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We're getting into the Halloween spirit a bit early thanks to Dark Meadow, a slow-paced, horror-tinged adventure that takes strong cues from Infinity Blade. But the rest of this week's fare is decidedly more vibrant, starting with Fruit Ninja: Puss in Boots HD, which pairs the hit mobile sensation with the upcoming Shrek spin-off film. And over on page two, we're spotlighting a pair of superb free-to-play options in the form of Forever Drive and Steambirds: Survival HD, both of which warrant a look.
Without Infinity Blade, Dark Meadow doesn't exist – at least not in this form. The movement, combat and campaign structure have been tweaked to match the other elements here, but they're unmistakably inspired by last year's sword-fighting smash. Despite seeing the similarity firsthand over a few hours of play, we still ended up impressed by the end experience. It's Infinity Blade in body, but not soul; the blend of suspense and occasional silliness turns Dark Meadow into something unfamiliar on the iPad, but welcome all the same.
As the game begins, you emerge from unconsciousness into a decrepit hospital, unclear on what's transpired. The established mechanics kick in and you're tapping spots on the immediate horizon to move forward, and the combat (against terrifying beasts) lets you swipe the screen for sword slashes when not blocking or dodging, though you can also wield a bow and arrows. When you perish against some overpowered, mystical being, you'll start back over in bed, albeit still flush with your acquired weapons and experience. Dark Meadow runs with that conceit by expanding the story with each fresh awakening, making each death seem an essential part of the mysterious chase.
Dark Meadow feels distinctive thanks to its constant sense of dread, freakish monsters, and hilarious quips spawned by a senile old man in a wheelchair – seemingly the only other being that isn't a monster or witch. It’s a strangely captivating and attractive experience that kept us guessing for hours. Sure, the combat drags after a while, and seeing the same sights can become tiresome, but Dark Meadow holds onto its mysterious allure for some time, and it's one of the most memorable AAA-like releases we've played on iPad of late.
Angry Birds: Rio set an unexpected precedent by merging a massive mobile sensation with elements from a CG animated film – and actually doing a good job, despite expectations to the contrary. Fruit Ninja: Puss in Boots is the direct result of that successful blend, delivering another re-skinned version of a popular casual hit with bits and pieces of the upcoming Shrek spin-off movie. The mix is strong here as well, offering up more of what we loved about Fruit Ninja while lightly evolving the formula.
Even if you cannot stand the Antonio Banderas-voiced cartoon feline, take solace in the fact that this is very much a Fruit Ninja game first. While you'll see the cat's smug smirk on the menus and hear his quips as you play, all of that can be easily tuned out in favor of the strong core gameplay. The Desperado mode is the standard fruit-slashing affair – albeit with added tomatoes and bonus-giving beans – where the goal is to rack up points without missing fruit or slicing bombs. But it's the new Bandito mode that adds a meaningful play option to the series via quick-hit challenges, such as slashing a massive apple to bits or following a winding trail of fruit across the screen. A single playthrough lasts only a few minutes, but since the activities are randomly chosen, Bandito warrants repeat visits.
However, those are the only two play modes included in Fruit Ninja: Puss in Boots, and the app offers no reassurances that the myriad other series options – like Zen mode and split-screen multiplayer – are in the offing. For devoted series fans, the Bandito mode may well be enough to warrant this fresh purchase, as it adds an entertaining new slant on the experience. We'll happily play Fruit Ninja on any platform or configuration, but unless you're a veteran juice samurai, stick with the original release before considering this less robust (and less essential) tie-in.
On the next page we'll look at Forever Drive and Steambirds: Survival.