The touchscreen isn’t the best control interface for every type of game: some things just work better with a control pad. I love dual-stick games, but when there’s no actual “sticks” to speak of it can be hard sometimes to keep your fingers on the controls. However, there’s one thing that a touch screen does better than a control pad or a mouse: drawing lines. There are old games like Flight Control or Harbor Master where you’re basically directing traffic — keep things from running into each other while getting them where they need to go, drawing paths that they follow until you change them. The thing about drawing lines on a touchscreen is that it feels natural, whether you’re using a stylus or your finger, so games that take advantage of that can be a lot of fun to play. Here are a few iOS apps that are worth checking out.
First, a few that I won’t review in detail: a while ago I wrote about Exclusion Zone, which has you drawing missile paths to shoot down aircraft. What makes it interesting is that the aircraft can change directions so you have to predict where they’ll be by the time your missile arrives (a little like Missile Command, now that I think about it). Recently I wrote about Jaws, where you direct the swimmers but draw lines for the rescue boat routes. And, of course, no line-drawing collection would be complete without Crayon Physics, a very cool physics puzzler that lets you draw various shapes and manipulate them.
DrawSomething is one I just discovered, and I’ve been playing the free, ad-supported version. It’s like a two-player Pictionary game — you match up with an opponent via Facebook, email, or just a random partner. When it’s your turn to draw, you’ll get to choose from three words, in increasing difficulty. You make your drawing and hit “done” when you’re ready, and it sends it to your partner to guess. When it’s your turn to guess, the app plays back the drawing in real time, and you get a number of letter tiles to fill in the word. Get it right, and you earn coins based on the difficulty of the word. There are also “bombs” you can use to remove some wrong letters during guessing, or to pick a new set of words before drawing. Also, when the other player has guessed, you can play back your own drawing and watch the other player guess — it’s fun to see the moment when they finally get it. (Or you can skip it to get to the action.)
The app isn’t perfect. It can actually be a pain to get back to the main menu if you’re in the middle of a turn. And playing a random partner can be a bit like Chatroulette: I got one player who decided to just start writing the word on the screen instead of making a drawing, so I quit and found a new partner. You can have many games going simultaneously, and the app can alert you when it’s your turn. But it’s certainly worth the free download to try out, and the paid version will get you some new word sets. (Note to parents: the free version occasionally runs some ads in between rounds, and I’ve seen a few movie trailers for Silent House, an R-rated horror flick. Might want to monitor your kids if you let them play.)
Crazy Escape – $.99 (with optional in-app currency)
Remember Saving Private Sheep? Well, the wolves are still after the sheep, but in Crazy Escape instead of a physics-based game, you’re rescuing the sheep with the help of two penguins driving around in a jeep. Each level has a certain number of sheep to be rescued, and you draw a road with your finger, picking up sheep along the way. You’ll need to watch out for the wolves wandering around, as well as the Leader of the Pack, who follows you along the road you just drew. Some sheep are locked up and you’ll have to get the key first. You maximize your score by picking up stars and using the shortest path possible. Oh, and don’t crash into trees or buildings.
There are 100 levels available, with more and more features as you progress plus another 25 levels you can purchase if you earn enough coins. Some aren’t really hard … until you try to get gold level on them. You can earn coins to buy things like skipping a level or different vehicles, or you can just purchase coins outright. Simpler levels are easy enough that little kids can play them, but later levels can get quite challenging.
Don’t Fry the Frog – free (with optional in-app currency)
Don’t Fry the Frog is a different sort of line-drawing game, and I haven’t seen anything quite like it. When you press in two places on the screen, a zapping line appears between your two fingers. The line will kill anything it touches, flies or the frog. The goal, as stated by the title, is not to fry the frog. But you do want to zap at least some of the flies. The purple-grey flies make the frog bigger when he eats them — too many and he explodes. Fat yellow flies will make the frog explode if he eats a single one. Red flaming flies make the frog move very quickly for a while. But there are also green “healthy” flies that shrink the frog back down, and blue flies which freeze him in place for a while after he eats them.
Your score multiplier builds as you zap more flies but then starts to decrease if you lift your fingers off the screen. So the strategy is to keep both fingers on the screen at all times, lifting only if you simply can’t get around the frog. (Although this is an iPhone app without iPad resolution, I’ve found it’s a lot easier on the iPad at 2x display, with the iPad on the table so I don’t have to support it.) The graphics and animation are pretty rudimentary and I haven’t really been tempted to pony up for the various upgrade bits you can get. But it is pretty challenging, and the changing mini-missions (akin to Jetpack Joyride) add some variety to the gameplay, which is addictive.
Anthill is probably my favorite of this bunch; it’s another one of those apps that made me lose track of time, so be forewarned. It’s a real-time strategy game, and you’re in charge of a colony of ants. You’ve got workers who pick up dead bugs and bring them back to the anthill for food; soldiers who attack any bugs they encounter; spitters who can spit poison from a distance; and bombers who can fly out and strafe the enemy. For the first three types of ants, you have to draw a path from the anthill to the destination. The type of ant you select will travel back and forth on this path, only straying a little bit away if they encounter something. (The bomber will just fly directly from the anthill to whatever spot on the screen you tap, drop a bomb, and then return to the anthill.)
You’ll need to collect food in order to spawn more ants, particularly when a bunch of your own ants have been killed off by enemy bugs. There are a bunch of different levels, each with their own types of terrain and waves of enemies. Keep the enemies from destroying your anthill and you’ll survive the level — but to earn stars, you’ll also need to defeat a lot of enemies and collect a lot of food. Once you’ve gotten stars, you can use them to upgrade your ants (to an extent), buying them other abilities that make them stronger, faster, or more versatile.
The app does allow you to purchase stars for additional money, but as there are a limited number of upgrades, you’ll run out of upgrade opportunities well before you run out of stars to earn. My only complaint was that sometimes when you’re trying to pan the camera on the screen you might end up drawing a line instead: the “sensitive” area around the anthill where it assumes you’re starting a new line is a little too big, in my opinion. But it’s definitely worth the $1.99, though you can check out the freebie version if you’re not sure. The graphics are vivid, and the gameplay is fantastic.