Archive for the ‘Sports’ Category

EA should be commended for its efforts to bring full-fledged sports games such as Madden 10 and FIFA 10 to the iPhone/iPod Touch platform. While they haven’t been perfect, they certainly have elevated the playing field for competitors. The latest addition is targeted at the basketball aficionados with NBA Live, which of the EA sports offerings to date, is probably the best of the bunch with balanced AI, easy-to-use controls, and most importantly, engaging gameplay. Those looking for a console-quality experience should stick to your PC, PSP or XBox. Others looking for a high-quality basketball game on the platform should strongly consider NBA Live.

NBA Live has all 30 NBA teams and their player rosters with photos and statistics are at your disposal. NBA Live has several play modes—Exhibition, Season and Playoff. Exhibition mode allows you to play a quick single game using your favorite team. Season mode takes you through a choice of 12, 20, 41 or 82-game season tracking season statistics and standings leading to the playoffs. Playoff mode gives you the option to play a single, 3, 5 or 7-game playoff series. Each mode provides numerous customization options such as quarter length from 1-12 minutes each, but two areas worth noting are penalty enforcement (easy, medium, hard), and most importantly, 3 levels of gameplay difficulty (Rookie, Veteran, All-Star).

The AI can become significantly challenging based on how you set the penalty enforcement and gameplay difficulty. Shot clock violations, out of bounds, reach-in fouls and shooting are enforced. By changing penalty enforcement to medium or hard, additional penalties are leveled. With medium, fouling out and goal tending are included, while hard adds backcourt violations, charging and 8-second violations.

The graphics and animation are solid for the device with minimal lag on my iPod Touch 2g. The different stadiums and arenas are well represented, although the players can look Lego-like. Running up and down the court with multiple simultaneous animations, NBA Live doesn’t experience much stutter, although a device restart upon installation would be ideal before starting play. The game includes optional commentary from Marv Albert, which frankly aren’t bad. Like many games, they are repetitive, but generally fit with the current game situation. In addition, 15 music tracks from artists like Matt and Kim, Snoop Dogg and Xzibit are played except during an in-game session, although playing your own music is allowed. Other options are choice of camera angles (broadcast and baseline), left/right flip controls, and horizontal or vertical button layouts.

NBA Live’s two-button control set-up may appear limiting, but it does make the game intuitively easier and more responsive than say FIFA 10. NBA Live uses a virtual control stick for maneuvering players up and down the court along with a pair of blue and red buttons. Tapping on the virtual joystick speeds up the player, and it works well. These action buttons can be used to do various activities whether your team is on offense or defense. On offense, the blue button is used for passing and the red button to shoot. Depending on how long you hold a button, other options appear. For example, holding down the blue button will bring up icons for other players each identified by risk for making a pass. Tapping a player icon will deliver the pass. Green means a player is open, while red signifies a well-covered player. And, flicking the blue button will also bring up juke and crossover moves.

The red button has a bit of functionality in it depending on how you flick and tap. While tapping will create a pump fake, touching and flicking while driving to the basket will result in a dunk. Depending on the direction you flick, different dunks are unleashed.

On defense, the blue button is used to select which defender to control, while the red button is used to activate blocking and rebounding. Holding down the blue button allows you to cycle through the players to select which to control, while the red button can be used to steal and reach in.

Foul shots use the accelerometer. In free throwing shooting situation, a shooting gauge appears in the lower right corner where the accelerometer is used to line up the shot to the hoop. Once that is done, tilting the device back will set the player to shoot, and tilting forward will shoot the ball. The mechanism is a bit of a novelty, and I found making free throws relatively easy.

Offense
Blue Button—for passing; holding brings up icons for other players each identified by risk for making a pass (green—open, yellow—risky, red—well defended); flicking activates juke moves

Red Button—touch and hold to shoot; releasing at the peak of the jump increases chances for completing the shot; tap to pump fake

Dunk—charge the basket and hold the red button
Different dunks—touch the red button and flick in various directions to unleash different dunks

Foul shots—shot meter can be tilted to line up free throws; tilt the device back to prepare for the shot; tilt forward to shoot

Defense
Blue Button—touch when a player is near the ball; tap the blue button to switch to the closest defender; hold to manual switch players

Red Button—tap to attempt a block or to rebound

One of the nice features is the ability to call plays. The Clipboard icon in the top right is used to select plays on offense and defense. For example, you can select zone or a 4-1 offensive play set as well as specific plays such as a pick and roll or set up for a 3-pointer. On defense, a limited set of play sets are available such as man to man, and various zone set ups.

