In case you got some iTunes gift cards for the holidays and you’re looking for some more apps to spend them on, here’s a couple ideas. This Core Dump is another mix: puzzle games, action games, board games, and one app that’s a mix of several genres at once!
Blockwick – free (with in-app add-ons)
One of the best sliding-block puzzles I’ve played on iOS is Aqueduct by the Kieffer Bros. (Haven’t heard of it? Read my review here — and note that there are a few new puzzle collections that have been added since then.) Well, they’ve got a new one to puzzle over: Blockwick. The base game is actually free, so it won’t help you make use of your gift cards, but there are some in-app purchases for more puzzle packs (which you’ll want). The controls are simple: slide the blocks around with your finger. You can’t rotate them, so you’ll just have to figure out where they fit. To pass a level, you need to have all of each color’s blocks in a contiguous group. There are also dark blocks that are just obstacles to shift out of the way, grey obstacles that can’t be moved, and some dimmed blocks that won’t move until you get a matching colored one to touch them.
On each level there’s also a pearl to find on each level, hidden somewhere underneath one of the blocks. You get the first 60 puzzles for free, which ramp up from easy-peasy to hair-pulling. When they first sent me the code to check it out, I fired up the app just to see what it was like, and was just about late picking up my daughter from preschool. So, yeah, don’t make any plans.
Judge Dredd vs. Zombies – free for the holidays (usually $.99 plus optional add-ons)
Who’s got two thumbs and a big gun? This zombie-killing app. Okay, I don’t really know much about Judge Dredd, except that in Judge Dredd vs Zombies he gets to take down zombies. Lots of zombies. You start with your choice of a pistol or shotgun, and as you pass levels you’ll collect credits to upgrade your weapons and unlock new ones. It’s a pretty simple control scheme: joystick on the left, fire and reload on the right. Judge Dredd automatically targets the closest zombie, but you can also choose specific targets by tapping on them (which can get a little trickier on an iPad since you’ll have to lift your thumb for a while as you do that).
This one’s not for little kids — it’s pretty gruesome, with lots of green blood and slow-mo zoom-ins on exploding zombies. It can get a little repetitive at times, when you’re trying to beat your last score to get some more credits. (You only get money for getting a higher level of stars.) If you’re impatient and you’ve got the dough, you can just buy your way up the ladder with in-app purchases, but it’s not required. I’ve been blasting away and it’s pretty fun, with lots of little quips from Judge Dredd and the PA system as you play.
Mighty Fin – $.99
Two thumbs too much for you? Here’s one that just requires one. I missed Mighty Fin when it first came around, but I was given a code after the holiday-themed update. It’s in the genre of single-tap running games like Jetpack Joyride but with its own charm. Fin is a little goldfish, swimming through dangerous waters and collecting bubbles. Left alone, Fin will bob right along the water level, but if you press the screen he’ll dive — the longer you hold it the deeper he dives. Let go, and he shoots back up, jumping out of the water briefly. It takes a little getting used to, knowing how much to tap so he’s diving and jumping the right amounts at the right times, because there are tons of obstacles along the way, too.
Mighty Fin has some really great artwork in it and the death screens are really funny: you can be eaten by “enigmatic jellyfish” or crash into a “futuristic pink thing.” There’s some peppy music to go along with the action, and you can earn tons of new costumes to dress up Fin, from hats and wigs to bizarre vehicles to the yellow jumpsuit from “Enter the Dragon.” The levels are randomly generated, though with some patterns that you can learn; each level has a regular version of limited length, plus an endless “zen” mode and a “survival” mode which speeds up as you go. It’s not a really deep game (no pun intended) but it’s lots of fun for the casual gamer.
Batman: Arkham City Lockdown $5.99, plus optional in-app add-ons
Batman Arkham City Lockdown is sort of a mini-version of the Batman: Arkham City game — it’s actually a prequel. Instead of the sandbox exploration of the PS3 and Xbox version, this is more of an on-rails story, like Infinity Blade. (Like Infinity Blade, it also uses the Unreal engine.) In each level, you face off with three or four enemies, one at a time, and fight using swipes and taps. As you complete levels, you’ll earn Wayne Points which can be spent to make Batman faster, stronger, or more powerful, or to purchase and upgrade gadgets like the electric gauntlets or smoke clouds. There are currently four bosses that you’ll encounter: Two-Face, Solomon Grundy, Deathstroke, and the Joker, along with the piles and piles of interchangeable henchmen.
The game is pretty cool, though even a bit more repetitive than Infinity Blade, and you may find yourself getting a little bored with using the same moves over and over again. Solomon Grundy, for instance, has a particular pattern to his attacks, so once you’ve learned it he’s not difficult at all — but it takes a long time to wear down his health. One fun feature is the various Batsuits available: you can choose from the Animated Series, 1970s Batman, and a few others (for a buck each). The suits have slightly different stats, but it’s also fun to play as Batman in a different outfit — if only the bad guys were also changed to match.
Overall, it’s a game that looks pretty impressive (and has a really dark grittiness that makes it inappropriate for younger players) and is fun to play for a while, but needs some more variety. Infinity Blade at least had a lot more combos and a much larger level — this particular Arkham City feels kind of small.
