We're digging into a variety of different iPad experiences this week, starting with the surprisingly strong Doodle Jump clone, Pac'n-Jump, followed by the just-released iOS version of You Don't Know Jack and the mega-compilation Atari's Greatest Hits. And finally, we'll check out the recent iPad version of turn-based iPhone racing favorite, Disc Drivin', as well as Drop the Chicken, a game where you do just that – and then guide him to a safe place by staging your own level layouts.
It's hard not to approach Pac'n-Jump thinking it sounds like one of the laziest, least essential iOS cash-ins ever released on the App Store. Does Pac-Man really need to star in an unabashed Doodle Jump clone? No, of course not. And yet, within a couple minutes firing up this universal app, we were hooked on Namco's pitch-perfect blend of retro aesthetics and lightly modified (but still wholly familiar) platform-hopping gameplay. It's sort of a wonder that Pac'n-Jump works, but once you start bouncing, the dots really just fall into place.
As in Doodle Jump, the goal here is to guide the bouncy hero – in this case, the one and only Pac-Man himself – up an endless series of randomized platforms to reach the farthest possible height. Pac-Man jumps continuously on his own, so your only input is really to tilt the iPad or iPhone to land on platforms and avoid enemies or hazards, though you can swap to a virtual joystick or d-pad option instead. But Pac'n-Jump thankfully deviates from the excellent Doodle Jump in a couple of appreciated ways, namely the ability to eat power pellets that make Pac-Man faster and turn the colorful ghosts blue and edible; otherwise, hitting them will lead to your demise. Plus, the level layouts are interspersed with standard dots that bounce you upwards upon ingestion, as well as fruit and other power-ups that give you a mighty skyward boost.
And while the initial Pac-Man-themed stage may be our favorite (it's certainly the one that we're best at), Pac'n-Jump keeps things varied with three other themed courses based on Dig Dug, Rally-X, and Galaga, respectively. Each level switches up the action with fresh backgrounds and music, plus enemies and hazards that will be familiar to fans of each game – like speeding cars and rocks in the Rally-X stage. While Pac'n-Jump won't win any prizes for originality, the little flourishes and well-executed retro aesthetic really make this a standout app on either iOS device, as well as an arguably better game than its obvious inspiration.
Continuing its recent whirlwind revival tour across whatever platforms will house it, hilarious party game You Don't Know Jack is finally available on both iPad and iPhone with separate iterations, each containing 20 episodes of comedic trivia based on pop culture, history, and a whole load of random nonsense. The HD version for iPad clearly takes after the celebrated recent console iterations, bouncing between wordy multiple choice questions, quick-fire "DisOrDat" sections, and the challenging Jack Attack final round, where you have to link up words based on one central clue.
But the iOS iterations feel even fresher than their pricier counterparts, as evidenced by the first numbered episode, which features questions that reference Charlie Sheen's "goddesses," Elizabeth Taylor's recent death, and even Rebecca Black's lambasted pop hit, "Friday." Clearly, some last minute tinkering went into making these downloadable versions as current as possible, but while many of the other questions lack that kind of cultural immediacy, they still stand out for being legitimately laugh-out-loud funny and usually remarkably clever. We'll offer major props to anyone who can knock out a perfect round on the first attempt.
You Don't Know Jack HD's 20 included episodes will keep you alternately laughing and scratching your head for a few hours, but you'll be on your own, as the app currently lacks any sort of multiplayer support. This will be the fatal blow for some fans, as the series has always excelled as a party or online play experience, but the app listing promises future feature and episode updates, so perhaps we'll see some sort of single-device or Bluetooth support; or better yet, online play. In fact, we'd bet on some sort of multiplayer option: considering the quality of this solo experience and the sharp console versions, it's clear that developer Jellyvision really knows how to deliver a great, modern You Don't Know Jack experience, and we fully expect this iPad version to be a complete package in no time.
Atari's Greatest Hits was momentarily the talk of the gaming biz last week, as the free universal app – which comes with Pong built in – offered access to 100 classic arcade and Atari 2600 games at the price of $0.99 for a pack of four, or $14.99 for the whole lot. After all, who could resist a triple-digit collection of beloved classics on the go for just 15 bucks? But once folks started dropping dollars into the attractive app, it became clear that "arcade perfect" in this case really meant, "not optimized for touch screen devices." And that's just not going to fly, regardless of how reasonably priced these retro favorites are.
Admittedly, Atari did a lot of things right with this app. Not only does the free initial download let you browse through the listings and play Pong out of the gate, but it's sharply presented, with full-scale facsimiles of the classic arcade cabinets and crisp scans of each 2600 game box. And the game lineup, of course, is decked out with loads of big names, including Asteroids, Breakout, Centipede, Crystal Castles, Missile Command, Adventure, Tempest, and many more – some of which come with Bluetooth local multiplayer support. Plus, with the ability to buy a few games at a time or shell out for the whole shebang, you have options for just how many retro games you want to drown your nostalgia (and money) in.
Problem is, these games were designed during a time when dials, trackballs, and arcade joysticks were the apex of gaming inputs, and touch-screen displays must have seemed like the strangest kind of science fiction (or voodoo). As such, the swap to touch controls is largely hit-or-miss here, and the control options constructed for some of these games just don't work well in many parts. Sure, simpler games like Bowling and Pong play decently on the device, despite only using a portion of the iPad screen, but faster-paced entries like Asteroids and Crystal Castles seem borderline unplayable; at least in a skillful manner. Ultimately, if you're just looking to have a load of classic Atari games available at a moment's notice, Atari's Greatest Hits can satisfy that base urge. But if you're hoping to actually play them in a meaningful way, the results here are hardly consistent.