iPad reviews of the week: Need for Speed, Lara Croft, World of Goo, Pix'n Love Rush DX, and Shadow Guardian

App Store releases often pop up throughout the year without a lot of collective fanfare, but last Thursday, December 16 was an anomaly: nearly a dozen high-profile iPad and iPhone games launched on the same day, in a final push before Applebroke for Christmas. While some of those releases have yet to see native iPad releases (including Real Racing 2 and Hook World), we're covering a few of the more notable titles this week, including World of Goo and Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light. Enjoy!

Game: World of Goo
Price: $9.99 / £5.99
Size: 75.5MB
Buy it now from the iTunes store:US/UK

World of Goo is long overdue on iDevices, but that doesn't make us any less excited to finally replay this brilliant puzzler with a touch screen interface. Despite a development team of essentially just two people, World of Goo boasts more creativity and ingenuity than many games produced byastaff 50 times larger, and we're glad it has another chance to shine two years after its WiiWare and PC debut.

As expected, World of Goo plays like a dream on the iPad screen,because the core mechanic of grabbing and placing little globs to create tenuous structures translates wonderfully to a touch interface. Over the course of nearly 50 stages, you'll encounter numerous types of balls – some which can be continually moved, as well as others that can be lit on fire – which are necessary to solve the devious challenges that await you. And beyond the puzzling levels, any goo balls you rescue can be used to create a massive tower, with the world's tallest ones depicted as clouds in the background.

All of it is wrapped up in a Tim Burton-esque aesthetic, with great hand-drawn visuals and hauntingly dramatic tunes that burrow deeply into your head. Gamers may see $10 as the upper end of the iPad game-pricing scheme, but it's a fantastic deal for such a fun and well-made indie game that demands to be played and replayed.

Game: Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light
Price: $9.99 / £5.99
Size: 395MB
Buy it now from the iTunes store:US/UK

Tomb Raider took an unexpected turn recently with Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light, an isometric spin-off that eschews typical series cornerstones in favor of a cooperative, action-oriented experience. After very successful launches on the HD consoles and PC, Croft comes to the iPad and iPhone (in separate apps, unfortunately) and retains much of the winning charm, albeit with at least one notable early stumble.

Guardian of Light shakes free of the shackles of the long-running franchise and tries something new with great results, letting you blast enemies, explore tombs, and solve puzzles with or without a pal (over Wi-Fi or online via Game Center). The iPad version is essentially the same game as on consoles, albeit with the CG cut-scenes turned into less-intensive illustrations, and the bonus challenges and collectables in each stage keep the action going beyond the core objectives. We'd much rather play the game with a controller, as the abundance of on-screen buttons makes the iPad version seem more complicated than it really is, but it's still very much playable and enjoyable in this iteration.

One current hitch, though: The initial release of Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light is sadly very prone to crashes. We noticed multiple crashes during our time with the game, and the App Store is flooded with reviews condemning the app for the same issue, or not loading at all. As such, it's probably worth waiting until Square Enix patches this solid port – hopefully before Christmas – which has a few trade-offs, but is also a few bucks cheaper than previous versions.

Game: Pix'n Love Rush DX
Price: $1.99 / £1.19
Size: 12.9MB
Buy it now from the iTunes store:US/UK

Here's one notable recent iPad release that you don't need to break the (piggy) bank over, thanks to its meager $1.99 price tag. After a successful run on the iPhone, Pix'n Love Rush makes its iPad debut in a deluxe version that maintains the winning throwback charm of the original while adding new modes and some awesome faux-handheld screen overlays.

Pix'n Love Rush DX draws clear inspiration from the eight-bit era with simple, but challenging and addictive gameplay, plus presentational charm that shows a love and appreciation for the industry's formative years. In the Classic Rush mode, you'll navigate through rapidly changing scrolling missions that challenge you to collect coins while killing or protecting creatures and avoiding enemy items. It's a frantic race for survival, and if you can last a while without being hit, the pixel-based aesthetic adopts fresh tones, with color schemes and backgrounds inspired by Atari, the original Game Boy, and even Virtual Boy.

The iPad version also adds an intriguing new Cursed Rush mode, a hybrid of Canabalt and The Impossible Game where your always-running character must traverse treacherous platforms. With five insane stages – ranging from "Hard" to "Hardcorest" – it's sure to keep you frantically tapping for weeks to come.

Game: Shadow Guardian HD
Price: $6.99 / £3.99
Size: 372MB
Buy it now from the iTunes store:US/UK

Gameloft has published a wide variety of iOS titles, including licensed hits and sports games, but much of its success has arguably come from taking an established console smash and making a high-quality knock-off – including games like N.O.V.A. (Halo), Hero of Sparta (God of War), Modern Combat (Call of Duty), and Gangstar (Grand Theft Auto).

Shadow Guardian is the latest attempt to mine a popular brand, taking many of the core aspects of the Uncharted series – a scrappy male lead, extensive climbing sequences, cover-based shooting, and a saucy female sidekick – and brings them to the iPad. Like those other mobile facsimiles, Shadow Guardian approximates the action and approach of its obvious inspiration, giving those without consoles an opportunity to experience that type of game, or fleetingly remind fans of what they loved about the original.

But Shadow Guardian doesn't come together like some of Gameloft's previous attempts, and it's not just a matter of drawing from especially fantastic source material in this case. Despite being extremely guided, the climbing segments work well enough, but the third-person shooting and navigation are often very disorienting, and the visuals seem a little too ambitious for the graphics engine, making for a rather unattractive look at times. It's a playable attempt to recreate a popular action experience on the iPad, but consistent thrills are hard to find.

Game: Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit for iPad
Price: $0.99 / £0.59 (but not for long!)
Size: 367MB
Buy it now from the iTunes store:US/UK

Let's be clear: Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit for iPad isn't the same excellent, 10/10-scoring experience seen in the Criterion-developed console versions. Most players familiar with iPad gaming should assume that fact, but it seemed worth noting again, especially since this version excludes features like Autolog and online racing.

When we originally wrote up this piece, the iPad version of Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit seemed like a dubious value for $10, since it only included the ability to play as police drivers – the racer campaign was completely absent. But just as we were about to post, EA unleashed a massive update that essentially added the missing half of the game, making for a much better rounded experience and adding a much-needed shot of variety to the app. Not only do you get the cop takedown events and the (still bizarre) police cruiser races, but you can also now experience the action from the other side of the chase, as drivers escaping the law or simply battling it out against each other.

It's still a super-simplified version of what we loved on consoles, but even in this more compact iteration, it's not hard to find entertainment within these aggressive races and chases. Plus, the game looks pretty sharp on the iPad, with quality control schemes that should be familiar to fans of EA's earlier iPad racing hit, Need for Speed: Shift. With the latest update in tow, Hot Pursuit can better command its premium price tag, but here's hoping you find this in the midst of EA's impressive holiday sale, which knocked the tag down to a mere dollar – a pretty unbelievable value for an entertaining handheld racer.

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Dec 23, 2010

Andrew Hayward
Freelance writer for GamesRadar and several other gaming and tech publications, including Official Xbox Magazine, Nintendo Power, Mac|Life, @Gamer, and PlayStation: The Official Magazine. Visit my work blog at http://andrewhayward.org.