iPad reviews of the week: NBA Jam, Bunny the Zombie Slayer, Super Stickman Golf, Inspector Gadget's MAD Dash, SplitApple

Game: Super Stickman Golf
Price: $2.99/£1.79
Size: 47.4MB
Buy it now from the iTunes store:US/UK

Golf aficionados have Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12 to sate their traditional sim needs, but you don't even have to be a fan of the sport to fall in love with Super Stickman Golf. See, this inventive universal app is essentially side-scrolling golf: sure, you'll swing the ball across elaborate stages towards the hole, but the resulting experience is more akin to a puzzle platformer than anything resembling the 3D simulators we're used to. And not only does the game's alluringly simple premise make this take on the sport palatable for most players, it also has a seriously huge amount of content.

Super Stickman Golf takes a virtual button approach, letting you line up your shot with arrows and then tap a button to fill up a meter and let loose on the ball. Initially, the nine-hole courses are pretty straightforward, featuring sand dunes and water hazards amidst lightly challenging stage layouts, but that quickly changes. Later holes take on bizarre, winding, multi-path designs and put a huge bounty on tough-to-nail trick shots, while incentivizing seemingly impossible routes with bonus stroke deduction icons. With 29 themed courses, you'll find quite a bit of scenic variety – including ice-clad caverns and outer space settings – but you'll need to finish the previous course under par to unlock the next in each of the three course packs.

And the more you dig in, the further possibilities are opened up, with special types of clubs augmented by unique balls, such as ones that stick to walls or freeze liquids. You can play the game straight with the standard ball and clubs, but learning to use these fantastical options will give you a leg up when it comes to notching low scores. The pairing of core golf mechanics with this simple, side-scrolling aesthetic creates a perfectly addicting experience that will grab you nine holes at a time, and the recent addition of both local and online multiplayer modes just adds another quality option to this thick array of entertaining content. And if you somehow burn through everything in the cheap premium release, be sure to grab the free version as well – for some reason, it includes three exclusive courses.

Game: Inspector Gadget's MAD Dash HD
Price: Free
Size: 20.4MB
Buy it now from the iTunes store:US/UK

Wait, Inspector Gadget – in 2011? True story! Long before Disney and Matthew Broderick sullied the brand with a crummy live-action adaptation, Inspector Gadget was an excellent 80s cartoon, starring a cyborg inspector who used his wacky mechanical abilities to foil the schemes of the evil MAD organization. Oh, and it had one of the best, most instantly memorable theme songs. And you'll hear it over and over (and over) again in this free iPad app, which takes strong cues from Canabalt and other side-scrolling running games, though the "free" part unsurprisingly comes with serious caveats.

For a free app based on a long-dormant cartoon series, though, the production values are surprisingly impressive. Gadget skates along the rooftops and train tracks on rollerblades, of all things, and the familiar cartoon rendering may well send twenty-something hearts aflutter, if the looping theme song doesn't. You'll tap the screen to jump over hazards and between rooftops, and tap and hold to grapple onto construction site equipment and swing over large gaps, which adds a nice little twist to the expected formula. Don't expect to see much more than the first stage, however, unless you're willing to shell out some serious cash or put in some mindless busywork.

See, like FarmVille and Smurf's Village, Inspector Gadget's MAD Dash follows the freemium model, which means you get a free, limited core experience, and then you can either grind endlessly to unlock more – or shell out real-life money to dramatically speed up the process. You can do that here, as well, unlocking new stages, extra lives, and special abilities, whereas doing the same with the paltry in-game bucks you'll earn would take hours. It's sort of a drag, but considering the fact that this app is free, less devoted Gadget fans can probably play a few times and be reasonably satisfied. One perk, though: the game does let you stream 10 full episodes of the classic series for a very small sum of in-game cash, and while the video quality isn't great, the lingering nostalgia sure is.

Game: SplitApple
Price: $1.99/£1.19
Size: 37.1MB
Buy it now from the iTunes store:US/UK

SplitApple takes what was arguably the best event from Wii Sports Resort – that'd be archery – and makes it a standalone game playable on both iPad and iPhone. Using the tilt functionality of either device, you'll aim your arrow at the bull's eye, taking into account the distance and wind direction during each shot. At present, that's really the long and short of it, and you can essentially see all that SplitApple has to offer within 10 minutes. But with a very solid core mechanic and many more features in the works, this cheap archery app remains a solid purchase.

Make no mistake, however – it's clear within moments of starting SplitApple that the developer is intimately familiar with Wii Sports Resort's take on the sport. Though using the touch screen to pull back the bow seems much different than yanking back your Nunchuk, the resulting experience of aiming within the brief moments that follow really does nail that same sensation. In the tournament mode, you'll get three shots each on five targets of varying distance, and the on-screen wind indicator offers clues to let virtual archers adjust their shots before letting the arrow fly. SplitApple also includes a pretty stellar Time Trial mode, though, which gives you a minute to notch as many target hits as possible.

That's about it at present, though, but a screen on the main menu of the app promises a bevy of updates and additions, including a fresh level, moving targets, a lengthier tournament, a Speed Aiming mode (with targets that emerge at random), and an alluringly titled Bowling mode. No word yet on how soon we'll see those additional bits, but with this universal app priced at just $1.99, it's worth snagging to get your brief moments of fun now, then just stash it into a folder and check back in a few weeks to see if anything's been added.

May 2, 2011

Studio head Mike Capps uncertain about future of traditional gaming

Fill up your tablet with last year's awesomeness!

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