If this iPad reviews of the week column looks about a page shorter than usual, it's because we're refocusing our efforts to make sure only the biggest and most notable iPad releases end up in front of your eyes. We'll be hitting two games per week going forward, and this week's offerings are both familiar in one way or another: Age of Zombies Anniversary marks the iOS shooter's birthday with an expanded re-release, while Asteroids Gunner updates the old Atari classic with sleek visuals and a free-to-play model. Both are universal apps playable on iPhone as well.
Right about this time last year – back when our weekly iPad column was in its infancy – we took a look at Age of Zombies, an amusing little twin-stick shooter starring a wiseass commando by the name of Barry Steakfries. Since then, Mr. Steakfries has gone on to star in the excellent Jetpack Joyride, and to mark a year since its original iOS debut, developer Halfbrick has seen fit to reissue the game as Age of Zombies Anniversary – a universal app that smooths over the pixel graphics on iPad and iPhone alike, and adds iCloud save sharing and a new set of stages on which to blast away historic zombies.
As in the original release, Age of Zombies sees Steakfries sucked into several past eras in time, each teeming with hordes of evil zombies anxious to gnaw off his limbs. Lucky for him, he's packing heat: a pistol comes standard, while shotguns, machine guns, rocket launchers, grenades, mines, turrets, and more drop into the battlefield as you mow down the undead aggressors. Virtual analog sticks appear wherever you place your thumbs, with the left for movement and right for firearms, and while the moving sticks can occasionally mess with your projectile throws, the scheme largely works well and the fast-paced action is entertaining throughout.
Even with the new western-themed area (with three stages), we're still only talking about a 90-minute campaign, though the game also includes numerous single-life survival stages. While lacking the surprisingly funny quips from the story stages, the survival missions serve up some lasting action for the long haul. The visual bump here is akin to that of an HD Remix – where the charmingly pixelated old sprites are replaced by crisper-looking characters and settings – plus it finally fills out the screen on iPad, whereas the previous version utilized borders. Age of Zombies Anniversary isn't a significant revision of the existing formula, but if you want a little more Steakfries (or missed it the first time around) it's a blast for a buck.
Asteroids Gunner represents an attempt by Atari to revive the classic arcade favorite using a very modern design model: free-to-play. Gunner is a free download supported by microtransactions, letting you buy access to additional worlds or pay for ship and weapon upgrades. The differences between the free experience and paid content are significant, however, with two-thirds of the game inaccessible to those who don't spend at least a couple real-life dollars on space bucks.
While Gunner uses the original Asteroids as inspiration, the game feels like a product of the post-Geometry Wars era: instead of rotating and manually propelling your ship, you'll have active movement thanks to one of the two virtual analog sticks (the other is for firing). The objective is still to blast big space rocks into smaller ones and ultimately clear them from the screen. Three galaxies span 150 missions, with three different upgradeable ships available. Admittedly, playing more than a few missions in a row tends to become monotonous, as they play out similarly – but then again, it's a free download.
However, the initial download only grants access to one galaxy and a single ship, with the other content locked behind in-app purchases. Considering that approach, why not simply release standard paid and lite/trial versions instead of treading the murky waters of required microtransactions? Asteroids Gunner isn't the most thrilling iOS shooter around, as lengthy play sessions turn tedious, but it's a well-produced free option that offers a solid diversion in brief spurts. However, if you're seeking a more complete and entertaining rock-blasting option on iPad, don't hesitate to snag the sharp Space Miner HD over this freemium release.