We've got a pretty solid slate of iPad offerings for you this week, headed up by Snuggle Truck HD, the game about carting around cute animals that was previously a game about smuggling around illegal immigrants – until Apple had its say. Also, we're looking at Unpleasant Horse, the first (free) offering from PopCap's new 4th and Battery label, as well as the latest unexpectedly strong Pac-Man offshoot, a robust free-to-play motocross game, and… well, the half-baked adaptation of Fast Five, the latest Fast and the Furious movie. Can't win 'em all.
It's hard to believe that an app as adorably titled as Snuggle Truck could earn an App Store content rejection, but that's exactly what happened. Well, that's what happened when it was called Smuggle Truck (note the swapped letter). The initial version, Smuggle Truck, maintained the same physics-based side-scrolling gameplay, but had players escorting illegal immigrants across the border. It poked fun at the issue, but ultimately hoped to make a point; and Apple apparently didn't welcome that sort of point. Granted, it’s very easy to imagine that subject matter coming off as insulting rather than socially responsible. Anyhow, after some quick changes to the artwork and title, we have Snuggle Truck instead, which is now available via the App Store for both iPad and iPhone as separate apps.
Happily, the switch from politically divisive illegal immigrants to universally loved adorable animals doesn't seem to have harmed the entertainment and appeal of the newly rechristened Snuggle Truck. Holding your finger on either side of the screen propels your beat-up truck in that direction (while tilting realigns your truck in the air), and the goal is to make it to the zoo at the end of the course without spilling all your animal occupants. Of course, each track tries to make that challenging, with massive drops, ramps that lead into rock formations, and quirky obstacles that often leave you with a mess of animals on the ground. Each of the 40+ included stages awards you up to five medals for skillful and speedy runs, with medals used to unlock later levels.
Smuggle Truck lives on in the dual PC/Mac release, which contains both versions of the game and can be played remotely using either iOS version of the game. But if you strictly want to play it on your iPad, you'll have to deal with Snuggle Truck, which loses the edge and societal message of the original version but still maintains all the silly fun. And some pretty stellar updates are on the horizon, including a level editor and a sharing function that will no doubt put thousands of intensely ridiculous new stages at your fingertips. High-fives to developer Owlchemy Labs for figuring out an amusing way to overcome and respond to the rules of the App Store approval process while still developing a pretty entertaining little game.
Speaking of games that had issues getting on the App Store. Unpleasant Horse – the first entry from 4th and Battery, the new quick-and-edgy sub-label of casual powerhouse PopCap – was initially rejected from the store and missed its well-publicized intended launch date. It seemed like the game was held away due to its aggressive content, but truth be told it was just a categorization issue. With that early mistake out of the way and the app finally approved, we can finally get a taste of what PopCap's boutique label will be putting out in the form of a free universal app playable on iPad and iPhone.
Unpleasant Horse really lives up to its billing. You play as a horse – one that glides through the air, no less – and he's really not a super kind dude. In fact, the whole premise of the game is to stay afloat through the side-scrolling stages by bouncing from cloud to cloud, gaining quick bursts of flight by touching birds, and… oh yeah, massacring other horses by pushing them into the buzz-saws that line the ground, using the momentum of their gore-soaked final impact to vault yourself back into the sky. It's an absolutely grim sight, and truly surprising considering the usual stars-and-flowers aesthetic of PopCap's self-published releases. But it nonetheless earned some chuckles from us, as we expect it will from you as well.
However, as a totally free game (no ads, no microtransactions) based on a concept created within just 24 hours during an in-house development challenge, Unpleasant Horse is expectedly shallow and short-lived. Depending on your skill level, each game may only last between several seconds and a couple of minutes, and the initial release doesn't even have online leaderboards or Game Center support. It's certainly a lightly enjoyable experiment, and an intriguing look at what 4th and Battery might have to offer in the future, but you get what you pay for. Considering PopCap's immense talent in the casual and mobile departments, we can only assume that future projects have the potential to be among the best on the App Store.
Despite its steady stream of terrible dialogue and thoroughly mediocre acting, we can't stop watching the Fast and the Furious franchise – and neither can most of America, apparently, considering the bewildering $86.2 million opening weekend that Fast Five just notched. While the anticipation for the surprisingly well-received fifth entry couldn't generate enough heat for a console adaptation, it did prompt Gameloft to develop an officially licensed racing offshoot of its popular Asphalt franchise for both iPad and iPhone. Yet somehow, starting with a proven iOS racing brand in this case still didn't generate a particularly stellar movie game.
Though Fast Five HD for iPad bears the familiar glossy look of Asphalt 6 and its predecessors, the fundamentals here just don't stack up in quite the same way. Fast Five pulls a lot of influence from games like Burnout and Split/Second, emphasizing takedowns and drifting, and includes on-the-spot environmental hazards (like off-track explosions) to avoid. And like Full Auto and Forza Motorsport 3, the game also includes a rewind feature that lets you spin back several seconds after a wreck. But the takedowns lack subtlety and tend to be woefully inconsistent; you probably won't wreck someone just by pushing them towards a wall, but even slamming into another car doesn't always yield results. Plus, the drifting mechanic – which is spotlighted in its own event type – is pretty much terrible; it's tough to exit a drift when engaged in one, but remarkably easy to spin out. And whether you lose control or hit a wall or another car, you'll lose all the points you were trying to gain. Fun!
It's during the straight-up races that Fast Five is at its most competent, and expectedly, the 10-player battles over the Gameloft Live! network are as solid as imagined. Fast Five's story-led career mode is pretty tepid, though, as its chapters toss you into multiple events on the same track (leading to serious repetition) and the movie stills and laughable dialogue do little to keep you engaged. Worse yet, the game clearly doesn't utilize the huge ensemble cast from the film, and instead spotlights lazily tossed-off quips from unmistakably different voice actors. For $5, it's a surprisingly fully featured movie game, but with some crummy core mechanics and lazy career planning, you're much better off sticking to Asphalt 6 and simply imagining the exploits of Brian, Dom, and co.
Then again, one of GR’s other writers dug it well enough to call it out as a game of the day, so your mileage may vary. Literally.