring up a dictionary entry with their definition.  This is especially handy when you start stringing together things that sound like words in a desperate attempt to stay in the game, and stumble across a few that actually exist!  The only strike the game has against it is a soundtrack that’s more wearying than whimsical, but hey, that’s why you brought your own tunes!


Caster gets off on the wrong foot by introducing itself as an ambitious but kludgy action title aching for a more accommodating platform.  The control scheme tries to squeeze all the functionality of a Dual Shock controller out of the touchscreen, leaving both it and the player overwhelmed.  You move your character with the bottom left hand side of the screen, fire with the right, and leap with the center.  Each of these abilities can be enhanced by double-tapping the screen, except firing, which requires a double tap.  Finally, you can change the camera view by swiping the top half of the screen, and select weapons by tapping an icon in the top-right corner.  Oh yes, while you're juggling all these controls, you'll be surrounded by the Flanx, tick-like creatures the size of Rottweilers and twice as hungry.  Have fun!

After you spend an hour nursing Flanx bites and struggling through the early missions, you begin to see another side of Caster... rough, clumsy, but ultimately charming, like the Nintendo 64 games released late in that system's life.  It certainly looks the part thanks to muddy textures and a short draw distance, but it's also got their more appealing qualities, like the vast playfields of Body Harvest and the frantic run 'n gun action of Mega Man 64.  Not satisfied with living in the past, Caster also has features taken from more recent titles on the Playstation 2 and Xbox 360.  Two of the weapons in your arsenal let you sculpt the topography, like in LucasFilm's Fracture, and the power-ups in the shop give your hero super powers, a tip of the hat to Crackdown.  In no time at all you'll turn that wimpy weeaboo loser into a one man death machine who kicks gravity in the balls!

Even after it wins you over, you can't deny that the game's got serious issues.  If you happen to stumble into lava, it's unlikely you'll ever find your way out, because your character has a funny habit of forgetting how to jump when he's up to his ankles in molten rock.  Also, even minor battles quickly turn into armageddon, because the enemies are relentless in their pursuit, and spray the screen with enough firepower to turn the game into Dodonpachi.  Despite all that, I keep coming back for more pain... and pleasure.  Is it love, or just Stockholm Syndrome?  I'm still not sure.

Play Creek

A Tremors video game?  Why did this take so long to happen?!  However, this not quite official adaptation of the movie is served with a twist… you’re the ravenous beast, wrecking havoc and gobbling up everything you can fit into your slimy, sucker-lined mouth.  You hide underground, waiting for a moment to strike, then crest from the surface like a breaching whale, tearing planes out of the sky and turning tanks into piles of scrap metal.  Leave enough destruction in your wake and you can upgrade your abilities, giving yourself tougher skin, a longer body, and even fireballs to bring down the helicopters that always seem just out of reach.

Like Rampage, that other game where angry monsters tear civilization a new one, Death Worm is sadistic fun… but only in small doses.  You’re best off playing the Survival mode, where the humans pose a genuine threat and the upgrades come quickly enough to turn your little nightcrawler into fifty feet of writhing death in a matter of minutes.  Even with the game's fantastic graphics and some uncommonly good analog controls, the campaign mode wears out its welcome in a hurry thanks to the simplistic and eventually monotonous action.


How well do you really know video games?  Do you think you could make it in the business?  Now's your chance to find out.  Game Dev Story puts you in the plush office chair of a founder of a small game publisher.  You start by hiring a ragtag group of programmers and artists, then get right to work making software and finishing contracts for outside interests... a mascot for a nearby town, some music for a pinball game, or whatever else will pay the bills.

You'll start out as the favorite whipping boy of the video game press, but with perseverence and the right moves, you'll start getting noticed in the industry.  Contracts will become more lucrative, your software will fly off the shelves, and you'll finally win over those finicky bastards at Game Guy magazine.  Then your soaring heart will crash back down to Earth when you look at the staggering licensing fees for the latest console, or put every dime into your next release, only to have it win a booby prize (complete with a costly penalty!) at the Global Game Awards.

Game Dev Story is reasonably faithful to the history of video games, making only minor script changes to keep you surprised and the developers at Kairosoft from being sued.  You might be able to sell a million copies of a game on the "Senga Uranus," but it's not the safe way to bet!  As for game development, that's been abstracted down to four statistics- fun, creativity, sound, and graphics- and you never get to see your finished products in action.  However, the game's charming 8-bit art style makes up for the fact that you'll never get a glimpse of your latest magnum opus about miniskirt-clad ninjas.

The bottom line is that Game Dev Story is a user-friendly, wonderfully creative simulation which will appeal to anyone who likes video games... but will be most rewarding to anyone who loves them.  The price fluctuates madly on the App Store, but the game is worth whatever Kairosoft wants for it at the moment.

