Archive for the ‘Arcade’ Category

The Apple iPad was designed for the casual consumer in mind with its minimalistic design and easy to use iTunes store.  So it shouldn’t surprise anyone that Sky Gamblers: Air Supremacy by Namco was featured in Apple’s keynote announcing the newest iPad.  From a marketing perspective, SGAS is a sleek, eye grabbing flight sim/arcade combat game that shows off the HD quality of the device while tapping into the casual gamer’s primal need for intensity and excitement.  From an actual gaming perspective, SGAS is a top-notch experience that should grab iPad and iPhone gamers across the board.  The game doesn’t offer anything that gamers haven’t seen before on the platform, but retina-supported graphics, varied content, and hybrid arcade/sim gameplay should incite the gaming masses with a highly immersive experience.

At its core, SGAS has a 10-mission campaign mode complemented by a variety of different game modes: Dogfight, Survival, Free for All, Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, Defend the Base.  There’s also a multiplayer mode allowing for local wifi and online gameplay which allows you to play the following:

Survival—tests skills against waves of enemies

Free for All—battle against up to 7 others

Team Deathmatch—4 on 4 air battle

Capture the Flag—battle for the enemy flag while protecting your own

Defend the Base—destroy enemy facilities while protecting your own

If you’re a novice or really haven’t played flight sims, SGAS has a good tutorial section that covers everything from basic controls and maneuvers to takeoff/landing and squadron commands.

SGAS has a storyline, but honestly, it’s almost non-existent and certainly non-essential for a game of this type.  The game has a good set of controls and customization options—simulator, casual accelerometer, casual control pad, and fixed control pad.  From the option, the simulator control option gives you full control of the aircraft by using roll, pitch and yaw controls.  In general, all the control options with exception of casual control pad are tilt-based meaning steering relies on the device accelerometer.  The tilt controls work fairly well, and you’ll want to adjust your accelerometer sensitivity to suit your preference.  For iPhone gamers, some of the buttons may be a little on the smallish side.

Weapons are displayed as their own set of icons on screen with a count of what’s available, and tapping on them will fire as needed.  A set of flares is also included which can used to divert enemy fire.  In addition, a camera option allows you to choose from a number of views including an inside-the-cockpit view.  Last but not least is the Auto-pilot button which ensures the plane stays level, allows for evasive maneuvers and avoids crashes into objects.  The only hitch is that you won’t be able to fire weapons in this mode.

Graphically speaking, SGAS looks fantastic on both the iPad and the iPad 2, and one can only assume that the HD screen of the iPad HD will only further enhance the visuals.  Currently, the marketing term “console quality” probably isn’t the most accurate for SGAS, but that’s not intended to disparage the great animation that is there.  From the reflection over water to the shadows of aircraft on mountainsides, this is a high-quality production for the platform.  On the other hand, graphics can appear jagged and rough around the edges especially when it comes to buildings and other structures.

The game runs smoothly on early generation devices, although there can be some stuttering and lag when flying through clouds or smoke.  I noticed this on both generations of iPad, but overall, a minor issue in the scheme of things.

The soundtrack has a decidedly Kenny Loggins without-the-lyrics feel to it from the movie Top Gun.  It certainly helps get you pumped for action, but I found it annoying after a few missions.  Fortunately, an option exists to turn off the soundtrack which I recommend.

SGAS’ is what you would expect—intense with a good mix of variety and chaos.  The missions take you through different environments from the desert to the sea with adequate supply of battles taking place over metropolises.  One of things with the game is that it requires a bit of practice and ultimately selecting the right set of controls.  Personally, I use the casual control pad with the accelerometer sensitivity set below the halfway mark.  Accelerometer-based controls tend to come down to personal preference, but I couldn’t imagine a better approach for SGAS.

The battles can be hectic, and SGAS does a good job of creating that immersive experience that can make or break this type of game.  There is a good feeling of speed as you perform maneuvers, and accounting for the high quality graphics and animation, SGAS is a good example of what is possible on the iPad.

