With our iPad 2 finally in hand following a FedEx trip around the globe, we're taking a look at the first four games enhanced for the device: new release Real Racing 2 HD, as well as the updated versions of iOS hits Infinity Blade, Asphalt 6: Adrenaline HD, and Dead Space. But of course, there's another new Angry Birds game out this week, which is both exactly what you'd expect and thankfully different in a couple appreciated ways. Read on and check out these five fresh picks, all of which come recommended to owners of either iPad.
Game: Angry Birds Rio HD
Buy it now from the iTunes store: US / UK
Is Angry Birds Rio an elaborate marketing tool or legitimately worthwhile new series iteration? Unsurprisingly, it's both. Credit Fox with the shrewd decision to team up with mobile gaming's largest franchise for a title that will put the upcoming CG animated film – about a cartoon bird, appropriately enough – in front of millions of eager Angry Birds fans. But while Rio runs through the standard paces of the familiar franchise, its minor additions and promise of considerable extra content make it an easy recommendation for series fans.
At its core, Rio is still very much an Angry Birds game: you'll fling colorful birds with different abilities from the left side of the screen at elaborate stacks of boxes located on the right. However, unlike the standard games, those boxes aren't made to protect evil cartoon pigs: here, they're housing caged birds that must be freed in the first episode, Smugglers' Den, while the structures in the second episode (Jungle Escape) protect monkeys that must be warded away. Each episode contains 30 stages, for a total of 60 in this initial release, and while the difficulty curve seems less steep than in, say, the Halloween levels in Angry Birds Seasons, it'll still take considerable effort to notch three stars in all the stages.
Where Rio HD differs from its well-established predecessors is first in its presentation, as each stage is punched up with considerably more detail and scrolling effects that really make it a joy to view on the iPad. It's not a startling upgrade, but it is a necessary and appreciated one that adds a bit more life to the surroundings. Additionally, the final stage in this release takes the form of a boss battle, where you'll attempt to down a large, menacing bird by attacking it with the standard array of colorful fowl – and one new bird. Actually, two: it's the blue protagonists from Rio, who are tied together and immediately fly in a horizontal path when you touch the screen.
It's unlikely that this bonus bird, which appears only in the final stage, will make its way over to the standard Angry Birds games due to licensing issues. However, Rio promises a considerable amount of bonus content ahead, with four more episodes scheduled through the end of 2011. The next episode is expected in May, with subsequent ones slated for July, October, and November – just in time for the DVD release of the film, no doubt. Whatever your interest in the animated film, Angry Birds Rio HD is a worthwhile and slightly evolutionary new entry in the series, and is certainly worth your $3, assuming you're not already burned out on these Birds.
Game: Real Racing 2 HD
Buy it now from the iTunes store: US / UK
Real Racing HD was arguably the standout title of the original iPad launch, using the enhanced power of Apple's tablet to deliver a streamlined simulation racer that you could put right up to your face and dive into. While Real Racing 2 hit iPhone just before Christmas, the iPad version was smartly held back to launch simultaneously with the iPad 2, again demonstrating the leap in technology through a further enhanced experience.
Granted, many of the new features carry over just fine to the original iPad. Real Racing 2 HD now features licensed cars from a number of top manufacturers, a significantly reworked interface and sleeker menus, plus the addition of 16-player online battles, as opposed to the six or eight players supported by many other iOS racers. Plus, if you're also playing Real Racing 2 on the iPhone, you can download and upload your saved games between versions to continue playing from the same file wherever you are. And the aforementioned online battles work against players of the iPhone version, so it should be easier to find competition with a larger talent pool.
Real Racing 2 HD gets a nice visual bump on either iPad, with significantly more detail in the environments and light vehicle damage, but the game was a bit choppy on the iPad when we played right after launch (a patch was issued to ease the issue). However, no such problems are experienced on iPad 2, where Real Racing 2 runs smoothly and beautifully, and the more animated surroundings and impressively detailed roads and interiors help showcase the power of the device. Anti-aliasing and enhanced textures really help it stand above the original iPad experience, plus the iPad 2 gyroscope makes for sharper steering controls. It's still not in competition with the robust, thrilling sim racers we're used to on consoles, but it's an extremely well built portable substitute – and one heck of a nice early showcase for the iPad 2.