Trinity Interactive


They were originally going to call this "iKarate," but the name was already taken by some aftershave thirty years ago.  A better name for this extremely simplistic beat 'em up would be a slog.  There are four different weapons to unlock, but you only need the sword, and once you've got it, reaching the end of each stage is as simple as poking at the attack button until you've given your iPhone a bruise.  The ankle-deep technique rises a few inches once you've reached the boss, but with only two directionals and no jump button, don't expect much beyond waiting for an opening before resuming your assault on the attack button.


What iKungFu Master lacks in depth, it almost compensates for in style, although you have to wonder if the game's cast of stick figures was an intentional artistic choice or just a convenient way to keep its animation budget trim. You're likely to come to the latter conclusion after you've noticed that the enemies are palatte swaps of the title character, and that the swipes of his blade are lacking one too many frames.  Some effort was put into making this title look sleek, but not nearly enough to redeem it, let alone stand toe to toe with Double Dragon or other iPhone fighters.


Namco/EM Studios

Conventional thinkers need not apply for this physics-based puzzler, no doubt inspired by The Incredible Machine and its sequels.  There are many stages that seem impossible at first glance, but if you can train yourself to look past the obvious, you'll find the creative solution hidden beneath the surface.  Many stages challenge you to press a red button with a rolling ball and a small handful of assorted blocks, but often there's no way to actually bring the ball and switch together.  You'll have to think of ways around this, bridging gaps, building ramps, and creating dominos with the pieces you're given. 


As the game progresses, the solutions become more unlikely, and frustration mounts as your supply of hints dwindle to nothing.  Can you break your reliance on linear thinking and emerge victorious?  It's a question that separates fans of Gravity from the haters.  Some players are stymied by the first round and quit in a huff, not only due to the difficulty of the puzzle but because the interface is gallingly obtuse.  Puzzle pieces are hidden from sight at the start of each stage, and are often hard to move around and rotate into place.  The players who can overcome Gravity's challenges- both the genuine and artificial ones- are sure to enjoy this refreshingly different alternative to the countless Bejeweled and Tetris clones on the App Store. 


Electronic Arts


I'm not afraid to admit that I utterly detested the original Mirror's Edge, released for consoles and home computers.  Sure, the sleek, super-saturated graphics were sharp enough to split atoms, but the gameplay was a mess, with a disorienting first-person viewpoint and a control scheme so convoluted, the player would have an easier time scaling walls and bounding over thirty foot wide chasms in real life.


The iPhone spin-off may have switched to a side-view perspective out of necessity, but it makes the game infinitely more user-friendly.  Faith is no longer hamstrung by tunnel vision, and now that the world around her has opened up, she's got more time to anticipate and react to threats.  Also, the half-dozen action buttons the player was forced to juggle in the original have been replaced with swipes of the screen.  It's more intuitive and keeps the action brisk, the way a parkour game should be.


More intuitive doesn't mean completely intuitive, though.  Wall jumping in particular is awkward because you're expected to swipe upward, rather than toward the opposite wall as you'd expect.  Sometimes Faith will even ignore swipes, a huge aggravation when swinging from poles and climbing up the steam-filled vent in stage 2-2.  Speaking of stages, they can be confusing, even with the red markers leading the way.  You'll find yourself backtracking and even plummeting to your death in the later missions, because you weren't sure where to go next.


Even with these flaws, Mirror's Edge on the iPhone shatters its console counterpart with action that not only looks incredible, but is fast and fluid, the way the original should have been.  Best of all, it's a truly universal app that runs smoothly even on a first generation iPod Touch!  That alone makes it a must-have for tightwads who've been fighting an upgrade.


N.O.V.A. 2
First-Person Shooter

Remember, any differences between N.O.V.A. 2 and the Halo series are purely coincidental!  It's got a helmeted hero in bulky armor, a sassy holographic sidekick, mysterious aliens known only as the Judgers, and a massive ring in outer space which threatens all of humanity.  The only thing standing between this game and a lawsuit from Microsoft is... uh... what is standing between this game and a lawsuit, anyway?

N.O.V.A. 2 is the kind of Xerox copy you'd expect from the creators of such wildly creative iPhone titles as Hero of Sparta and Modern Combat 2, but at least it's a pretty sharp copy.  At its best moments, this bastard child of Halo does its father proud with intense run and gun action that has no equal on a handheld.  The scenery is gorgeous, particularly the picturesque outdoor landscapes, and there are plenty of weapons for your alien blasting pleasure, with more available as you progress through the story mode.  There are even a few fresh features that set it apart (well, a couple of steps apart, anyway) from its obvious inspiration.  Hidden credits let you purchase power-ups for your space-faring soldier, and the gameplay is peppered with scenes like a hoverbike race and Black Box-style hacking puzzles that have never been attempted in Halo.

Unfortunately, but perhaps not surprisingly, the moments where N.O.V.A. 2 tries to distinguish itself from Halo are where it falters.  Objectives like protecting your ship's energy core from a never-ending assault of enemies are infuriating, and the game is stingy with credits, leaving most of the power-ups well outside the player's budget.  The touchscreen control takes time to get used to as well, with tiny icons that make it tough to switch between weapons when the pressure mounts.  Luckily, the multiplayer mode strips away all pretense of originality, giving N.O.V.A. 2 the freedom to be the best damn Halo clone it can be!