Early missions focus on dogfights where you command a squadron that gradually evolves into base defense and the destruction of enemy convoys.  Commanding a squadron is accomplished by tapping a button located within the HUD.  It’s a simplistic approach, but one that allows you to choose from three commands: stay in formation, defend me, and attack.  Also, a radar tracks friendlies and enemies, while guide markers identify checkpoints and point in the direction of other aircraft.

Eventually, missions also involve locating and destroying secret bases and communication towers so there’s a bit of variety.  And, as you destroy enemy targets and complete missions, game points are awarded that will promote you through trainee, combatant and ace ranks.  In addition, additional aircraft (more than 40) are unlocked that you can also for online play.

While the game is marketed as a flight sim, one of things that you’ll notice with SGAS is the arcade-like feel.  Planes are overly flexible in their abilities, and some of the swipe gestures take away from the complete sim experience.  This is not intended to be a slight of SGAS at all, but you’ll notice it if you’ve played other flight sim games

As for the level of difficulty, the missions may be less than challenging for more experienced players.  Each mission has a number of objectives from something as landing at a designated site to destroying specific location sites.  Typically, enemy aircraft are not particularly good about defending sites.  Then there is the occasional occurrence where you can destroy enemy aircraft just as they spawn in view.  Of course, the great thing about SGAS are the chaotic air battles where there are swarms of planes in the air, and avoiding missiles is more reactive than planned.

Where most will get the biggest bang is in the multiplayer mode which I consider one of SGAS’ big strengths.  Playing either a quick game or entering an existing room and regardless of what mode you decide on—Survival, Free for All, Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, Defend the Base—each one offers a unique experience which I found extremely enjoyable.  Skill level is not a requisite so you’ll find gamers of all levels present, and you can choose to use any plane already unlocked.  Playing online, SGAS is terrific because it highlights the varying skill levels of others.  And the explosions help add to the overall feel as you destroy an online participant…yes, there’s no other way to put that.

Completing the missions of course doesn’t automatically guarantee you the highest rank so there is a good amount of replay value to score game points both in mission mode and online.  In addition, SGAS is GameCenter supported with numerous achievements for completing missions to enemy-related milestones.

Sky Gamblers: Air Supremacy is a fantastic flight/arcade sim that delivers a chaotic experience, one that novices and advanced gamers should enjoy.  The content is varied and plentiful and multiplayer online is a blast.  The high-production graphics and animation already pop off the screen on older generation iPads so it should be even better on the iPad HD, although it’s still a small notch below console quality.

Albie Meter: 5 Stars (fantastic graphics/animation for the platform delivers an immersive experience; mission mode tends to easy, but most will get the biggest bang from multiplayer online play; controls work well but mostly tilt based; plenty of content, but turn off the soundtrack; GameCenter support)

Amazing adrenaline rush…those three words sum up Jet Car Stunts, a 3D dimensional racer that combines dexterity, brains, and most definitely risk taking. If racing were the only selling point, then Jet Car Stunts would just be another in a long line of games in the category. However, Jet Car Stunts stands out because of the breathtaking tracks that both inspire and frustrate would be drivers. Simply put, Jet Car Stunts delivers a thrill ride that will have you coming back for more.

Often tracks in racing games are the typical twists and turns we’ve come to expect. Jet Car Stunts takes it a new level, or actually altitude, creating a Lego Land full of nooks and crannies high above in the sky. From gravity-defying blocks to ominous-looking hoops with the clouds and sun as your backdrop, this is one game that looks as good as it plays. Visually, the game does a good job with the details. From horrible skid marks to the devastation from head-on collisions, Jet Car Stunts is quite the visual achievement.

