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iPad reviews of the week: Burn the Rope, Road Blaster, Luxor: Amun Rising, Death Rally, Max and the Magic Marker

Game: Road Blaster HD
Price: $3.99/£2.39
Size: 305MB
Buy it now from the iTunes store:US/UK

Aside from Dragon's Lair, which continues to be led to any platform that will run it, the laserdisc and CD era of full motion video games is roundly dismissed by most gamers as generating only quick-thrills, aesthetics-over-everything trash. And they're mostly right; those old Sega CD games certainly aren't getting any younger. But not everything from that era deserves to be lost forever, as evidenced by Road Blaster HD, a lightly enhanced port of a cartoon-stylized driving game that employs awesome 80s animation and just looks so damn cool on the iPad.

Oh, but it also happens to be one egregiously frustrating, tough-as-nails experience. We can't even imagine playing this with a laserdisc player remote control, though that's just what folks did back when it first shipped in 1985. Luckily, the iPad version offers two distinct options: a touch-only interface, where you'll steer a wheel left or right when prompted and hit the boost or breaks at times, or a tilt-and-touch option where the steering is done with the accelerometer. Word to the wise: choose the latter option. While you may look a little goofy playing this in public, it's so much easier to make the quick-fire steering decisions by tilting than dealing with the stiff, touch-based alternative.

Essentially, the game comes down to quick reflexes (or perfect memorization after a few botched attempts) as Road Blaster's energetic animations have you dodging cars, driving up the side of a cliff, and steering around a wooden pier – and that's all within the first few minutes. Good luck if you get much further than that, though. While Road Blaster is broken down into nine missions, it's incredibly challenging from the start and pretty punishing with the checkpoints and continues. You'll have to memorize each section of the course to make it through, with one slip-up invariably leading to yet another redo. Still, we can't help but admire how well the experience holds up, even with dated, one-note gameplay mechanics. It's well worth a purchase just to take in the glorious animation and witness this resurrected relic – and if you can stomach the mayhem and actually battle through the missions, then more power to you. We wouldn't argue with an unlimited continues option, though!

Game: Max and the Magic Marker for iPad
Price: $4.99/£2.99
Size: 116MB
Buy it now from the iTunes store:US/UK

Weliked Max and the Magic Markerwell enough when it launched on WiiWare and PC last year, but a game like this – a platformer that requires directly drawn input, not unlike Crayon Physics Deluxe and Kirby's Canvas Curse – absolutely cries out for a touch interface. Luckily, Max and his cartoonish orange pompadour have a second lease on life thanks to this just-released iPad iteration, which again delivers clever scenarios and charming visuals that kids and adults can enjoy.

In this side-scrolling adventure, you'll use left and right arrows and a jump button to move Max through the common neighborhood backgrounds available at the outset, but those actions alone won't get the kid to his destination in each stage. Instead, you'll have to collect ink blobs and unleash the power of the magical marker he received in the mail, which lets him draw on the world – whether it's paused or moving at a regular pace – to create platforms, stairs, bridges, and heavy objects to launch Max off of perfectly placed see-saws.

The Saturday-morning-cartoon aesthetic really looks great on the iPad, and with 58 included stages, you'll pull a few solid hours of play out of this download. It can hold your hand a bit much at times, but as we noted in our original review, some parts might be a bit confusing for younger players, while seasoned gamers may shrug off the relatively light challenges. We wouldn't say that Max and the Magic Marker leaves a particularly strong impression – especially compared to some of the bigger-name indies released over the past few years (though the iOS versions are now published by EA) – but it's a colorful and occasionally creative little game that works very well on iPad.

Game: Luxor: Amun Rising
Price: $9.99/£5.99
Size: 43.1MB
Buy it now from the iTunes store:US/UK

Luxor's most notable action in the App Store to date has arguably been publisher MumboJumbo's legal wrangling to get StoneLoops! of Jurassica – a popular knock-off of the match-three marble-shooting game – removed in late 2009 due to perceived similarities. But despite that obnoxious stink of unnecessary litigation, the iOS iterations of the original Luxor were actually pretty solid versions of the popular PC series, and Luxor: Amun Rising is another serviceable and relatively robust adaptation.

Granted, if you've played one game like this – whether it's Luxor, Zuma, StoneLoops!, or Magnetica – you've pretty much played them all, as they all riff on a similar concept with relatively minor differences between them. Amun Rising, a port of a 2005 expansion pack, doesn't mess with the formula of the original Luxor, as it still finds you launching balls from the bottom of the screen at a stream of colored balls rolling down a path. Your task, of course, is to match the like colors to clear them from the screen before they reach the end of the route, with a handful of power-ups aiding your progress by slowing down the stream, firing faster balls, or zapping a large chunk of balls, among others.

But even though it's familiar material, Luxor: Amun Rising's 88 stages offer quite a bit of solid puzzle gameplay, and the universal app works on both iPad or iPhone. If you've enjoyed these games in the past, we can't find any glaring flaws that'd keep you from digging into this hearty app – well, except for the price. We were able to catch it on sale for a buck, and we certainly recommend it at that price, but that limited time offer came at a 90% discount from the standard $9.99 price point. It's not a particularly savvy price point for App Store puzzlers, especially when you consider that it's a port of a six-year-old PC expansion pack, but hopefully MumboJumbo will wise up and reconsider the regular price. Then again, the company forced its chief competition from the App Store, so what's the incentive?

Apr 9, 2011

First game, Unpleasant Horse, to be free for iOS

Hippo Lab already working on games since early March

Hey guys, remember 2006? Neither do we!