Offensive Play Sets
3-Out, 2-In—general purpose offense play
4-Out, 1-In—good for teams with good outside shooters
Zone-2—plays to counter zone defenses
1-3-1—simple offense with good high- and low-post presence

Other Select Plays
Pick and Roll
Isolation
Three Pointer
4-3

Defensive Play Sets
Man to Man
1-3-1 Zone
3-2 Zone
2-3 Zone

Team management is probably one of the weak spots for NBA Live. Trading and customizing rosters is done by dragging and dropping player names and profiles between select teams. Like Madden 10, there are no roster limitations based on salaries, although teams are required to have certain position players, which tends to make team management shallow and less than fulfilling. Literally, you can create your own dream team without too many restrictions. Signing free agents is also allowed, and there is a set of available players available for signing. As mentioned, statistics and player profiles are available so you can look for the best perimeter shooter in the market if that’s your desire. Another nice touch is the addition of Legend Players such as Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, and Dr. J, which are unlocked based on your progress through the season.

The gameplay is as good as you would expect with NBA Live, and a lot of this goes back to the controls and AI. While some may disagree, the simplified control set up consisting of a virtual joystick and two action buttons make this game accessible to a broader audience. NBA Live incorporates the rules of the game including a 24-second shot clock and fouls. For example, when fouled behind the 3-point line, I get 3 foul shots as if it should be. And, when a great play is made such as a down your throat dunk, the replay function kicks in. This is a good feature that allows you to view the play in all its glory, although there is no replay record and save. In terms of camera angles, broadcast tends to provide the best view, while baseline provides a close-up and arcing view that may be disorienting for some, although it shows off the game nicely.

The AI works smoothly and ratchets up nicely playing an intelligent offensive and defensive game so NBA Live is not game where you can play through the game half heartedly. In fact, on defense, getting caught without moving players back on time will generally result in a quick basket by the opponent. And don’t expect to make outrageously crazy shots from half court. The gameplay is quite immersive so making substitutions and calling timeshots are important aspects to remember if you’re to win. Playing defense does require quick thinking since the ball will move around a good deal requiring you to rotate through players. And, the AI will pick-and-roll you into the ground if you don’t set the right defense. On offense, if you play the game with penalties set on easy, driving to the basket and dunking makes the game tremendously simple and repetitious. Switching to medium or hard will ratchet up the difficulty since charges are called and foul outs more common.

Beyond the lack of a franchise mode and shallow team management, the gameplay tends to fall on the arcade side of things which may be an issue for some. This goes hand in hand with the graphics which while perfectly fine, are on the blocky side.

NBA Liveis not a perfect game, but it does deliver a fun and immersive basketball game. Whether playing a quick game or a more prolonged season mode, the game is a solid offering and provides a good degree customization without too many complex controls. For the overly easy AI in Madden 10 and the high learning curve of FIFA 10, NBA Live seems to be right in the middle balancing the right degree of challenge within a manageable environment.

Albie Meter: 4.5 Stars (intuitive and natural controls should appeal to novices and advanced players alike; balanced AI and good degree of customization; incorporates the rules of the game; decent graphics and a nice touch with the replays; team management tends to be on the shallow side)

Check out my review at http://toucharcade.com/2009/10/26/nba-live-shoots-and-scores/

Advertisements

Gameloft is one of those developers who have made a name for themselves over the years for being creative, and they’ve become one of the most notable on the iPhone/iPod Touch platform. But, when it comes to sports titles, the name Gameloft is equivalent to disappointingly bittersweet. Case in point is Derek Jeter Real Baseball (DJRB), a game that offers some decent play for the national pastime, but falters in so many other ways. Seriously, I really wanted to like this game because of the better than expected graphics and fun gameplay, but the lack of polish spells doom. And, ultimately, the enjoyment value with DJRB dissolves into sighs of frustration.

Even though Derek Jeter has his name on this game, no major league teams or players are included presumably due to licensing issues. But Gameloft does get creative by using name variations of real teams such as the San Francisco Punks, Arizona Reptiles, Atlanta Peaches, and my favorite, Queens Miracles. Can anyone say NY Mets?

From hitting to batting, DJRB does offer decent gameplay with good controls, but it’s everything else that makes this a mediocre title which is too bad. Visually speaking, DJRB has good graphics from the hitting and pitching motions to the running and fielding. They aren’t mind blowing, but frankly, I was surprised since pre-release videos were deceptively unimpressive. Cut scenes are even included that show cheering teammates and fans as well as player substitutions (pinch hitters and pitching changes) which is well done and much more than expected.

Audiowise, DJRB is a mixed bag. The sound effects are intelligently integrated with umpire ball and strike calls and rally music at appropriate times. What isn’t good and makes me wonder if DJRB was run through QA is the commentary. It is terrible with misplaced phrases and worse, consistently calling out the wrong scores. Fortunately, the commentary can be turned off which many will do so rather quickly.