The game has two game modes: Platforming and Time Trial. Platforming provides 25 stages categorized into 5 levels of difficulty: Just Learning, Easy, Intermediate, Hard and Impossible. Just Learning provides basic tracks that must be completed before unlocking the Easy level, and each subsequent level of difficulty must be completed before unlocking the next. With each completed track, a gold, silver or bronze medal is awarded based on time. There is a catch—each track has a limited number of retry opportunities, and using up those retries without reaching the finish line means no medal and no unlocking of the next track.

Time Trial consists of 11 stages divided into Easy, Intermediate and Hard levels of difficulty where the objective is to complete a set number of laps with a time to beat. Again, each level of difficulty must be completed before the next level is unlocked. A handy timer above monitors the time to beat to receive a gold, silver or bronze medal.

Upon a selecting a level, the game provides an aerial overview of the track for which you’ll want to pay attention to because there are no mini-maps or radars for guidance during the race. Every twist, turn, and jump is brilliantly illustrated with a handy fast forward button, and a replay is provided upon finishing a race, although these replays can’t be saved.

Both modes keep track of retries and times to beat so you can always go back and revisit unlocked tracks to improve on times and medal rankings. In addition to global scoreboards, Jet Car Stunts has an achievement system accessible via OpenFeint where recognition is provided for completing levels, medal rankings, and even for stunts.

The controls in Jet Car Stunts are some of the best and most natural in the category. The game offers 4 different control layouts so players should be able to find one that suits them. Accelerometer-based for steering, the buttons focus on 4 areas: acceleration, rocket boost, brakes/reverse and air brakes/gliding. Easily, these are some of the most responsive controls you’ll find, but as is typical with games, it will come down to how well you master them if you’re to succeed. Aside from that, tilt sensitivity, flip screen, and music/sound options are available. One of the notable omissions is a tutorial which means you’re on your own, although it’s not incredibly difficult to figure out.

Jet Car Stunts may lure you in with its looks, but this racer is not for the faint of heart and definitely not for those who have short tempers. The game is not a joyride in the park. On the challenge meter, this is probably one of the most unforgiving racing experiences I’ve had in a long time. However, driving these visually amazing tracks delivers quite the gaming punch.

Heavily physics-based, Jet Car Stunts requires the prudent and skillful use of your controls where using the right amount of rocket boost to make jumps is just as important as tapping the air brakes to guide and steer through the air. Managing rocket fuel is a core part of the game since it is limited in supply—Kyle Petty have mercy on you if you run out before completing the last jump. For example, when making long jumps between two platforms, easing up on the rocket boost is ideal to prevent overshooting the next platform and going over the side. This also applies to jumping through hoops where using the airbrakes to steer through them combined with the right amount of rocket boost is often the difference between success and failure.

Each track has a checkpoint so if your racer meets an untimely demise, it will start at the last checkpoint rather than at the beginning of the track. Intentional or not, Jet Car Stunts does have a hitch when it comes to checkpoints. Flying over a checkpoint rather than driving through it does not count so using the rocket boost appropriately is important especially on tracks where the checkpoint is located near the edge of a platform.

Another component in this game is the use of stunts where a variety of flips, tumbles and barrel rolls can be performed. While the not the easiest to perform, these require a combination of air brakes, rocket boost and steering best applied when you’ve managed a certain comfort level with the tracks.

The game relies on trial and error as much as racing prowess which should appeal to even the pick-up-and-play casual gamer. Having said that, Jet Car Stunts could use some tweaking in the difficulty department since it ratchets up quickly even in the Just Learning level where tracks become pretty complex. While some may find the difficulty off putting especially with the lack of different camera angles and in-race mini-map, the tracks do get easier with practice as is typical with this type of game. Additional tracks and even vehicles with different attributes would only strengthen what is already a complete racer.

Overall, Jet Car Stunts is an octane-filled thrill ride a minute that should exceed expectations even for the greenest racers among us. With innovative visuals and tracks that even the large development houses would envy, Jet Car Stunts is bound to be a palm sweating classic for those who dare give it a spin.

