iPad reviews of the week: Army of Darkness Defense, MetalStorm: Online, iStriker: Rescue & Combat, Chromanoids

Game: MetalStorm: Online
Price: Free
Size: 50.9MB
Buy it now from the iTunes store:US/UK

Loading up MetalStorm: Online for the first time, it's tough not to be impressed by the visuals: while certainly not on the level of any current console, the detailed and fluidly rendered planes and environments really pop out like little else on the iPad. And it's in a free, universal jet combat app that lets you play online without dropping a penny. Seems like a pretty solid deal on the surface, right? Naturally, like most of the freemium releases on the App Store, there's a catch – and it's one that requires a bit of cash for continued and high-level play. But for casual players, it's a worthwhile download for the occasional dogfight.

MetalStorm's straight-up approach gets you into battle without a lot of hassle. From the outset, you'll pick a plane and various ammo and upgrade options through a guided tutorial – then you're free to dive into two-player online or local battles, as well as a single-player or co-op survival mode against A.I. planes. Controlling the jet takes only light movements of the iPad, while swipes in various directions trigger barrel rolls and loop-de-loop maneuvers and compact virtual buttons hold the key to missiles and machine gun fire. The resulting dogfights aren't tremendously exciting, especially if you're used to fuller-bodied experiences on other platforms, but again, considering that MetalStorm is a free and surprisingly attractive app, it's nice to be able to duck into an online battle in a heartbeat.

As you'd expect, though, MetalStorm: Online is a business venture – and while you can get through several battles without making a monetary investment, it's tough to get a ton out of this app without dropping a little change. Additional planes and upgrades are available for those who grind through the battles or purchase coin packs ranging from $0.99 to $49.99 (who's paying $50 to play an iPad flight game?), but the packs set up the potential for killing the balance of the online experience by letting players leapfrog in ability through real cash. But assuming you're not planning to dive in for hours at a time, MetalStorm: Online offers surprisingly stellar and free online antics for iPad and iPhone players alike.

Game: Chromanoids
Price: $0.99/£0.59
Size: 15.6MB
Buy it now from the iTunes store:US/UK

Following thewell received launchof its debut iOS app Bunny the Zombie Slayer last month, Hothead Games (of DeathSpank and Penny Arcade Adventures fame) is back with another iPad and iPhone offering in the form of Chromanoids. Taking inspiration from Atari classic Missile Command, Chromanoids shakes things up by assigning foes different color schemes, which forces you to change your laser's hue to annihilate each different enemy type – and even blend colors for more efficient kills.

It's a decent core mechanic, and swapping between colors during the 25-wave main play mode is as simple as touching the appropriate bar – or tapping two in rapid succession to blend them – and then tapping a destination on the screen for your shot to explode. You'll need to gauge the speed and trajectory of each enemy to stay ahead of the action, though, as the minor explosions that result only catch nearby offenders. Later waves include multi-layered enemies that take two different shots to defeat, as well as enemies that rapidly change colors as they approach, keeping you on your toes as you blast off shots and protect your base. Beyond the standard play mode, faster and more challenging variations are included, as well as a single-color option for more indiscriminate alien slaying.

Chromanoids' arcade throwback appeal loses a little steam in the main offering, since it takes some time for the action to heat up, but overall it's a solid approach that works to varying degrees across the multiple modes. Sadly, it's slightly shackled by groan-inducing in-app purchases, which unearth coins to use on continues and power-ups. You'll get some coins for playing the game each day, but heavy players will likely need to drop a little change to blast invaders day and night – which is a shame, since you have to pay to play the app in the first place. With luck, Hothead will recognize the double-dipping conundrum here and either shed the price tag or limit the in-app purchases to only optional bonuses or content.

May 22, 2011

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