Sure, Madden NFL 11 isn't the prettiest-looking game in the App Store, what with the jagged player models and decidedly stiff animations, but we have to give some props to EA for delivering a full and pretty playable NFL simulation to the iPad. All the licensed teams and players are included in a surprisingly robust mobile adaptation – complete with the new GameFlow play calling option introduced in the console versions – and you can play through single games or jump into a full season or playoffs mode. Plus, the iPad version includes an exclusive Vintage Voltage mode that captures the essence of throwback electric football boards, along with all the nonsensical entertainment they deliver.
As the console and PC versions of Mirror's Edge hinged entirely on the first-person perspective, we didn't have a lot of expectations when EA announced a side-scrolling adaptation for the iPad launch. Amazingly, it turned out to be a really interesting and engaging take on the futuristic parkour aesthetic DICE introduced in the initial release, utilizing swipes of your fingers to run, jump, slide, and attack enemies. The iPad version also includes a split-screen race mode, in which you and a pal can grab opposite ends of the device and flick and swipe to your heart's content. With luck, this successful little tablet version generated some publisher interest in a proper Mirror's Edge 2 on traditional platforms, though we'd certainly take another one of these, too!
Until Activision decides to offer a proper Call of Duty experience on iPad, your best substitute is Modern Combat 2: Black Pegasus HD, a highly capable knock-off that treads very similar ground with a single-player campaign and some surprisingly entertaining online battles. The campaign includes a dozen missions with distinct environments and occasional scripted moments, but it's the online multiplayer that really earned our attention. We didn't expect much from touch-screen battles against worldwide competition, yet we found ourselves sucked into the 10-man deathmatch and capture-the-flag fights, with a persistent ranking and unlock system to boot. Gameloft takes a lot of flak for its iOS knock-offs, but this is one done right and at a pretty reasonable price for what's included.
Many hoped the form-factor of the iPad would make it a perfect fit for digital adaptations of popular board games, and this late-year release of Monopoly decidedly meets such expectations. The classic property-amassing hit comes to life on iPad with four-player matches filled with all the famed iconography, plus the ability to set the board down between all participants and have the perspective shift with each turn. You can also play against the computer or wirelessly with local iPad users, plus the game includes a Teacher Mode for those looking to improve their Monopoly skill set, along with a House Rules menu for tweaking the experience to your preferences.
There's really no need to deny it – NOVA is Gameloft's attempt to mine the popularity of Halo on the iPhone and iPad, with similar-looking environments, weapons, and enemies, along with online multiplayer action. But what this sequel lacks in thematic originality it largely makes up for with entertaining action, both in the varied single-player campaign and the robust online suite, which features 10-player battles across 10 maps, with five play modes and a persistent ranking and unlock system. Both NOVA entries hit iPad in 2010, but the sequel gets the nod for the significantly enhanced online offerings. Still, the original is well worth a look for shooter fans.
Publisher Electronic Arts' revitalized take on the classic cops-against-racers concept comes to the iPad in an entertaining iteration that, while not as robust or memorable as Criterion's console and PC versions, remains a very good pick for portable thrills. While the iPad version of Hot Pursuit originally launched with just a cop campaign, letting you bust racers with bumpers and spike strips (as well as race other cops, for some reason), a recent update effectively doubled the available content by adding a separate racer campaign, letting you experience both sides of the high-speed battle. We're still hoping for online play at some point, but even without it, Hot Pursuit's a fun racer on the go.
We initially struggled with the idea of including two different Need for Speed titles on a single list, but just like the last two console iterations, the iPad versions of Shift and Hot Pursuit are both extremely different and entirely worthwhile. Shift takes after the 2009 console release to large extent, with racing that leans a bit more towards the sim side of racing while still embracing the series' arcade-style roots. The iPad version includes 18 tracks across Tokyo, London, and Chicago, features 28 licensed cars from a variety of brands, and awards players in-race points for drifting, using boost, and overtaking the competition. It's not quite as new as Hot Pursuit at this point, but it's still a very entertaining ride.
Based on the indie Shawnimals plush/toy line, Ninjatown: Trees of Doom! HD! is a colorful and addictive gem that sees you guiding the Wee Ninja up a pair of trees by jumping, climbing, and bouncing off branches and mushrooms. Climbing the highest possible distance is the name of the game – though floating enemies and poisonous goo will try and slow your progress – and the randomly generated stage layouts make for a different experience every time. Whether you play the classic endless mode or the notably more intense timed mode, Ninjatown's colorful visuals and endearing concept make it a game worth coming back to time and again.
Orbital HD is one of those games that we loved on iPhone and grabbed on iPad simply to see how it transferred over, only to trigger an all-new level of addiction. Beyond the flashy, Geometry Wars-esque vector visuals, what we really love about Orbital HD is the blend of skill-based gameplay and the element of chance. It's a game about launching numbered balls into the game screen, then firing even more to clear them; the balls require a certain number of hits to disappear, and expand out from their final resting spots until they hit a wall or another ball. But one bad bounce can fill up the entire screen and seriously impede your progress, making this a challenging and exciting quick-hit iPad favorite.
Apple named Osmos the iPad Game of the Year for 2010 – it's high praise, no doubt, but seriously well deserved from a game that draws you in with its engaging gameplay and minimalist interface. Based on an indie PC hit we awarded an 8/10 in late 2009, Osmos challenges players to become the biggest organism on the screen by absorbing others, with movement triggered by touches on any side of your mote. It's a risk-and-reward experience that requires very careful planning and considered movements, and the eight unique stage types keep things varied and interesting throughout. It's super-chill, with atmospheric music and zero flashy menus or cut-scenes, yet still manages to hit that pitch-perfect level of tension in every stage.
Pinball HD was one of the first post-launch iPad games to really wow us, offering a near-perfect pinball simulation with three excellent original tables. Each table – Wild West, The Deep, and Jungle – is well designed and looks great on the iPad screen, plus you can experience the action from two very different perspectives: in portrait view, the active camera will follow the ball for a more visually entrancing experience, while holding the iPad sideways will reveal the entire board for a more measured vantage point. Whatever your preference, Pinball HD offers a lot of awesome gameplay for a buck, and it's very difficult to find significant issue with this excellent app.