DJRB offers several game modes: Season, Playoffs, Home Run Contest. Conceptually, each mode is well designed, with Home Run Contest not faring well. In a full game set-up, you can choose from 4 levels of difficulty—Rookie, Veteran, All-Star, Legend—with the ability to select the number of innings from 1 to the full 9 innings. The game also has two stadiums—Gameloft and Aurora—which isn’t a major league big deal. Now, DJRB also includes a Trophy Room which I took to assume was for milestones and achievements. Unfortunately, the only “trophy” to be had is for “Hitter of the Year” for best batting average in season mode.

In Season and Playoffs, DJRB includes a team management section that allows you to change the lineup and pitcher, and play or simulate games. In Season, you can play up to a 56-game schedule with the game tracking schedules and statistics including batting and pitching leaders. The reality is that the tracking is more cosmetic than functional. Case in point, batting statistics appear for a player as he steps into the batter’s box. The problem is that regardless of the number of games played whether it’s game 1 or 56, season stats remain the same deeming it pointless, although a separate statistics section stores everything.

The controls in DJRB are a bit dicey, and they could use additional tweaks to improve the experience. When batting, two control options are available—touch or slide. Using touch, you simply tap to swing and touch the screen and hold to bunt. For slide, a slide gauge appears where you slide a lever down to get ready, slide up to swing, and bunt by sliding across the screen. Of the two, touch is the easier of the two although there are bouts of unresponsiveness. One shortcoming for both control schemes is there is no way to target your swing, and you cannot re-position the player in the batter’s box.

The art of pitching in DJRB is one of the more enjoyable experiences I’ve had in a baseball game. A 4-way pad is provided showing 4 pitches. Once a pitch is selected, you have 3 seconds to tilt the device to move the ball into the desired location before it is locked in. Once this is done, two gauges appear—one for strength and another for accuracy. A moving arrow moves up and down, and a tap is required to stop it. For the strength gauge, the objective is to stop it at the right strength, although I noticed that maximizing this usually worked fine. Accuracy requires stopping the arrow right in the blue area which takes a bit of practice. As the pitcher loses stamina, the arrow moves even faster. I do question whether using the accelerometer and the lack of other options for locating a pitch within a limited time is ideal because of accuracy issues and personal preferences.

A mini diamond is included in the game which is core to making accurate throws on defense and base running on offense. On defense, a throw can be made by tapping on the appropriate base. On offense, tapping on a base will send a runner to that spot with stealing done the same way. This is an intuitive set-up that works fairly well, and doesn’t have much of a learning curve. A replay function is also included and simply requires tapping the record button to record and save with a separate button for uploading onto YouTube.

Having said all this, the gameplay for the most part is not bad, although there are things that will almost certainly irritate baseball purists. The gameplay can be fun at least initially, but DJRB needs serious adjustments before it becomes a formidable baseball title. Since the players in DJRB autofield, there’s really no need to worry about errors, which unfortunately takes away the unexpected. Outside of being able to hit batters, there is no running into the catcher, dropped fly balls or even errant throws. Every fielder can throw a beeline on one hop to an infielder regardless of how deep they are, and on too many occasions, the right fielder can field what is supposed to be a single and gun down the runner at first almost on a regular basis. Hitting doubles and triples are doable, but again, every fielder seems to have unrealistic rifle arms. One noticeable issue with hitting is that you can often swing while the ball is only a third of the way to the plate, and manage a hit. This is especially the case when playing the Home Run Contest where hitting homeruns is exceedingly easy. On the pitching front, opposing starting pitchers can throw 100 mph fastballs well into the 9th inning, which just isn’t right. While the game has 4 levels of difficulty, the AI and overall gameplay did not significantly ratchet up.

While some will undoubtedly throw DJRB in the same category as Gamevil’s Baseball Superstars, Baseball Superstars is really more of an RPG that happens to have a baseball theme. Gameloft’s DJRB is more of an attempt at creating an actual baseball sim that unfortunately feels rushed and unfinished. The game has potential, but it falls apart because of poor execution. Some, including myself, will find the game enjoyable for a short while, but the lack of polish is too apparent. If Derek Jeter had any say in the game’s development, he should probably stick to playing baseball.

Albie Meter: 2.5 Stars (game has potential, but still far from meeting it; gameplay are graphics are decent, but everything else needs tweaking or an overhaul; poor commentary, mediocre AI, and questionable statistics management; mechanics are good, but even they need updating)

FIFA franchise carries a 16-year history of creating a sim-like soccer experience on various console and computer systems. This, of course, has led to somewhat lofty expectations for the iPhone/iPod Touch version which is a bit of a mixed bag.

