With over 40,000,000 iPhones and iPod touches in circulation and 3GS-inspired price cuts poised to boost sales, it’s no wonder Apple has finally decided to assemble a first-party studio to produce those much-needed system-defining classics. However, Whilst the San Francisco company is busy compiling its development dream team, the existing App Store is being buried alive under sheer weight of gaming content.
With studios comprising of lone bedroom coders (the SDK is free and the right to distribute maxed out at $100 per annum), through to behemoth publishers like EA testing the waters with titles of varying complexity, quality and value – sifting wheat from chaff can become a tricky business. This isn’t helped by the inevitable sales-driven focus on the popular rather than decent content within the confines of App Store’s limited search and browsing functionality.
As a result, our regular roundup of greasy-fingered touch screen classics will undertake a somewhat pragmatic approach to quality. Apps that capture our attention for all the right (or wrong) reasons will shine under the spotlight, along with any interesting examples stumbled upon along the way. For reasons good or bad, these will all be worthy of your extended or fleeting attention:
Utilising a graceful and simple swing interface, iPhone’s first Tiger Woods indicates that EA might have the necessary nous to translate a few more of its venerable sports franchises to the smaller-than-small screen.
Most of the core trappings of Tiger’s big brother are replicated here. Six courses with varying difficulties are present in the form of Pebble Beach, St. Andrews, TPC Sawgrass, The K Club, Doral, Fancourt and TPC Boston, with the 3D engine performing an admirable job mimicking its console brethren with high frame rates and sweeping camera flourishes. Whilst the variety of animation and non-existent crowd has taken a necessary hit for a platform this small, overall Tiger does a fantastic job of keeping the experience authentic – right down to the shockingly bad commentary.
The act of swinging your club is undertaken by dragging your index finger down a shot meter to determine power, then sweeping upwards to determine slice or hook. As simple as it sounds, these mechanics are easily up to the task of providing as much control as a traditional analogue stick and feel satisfyingly nuanced for prolonged play.
If we can get a version with online play in the next few years, Tiger will be a permanent addition to the iPhone roster.
Developer/Publisher: Jason Rohrer
One of the finest examples of minimalist game design, indy developer Jason Rohrer’s Passage also represents an expertly crafted exercise in eliciting emotional response.
Played out in a bizarre 100×16 window with an enforced 5-minute limit, Rohrer tells an abstract tale of life experience and partnership within a roaming landscape. The antiquated resolution and purposefully restricted view ensures that progression takes a very personal route, with adventurous players able to explore and overcome obstacles at the expense of an easy ride with your pixellated bride. There are rewards to be found, but at what price?
The simplicity of the design belies a considerable achievement here, and a simulation that happily mirrored my own life experiences through simple, often unconscious choices. Highly recommended. (The PC version can be found here)
If you ever owned a PC in the late 90s and dabbled in the delights of The Incredible Machine, the chances are you already know what to expect from this Rube Goldberg-inspired nugget of build-em-up gameplay.
Given this is 2009, Fantastic Contraption presents itself in the ever-prevalent 2D comic-book style, complete with playful physics engine and enthusiastic tutorial. The objective (as if you hadn’t guessed), is to build yourself an overly-complex contraption in order to move a small object from one area of the level to another in as seemingly inefficient a manner as possible. Your choice of wheels and pivot points meld with tracks and splints of varying strength and viscosity, and each homebrew attempt at building a batmobile/wheelbarrow/warthog rumbles into life with enough charm to see you through each of the 30 levels.
Although the interface could do with a little refinement and the pop-up instructions gnaw away at your sense of mental equilibrium, this is nevertheless a title worthy of weekend attention. If you can find it on a weekly special, even better.