Craneballs Studios


This sneaky release pulls a slight of hand scam worthy of the late P.T. Barnum.  There's no admission fee for this military-themed shooting gallery, and for the first five minutes, it seems like the deal of a lifetime.  You're sweeping the barrel of your gun across the screen, picking off targets and earning power-ups as a reward for perfect shots... until the game suddenly drops a much better gun into your lap.  Wow, this must be heaven!  Don't get too comfortable up there, though, because cloud nine is about to be pulled out from under your feet.  The uberweapon you were just given mysteriously vanishes from your hands, and no amount of tapping and swiping will bring it back.  Now you're stuck with the MARV, the gun that has to ride the short bus to school.  It takes ten headshots to take down a soldier with the MARV, and it's only because he dies laughing.


After the round ends, you walk up to the game with pleading eyes and an empty bowl raised over your head.  "Can... can I have that really cool gun back?," you ask.  "Sure," it chuckles, its overfed belly jiggling.  "Just give me sixty Overkill medals and it's all yours!"  Your desperate stare turns into one of confusion.  "An Overkill medal?  What's that?"  A sly grin creeps onto its face.  "Well, you earn medals by leveling up, but it takes a really long time.  It'd be a lot faster if you tell your friends about me.  Or buy some of my other games.  Or just give me money!  ALL of your money!"  You walk away with tears streaming down your face as the fat bastard laughs maniacally, nearly choking on its roast pheasant.  Looks like you'll be using the MARV for a while.


There's nothing wrong with Overkill, aside from the greed of its publisher.  It looks and feels like Konami's Metal Gear spin-off for the iPhone, except the gameplay isn't as cumbersome and there's no perplexing Kojima-brand storyline to suffer through.  Unfortunately, you can't get the full Overkill experience unless you're willing to pay through the nose for it, and the average player won't even realize this until after they've installed it.  It's the kind of shady opportunism that makes you think the designers would need a crane just to lift their balls.


Marcos Riffle

In the promotional material for Pin-O-Ball, Marcos Riffle cheerfully invites customers to "play a FUN pachinko game."  Okay, but you'll have to give me one first!  Pin-O-Ball is far from a faithful recreation of Japan's favorite parlor game... all the bells and whistles have been stripped away, leaving the player with a flat wooden board studded with pegs.  The balls are launched onto the board, and bounce down the pegs into numbered cups, scoring the player points.  At least, that's the way it works for the first few balls, until the player jostles the system and the ball launcher stops working.  After that, the ball just bounces inside the launch chute, and must be nudged upward with repeated taps of the screen.  Perhaps a little playtesting was in order before the game was pushed out of its own chute... or lower intestine, as the case may be.

(A recent update fixes the chute problem, but gives the player fewer balls and magnetizes them to the left side of the screen, where the cup worth the least amount of points awaits.  Talk about giving with one hand while taking with the other!)

These kinds of bugs tend to be fixed in updates, but what's not likely to change is Pin-O-Ball's fatal lack of ambition.  The developer went nuts with his rendering tools while forgetting about nearly everything else, leaving the player with realistic wooden surfaces pasted over one of the least inspired and compelling experiences on the iPhone.  There's no rule saying that you have to stick close to the script in a pachinko game... after all, Peggle is hardly according to Hoyle.  However, PopCap's game works much harder to keep the player entertained, with dozens of stages, satisfyingly complex play mechanics, and a sense of style that permeates its entire design.  By contrast, Pin-O-Ball doesn't ask more of itself than a few pretty textures and braindead achievements unlocked by pure luck rather than skill.  Even if it weren't a buggy game, it still wouldn't be a good one.

Moon Shepherd

Poker Invaders is pretty much what it says on the tin, if the game were sold in one, which it's not.  I swear, digital distribution is going to make that cliche obsolete some day!  Anyway, this is what Space Invaders would be like if the invaders were as wide as the screen and you fought them with cards instead of a cannon.  The little green men drift down to earth, hoping to kidnap your modest herd of cattle, and you do your best Gambit impersonation, flicking explosive cards at their ships.  If your poker hand beats the one printed on the front of a ship, it bursts into cosmic confetti, to the great relief of your cows.  However, if your hand is a dud, the cards are greyed out and the ship continues its descent, inching ever closer to the red meat below.  You'd better rebuild that hand in a hurry, or the invaders will be eating like kings!


The developers at Moon Shepherd have fused together two familiar genres in the hopes of creating a refreshingly unique hybrid.  It's a risky approach to game design, since many of these combinations end up like refugees from the island of Dr. Moreau.  However, the calculated risks of poker and the looming threat of aliens make for an agreeable merger.  The tough to beat hands in the later stages instill the same sense of panic players felt in Space Invaders, when the fleet of aliens had been culled down to one frantically marching monster.  There are also hidden bonuses that bring variety and incentive to an action title without the brains of a real puzzle game.