Albie Meter: 5 Stars (one of the best looking racers of its kind complemented by responsive controls; visually, a game that shows off as well as it plays; innovative track designs with replay value; difficulty level needs some tweaking since it ratchets up quickly; lack of tutorial and camera angles)

Finding a good arcade fight game on the iPhone/iPod Touch platform has been tough for the simple reason that there hasn’t been one. Don’t get me wrong, there are several good boxing games, but there are times when only a good cut’em up epic sword fight will do. Gameloft’s Blades of Fury is a 3D fantasy arcade fighter that I think mostly satisfies that urge. If you’re looking for a strong storyline or even some depth, then this doesn’t have it. But, if you have a hankering for a visually commanding game that offers a fair share of fight moves, then Blades of Fury fits the bill.

Normally, I would provide a summary of the storyline, but honestly, it’s inconsequential in the scheme of the game. The reality is that Gameloft could’ve saved the money on the incoherent storyline which I suspect interns developed, and used it for better voiceovers which are also pretty poor. On the other hand, I could be wrong, and the game was intentionally made to have a cheesy feel to it especially with the overdramatic intro “Battle Fight” narration. Aside the fact that the game doesn’t save progress during battles, Gameloft does provide an otherwise well-developed, visually eye catching game with some of the best virtual controls available.

Visually, the graphics and animation are stunning even though they do appear rough around the edges. From the characters to the battle arenas, the visuals easily fall into the upper echelon of the iTunes store. Blades of Fury has 10 characters—6 of which are unlocked to start—that can be selected for battle. These characters each have different attributes, weapons, and may I add attire (namely Elwyn and Enimia) that should appeal to the testerone-driven, male target audience. Some even appear in different costumes as you progress through the stages.

Battle Characters:
Arthur
Elwyn
Skurd
Skorn
Machiavel
Magnus
Danling
Faust
Enimia
Diablo

In addition, Blades of Fury also has 10 battle arenas that are vividly illustrated and have different characteristics that can alter a battle.
Babylon
Penglai
Underground
Castle
Forest
Dragon’s Back
Cathedral
Cemetery
Palace
Inner Sanctum

Blades of Fury has 4 game modes that offer a good variety of play. As I mentioned, the Story Mode follows a story line that can easily be omitted.
Story Mode—takes you through 10 battles with a story line
Arcade Mode—battles without a story with points awarded for each victory
Survival Mode—one off battles with a variety of enemies
Practice Mode—play as a specific character and battle and choose a specific arena

In these modes, there is a good degree of customization where you can set battles all the way up to the best of 5, set the time for each battle up to 99 seconds.

The control options come in a variety of flavors—d-pad or virtual joystick for directional moves and buttons or swipe motions for attacks. You can’t go wrong with either control set because they are all equally responsive. In addition, your character has leaping abilities and the power of magic. One thing to note is that each character and opponent has a red health bar and a blue magic bar. The blue magic bar gauges the amount of magic power available, depleting when invoking magic and slowly regenerating during battles. The magic button can be tapped and combined with specific attack moves that intensify the damage, and when held longer, can inflict an indefensible move that in some cases can take out an opponent.

Where Blades of Fury does offer a good deal of depth is in the 20 attack moves that are categorized as horizontal, vertical and magic and then subcategorized as high, mid and low attacks in addition to blocking abilities. These are done by a combination of directional moves and action motions or taps. These attack moves include the basic horizontal and double slashes, but there are also some visually eye-popping moves such as the chariot crush, Trojan slash, and my personal favorite, the power spike. You can also dodge attacks, roll away or into attack moves, as well as retreating when needed, and I have to hand it to Gameloft for making the moves all feel relatively natural. Besides the Practice mode, Blades of Fury also has a nice tutorial that provides a walk-through of all the controls and various attack modes which are not difficult to learn and master.