FIFA 10 has a ton of content consisting of 30 leagues, 570 teams and 12,620 players as well as 20 tournaments. While some may take issue with specific team omissions, let’s not forget the depth of content that is included. FIFA offers 4 levels of difficulty: Amateur, Semi-Pro, Professional, and World Class, and 5 modes of play: Tournament, Manager, Penalty, Training and Be A Pro. There is also a local Wi-Fi mode in which you can play against your friends.

Tournament mode allows you to play in any of 20 tournaments and is where most will spend their time. The presentation of the different groupings and post-games scores are well designed and part of the enjoyment is the simplicity in which you can easily scroll through the results of the daily matches. Manager mode allows you to manage your own team and provides a set of season objectives that must be met to succeed and continue to the next season. These can be as straightforward as securing a winning to season to more difficult objectives such as winning the finals. Be A Pro is a rather interesting mode where you guide a player through a full career. You can either use an existing player from the 12,000+ included in the game or create your own. When creating your own, you can customize player attributes including speed, shooting and tackling among others as well as play a specific position (e.g. goal keeper, defender, etc.). Finally, Penalty mode pits your team against others in penalty shooting contests, where success will lead to additional contests.

FIFA 10 also provides plenty of customization options depending on the mode of play including minutes in a half, camera angles, HUD layouts, weather conditions, time of day, commentary on/off and more. The replays system and camera angles are among the best you’ll find on the iPhone. Replays can be viewed from multiple angles, zoomed in/out, and played at various speeds.

FIFA 10 is billed as a visual extravaganza amongst soccer games, but the reality is that it could be better. While it does deliver decently designed stadiums and lush playing fields, the players themselves lack any basic facial characteristics, which is disappointing. Often, I find that the commentary audio used in sports games don’t match up well with the gameplay, but, fortunately for FIFA fans, the commentary in FIFA 10 is relatively good and some of the more accurate you’ll hear. The actual sound quality of the announcers, however, seems particularly muddled, presumably due to excess data compression to reduce the game’s size.

The biggest hurdle for many, however, will be the controls found in FIFA 10, especially compared to the other App Store offerings. Moving the player can be done by either a virtual d-pad or the accelerometer. Unlike Real Soccer 10 and X2 Football, however, the control pad is fixed in place rather than floating. As a result, there is the frustrating tendency for your thumb to slide off the edge of the screen especially during sprints. Meanwhile, even with sensitivity tweaks, the accelerometer’s accuracy left much to be desired.

In addition, two key action buttons—A and B (a C button is also provided when using accelerometer controls)—are provided. Through a combination of taps of these buttons, specific commands are carried out. The basic offense commands are relatively simple for passing (A), shooting (B), and sprinting (C when using accelerometer controls). However, when attempting other commands such as lobbing or attempting a 1-2 pass, the learning curve can be quite high. For example, a lobbed through ball requires sliding from B to A to B, while a 1-2 pass involves sliding from A to B to A. Even crossing a ball isn’t as easy as it sounds.

On defense, tapping on the B button will switch control from player to player, or you can simply tap on a specific player. Again, specific actions such as tackling and slide tackles require a certain combination of taps. A to B for slide tackles and while a standing tackle only involves tapping A. I understand that EA is attempting to provide a variety of moves, and the controls overall are solid after overcoming the learning curve. But at the same time, they don’t feel as accurate as they could be, especially compared to other App Store soccer games.

Once you overcome the controls, the gameplay itself is rather enjoyable with a balanced AI. Even on the Amateur setting, FIFA 10 can be challenging. The game does an admirable job creating an immersive experience from the better than average commentary to the intense gameplay. Like most soccer games, teammates can sometimes react poorly, but seems to be less of a problem with FIFA 10. Depending on your success, you also unlock rewards that provide additional training, home stadium upgrades, and even unlock an additional teams. These all contribute to a well-balanced game.

FIFA 10 is not perfect by any means, although it does offer a good deal of depth and is well-balanced in AI gameplay, with mostly top-notch graphics. EA has delivered a well-presented and well-packaged soccer experience in FIFA 10, but then again, it’s up to you to figure out all the intricacies.

Albie Meter: 4 Stars (solid when it comes to depth with well-balanced gameplay and an immersive experience; however, controls are not as intuitive and less accurate with a learning curve, and graphics and audio could be better)

Check out my review at http://toucharcade.com/2009/10/02/eas-fifa-10-a-solid-but-imperfect-soccer-experience/

Super K.O. Boxing 2 is a knock out

Posted: October 1, 2009 in Sports

Glu Mobile has thrown its hat in the ring as one of those developers you need to keep an eye on with its latest release Super K.O. Boxing 2, a terrific new game that is as intense as it is fun. With its vibrantly colored cartoon animations, Super K.O. Boxing 2 delivers heavy hitting gameplay that many have been waiting for.

