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Pix'n Love Rush DX feels like a love letter to old-school gaming, with stellar pixel graphics and a catchy chiptune soundtrack, plus screen overlays that mimic retro handhelds. While all of that makes for an attractive and endearing play experience, it's really the in-game action that turns this expanded iPhone hit into a worthwhile purchase. In the Classic Rush mode, your little character is thrown into a random selection of brief stages – typically 15 seconds or less each – and tasked with collecting coins and avoiding or shooting enemies. Successful play is rewarded with a visual shift from monochromatic pixels to color and even a red-and-black homage to the Virtual Boy. Add in the new (and totally different) Cursed Rush mode and you'll find plenty to like about this fun little gem.
PopCap's casual take on the tower defense strategy genre popped up on multiple platforms on 2010 (and looks to continue into 2011), but until we see otherwise, we're convinced the iPad version sports the best interface of them all. Using your fingers to select and place aggressive plants – including ones that shoot peas and eat enemies whole – to stop the impending zombie invasion feels totally natural and effective, and the hand-drawn aesthetic shines on the large screen. Of course, the game itself is wildly funny and entertaining, and is great in short bursts, though you'll want to plow through the few dozen campaign levels to get to the challenging final boss battle.
Blasting enemies from your little ship is the primary objective here, but as with PSN/PC indie favorite Everyday Shooter, Radio Flare Redux HD caught our attention through a combination of flashy aesthetics and memorable tunes. Rhythm isn't particularly key to the combat here, but between the shape-shifting backgrounds and thumping electronic beats, we found ourselves falling deeper and deeper into its trance. Controlling the game amidst the visual chaos is quite simple, as you'll move the ship with your left hand and target enemies with the right, chaining combo shots before removing your hand to fire the volley of shots. Redux HD's 30+ stages will keep you bobbing your head and blasting away for hours, plus the game includes several bonus visual options and even a sound effects sequencer to toy with.
We're still several months away from the release of id Software's much-anticipated shooting/driving hybrid, RAGE, but you can get a brief taste of the game world with this attractive appetizer. Essentially an on-rails voyage through some of the grim, post-apocalyptic environments expected in the full game, RAGE HD lets you blast demonic looking enemies and targets in a faux game show setting, with each of the three missions preceded by an introduction from a sadistic, disgusting-looking host that encourages your brutal quest. RAGE HD might not be the best representation of what to expect from the actual game, but it looks great and is a fun little romp that easily justifies the slim entry price.
Pulling off a capable simulation-style racer on the iPad seemed like a daunting task, but Firemint nailed it on day one with Real Racing HD, an expanded and certainly shinier version of the iPhone hit. With super smooth tilt steering options and glossy visuals, Real Racing HD remains one of the true showcase titles on the device, but it's also a pretty engaging experience, with a lengthy career mode and time trials sporting Game Center leaderboards. Real Racing 2 recently launched on the iPhone to rave reviews, so it should only be a matter of time before it (likely) dominates the competition on iPad.
The iPad has a handful of great racing options, but Reckless Racing HD smartly takes a different approach than the norm, utilizing a top-down perspective to great effect in a fast and dirty driving experience. Skidding around muddy corners using just a handful of turning and movement virtual buttons works well, and the sloppy races entertain throughout, whether you're facing A.I. competition, racing the clock, or taking part in the Crazy Taxi-like delivery missions. Online four-player races are expectedly a blast, as well, and the servers are still pretty packed with eager competition a couple months after the app's debut. What are you waiting for?
Chances are most of you have stumbled upon this absolutely ridiculous Flash game at some point, but now that a native iPad iteration is available for a couple bucks, we've been playing it to a nauseating degree. Robot Unicorn Attack is probably both the funniest and stupidest app around, but we can't help but love any game that marries Canabalt-like running gameplay with a visual approach primarily inspired by a six-year-old girl's bedroom. But what really takes it to the next level is the constant playing of "Always," a 1994 single from Erasure that promises to never leave your head after a few rounds of guiding the titular unicorn across cliffs and through shining stars. It's totally absurd, but amazing.
Building off the success of the solid Rock Band app for iPhone, Rock Band Reloaded offers a larger and more robust iPad offering, with the ability to play a couple dozen tracks on guitar, bass, drums, and in multiple vocal modes. Tapping the requisite guitar pick or pad to play each note works well, with numerous screen orientation options available to customize the experience, and the iPad version also includes a "big drums" feature with pads that take up nearly half the screen. Plus, you can literally sing into the iPad for vocal parts, or choose to tap notes like with the other instruments. With luck, EA will keep the rock alive throughout 2011 via fresh DLC updates.
Don't worry if you didn't play the original Samurai: Way of the Warrior – it's not essential for enjoying this gorgeous hack-and-slash title, which sports an Okami-like aesthetic that absolutely pops off the iPad display. We come back to this app regularly just to refresh our minds on how stunning the cel-shaded effect is, but Samurai II: Vengeance is also a pretty entertaining action game, letting you plow through enemies with your blade and violently decapitate foes in the process. Vengeance also shines between missions, with comic-like hand drawn panels that tell the story, plus this universal release can be played on your iPhone and iPod Touch when the iPad isn't handy.
The iPad version of Scrabble is a great take on the classic board game, offering solo gameplay against the computer, pass-and-play options, and local network play. But what really made Scrabble for iPad a can't-miss app in 2010 was the admittedly grandiose option to use the iPad and four iPhones (or iPod Touch devices) to closely simulate the experience of playing the actual board game. Each iPhone or iPod serves as a portable tile rack, and through the magic of Bluetooth, you can flick your letters onto the iPad when it's your turn to lay down a word. We love the unnecessary extravagance of it, and really, if you have the hardware handy, why not give it a shot?
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