With more and more developers starting to see Apple’s iPhone as a viable platform for games, we’ve decided to dedicate a bit of our website to covering these new “apps”, to see if they can break away from the usual stigma surrounding mobile phone games and actual make a genuine attempt to claw back some of Nintendo’s absolute dominance of the portable market. Oh, and maybe bother the PSP a little bit, too.
Now, the interesting part about these apps, as they are known, is that indie developers can get in on the act fairly easily, get their game published on iTunes App store and sell the game at prices ranging from around £6 to being completely free. This does, however, mean for quite a wide range of quality, but means that you get some excellent, free bits of fun sitting alongside premium titles by some of the industry’s big hitters – EA, THQ and others.
Star Wars – The Force Unleashed
To start with, we’ve got one of the big ones. THQ’s version of the number one selling console game Star Wars – The Force Unleashed. Obviously, the full fat home version isn’t going to fit onto your iPhone any time soon, so some concessions have been made. Instead of the Force-powered slash ’em up, it now resembles classic Amiga title Rebel Assault. You still play as Darth Vader’s apprentice – the awfully named “Starkiller” – trotting around the galaxy taking down a bunch of rival Jedi, only now, you automatically move through the levels, stopping periodically to deal with set-pieces, such as a bunch of Stormtroopers ambushing you, or an AT-ST blocking your path. Using your various force powers, you must work out how to deal with each situation before Starkiller can continue onwards.
Even stripped of the Havok physics that made using the force quite a bit of fun in the console release, these Sith powers still play an important part in this mobile version. As you progress through the adventure, you gain new skills to solve the puzzles thrown at you. Everything you’d expect is here – the force pulls and pushes, to the devastating Sith force lightning – and brilliantly, it is all controlled using touch screen gestures.
For example, Starkiller has ran out onto a bridge, only to have a few ‘troopers block his path. You quickly draw the Force lift symbol with your finger, and then flick left and right to throw them to their deaths. Swapping between the powers is as simple as moving two fingers simultaneously in the required direction, while blocking laser fire with your lightsaber is a case of pushing the diagonal direction shown above whatever it is that is shooting at you. Needless to say, it gets quite hectic as you get into the later stages, with some of the bosses even requiring you to work out environment puzzles before you can defeat them. It sounds complex, but is actually surprisingly intuitive and fun.
It looks decent, too. The 3D models do the job without really being anything special, but the 2D backdrops that they roam around – much like the original Resident Evil games – are really clear, detailed and high resolution. The music is a bit tinny, but full of the usual recognizable themes expected from anything with the words STAR and WARS in the title.
Sadly, there isn’t much to The Force Unleashed Mobile. You have no direct control over Starkiller, as he runs between the sequences, which, when you’ve worked them out, don’t really offer any reason to play though them again. All you literally do is use the force powers to defeat enemies and progress through the game, with the one or two puzzle solving sequences in for good measure. It is painfully simple, perhaps because it is a mobile phone game – a distraction – rather than something for a dedicated gaming system, and one gets the feeling that if this concept was fleshed out to something with a bit more depth, THQ could’ve been on to a genuine winner here. As it stands, you’ve got a solid game to pass the time on the bus to work, but not quite the kind of thing you’ll play in your spare time.
The other release, also from THQ (they’ve clearly been busy) is a version of Wii action/puzzler deBlob. Now, I’ve not actually played the Wii version, so a comparison is out of the question, but the iPhone deBlob stands up fairly well on its own.
The story of de Blob is about some evil corporation called INKT, who have removed all the colour from the city. I have no idea how they managed this, but rather than sit back and let these capitalist pigs get away with it, de Blob sets out on a mission to paint the city and save everyone from a monotone existence.
Controlling de Blob around the cityscape is, like The Force Unleashed, surprisingly intuitive. You can either drag him around using the touch screen, or by tilting the phone after you set up a default starting position. A quick tutorial explains the basics, such as picking up different colours and using fountains to remove them and you’re on your way, rolling around, painting buildings.
Painting will score you points, but to progress you can speak with the scattered citizens and complete goals for them, such as painting a certain section a certain colour within a time frame. These can be taken whenever you want and, with the exception of the ones on offer in the final few stages, are fairly easy to finish. Hazards are presented in the way of INKT agents who try to damage de Blob and put a premature end to his multicoloured odyssey, but can be easily despatched by tapping on them for a swift attack.
It looks lovely, too. Opting for the 2D approach, rather than some of the poor textures associated with a lot of mobile 3D titles, with some nice little animations on deBlob and the various enemies and citizens he encounters. The music is fairly inoffensive, but nothing worth writing home about. Why you can’t just play your own tunes over the top of it – or any iPhone game, for that matter – is anyone’s guess.
In all, de Blob is a decent enough release, offering a fair bit of fun gameplay at a modest price and provides enough entertainment to keep even the most restless of us amused during necessary toilet stops.