The gameplay itself is pretty solid and can be intense when it comes to the battles, and there’s even a replay function so you can save your favorite battles. Each battle begins with some dialogue where the two combatants insult each other with some second-rate banter. You won’t miss much by skipping through it. Depending on the combination of attack moves, your character can jump, trip, hack and slash, and get pummeled a fair amount. The AI tends to be very intelligent in hard mode and less so in easy mode, with a good variety of attack and defensive moves including dodging when necessary. The requisite screaming and displays of power are well incorporated throughout, although the standard voiceover that sounds after a battle is repetitive and annoying enough to skip. Keep in mind that opponents have magic as well which will usually send you flying helplessly into the air as they drain your health bar. In the hard mode, opponents are ruthless and tend to take the offensive in proactive attacks. An ideal strategy early on is to attack low combined with a sliding move to take the opponent on the ground, which then allows for a more directed approach.

As you progress through the various modes using specific characters, different types of armor are unlocked and achievement points and trophies are awarded. For example, successfully completing the 10 levels in story mode will unlock a new set of armor, while completing arcade mode with a single character will be rewarded with additional points. Also, additional characters are unlocked as you progress. This is another area where Gameloft doesn’t do a particularly good job of showing what points do and how they’re awarded. Basic statistics such as characters used most frequently as well as points in Story and Arcade mode are included, but not much else. Blades of Fury is one dimensional in that it is strictly a fight game, and if you’re not into this genre, then I doubt the game will convert you even with its snazzy graphics.

While not perfect, Blades of Fury is an impressive arcade fighter that is a solid game for those interested in this genre. With highly responsive controls and a fair amount of attack and defensive moves, Blades of Fury should be another winner from Gameloft.

Albie Meter: 4.5 Stars (entertaining arcade fighter that should appeal to those already interested in the genre; a good amount of attack and defensive moves with controls that feel natural; lack of save function can be annoying)

Something that has made the iTunes store so accessible has been the lower pricing model for quality games. Of course, with dozens of new releases each week, scouring through them to find entertaining games can be a chore. On the flip side, a week with multiple big releases often times can drown out other games that deserve attention. Take the case of Mr. Driller which that sat on my iPod Touch 2g for two days before I spent some quality time with it. It didn’t take long for me to become addicted to the easy to learn, yet tremendously fun gameplay and made me wish I had reviewed this much sooner.

Aptly described in its name, Mr. Driller is a driller who must drill deep down to clear blocks until he reaches his target depth. Of course, there are hazards that come with drilling such as the slowly depleting air supply and dare we forget instability and falling blocks from all the drilling. Similar to Match-3 games, blocks come in a number of different colors that disappear when same colored blocks combine, potentially creating chain reactions and scoring bonus points.

Visually, the graphics and artwork are set within an appealing interface with vibrant colors and equally interesting backgrounds that are visible when blocks are cleared. On the other hand, since the game is played in a landscape view, a good portion of the real estate is used for controls and HUD which limits the size of the actual game screen. All in all, it’s a slick design that is well presented.

One of things that I enjoy with these types of games is how simple they seem in concept, but the actual play is quite random combining skill with a bit luck which adds to the replay value. With four difficulty levels ranging from easy to expert, Mr. Driller offers three game modes—Arcade, Survival and Time Trial. No matter your tastes, all three modes are enjoyable. Arcade provides you with the goal of drilling to either 500m or 1000m, while Survival challenges you to dig as deep as you can before running out of lives or air. Both offer an oxygen gauge that is partially replenished by collecting air power ups and depleted when drilling into obstacles. With a slightly different gameplay, Time Trial offers 10 levels that pit Mr. Driller in a race against the clock with time added for clock power ups that are picked up along the way.

Mr. Driller includes three control options: d-pad, swipe and accelerometer. Of the three, d-pad works the best for me because of its responsiveness and accuracy, while the swipe and accelerometer options can be difficult to use in a fast-paced game. In addition, you can change the number of extra lives earned up to 5 as well as choose from a dozen different music tracks that can range from Hello Kitty perky all the way to varying degrees of edgy.