I'm still not sure how Sony managed to get the rights to this bizarre arcade hit... the paper trail is as every bit as strange as Q*Bert's world of colorful cubes and springy serpents.  The game was created by a pinball manufacturer, which was purchased by Columbia Pictures, which quickly became Coca-Columbia Pictures, which was quickly sold off to a Japanese technology giant.  What would a soft drink maker even do with a film studio?  Evidently Coca-Cola didn't know, either.


Fortunately for gamers old enough to remember it, Sony knew exactly what they were doing with this iPhone remake of the Q*Bert arcade game.  Most players would be happy with a perfect conversion of the 1983 original, and they'll definitely get one.  However, Q*Bert Deluxe goes one step beyond with a handful of different themes, each with devilish new level designs and an appropriate costume for the little orange puffball.  The game also offers an unexpected surprise... the tightest, most intuitive control of any home conversion of Q*Bert.  A single diagonal flick is all it takes to leap from one cube to the next, a huge improvement over the frustrating guesswork in past ports.


For all its strengths, the game isn't quite up to the standards of Q*Bert 3, the little-seen Super NES sequel.  While Q*Bert 3 dared to be stupid with fun new tweaks to the gameplay and mindbending backgrounds, Q*Bert Deluxe takes a more conservative approach, relying on the old cast of characters (reskinned for the themes) and surrounding the cubes with darkness.  Nevertheless, this game makes it clear that the Q*Bert franchise is in the right hands.  Just try not to think too hard about how it wound up in them.


Paramount Digital Entertainment/bEhavior


Remember those awkward Sunday afternoon drives from your father's house back to your mother?  Any child of divorced parents would find these seemingly endless trips impossible to forget.  Fortunately, handheld games like those by Nintendo and Tiger Electronics made those rocky rides just a little smoother.  Sure, they were simple and silly, but they sure beat watching telephone poles zip by or bickering with your brother!


Twenty-five years later, I can't help but notice the similarities between Rango and those diverting little gadgets.  The tiny silhouettes jittering across the screen have been replaced with parched desert scenery that smoothly races past you, and the blips and bleeps have likewise evolved to a soundtrack straight from the film.  Make no mistake, though... past the aesthetics, Rango is straight out of the Tiger playbook.  You tilt the system to send your google-eyed lizard and his roadrunner steed through a gauntlet of cactuses and broken wagonwheels... and that's it.  There's little technique beyond catching coins scattered on the track and no way to defend yourself from the eagle looming overhead.  Either you reach the town of Dirt in one piece, or you're hawk burgers.


Like the Tiger handhelds before it, Rango was created as merchandise for the movie first and foremost.  Despite this, it's just good enough to hold the attention of your own children for ten minutes.  By the way, if you're the kind of parent who gives your kids iPhones, uh, can I call you daddy?

Revolutionary Concepts/Data East
Full-Motion Video

You probably tortured yourself with- er, played this on the Sega CD nearly twenty years ago, along with other full motion video non-games like Dragon's Lair and Cobra Command.  They sucked then, and as their recent iPhone conversions demonstrate, they still suck now.  In fact, Road Blaster may actually be worse on this format because any illusion of player interaction has gone out the window thanks to the two new, iPhone-necessitated control schemes.  You can either swipe your fingers across the screen or tilt the system to spin your sports car's steering wheel, but you're doomed either way because once the game warns you that trouble is ahead, it's already too late to act.  You could memorize the patterns and hold down directions in advance on Road Avenger, the Sega CD version of the game, but that's not an option here because merely setting your thumb on the left or right side of the screen won't be recognized as input.  You've got to swipe like mad and hope for the best, or tilt your view of the action and risk disorienting yourself in the process.

Revolutionary Concepts gets credit for restoring the game's film footage... the saturation has been cranked up to the point where every color threatens to flashburn your retinas, but it's nevertheless a big improvement over the murky video in the Sega CD release, letting you better appreciate the hero's reckless, road-bound quest for revenge against the gang that murdered his wife.  Sadly, the only fun that can come from games like Road Blaster is in watching them... the gameplay, if it can even be called that, just gets in the way.  Dragon's Lair LLC at least had the foresight to include unlimited lives in its own release, and gave you the option to watch the game play itself after you finished it.  Road Blaster gives you a measely seven lives in its easiest difficulty setting, leaving you with a wafer-thin margin of error and making it unlikely that you'll ever see all the game's insane, gravity-defying stunts.

By the way, judging from previous releases by Revolutionary Concepts, an iPhone conversion of Data East's other full-motion video disaster Time Gal is practically assured.  YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.


I wouldn't call Slingo Supreme a game.  It's better described as a compulsion, like picking at a scab or chewing your nails.  The player's interaction is limited to pulling a lever and pecking at a numbered card at the top of the screen... yet as "exciting" as that sounds, you'll return for more, often several times in the same day.