The objective is to win the title belt, but don’t let the cartoon visuals fool you. This is both an exercise in entertainment and futility as you take on 12 unique and in some eccentric boxers on your climb up the heavyweight ladder. As the K.O. Kid, you’ll need to conquer and win your way through each of the 3 circuits. Win every bout in a circuit to earn a belt and unlock the next circuit to take on a new cast of characters.

Super K.O. Boxing 2 has 3 modes play: Circuit is the story mode where you face the most fearsome and crazy boxers on your way to the world title. Versus mode consists of fights with previously defeated boxers. Unlocked after winning your first circuit, Challenge mode presents specific objectives for winning a bout. One small issue is that the instructions are lacking. While they provide a good overview of punches, they are still very basic.

Circuit is essentially where you will spend most of your time, and you’ll need to show progress here before the other modes are unlocked. Each fight lasts 3 rounds each 3 minutes in length. Aside from the funny physical appearance of the boxers, each has unique attributes and powers that make them formidable opponents.

15 Cent
El Bulli
Dynamo
Chief
Executioner
Pharo
Sake Bomb
Shogun
Voo Dude
Big Gip
Ka-Rak UBones
Grogul

For example, 15 Cent is a bling-wearing, high strung boxer who can disorient you with his smile, while Chief (his name for K.O. Kid is One Who Lay On Canvas) will counterpunch you relentlessly every time you take a swing. Don’t get me started on cowboy hat-wearing Big Gip…they don’t call him Gip for nothing. I can’t overstate the humor in Super K.O. Boxing 2. From the strange poses and dances of opponents to the funny text dialogue exchanged between opponents in between rounds, Glu Mobile has done a solid job.

While the humor and visuals are done well, none of this would mean anything with poor controls. Fortunately, Super K.O. Boxing 2 not only gets this right but includes 4 different control options—Touch Pad, Touch Regions, Touch Pad with Tilt, Touch Regions with Tilt—each of which are responsive and easy to use.

Using the touch pad, throwing punches consists of tapping dual buttons to throw left/right punches. Touching specific parts on your opponent using touch regions for example on the head will throw a punch at their head. One small hitch with touch regions is that your finger will block part of the screen which can hinder the ability to block and dodge punches in some cases.

The different types of punches that can be thrown are nicely incorporated so it becomes second nature for the player. Body shots, upper cuts and combinations are all possible in this game and require timing and practice. Most notably, hooks can be thrown through a combination of dodging and swinging at an opponent’s head.

In addition, you have other weapons at your fingertips. Part of your task will be avoid and dodge punches. The more you’re able to dodge punches and land your own will charge up your Super Punch Energy. This is tracked in the bottom right corner, and once fully charged, you can throw a Mega Punch that will floor your opponent if landed properly. Of course, you don’t need to wait until it’s full charged to use it…it just won’t be as strong. Both you and your opponent have the ability taunt each other, and this will also build up Super Punch Energy. Of course, you’re more vulnerability in the middle of a taunt.

During gameplay, fighters will show signs of dizziness (e.g. floating stars), and this become an opportune time to land Dizzying Combos. This is where body shots and upper cuts inflict more damage. And, if enough punches hit their target, K.O. Kid becomes Lightning KO with the power to pulverize opponents, putting them down for the count.

The gameplay is fast paced and intense, and the AI is well balanced. Both K.O. Kid and the opponent have health gauges that recharge slightly after a knockdown. The initial fights with Big Gip and 15 Cent are relatively easy, but they ratchet up significantly since opposing boxers are adept at dodging, blocking and more importantly, going on the offensive. Challenge mode is even more difficult since you’ll be limited in what you can do within a short period of time. For example, one challenge involves knocking out an opponent in one round without using Dizzying Combos and avoids being hit even once to win. The game can also be frustrating because often after you’ve knocked down an opponent, they get up with a fully charged health gauge. This is where you will either persevere or get pummeled. For whatever reason, a pop-up dialogue box appears multiple times, which is a momentum killer.

All in all, Super K.O. Boxing 2 combines great cartoon visuals with some intense gameplay. I would say that the attitude and personality the devs infused into the game shine though. This is one of those games that delivers the thrill of victory with the agony of defeat all in one well-designed package.