The gameplay requires a certain degree of quick thinking which is really where the fun lies because of falling blocks and a constantly depleting oxygen gauge. Loose blocks shake for a brief few seconds to give you a warning, but it’s also ample time in some cases to pick up life-saving oxygen and time-prolonging clocks. As I mentioned drilling into obstacles depletes oxygen, but you’ll also need to wary of getting trapping between obstacles in the midst of showering blocks. Climbing to adjacent blocks is simple, and as I said previously, the d-pad seems to be the best control option. Trying to swipe or tilt accurately with falling blocks can be done, but it takes a little more patience and practice to master. In addition, because the game relies on skill and luck, the replay value is significant even if you adopt a similar strategy each time.

Overall, Mr. Driller delivers a lot of bang for your buck with addictive gameplay in a beautifully designed game. The game has plenty of replay value, and while it’s designed to be a pick-up-and-play, I wouldn’t be surprised if many find themselves spending more time on this than expected.

Albie Meter: 4 Stars (entertaining gameplay that will find many wasting more minutes than they expected; fun looking interface with bright colors and several gameplay modes should appeal to puzzlers, arcade gamers, and anyone looking for a solid game)

Blood and gore have been relatively sticky subjects when it comes to the iTunes store, and honestly, Apple’s earlier policy of changing red blood into green met with mixed results. With Samurai: Way of the Warrior, I have to thank the Apple reviewers for leaving this game in all of its gory glory (say that fast 5 times). This game is simply one of the best intelligent hack-and-slash games to date when it comes to originality and pure entertainment value.

The game has a storyline that is well incorporated throughout presented in comic book style cut scenes that honestly conveys a strong sense of adventure and bloodletting. That may sound strange, but you won’t be shortchanged when it comes to hacking and slashing. You control the fate of Daisuke Shimada, the wandering samurai as he ventures through the countryside dealing with the villainous Lord Hattoro and his two henchmen Kumo and Orochi. Of course, they have a significant army to carry out their misdeeds, and let’s just say that Daisuke doesn’t take too kindly to village bullies.

Hack and slash is the name of the game, and you’ll be doing plenty of that. Samurai has two game modes: Story and Dojo. Story mode consists of 7 chapters and variety of different enemies presented like a short novel or Japanese DVD. Dojo mode is a survival mode where Daisuke battles fellow hack and slashers in a ring for as long as possible.

The art style is among the best you’ll come across in a game of this nature. The 3D textures and graphics really pop as you explore the different environments with a definite Japanese feel. Combined with the melodic Japanese soundtrack, and this game exudes the charm of the Far East.

To move Daisuke, tap on a specific location, and he will move there with full 360 degree movement. The game also uses swipe controls to initiate specific sword maneuvers, and after playing this, I couldn’t imagine this game without swipe controls. If any game is suited to swipe controls, Samurai is the perfect candidate. Through specific swipe motions, any one of 9 Samurai sword skills with names such ass Blood Bath, Cloud Cutting, Burning Blade, and Half Moon are initiated. Others are unlocked based on progress through the chapters, and the visuals are something to watch. The sword movements are quite different, inflict different levels of damage, and can be used in unison for combo attacks which inflict maximum damage.

Speaking of damage, what Samurai does best is illustrate that damage. Literally, enemies are sliced and diced into pieces, and if you’re good enough, beheadings are in your future as well. And the blood splatter both in the environments and across your device screen is artfully done. On top of that, the bodies remain where they are and don’t disappear as in other games. People who are sensitive to blood may want to play this on an empty stomach.

The game is played in portrait mode which plays fine, but a landscape option would be a nice addition. The gameplay starts off relatively easy as you hone your skills. Daisuke’s healthbar is replenished as he defeats enemies and unlocks gates. Each chapter involves several locked gates that can only be unlocked once all the enemies are cleared from that area. The intelligent part of the game is that you’re not simply presented with enemies to attack and defend against. In most cases, you have to walk around and search them out before you can unlock gates. Enemies become more skilled and more evasive as you progress through the chapters, and the ability to use combos will be essential to survival. A nice touch is that as enemies are wounded, blood appears, although this also happens to Daisuke. A good strategy is to be on the offensive whenever possible and stay away from gang fights. Venturing around the different environments is an added bonus because you won’t know where you’ll wind up.