What is about this mindless game of chance that turns players into its slaves?  Well, the almost infinite level of customization has to be a factor.  Playing the game gradually rewards you with new modes that either give you helpful advantages or make each match more challenging.  The need to unlock all of these features sinks a hook into your brain and drags you back into its clutches, long after you've figured out that its gameplay is 10% strategy and 90% dumb luck.


The presentation certainly doesn't hurt, either.  Slingo Supreme is decorated with only the brightest reds, yellows, and oranges, with the occasional blue thrown in to mark spaces on your card.  Rosy-faced cherubs and cheerful jokers rescue you from a devil determined to steal your points, and plead with moistened eyes for you to come back for just one more match... one more match... ONE MORE MATCH!  I swear, if this game ever makes it to Vegas, the nation's gambling addicts are totally screwed.


The only time when Slingo Supreme loses its grip on you is when the devil challenges you to a mini-game, an annoying distraction with a predictable outcome.  Either you'll get the coin flip or shell game, which you're practically guaranteed to win, or one of the card games, where the devil always has the upper hand.  Bet accordingly and you'll crack six figures in no time.  More importantly, you'll get rid of that pest and keep those slot machine wheels spinning for a few more turns!



Several years ago, the internet proposed a theory called the Sonic Cycle, where fans of the long-running series rabidly defend the next sequel in development, only to have their hearts shattered after the game is released and falls far short of the original trilogy on the Sega Genesis.  (The glorious, rose-tinted trilogy that exists in their minds, anyway.)

However, Sonic 4 may finally bring the cycle to an abrupt end when these players are forced to come to the uncomfortable conclusion that beyond the gloss, Sonic the Hedgehog may not have been that great in the first place.  This release by DIMPS is closely patterned after the first game in the series, with four of its level themes (grassy plains, gaudy casino, waterlogged ruins, and dirty factory) and a double helping of the flaws that have dogged the series from the beginning. 

The long-standing Sonic the Hedgehog tradition of favoring speed over technique often leads to players losing control of the spiny blue hero as he rolls through loops and over bridges... only to sail off a cliff or charge headlong into an unseen enemy.  Even when these dangers can be anticipated, they have a nasty habit of robbing Sonic of his rings anyway, because the new homing attack is a crapshoot and because enemies trick you into dropping your guard with phony vulnerability cues.  It's just easier to give Dr. Robotnik's twisted creations a wide berth and save yourself the ring shower.

It may be a Sonic game, with all the baggage that comes with it, but it's the best one you'll find on the iPhone.  The graphics, a blend of rendered backdrops and polygonal characters, are utterly stunning, with nothing lost from the console versions aside from a drop in resolution.  The control is sharp considering the format, with a responsive touchscreen D-pad taking the occasional backseat to tilting and tapping in the bonus stages.  Nostalgia has not deceived you in this case... the trippy spinning mazes that were cool in 1990 remain cool twenty years later!  Finally, while some of the gimmicks in each stage can be a headache, Sonic 4 also has the most palatable (dare I say fun?) mine cart ride you'll find in a side-scrolling platformer.  Somewhere a pudgy plumber in blue overalls is turning green with envy.

3D Frost LLC

First, the good news.  At just two dollars, this game is outrageously cheap!  Now, the bad news.  The game is outrageously cheap by every other definition of the term.  You'll want to love this silly search and rescue mission set on a distant planet, but Space Trek spends as much time pushing players away with off-putting design decisions as it does embracing them with its goofy sense of humor.


Screenshots of the game give you the impression that you're in for plenty of intense battles and narrow escapes between jagged cliff walls, but forget all that!  Space Trek is nothing like Starfox or its closest iPhone relative Star Battalion, with a plodding pace and a focus on exploration that doesn't mesh well with the science-fiction theme.  You're even locked into a fixed altitude, which takes all the thrill out of piloting your ship.  You can tilt the system to adjust your aim, but your shots have a nasty habit of sailing past their targets regardless of where you set your crosshairs.


What's most frustrating about Space Trek is its total lack of checkpoints, coupled with an overabundance of instant deaths.  Each stage is peppered with mammoth sand worms, which have a habit of popping out of their dens and swallowing your ship whole.  It's possible to lure them out and sneak past them as they sink back into the earth, but the beasts are unpredictable and precise thrusting is difficult with the slider on the left side of the screen.  There are also alien ships which ambush and overwhelm you with laser fire... by the time you have a chance to react, your ship is already a smoking heap.  Once you're gunned down or made into a Sarlacc snack, it's back to the start of the stage you go, with all the stranded spacemen you've rescued returned to the planet's surface!  Gee, thanks.


The banter between Captain Jay and his ship's onboard computer, along with a solid if unexceptional graphics engine, can only take Space Trek so far.  Regrettably, the slow, irksome gameplay leaves this shooter stranded in space, light years behind Star Battalion.