Albie Meter: 4.5 Stars (recommended for action gamers looking to relieve those stressful moments; intense gameplay and strong controls with a good mix of opponents; game does not have difficulty settings; well-balanced AI starts out easy but gradually becomes more challenging)

Check out my review at http://toucharcade.com/2009/10/01/super-ko-boxing-2-is-a-knock-out/

The game of bowling has been around since Ancient Egypt with the video games of the sport probably around as long as that or so it seems with all the iterations through the decades. On the iPhone/iPod Touch platform, more than a handful of bowling games exist, and unfortunately most of them aren’t very good. Sure, a few good arcade-type games (e.g. Midnight Bowling and Downhill Bowling) are out there, but a solid sim bowling game has been non-existent…until now. Brunswick Pro Bowling is a straight-up bowling game combining high-quality 3D graphics with well done ball and pin physics. While it could use additional bells and whistles, Brunswick Pro Bowling delivers a relatively true bowling experience.

First things first…Brunswick Pro Bowling is all about bowling and creating a more or less realistic simulation of the game. So you don’t have theme music, outlandish crowd noise (unless you score well and only at the end), and crazy looking opponents. What you do have is a rather immersive experience with realistic ball spin and hooks and pin physics coupled with the sounds of live bowling as balls make impact with pins.

The 3D graphics are top notch so much so that you can watch the spin of a ball as it speeds down the alley towards the pins. The pins themselves react as they should when a ball makes contact. For the most part, the alleys look like alleys, with the only visual exception being in the surrounding design. In addition to auto save, the game automatically reverts between landscape and portrait modes depending on how the device is held.

Brunswick Pro Bowling offers two game modes: Quick Play and Customize. Quick Play randomly selects a player, lane and ball. Customize is more involved where you can choose everything from the player and his throwing arm to ball type and arena. In addition, there are two player modes: single player and multiplayer. Multiplayer involves play with up to 4 AI (amateur, league and pro levels of difficulty) or humans via hot seat players. It’s unfortunate that there is currently no online multiplayer since this is well suited for it. Otherwise, the AI is well balanced, and I would suggest you play at the league and pro levels for some challenge.

The game offers a good degree of customization where you can select from 8 different players each with different characteristics in terms of strength, accuracy and hook, as well as whether they are left or right-handed In terms of arenas, there are 5 to choose from, although 2 are locked to start—Joe’s Alley, Houston, Dublin, Tokyo and Honolulu. Tokyo is unlocked when you score 150 or get a turkey (score 3 strikes in a row), while you need to score 200 or get a 6 pack (score 6 strikes in a row) to unlock Honolulu.

As for balls, there are 10 balls each with unique features based on hook potential, breakpoint shape, flare potential, and RG Average. 4 balls are locked until certain scoring challenges have been met (e.g. score 225 to unlock Wild Ride ball). These balls have names such as Avalanche Slide, Atomic Bomb, Python, Rattler, and the aforementioned Wild Ride to name a few. In any game, you can play with and switch between 3 different balls.

The physics in the game begin with the controls. The process of throwing the ball begins with lining up your bowling position. This is done through directional arrows which you can drag left or right. An aiming line allows you to aim the direction of the throw. One additional element to note is the oil patterns which impact lane conditions affecting ball direction. Each lane has a unique pattern that changes during the course of a game that impacts ball rotation and spin.

The game offers two throwing options: Touch and Motion. The touch control is done fairly well and very accurate from my time with it, allowing you to put a degree of spin on the ball. As is typical with most video games on the platform, you simply swipe upward to throw a ball—the faster the swipe, the stronger the throw. Where Brunswick Pro Bowling goes a step further is in the ability to put spin on the ball. To put spin into a ball, you swipe in a curved motion in the appropriate direction. This works like a charm, and it does take a bit of practice to get just the right spin to throw strikes consistently. Whether you throw straight or with a spin, you’ll be able to watch and see the movement as it rolls down the lane.

The Motion control is not something I would recommend especially if you have butter fingers. Literally, you hold your device in your hand with your thumb on the screen. As you swing your device and move your arm left or right to create spin, releasing your thumb will throw the ball down the lane. The controls work pretty well after overcoming a slight learning curve, although I would be wary about doing this too often.

The gameplay really does set Brunswick Pro Bowling apart from the arcade-style games. The single player games are ideal for practicing spin on the ball, and you may want to experiment with both right- and left-handed play for some extra challenge. Because of oil patterns and lane conditions, ball movement changes so you’ll need to alter your throw motion ever so slightly. The multiplayer competitions are actually pretty fun, but the AI is pretty basic on the amateur setting.

The local scoring keeps track of the top 10 best games, although a career mode would be welcome. Unfortunately, there also isn’t a replay option to record for example, your success to secure a spare from a split. In addition to a career mode, the game could use a more elaborate achievement system recognizing milestones such as strikes and spares, opponents defeated, and winning in certain bowling alleys.

Overall, Brunswick Pro Bowling offers a solid bowling experience on the platform with top notch graphics, realistic ball spin and pin physics, and entertaining single and multiplayer gameplay. While it lacks a few bells and whistles, the replay value is obvious for fans of bowling.