Dojo Mode is worth discussing because it’s really a completely different game from the story chapters. In some ways, it’s similar to Jean-Claude Van Dame in Lionheart where he fights different opponents in a makeshift ring. A slight hitch for Daisuke is that his healthbar doesn’t replenish until he defeats the boss which occurs at every 4 stages. Again, sliced up opponents remain in the ring until the stage is cleared, and the boss fights are brutally tough.

Samurai: Way of the Warrior has to be one of the surprises in the iTunes store this year. It’s a terrifically well-designed, visually appealing game that I think will catch many off guard. This is one game I’ll look forward to seeing future updates.

Albie Meter: 4.5 Stars (classy gory hack and slash that has a strong story and gameplay; controls are spot on and the visuals are top notch)

Check out my review at http://toucharcade.com/2009/09/02/samurai-way-of-the-warrior-an-iphone-hack-and-slasher/

Marble popping games are one of the few categories that inherently work best on a mobile device which explains the seeming onslaught of such titles. With its Egyptian theme and Middle Eastern soundtrack, Luxor was a game I played growing on my old Mac Performa, and seeing it released on the iPhone/iPod Touch platform, I was naturally feeling a little jazzed about it. The game plays just like I remember, which for the most part means this is a great game. But at the same time, it also feels pretty dated compared to today’s games such as Stoneloops! and Atlantis Sky Patrol which add extra game compelling elements. If you’re looking for nostalgia or online play within a polished and well-presented game that has stood the test of time, Luxor will be right up your alley.

The storyline is that the Egyptian goddess Isis needs your help to battle the god Set who is intent on destroying Egypt. Of course, the task involves balls rolling down the track, and shooting colored balls to create matches in order to clear them from the board. The game has 88 levels that take you through various Ancient Egyptian cities. Progress is tracked on a larger map, and you cannot go back to previously completed level. Graphically, the game presents tracks in various layouts with a notable Egyptian montage along with a melodic Middle Eastern soundtrack. The vibrantly colored balls roll smoothly along the tracks and the animation looks great.

A winged shooter is located at the bottom of the screen with three control options: aim and tap to shoot, aim and release to shoot, and tilt and tap. The intuitive controls work smoothly and the animation is lag free on my iPod Touch 2g 3.0. The game also has a variety of mystical ball power ups such as kaleidoscope, fireballs, lightning ray and reverser among others. Ankh coins and gems are randomly dropped via matches that you can be collected with the shooter for points. By collecting 30 coins, an additional life is earned.

One of the great things about Luxor are the feats which are achievements for meeting certain milestones such as completing levels without a life, matching large chains of balls, creating chain reactions, and catching bonuses through various levels. It provides a good degree, although they tend to be relatively easy to achieve. As with any marble shooter, the game becomes more difficult with the addition of more different colored balls, and creating matching chains and combos will earn more points.

As I mentioned, the track layouts become more elaborate which is really where the fun begins. The early stages are simple and straightforward but later tracks are more windy and layered on top of each other. This is where lies part of the dilemma for me because in general, the gameplay can be repetitious. That may sound strange for this type of game, but there really aren’t any additional elements (e.g. mini-puzzles or additional objectives) other than clearing balls.

While the gameplay requires a certain amount of quick thinking to match and clear balls and collect coins for additional lives, that pretty much sums up the entire game. What Luxor does, it does well, but when you look at Stoneloops! and Atlantis Sky Patrol, there are other elements that add to the gameplay whether it’s building out a house or destroying engines to stop the flow of balls. This becomes a valid point when reviewing this game in terms of gameplay, which can become monotonous.