Disney Mobile/Digital Legends

There were already serious problems with Split/Second on home consoles, and this watered down conversion on the iPhone doesn’t do the game any favors.  You’re still stuck with a limited selection of tracks, and your rivals on the race track are just as infuriating as ever, springing traps on you when you least expect it and holding onto first place with a death grip.  However, this handheld version only adds to the woes.  Style oozed from every pore of the original, but here things seem less ambitious, like the ill-conceived television adaptation of a hit movie.  Crashes in particular suffer the most… they were jarringly realistic in the console game, but on the small screen of the iPhone, your car is launched into space from the slightest impact and thrown a half mile from the collision, as if it were more Matchbox than Mustang.  Explosions also lack the eye-bulging majesty they once had, scattering blocky debris and clumps of fire across the track.  Even the cataclysmic level two power plays have been defanged, without epic cut scenes to announce their arrival.  The screen just fills with pyrotechnics, and when the smoke clears, the track is broken in half.

The monotonous soundtrack salts the wound, blotting out your favorite tunes and offering further evidence that you’re no longer playing with as much power as you had been on the Xbox 360 or Playstation 3.  Granted, it’s impressive that Disney was able to squeeze a reasonable facsimile of Split/Second onto a device the size of a wallet, but there are more entertaining titles you could stuff into that wallet instead.  May I suggest Trucker’s Delight?



Forget traveling, fouls, or even a court on which to set your sneakers... all basketball really needs are free throws!  It's a notion that would make Shaq wake up in a cold sweat, but Stardunk will be a dream come true for everyone else.  Past the wealth of customization options, the gameplay couldn't be simpler... you just move your finger around the screen to adjust your aim, then release to send your ball to the basket.  You get bonus points if your shot is nothin' but net, but lighting up all four segments of the backboard gives you power-ups that raise your scoring potential.  The two minute timer that steadily counts down as you play adds to the strategy.  Do you carefully judge the power and angle of each shot to make sure it falls cleanly through the hoop, or just bury the basket in a rapid-fire barrage of balls?  It's your call, but don't take too long making a decision!


The only drawback to Stardunk, aside from its singular focus on free throws, is that it's heavily dependant on its online features.  You can play the game solo, but you'll miss out on the competition with other players that gives Stardunk purpose.  You'll also find that the Starpoints needed to unlock new balls are on a slow drip if you stay offline.  You'll either have to man up and join an online contest to earn a significant amount of points, or pay for them with real money.  Either way, you'd better have a wi-fi signal handy.



Namco was designing games for the iPhone years before the system even existed!  Talk about foresight!  This loose spin-off of Mr. Driller actually started its life as an arcade game in 2002.  What made Star Trigon so unique in arcades, and so well suited to Apple's touchscreen devices, is its single button input.  You just tap the glass as your astronaut orbits around a planet, and if your timing is right, he'll slingshot himself to an adjacent world.  If your timing is wrong, he'll choke to death on the surface of a poisonous moon, or get burned by an inconveniently placed sun, or stray outside the boundaries of the screen and be lost to the infinite expanse of the universe for the rest of eternity.  No pressure, right?

The goal of this incredibly dangerous mission is to catch the Uchujin, those pesky mole people from Mr. Driller.  String cables across three different planets and you'll create a glowing triangle that snatches the moles out of the vacuum of space, earning you points.  Catch 'em all and you'll move onto a new, more difficult stage... and since the game was never easy to begin with, you can only imagine the hell that awaits you in the later rounds.  Forget the simple controls and candy-colored visuals!  Unless you've got the reflexes of a jungle cat and the quick thinking of MacGyver trapped in a burning hardware store, this game will break you in half before you've finished the, heh, "regular" stages.

Star Trigon was an experiment by Namco's Mr. Driller team to create a game with the most possible technique, using the least amount of player input.  In that respect, it's a success... even with just one button, you have a remarkable amount of control over your character if your timing is sharp.  However, that dependence on timing makes the game extremely unforgiving in later levels, so keep a towel handy for when you froth like a mad dog after slipping into the inky void of space for the seventeenth time.

Capcom Mobile

It’s as unlikely an iPhone port as any game you can imagine, yet somehow, Street Fighter IV works beautifully on the system.  The new, touchscreen-friendly control is a major reason why… rather than flooding the screen with buttons, Capcom went with a single punch and kick, along with the game’s signature focus attack and a special attack that takes the place of the standard half-circle motions in the console versions.  (You can still chuck fireballs and launch uppercuts in the usual way, but it’s a friggin’ iPhone… you don’t need to do that to yourself.)  You even have instant access to your super and revenge attacks… just tap the meters on the top of the screen to start the fireworks.  The control isn’t what you’d call tournament caliber, but it’s still good enough for a few rounds on the go or some friendly competition with friends while you’re on a lunch break.

The second reason that Street Fighter IV is an unlikely triumph on the iPhone is because the designers had cleverly hidden the compromises made to fit the game into this format.  The polygonal characters were replaced with rendered sprites, but the fighters are dead ringers for their console counterparts, with animation so buttery smooth it could harden Paula Deen’s arteries.  Even the camera close-ups before a devastating revenge attack are here, completing the illusion of a near-perfect port.