Albie Meter: 4 Stars (solid sim bowling experience with relatively easy-to-use controls; lacks online multiplayer and career modes; single and local multiplayer modes are done well and should appeal to bowling and sports fans)

Gameloft is one of the best known developers for the iTunes store making a variety of different games from sports games to platformers. One of the early sports games was Real Soccer/Football 2009 which was probably among the elite games at the time of its release. Its standalone update to that game Real Soccer/Football 2010 finally made its appearance in the U.S. market. After having spent some time with it, the game is a mixed bag delivering significantly improved controls and a better AI, but with unimpressive graphics and lag-prone online play.

Visually, the graphics seem blockier than those found in Real Soccer 2009. For an updated game, I was expecting to see significantly improved graphics or at least something comparable to X2 Football, a competing soccer game. The different stadiums and opening game graphics are the typical high quality you would expect from Gameloft, but the player graphics seem a notch below that. In addition, the menu layouts are a bit clunky to click through and feel dated.

Licensed by FIFA, Real Soccer/Football 2010 includes 245 teams and 14 stadiums. The game consists of two primary play modes: Exhibition and Game Modes. Exhibition offers a quick single game, while Game Modes presents 7 different game formats. These game formats include a season mode, league play, cup play, training and penalty kicks, and Legend. Here’s a brief description of each:

Season Club—manage a team for an entire season with league, cup and champion events
RS League—online league with 178 teams where points are collected
League—choice of play in 8 leagues each with 20 teams and separate schedules
Cup—Championship cup play for 6 different cups (e.g. Asian, American, European)
Training—practice skills such as passing, kicking and defense
Enter the Legend—create a player customizing physical attributes and skills and run him through a simulated season to see how they progress
Penalty Kicks—practice the skill of practice kicks
Rewards—achievement system tracking individual, national and cup play

The game also has a Team Editor for making changes to formations, line ups, renaming and transferring players. This was pretty straightforward, although the menu layouts again are more complicated than they need to be. In general, the team management funcationality worked well, although selections require scrolling through the lists vs. simply tapping a selection.

Most play time will focus on the league, club and cup play. The game offers 5 levels of difficulty: junior, amateur, intermediate, professional, and legends. You also have the ability to modify the duration of play from 5 to 20 minutes, choose from 12 different ball types, and strangely, whether or not you want to auto save games. In Exhibition play, you can select day or night play, as well as the type of weather (e.g. sun, rain, snow). Whatever you decide, replays can be viewed in various speeds and saved.

The game offers a selection of techno pop music tracks which you will either enjoy or find irritating…there won’t be any in between. Real Soccer/Football 2010 also has commentary which is hit or miss. The play calling was generic and in some cases, rather terse for supposed live sports commentary. However, one nice touch is that the commentator will say player names when appropriate.

The control scheme consists of either a floating virtual joystick or a fixed d-pad, both of which come with dual A/B action buttons. I found the floating virtual joystick worked well especially since it appeared wherever you touched on the left side of the screen. One shortcoming is that there isn’t a left/right invert option so the joystick and d-pad are permanently set on the left side of the screen.

While the joystick and d-pad control movement, a player sprint function is also available. Using the joystick, sprint is activated by dragging the stick as far as possible in the desired direction. With the d-pad, sprint is activated by tapping the pad twice or by shaking the device. For the most part, the sprint worked as advertised, and again, I prefer the floating joystick to the fixed d-pad.

The A/B action buttons have different functions on offense and defense, but passing and shooting on offense and sliding and tacking on defense are intuitive to use. In general, the floating joystick control scheme is noticeably improved from Real Soccer 2009.

The gameplay in Real Soccer/Football 2010 is decent and the AI is improved from the previous version. An identifying yellow ring with a directional pointer surrounds the player that you control both on offense and defense. The ring changes to an alternating red and yellow ring when a player is sprinting. I still noticed teammates running away from opponents on occasion, which was an issue in the previous release so that frustration is still there to a certain degree. Fortunately, you can switch control from player to player by tapping on the appropriate player. In addition, substitutions can be freely made throughout the game by both sides. As for online play, I managed to play a game which started off relatively smooth, and then gradually lagged to point where my game was disconnected.

Overall, gameplay was relatively straightforward, but doesn’t quite deliver a satisfying experience. Whether it’s the music, crowd noise, or the game commentary, the game just doesn’t convey the excitement or even intensity you’d expect. Frankly, the immersive experience was actually better in its predecessor. Real Soccer/Football 2010 is a solid game for what it is. If you have Real Soccer 2009 or better yet X2 Football, you may want to stick with those for the time being. If you’re looking for a new soccer game, then Real Soccer/Football 2010 may be right up your alley.