Having said that, Luxor is definitely a polished and solid game, and if you enjoy puzzlers and Match-3s, then it’s a must have. If you grew up playing Luxor and want to relive the nostalgia, then it’s a must have. However, when it comes to variety in gameplay and offering different objectives, I’m not so enamored with Luxor that I’ll overlook other available titles that offer a bit more.

Albie Meter: 4 Stars (polished game delivers fun gameplay for straight marble popping; gameplay can be simple and repetitious for some, and the game could use additional elements)

What do you get when you combine Flash Gordon with Zuma? You get a creatively designed game where the fate of the world is in your hands. That’s at the heart of Atlantis Sky Patrol where the task involves destroying doomsday devices. While similar to other marble-popping games such as Zuma and Stoneloops!, Atlantis Sky Patrol brings its own style and flair along with a unique twist to the category that should make it a standout in its right.

Atlantis Sky Patrol has 111 levels, a.k.a. doomsday devices, each represented on a world map. Presented in an art deco style, the game is an understated work of art, and easily one of the more polished games available. From the occasional newspaper front page headlines and menu designs to the sound effects and music track, the devs spent a fair amount of time beautifying this game. With brightly colored balls and elaborately designed tracks, your mission is to diffuse and prevent doomsday devices planted around the world from detonating. The core of that task involves maneuvering a ship to shoot and match 3 or more of the same color balls to neutralize chains of balls from reaching and powering these devices.

Now if it were only that simple, I wouldn’t be writing about this game. Atlantis Sky Patrol has an added twist: the doomsday device’s reactor engine. Each device has a reactor engine that continuously powers the release of balls, and until that reactor engine is destroyed, the wave of balls will continue. The reactor engine consists of stationary sets of colored balls strategically placed within the game field. Rather than match-3, these only require one-to-one matches of identical colored balls to take each out each. Keep in mind, that waves of balls are still in play which can interfere with your shooting abilities, and it will force you to make critical decisions between matching the waves of balls or taking out the engine which isn’t as obvious as it sounds.

The ship which appears at the bottom of the screen is controlled by touch and moved side to side with a visual of the next ball appearing on its hull. Shaking the device switches to the next ball, although I personally don’t like shaking my device for any reason. A workaround is to shoot the ball off into an empty space and move on.

Atlantis Sky Patrol also incorporates additional elements that complement the gameplay namely the ship upgrade system. As matching balls are cleared, random power ups and coins appear that can be collected by the ship. These temporary power ups include fireballs, slow speed, reversal, and wild card balls among others designed to help your ship along. More permanent power ups can be purchased with the coins collected during the game. The game has a straight forward system where you have the option to purchase four power ups, each upgradeable 5 times.

Speed—faster shooting
Bonus Magnet—attract bonuses
Rewinder—rewind ball direction
Disrupter—delays the release of new waves

The gameplay requires a certain amount of quick thinking since the objective is not only clear the tracks of balls, but also to destroy the engines from preventing additional waves. Fortunately, a laser beam guide is available to help with guiding shots, and while the first 20 levels are relatively at least for me, the tracks become ever more elaborate as do the reactor engine layouts. Obviously, the strategy is to take out the engines as soon as possible which in early stages can make for some quick games. Every few levels, a bonus round involves shooting balls without hitting mines to earn additional coins. It’s not the most difficult mini-game, but it does help to break up the monotony.

While I think the art deco style is done well, the font can be difficult to read, and I’m not too keen on shaking my device. Gauging the level of difficulty for any game is very subjective. So, advanced players may find the game relatively easy, although I think the different elements provide a nice twist to a game that has high production values.

All in all, Atlantis Sky Patrol is solid arcade game for those enjoying Match 3s that incorporates a good deal of twists and turns. It’s not everyday you get to dismantle doomsday devices by popping a few balls.

Albie Meter: 4.5 Stars (polished game that has enough differences to appeal to the Zuma crowd; one of the better bangs for your buck with a ton of levels and variety)