Finally, there’s Capcom’s commitment to the game.  When it was first released, Street Fighter IV had a respectable eight fighters, but updates have since bumped that number up to fourteen, with music and stages from Super Street Fighter IV included as a bonus.  All this was given to players at no extra charge, offsetting the high initial cost and making this already stunning conversion that much more faithful to its console counterparts.  The iPhone wasn’t the ideal format for Street Fighter IV, but so much effort was invested in making this adaptation look, sound, and play its absolute best that you could hardly complain.


Super Laser is a finely polished, console-quality shooter that suffers from only one major flaw… it’s not on a console.  The iPhone is no place for a game for this, but the developers have done their best to not only make this one of the better games in its genre, but a game that works on a format which actively fights against it.

If you were playing video games in the early 1990s, you should already be familiar with this one… you pick one of two sleek star fighters and pilot it through five vertically scrolling stages, taking out enemy formations and feeding your cannons power-ups to boost their strength.  There are three different weapon types, along with options that cushion you from enemy fire and act as smart bombs in times of distress.  Here’s the hook, though… the options also let you “paint” targets with a reticule and nail them with laser beams.  Will you sacrifice your trusty sidekicks to guarantee your immediate safety, or weather the storm of alien assailants and hold onto your options long enough to earn the ultimate weapon, the Super Laser?  You’ll be making these hard choices often, bringing a welcome element of risk and reward to the action.

Speaking of risks, bringing this to the iPhone was a pretty big one, but Epicforce made it work better than competing titles, like the conversion of R-Type distributed by Electronic Arts.  You have four control options, including touch (the ship follows your finger), relative (the ship copies your finger’s movements regardless of where it is), joypad (a virtual joystick that keeps your finger on the bottom of the screen), and tilt (which takes the finger out of the equation entirely).  Touch and relative are the best of the two, although hovering a meaty digit over the screen means that you’re likely to cover and collide with bullets.  Joypad is kludgy and imprecise, while tilt just feels strange to the old-school gamers Epicforce had in mind when they designed this game.  However you play Super Laser, you’ll want to ignore your macho instincts and set the difficulty to easy… that way, you can appreciate the game’s sterling quality without breaking your system in half.

Yum Games

I'm usually not the kind of guy to make a fuss over cutesy games, but this one pushes even my limits.  In this bewildering puzzler, you are Super Yum Yum, perpetually stoned chameleon and negligent father.  After you leave your litter of children alone in the forest to bust out your funkiest moves at the local disco parlor, they're abducted by a fruit monster, who swallows them whole along your stockpile of food.  She then announces that she has to leave to make "fruity poopy," prompting me to slam my head against the desk over and over to make the pain go away.

After I awoke from my self-inflicted concussion, I forced myself to play the game, which challenges you to find all of Super Yum Yum's offspring along with his pilfered produce.  All right, the kids I can understand, since you can just wash them off, but after it took a ride through some weird creature's digestive system, what's left of that fruit can stay right where it is.  Oh wait, I have to pick it up anyway?  And I have to do it with my tongue?  Gee, thanks Yum Games.

Anyway.  The play mechanics are a little hard to understand at first... instead of a virtual joypad, you tap anywhere on the screen to make Super Yum Yum walk to that location.  Swipe your finger at a nearby piece of fruit and the lizard latches onto it with his tongue... in the right situation, you can even use the tongue as a makeshift grappling hook, pulling Super Yum Yum over frozen lakes and other obstacles.  

However, there is a catch.  The chameleon, being the stickler for fashion that he is, will only eat fruit that matches his color.  He'll then swap his shade for the color of the fruit's stems and leaves, potentially leaving you trapped in the stage if you're careless.  It's a refreshingly original idea, but one that's almost as hard to swallow as the game's pre-digested fruit thanks to its relentlessly cheerful graphics and voice acting only Dave Coulier could love.  In theory, you could drown out Super Yum Yum's shrill squeaks with your own soundtrack, but importing music is needlessly difficult and has a nasty habit of locking up your iPhone.  Either that or mine died from a saccharin overdose, I'm not sure.

Flight Sim


Other reviewers have been quick to warn their readers that H.A.W.X. is an arcade-style shoot 'em up, far removed from the other titles in the Tom Clancy franchise.  Clearly our definition of "arcade-style" differs greatly, because it's the last term I'd use to describe this airborne combat sim.  Sure, H.A.W.X. lacks the intimidating control of a full-fledged flight simulator, but it's also a mach jump away from the simple yet satisfying thrills of Afterburner.  There are specific objectives to complete in each of the game's fourteen missions, along with realistic control that will be a handful for old-school players.  Rather than changing directions with a simple tilt of the iPhone, you'll have to spin your jet on its side, then tilt the nose to make course corrections.  Unless your name is "Chuck Yeager," expect many flaming deaths while learning the ropes... and even afterward once you're forced to fly through the navigation rings that plot a safe course through enemy territory in the later stages.  Oh, those damnedable rings!


