iPhone Round-up II

Welcome to our second round-up of games from the iPhone App Store.

Spore Origins

Will Wright’s epic life simulator that lets players to create their own creature and take them all the way from an amoeba in the primordial soup to galactic space-faring civilisation was possibly a bit too ambitious for a mobile phone.

Spore Origins focuses only on the simplest stage, swimming a primitive little blob through the ooze of a tidal pool with the goal of ultimately evolving enough to be able to crawl out onto the land. The gameplay is as simplistic as the creature you’re controlling, and works in much the same way as games like Feeding Frenzy, as in you must eat things smaller than you, and avoid those larger than you.

The game is controlled with the iPhone’s accelerometer, and tilting in the direction that you wish to swim works extremely well, with the player being able to control the speed accurately, and quick changes of direction being easily executed.

As well as giving you health and increasing your size, eating other creatures fills your DNA bar, which will enable you to proceed to the next level once filled. Of course, as you grow bigger you’re able to prey on those creatures that you once had to flee from, and the hunter becomes the hunted!

The Creature Creator was undoubtedly the most talked-about part of Spore on the PC, and that aspect is present here, albeit in a hugely more limited form. You can use the touch-screen to pinch and stretch your creature, but it’ll still end up looking like a condom full of dough whatever you do.

The more interesting customisation feature is the fact that as well as the huge range of colours and patterns for your creatures’ exterior, you can also use any photo stored on your iPhone, including photos saved from the internet, to skin your creation. If you have no suitable photo, there’s even an option to take a photo right then and there to use. This has almost infinite possibilities for creativity and mischief. More tame options that I tried included the underside of an Octopus, which gave the creature a very slimy realistic feel, and a tiled photo of a PC keyboard, which somehow managed to look like stripy camouflage.

Every three levels or so, you’ll get an Evolution point, which allows you to add another part to your cute little organism. These come in four categories – Perception, Offensive, Defensive and Movement. These probes, eyes, antennae, fins and spikes can be placed in any number, on any part of your creature, but with only twelve parts most creatures will end up looking roughly the same.

There is one super-part in each category, which can be activated by tapping the screen and can include an electric zap, a defensive shell or a quick burst of speed. The troubles comes when you have more than one super-part equipped and cannot choose which one is activated…

Spore Origins has 30 levels, most are open water meaning they have no boundaries, but some are cavernous levels in which the goal is to simply get to the end rather than eat a certain amount of creatures. The levels usually take a ‘portable-friendly’ five-to-ten minutes to complete and are relatively varied in design and the creatures that are present. Some players may be put off by the massive difficulty spike in the last two levels, which are essentially objective-based boss encounters in contrast to the rest of the game.

Origins also has an unlockable arcade-style survival mode which plays out on a single-screen in classic ‘Snake’ style. This mode features various power-ups, and short stages, with the only goal being to set a high score.

Spore Origins is certainly a well-made and enjoyable game, but the core gameplay is just too simplistic to be able to recommend picking this up for £5.99. If EA bring out another Spore iPhone game allowing you to take your Origins creatures out onto the land, then the appeal of Origins may evolve into something more.


Mr. Trivia

Mr. Trivia does exactly what he says on the tin. This quiz game features over 600 questions in three categories – General, Animal and History. Each question presents you with three possible answers, and you simply tap to select which one you think is correct. There are three modes to play with here, the Lightning Round tasks you with answering as many questions as possible within two minutes. The Quick Play option gives you 20 questions picked from every category, and the Play option simply lets you pick 20 questions from a specific category.

At first this is a fun test of knowledge, but even with 600 questions, it doesn’t take long to experience some repetition. After a while it becomes more a test of your memory than your Trivia-skillz. The History section is unfairly weighted towards American history, with about 40% of the questions being Yank-centric. Also, almost half the questions have numbers as the possible answers, leading to a lot of ‘picking the middle one’ which is the correct answer more-often-than not.

Some of the facts featured in Mr. Trivia are purely astounding (for example that one square mile of farmland contains an average of 30 million earthworms), and it’s almost worth the £1.20 asking price just to be able to amaze your friends. The most amusing feature of this game however has to be the 300+ faux prizes that you are awarded after each attempt, which range from a years supply of jock straps to an 80ft Hamster Ball. If you’re the kind of person who loves to have pointless facts they can spout at a moments notice, then this game is for you, if not then stick with the 80 questions contained in the free Lite version.