Albie Meter: 3.5 Stars (improved controls is offset by decent yet underwhelming gameplay; missing the immersive experience of its predecessor; improved AI, but teammates still need some brains)

EA has taken a fair share of knocks since the iTunes store opened for making games that aren’t optimized for the iPhone/iPod Touch platform. Whether or not the criticism has been deserved, one thing is for certain: Madden 10 is the best football experience you can have on the platform. However, the game has enough quirks that prevent it from being the best game that it possibly could be.

Madden 10 has two game modes: quick game and season mode. Quick game is for those times when you have a football itch to scratch, and Tinactin just won’t do. But Season Mode is really where the fun begins especially with the team management capabilities. Because Madden 10 has all of the NFL players and their stats, teams and even stadiums, the team management component allows you trade and alter your roster according to your preferences. For whatever reason, EA adopted a one-size-fits-all approach because it does not offer a difficulty setting which is arguably an oversight.

The animations and graphics are what you’d expect for the platform with a nice variation on the different player body types. In other words, they don’t look like carbon copies of the same 350-pound lineman. Having said that, even with the smooth animation on my iPod Touch 2g 3.0, most will notice that the animations jagged. They look borderline strange as does the animation tied to tackling, but they’re more than adequate and on par with Gameloft’s NFL 2010. The surrounding stadium environments are visually appealing, and a camera button also provides different views of the playing field. The menus have that typical polish you’d expect from EA and aside from that, the game auto-saves game progress and allows playing your own music.

Speaking of music, the game also offers in-game John Madden commentary which is about average since there are a lot of repetitive phrases. The color commentary in general is nicely done, but unfortunately, the in-game music tracks can be downright irritating…maybe I’m just not into all that peppiness.

No matter the genre or category, controls make or break games. You can have a visually great looking game with a ton of content all easily ruined by poor or difficult to use controls. Fortunately, Madden 10 incorporates responsive controls along with some nice additional touches that set the game apart from the competition. The core controls consist of a virtual joystick scheme for maneuvering along with a set of action buttons on the opposite side that control passing, kicking, and run direction for example.

Similar to NFL 2010, when passing, colored icons appear over receivers indicating their status for the pass, and intuitively tapping an icon will pass the ball to that player. However, and this is where ease of use comes in, Madden 10’s controls are much easier to handle than NFL 2010 at least based on my experience. NFL 2010 has arguably more of a learning curve and can be frustrating initially, while the controls in Madden 10 are designed more for the pick-up-and-play crowd. One innovative addition is the Action Control Time button which literally slows the game down to half speed. It’s a nifty option that comes in handy on offense so you can spot open receivers and on defense for planning tackles or interceptions.

While my initial thinking was that this simplified the game by slowing it down, I view it as more of a new element, something I call precision tactics. Why? The playbook and the 300 plays it contains and significantly more than NFL 2010. If it were simply a huge amount of different pre-set plays, Madden 10 would be worthwhile. But, the game takes advantage of the touch screen by allowing you to easily and smoothly draw routes, aka Hot Routes on a play so you can change draw up your own plays. Using Action Control Time, I found I could experiment more freely to see if my strategic mind was up to snuff. One small nitpick is that you can’t save plays you’re drawn up which is a bummer, but you can’t have everything.

The kick controls are also easy to use and accomplished through a meter down the right side of the screen. You simply draw down to set the power and flick up to kick, and accuracy is determined by the angle of the flick.

Gameplay is only as good as the AI, although this is always subjective based on individual skill levels. One of things that I’m a bit disappointed with is the lack of a play clock which I’m sure purists will find to be a glaring omission. Part of the allure of the game is the pressure of calling and implementing a play. To keep things fair, I would strong suggest you lay off the Action Control Time as much as possible. Playing offense, defenders seem pretty aggressive and close in on receivers quickly. Defense on the other hand, can be tougher because defense is inherently about anticipation with AI receivers and running backs jetting in all directions. The controls are responsive enough that you can do what you intend, although the results will still be based on your ability to anticipate. One shortcoming is that the game doesn’t have multiplayer functionality at the current time, although this would be ideal.

Overall, Madden 10 has better playability than NFL 2010 in terms of controls, the depth of the playbook and the full NFL rosters. Caveats aside, Madden 10’s use of Hot Routes and Action Control Time are innovative, and the gameplay make it the best relative football experience you can get on the platform.

Albie Meter: 4.5 Stars (recommended for football fans who want depth and playability and for those who don’t have Madden 10 on PSP; innovative touches such as the Action Control Time and Hot Routes need to be balanced with the lack of difficulty settings, no play clock, quirky commentary)