We're diving into a diverse set of premium and free new releases for the iPad this week, with the paid options headlined by Pulse: Volume One, a striking and original rhythm game, as well as Siege Hero HD, which sort of plays like a first-person Angry Birds. And then there's Thor: Son of Asgard… better not to elaborate much on that one. Plus, we have a couple of free universal apps this week: Square Enix's Imaginary Range, which blends comic panels and mini-games for a unique iPad experience, and Frisbee Forever, which (like many freemium releases) makes you play it forever to access much of the content unless you spend real money.
We got the silliest damn grins on our faces the first time we played Pulse: Volume One, which should tell you plenty about the allure of this smart and captivating rhythm game. Through a marriage of minimalist visuals and memorable original tunes, Pulse grabs you in a way that previous iOS games – which often mimicked the Rock Band/Guitar Hero style of play – simply couldn't. While it's a very brief experience, with just eight quick tunes in the package, it's an easy recommendation at $4.99 – and hopefully, as the title indicates, just the first of many iterations.
Word to the wise: plug in your headphones. Pulse's layered compositions lose some of their luster through the single iPad speaker, and while the game is also a looker, you won't want to compromise the aural experience one bit. Each stage depicts a bull's eye of sorts, with a pulsating wave running from the inside out and back again with each fresh measure of the song. Moments after the song begins, you'll start seeing moving dots on the varying layers of the track, and it's your job to tap them as the wave reaches their respective paths. Of course, as you'll quickly notice, the dots you tap form the basis of the song, and before long you won't even need the wave to tell you when and where to hit the next spot. And as you tap each shuffling dot, it'll explode into a flurry of colored icons, such as butterflies or fighter jets – it's really something.
For a couple minutes at a time, it's quite likely you'll lose yourself within Pulse: Volume One's pleasing aesthetics and carefully constructed rhythm approach, which impresses on nearly every front. Granted, it's a quick play, and the title hints at additional iterations – but we'd actually love to see Pulse turned into a platform like Rock Band, where further tunes (and hopefully licensed ones) can be downloaded on the fly for a nominal fee. Sure, the developers probably didn't have Nickelback in mind when they put together this alluring iPad offering, but we'd happily play anything tossed into this surefire design.
Comic/game hybrid Imaginary Range might seem like a curious entry from storied publisher Square Enix, but once the confounding dialogue begins and references to Chocobos, Moogles, and yet another guy named Cid pop up, fans should start to feel right at home. Still, this unique offering is something pretty different for the App Store, regardless of who's behind it, as Imaginary Range blends an original comic book story with lightly animated sequences and playable mini-games – and on top of all that, it's totally free and playable on both iPad and iPhone.
Imaginary Range's narrative isn't sparklingly clear – it involves a massive monster attacking France, a world gone awry, a shirtless dude, and a woman tortured with self-doubt who is then transformed into a costumed super-hero. Post-completion commentary blurbs can illuminate the details a bit more, but it's more likely that you'll just want to admire the stellar artwork and see what the mini-games have to offer. All are simply played via the touch screen, and include a Flight Control-like game where you'll draw paths for missiles to reach an enemy, sliding and rotating tile puzzles, and hidden image drawings. Plus, the regular comic panels offer lightly hidden items for you to snag and use later in the book, so keep a sharp eye out for 'em.
None of the games are enthralling enough to stand on their own, but it's still pleasantly surprising that this free app doesn't include ads or any sort of in-app purchases to access more robust content. It seems entirely likely that this debut "issue" – which takes maybe 30-40 minutes to play through – is the first of many, with price tags likely to be affixed to the others, but it's still a smart move by Square Enix to dabble in this new realm of storytelling and let users do the same without spending a penny. It remains to be seen whether the storyline goes anywhere, as well as whether the clear Final Fantasy references near the end are more than just calculated fan service, but this well-executed app is certainly worth the free download on either iDevice.