Texas Hold ‘Em

Apple’s very own Texas Hold ‘Em game has been available since the launch of the iPhone’s app store, and really leaves all other card games in the dust. When loading up the aptly-named Texas Hold ‘Em the first thing you notice is the top-class presentation. Hold your iPhone in upright Portrait orientation and you get a First-Person view of the table, where you can see the real-life actors betting, folding, winning and losing. Obviously there are a limited number of animations for each of the thirteen characters, but the fact that it’s possible to watch for tells adds an extra dimension, and some much-needed personality to an often stale genre.

Tilt the iPhone sideways and the game presents you with an overview of the table, where you can easily see who is left in the game, everyone’s chip stacks and the current pot. The game moves faster in this view, but you lose the immersion of seeing your opponent’s actions. In either view, simply tapping the screen can easily speed up the game, and it automatically skips to the end of the current hand if you fold, thus keeping the action moving.

There are ten increasingly extravagant locations to work through, ranging from a Garage to a luxurious Dubai casino. Of course, the better tables have higher buy-in amounts as well as higher prizes for coming in the top three. The background changes behind each character depending on where they’re sitting, which really helps you to feel you’re playing in a real location.

Player A.I. is generally excellent, with opponents bluffing, trying to force you to fold, being overcautious and overconfident and even making silly mistakes, just like real players. It does a good job of providing a greater challenge at the higher stakes tables.

Control is intuitive, allowing you to fold by flicking your cards, go all-in by dragging your chips to the pot, and checking by simply double-tapping the table. Texas Hold ‘Em features the kind of jazzy piano muzak that you’d expect to hear in a casino, but lets face it you’re probably going to be listening to your own music on your iPhone anyway.

Texas Hold ‘Em even features multiplayer options for up to nine players to compete together, although they have to be on the same wireless network, so no online play unfortunately, but this is still above the usual standard of other iPhone titles. Essentially, for a portable title it automatically stores all progress, so you can always pick up exactly where you left off.

Apple’s Texas Hold ‘Em has all the style and high-production values you’d expect from a first-party title, and is simply the best video game representation of poker that I’ve ever played. For £2.99 you really can’t go wrong.


Space Monkey

Not to be confused with a tie-in game for the recent CGI movie Space Chimps, this Space Monkey has been sent into orbit by the Space Agency in order to clean up space. It appears that space has become a dumping-ground for humanity, so our intrepid chimp must collect up as much junk as possible.

For once the use of a primate character has a practical gameplay use beyond simple humour, as these dextrous apes have four limbs with which they can grab things. After the wonderfully animated intro, the titular monkey is stuck in the middle of the screen, with the only interaction possible being to rotate him left or right with the touch screen.

Pieces of junk will float towards the player from one of eight angles (an indicator will show which direction an off-screen item is coming from) and you simply need to catch the items for points and to fill your Junk Meter.

It all seems incredibly basic at first, and it is. But Space Monkey does a brilliant job of introducing a new item or gameplay element at the start of every level. Socks can only be caught with your feet, bowling pins can only be caught with your hands, batteries must be avoided by letting them drift between your hands, and burgers and ice cream can be eaten to regain health.

Sometimes there will be dangerous items or bosses that are unavoidable and this is where Monkey’s Super Spin comes in handy. By flicking your finger across the screen the monkey can deflect harmful objects, but if he spins for too long he’ll puke up in his helmet, leaving him vulnerable for a few seconds.

As the gameplay gets more complex, in later levels the challenge increases and you’ll have to use all the chimpy-tricks at your disposal to get enough points to pass the level. You can catch and play with yo-yos (with your hands) and juggling balls (with your feet) that give you a constant point increase for as long as you can hold them without them being knocked out of your grasp. Of course this leaves you with less limbs available for junk-catching, but if you catch several pieces of junk in a row with the same limb you’ll get a bonus multiplier.

Add in boomerangs, which must be kicked away before being caught when they come round the second time, and paper planes which must be sucked towards you with some spinning action and Space Monkey starts to get difficult.

Space Monkey is an excellently animated and presented title, which has a great learning curve and keeps things fresh by constantly providing new challenges. 55 levels for 59p, what more could you want?


In case you missed our first iPhone round-up last week, we reviewed Star Wars – The Force Unleashed and de Blob.

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