There's one other issue with the game's focus on realism.  Remember how at any given time in Afterburner, the screen was littered with bright explosions and enemy jets so close you could practically see the sneers of the pilots inside them?  Don't expect a lot of that action in H.A.W.X.  Thanks to the magic of heat-seeking missiles, your foes are fair game from two miles away, and dodging their own fire is as simple as tapping the chaff button.  Once you're out of chaff, you either take your lumps or snake through the air in the hopes of shaking the lock-on.  It's more true to life than Afterburner, but like the jets in the game, "realism" and "fun" aren't two vectors that often meet.


Having said that, there are times when that authenticity does have its advantages.  The aircraft in H.A.W.X. is officially licensed, and the missions are set in real-life locations, with advanced mapping technology used to accurately capture the layout of cities like Washington D.C.  The plot, about a military contractor gone rogue, also seems eerily plausible in this age of creeping corporate influence, and is acted out by competent if not Oscar-worthy voice actors.  In short, H.A.W.X. is an all-around well-produced and enjoyable game... just don't expect it to be a user-friendly one.

Disney Mobile

This one’s a real heartbreaker to review, as I’ve been a fan of Tron from the very start and this is one of the most impressive video game adaptations I’ve seen yet.  Well, at least from a purely visual standpoint, anyway.  Whether you’re streaking to the finish line in a light cycle race or picking off targets inside a towering Recognizer, you’re sure to be awestruck by the graphics, which have the same stark beauty as the films.  The world of Tron Legacy is a gray void of craggy cliffs, with only neon-lined vehicles and luminescent blue racetracks piercing the darkness.

However, what you won’t see from the groundbreaking movie and its recent sequel is imagination.  Remember the nail-biting light cycle battles from the Midway arcade game, where you were locked into cardinal directions and your only hope for survival was trapping opponents inside a deadly trail of light?  They've been reduced to predictable kart racing, with the wall behind your cycle taking a backseat to starting line speed boosts and rows of power-ups lining each track.  The Recognizer rides are more exciting, but these on-rails shooting sequences are punishingly difficult, forcing you to not only blast nearly every tank and cannon waiting in each stage, but hit them in rapid succession to earn multipliers and reach the ridiculously high scores earned by your opponents. 

Both games suffer from appalling tilt controls which send you careening into walls during the cycle races and completely defy logic (Boolean and otherwise) in the shooter scenes.  Instead of just tapping the screen to fire at targets, you’ve got to tilt the screen to nudge a stubborn reticule over them, making you feel like your Recognizer lost a leg before you even left the launchpad.  The package has the shiny veneer that just wouldn’t have been possible on the dated Nintendo DS hardware, but like far too many iPhone releases, the actual gameplay seems like it was de-rezzed on arrival.


Ah, colonization!  There's no greater thrill than setting sail for distant lands, plundering their wealth, raping their women, and polluting their culture with your religious dogma!  By the time you've finished your adventure, half the world will curse your name in your native tongue!  Oh wait, this isn't Seven Cities of Gold?  We're talking about the more benign kind of colonization, like the pilgrims in America before they got all uppity and thought they owned the joint?  All righty then.

Actually, exploring the new world is just a flimsy pretext for the game's real objective.  After the dashing young hero hits rocky waters during an expedition and washes ashore on an uncharted island, he'll get a crash course in survival skills from his mentor Roman and the elf-like natives.  Chris learns how to hunt the local wildlife (or monsters, if you will) and turn their remains into food, clothing, and weapons, starting a vicious cycle that ends with him achieving near-godhood at a heavy cost to the island's animal population.

What separates Wild Frontier from a certain Capcom cashcow is its beautifully illustrated overhead perspective, which makes combat brisk and intuitive while bringing back fond memories of Secret of Mana.  Another distinguishing characteristic, although a far less endearing one, is the English translation, which weaves drunkenly between almost acceptable and hilariously indecipherable.  To name just one example, the game describes a steak as giving the player a "stunning effect to every attach at a certain probability."  Can I have mine cooked medium probability?

The lousy localization steepens Wild Frontier's already high learning curve, and the iffy control doesn't do it any favors, either.  You'll frequently look down at your thumb to make sure it's perfectly centered over the D-pad, an annoying distraction that makes the game less engrossing than it could be.  Still, you can sink a lot of time into this one if you're not careful.  Just stay away from the stores that charge real money for items, and try not to hold the king for ransom like you did the last time.  There's a reason the Aztecs were calling you "la suprema douchebag."

Apple iPhone and kin

tech specs
(first gen iPod Touch)


ARM 11






Flash RAM




Power VR MBX Lite


480 x 320


24-bit color





best games

Game Dev Story
Plants vs. Zombies
Street Fighter IV

worst games

Alice's Adventure
Cobra Command
Dark Void Zero
Ghosts 'n Goblins: Gold Knight
Retro Fighter