Ascension: Return of the Fallen – $2.99 (requires original game)
The deck-building game Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer now has the first expansion available as an in-app purchase. While I hadn’t played the Return of the Fallen expansion outside of the app version, I though the expansion was easy to learn. You can actually choose to play just with the RotF cards in a two-player game, or throw all of them together for up to four players — AI, pass-and-play, or over the internet using Game Center. The new cards add several with immediate effects: as soon as they show up in the center row, they might banish cards next to them in the center row, or allow you to immediately put a Mystic on top of your deck, or perhaps draw a card. The monsters, heroes, and constructs are also different, with various other powers and effects.
One other feature has been added in a recent update to the base game: online games now have a timer, which can be set from 10 minutes to 14 days. (You can’t simply turn it off.) This gives each player a limited amount of time to make their moves. The timer tracks your entire game except for when you’re waiting for your opponent to play. If time runs out, you forfeit the game. It does help games progress, but in some cases if both you and your opponent are okay with playing really long-term games (as I often do with Carcassonne) then you’ll end up with forfeits.
I do wish they had some sort of chat option, since I’ve mostly been playing with friends instead of strangers, and I have to resort to Twitter or something else when I want to talk about the game. Overall, it’s still not my favorite deck-building game, but it’s the only one on the iPad so far and the implementation is mostly well-done.
Dedaloop – $.99 (iPad only)
Here’s another board game adaptation: Dedaloop is an iPad version of the classic Amazing Labyrinth board game. As with the physical game, the board is made up of a series of tiles. Three of the rows and three of the columns can be shifted — on each turn you take the extra tile and shift one of the rows or columns by one space. Then, you can move your pawn to any spot connected by the path. Your goal is to collect 6 specific treasures, and then return to your starting location. The app lets you play against computer opponents or against other players in a pass-and-play format. You tap your character icon (during your turn) to briefly glimpse the treasure you’re currently seeking.
Dedaloop gives you two “skins” for the game, steampunk or pirates. Overall the artwork isn’t fantastic (and the steampunk one is particularly busy). The interface is okay, but not terrific. I wish when the computer moved that you could actually see the path they take — instead, it just moves their pawn as the crow flies, straight to the destination. Still, for a cheap, portable version of Amazing Labyrinth, it does the job, and you don’t have to spend all that time putting all the tiles on the board and shuffling the cards. (Then again, maybe you prefer that.)
The Show Must Go On – $1.99 (with additional in-app purchases)
Now here’s a theme that you don’t see in a lot of games: stage managing an opera. In The Show Must Go On, you play a hapless stage manager dealing with all sorts of production problems: the sheet music has gone missing, the actors need costuming, the props need to be organized, and so on. There are five different mini-games that must be completed for each opera or ballet, all with different types of controls. One has you turning spotlights on and off while actors dance across the stage — light them perfectly and you’ll get a little more power. Run out, and they’re in the dark. Another is a Canabalt-style run across the rooftops, collecting pages of sheet music that have blown away.
You only get one attempt at each of the five games, and then, as they say, the show must go on! Whether you’ve got all the costumes or props or sets prepared, you’re treated to a little miniature performance — and the quality of the performance depends on all the pieces that you’ve put together. Currently there are four shows: The Marriage of Figaro, Swan Lake, Carmen, and the Nutcracker. You can also purchase the Score Attack mode for each mini-game, which presents more challenging gameplay and lets you play just one mini-game rather than doing all five at a time.
The game is by Hide & Seek, who did the Boardgame Remix Kit, in partnership with EMI Classics and the Royal Opera House. You and your kids probably won’t learn much about opera by playing the game, which has a focus on fun rather than education, but they’ll be exposed to some of the music and themes, and perhaps it’ll spark some curiosity about the stage. The Show Must Go On is quite cute and it’s pretty funny to watch the little performances, particularly when you’ve failed spectacularly at one or more of the games.
Terra Noctis – $2.99 (universal app)
Allen has a problem. He’s a nightmare, but he’s not very scary. Of course, with a name like Allen, that’s not so surprising, is it? Terra Noctis is a platformer in which you control Allen as he travels through the realm of nightmares. His ultimate goal is to track down some mythical scary beast, kill it and eat its heart (or something like that), which will finally make him scary. Yeah, it’s kinda creepy. The game is pretty cute, though I should warn you that there is some swearing in the cut-scenes, so you may want to watch some of those before you pass it off to your kids. That, and the whole killing and eating the Big Bad Monster stuff.
As far as the game goes, the controls are pretty simple: your left thumb makes Allen go left and right, and the right thumb lets him jump and duck. You can also throw projectiles by pushing anywhere other than the four arrow buttons, and then aiming and letting go to fire. Although the look is quite different, the gameplay is a bit Mario-esque: jump on most enemies to kill them, bop bricks from underneath to break them, don’t fall into pits. But you’re also collecting little fairies which serve as coins to buy upgrades and unlock new worlds, and there are some other secret things to collect in each level.
The graphics are pretty cute, although some of the purple-and-green enemies are sometimes hard to spot against the purple-and-green backgrounds. Also, you can tell that the text has been translated into English because some of it is just a little weird. Then again, that just makes it feel even more like playing an old Nintendo game. There are four worlds, with nine levels each, which gives you a lot to explore. If you can get past the poor grammar and weird Pumpkin Girl who runs the shop, it’s a pretty nice app.
Disclosure: GeekDad received promo codes for the games reviewed in this article.