We're leading off strong this week with a look at two of our favorite iPad releases in recent months: Anomaly: Warzone Earth, the reverse tower defense game that debuted on PC this past spring, and Hard Lines, a hybrid Snake/Tron light cycles offering that's hugely addictive and perfect for your iOS device of choice. Beyond that, we're also checking out Bouncy Mouse, a fling-based original platformer, and WWE Superstar Slingshot, hereby deemed the most ridiculous Angry Birds clone we've played to date. It's even more absurd than Trucks & Skulls Nitro, in which you shoot monster trucks! At skulls! Seriously.
Game: Anomaly: Warzone Earth HD
Buy it now from the iTunes store: US / UK
Tower defense games seemingly multiply like rabbits, and the once-niche strategy subgenre has transformed into a phenomenon of its own in recent years. Anomaly: Warzone Earth falls within that same overarching concept, but not in the way you'd expect after pumping hours into PixelJunk Monsters or Plants vs. Zombies. Instead, Anomaly flips the script and puts you in charge of the invaders, weaving ever so carefully through the winding streets of war-torn Baghdad to face off against various high-tech turrets and make your way to a goal. It's a novel idea, but don't take that to mean this slick iOS release is a novelty: in fact, it's one of the richest and most hardcore-oriented titles to hit the App Store in recent memory.
We reviewed the PC version of Anomaly: Warzone Earth earlier this year and bestowed a very sharp 7/10 to it, calling it a "clever game" that "breathes new life into what was quickly becoming a tired genre." However, the move to a large touch screen device and a paltry $3.99 price tag recasts the game in an arguably glossier light. This is a meaty, challenging experience, and while the first few missions are pretty easily conquered, you'll quickly learn that simply trying to overpower the obstacles in your path will more often than not lead to your downfall. Each mission begins with a planning screen, giving you an opportunity to direct your route through the stage while considering the various enemy types and potential resource pick-ups along the way. Once the mission starts, though, you won't just be staring at the screen and hoping for the best – on-the-fly route adjustments and unit additions and upgrades are essential to your success in each mission.
While not nearly as detailed as the original PC release, Anomaly: Warzone Earth HD really is one of the best-looking games we've seen on the iPad, with detailed 3D models, colorful foes that pop out from the typical sand-covered settings, and a very smooth frame rate throughout. Warzone Earth HD unfortunately is not a universal app, with a separate iPhone version available, but it's otherwise a remarkably accomplished iPad affair: an original and fulfilling strategy offering that works perfectly on the tablet, and arrives at a price that's still much cheaper than most of the core-focused copycat titles that flood the App Store listings.
Game: Hard Lines
Buy it now from the iTunes store: US / UK
Years before anybody knew what an App Store would someday be, Snake was the game of choice for most mobile phone owners. Sure, the tiny, oft-monochromatic screens and weak hardware warranted hosting such a simple game, but it's also a truly great skill-tester that holds up on nearly any device you could toss it on. At its core, Hard Lines is very much based on the roots laid down by Snake and the old Tron arcade game, but it also reminds us a lot of Pac-Man and Geometry Wars. Like that former classic, Hard Lines fines you popping pellets and occasionally munching super-powered ones that let you devour all enemies in range.
But more notably, like Geometry Wars – specifically Retro Evolved 2 – this game takes a simple, well-worn concept and builds it out into several unique play modes, each as sharp and exciting as the last. Guiding your snake in each offering is as easy as swiping in the intended direction; which is great, as you'll need to focus all your attention on staying alive amidst the recurring tense moments. In the primary Survival mode, the goal is simply to stay alive and boost your score by chomping pellets and slaying enemies by cutting off their paths. It's the standout offering here – the endless mode that'll have you cursing the leaderboards while you play and dreaming of lines when away.
Hard Lines also includes a timed variation of Survival mode, a Time Attack mode where meager pellets stall the conclusion a bit longer, plus combat-oriented Piñata and Gauntlet modes. And all the way at the end of the list is classic Snake, enhanced for the big screen. It's still a lot of fun, and made more so by the amusing bits of dialogue that emerge from your snake while you play; it's like the game is carrying one a one-way dialogue peppered with stupid jokes, random pontifications, and wonderings about where the female snake/line is at present. Add in Geometry Wars-like looks and tunes and Hard Lines is absolutely a winner on all fronts, plus it's a universal release that as of this writing is temporarily free of charge. That may not be the case by the time you read this, but it remains a total steal for a buck.