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iPad reviews of the week: Pulse: Volume One, Siege Hero, Imaginary Range, Thor: Son of Asgard, Frisbee Forever

Game: Siege Hero HD
Price: $4.99/£2.99
Size: 20.2MB
Buy it now from the iTunes store:US/UK

From the first thrown stone, Siege Hero HD truly feels like Angry Birds viewed from the first-person perspective of the slingshot. Instead of whipping furious fowl from the left side of the screen, you're just tossing rocks, bombs, oil barrels, and flaming projectiles at heavily wooden buildings holding cartoon-stylized enemy warriors. Which makes sense in a roundabout way, since Angry Birds arguably pulled inspiration from Armor Games' Crush the Castle, and Siege Hero HD is Armor's updated iOS version of its also-sharp follow-up, Sieger.

But the backstory isn't essential to enjoy what Siege Hero has to offer, which is a structure-smashing good time that looks great and strikes a fine balance between light challenge and simple entertainment. As in Angry Birds, the goal here is to use your limited resources to smash through the carefully concocted set designs and send your enemies to a quick grave. However, the downfall of these cartoonish foes relies less on luck and trajectory than just pinpointing the correct spots that will send everything spinning to the ground. Launching a rock at the perfect pressure point and seeing a whole mess of wood and soldiers converge on one spot is as satisfying at the start as it is upon completion of the 63 current main stages.

More stages are in the works, of course – the current ones fall into the "Fortress Age," while the "Age of Discovery" is promised at a later date – and you can unlock a further dozen more at this time by earning a gold crown in each stage. Siege Hero HD plays on familiar iOS gaming concepts, but does so in a way that brings a little fresh life to the old structure-smashing approach. More than that, it's just a well-made and entertaining little game with a lot of style and flair, and it's one that looks to keep on giving in the months ahead. And it's on sale for $2.99 as of this writing, so hop on it!

Game: Thor: Son of Asgard
Price: $4.99/£2.99
Size: 317MB
Buy it now from the iTunes store:US/UK

Man, if you think the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions of Thor seem mediocre, brace yourself for this phoned-in universal iPad and iPhone hack-and-slasher. Rather than hand off duties to mobile mega-publisher Gameloft (as it has with Iron Man and Spider-Man games), Marvel Comics opted to pursue Thor: Son of Asgard in-house, with the game skipping the film's plot and look in favor of a seemingly more generic take on the comic hero. What unfolds is thoroughly lifeless and by-the-numbers; a functional action game that offers little motivation for picking it up.

Son of Asgard is a fairly playable and totally mindless virtual button masher that finds the God of Thunder brawling his way through the titular world and elsewhere (including ice and jungle stages) to recuse his childhood lady-pal. While this app features artwork from the comics and original voice acting, there's just no reason to get excited once the action actually starts. Most of the time, you're furiously tapping out hammer attacks against packs of identically lame creatures and occasionally tossing up a lightning attack, but what it all amounts to is little more than a flat and unsurprising grind, peppered with bland dialogue and interactions. Battling through the same set of enemies every few seconds or so becomes mind-numbingly repetitive after mere minutes, but it goes on much longer than that.

And beyond the flat and uninspired action, Thor: Son of Asgard also arrives unpolished, with terrible collision detection issues (enemies can walk right through you) and occasional camera bugs that just confused the hell out of us. And the chunky visuals and hit-or-miss textures underwhelm throughout. Let's be honest: these console-like hack-and-slash games rarely turn out exquisitely well on the iPad and iPhone, but Thor even struggles with mediocrity. Despite the decent price and universal playability, this sub-par superhero adaptation disappoints.

Game: Frisbee Forever
Price: Free
Size: 59.9MB
Buy it now from the iTunes store:US/UK

Throwing Frisbees can be pretty fun, whether it's in real life or with a Wii Remote (and MotionPlus) in Wii Sports Resort, but on an iPad? Losing the actual throwing motion admittedly sucks a lot of the Frisbee-ism out of Frisbee Forever, but this free-to-play game is still a decent download, especially for younger players. It's a simple effort where you'll tilt (or touch) the iPad to guide the Frisbee through hoops and other hazards, but as is often the case with these free entries, the meager bit you're offered sans payment pales in comparison to the meatier offering and options held primarily behind the pay wall.

Frisbee Forever is impressively built for a no-charge, ad-free entry, with solid 3D visuals and support for both iPad and iPhone in a single app. Each stage starts with you pulling back and then flinging forward the titular disc, then tilting the iPad to guide it through the air and through hoops, as well as into spiral and loop-de-loop mechanisms that guide it towards the goal. Missing these essential pieces quickly pulls the wind from your sails (well, disc), making it difficult to complete the stage, so you'll need to stick to the course as you collect stars and perform quick turns.

It's easy to get through the first 20 stages without spending a dime, but after that point, you'd have to play the same stages over and over again to generated enough stars to access the next batch – or just spend a couple bucks to unlock star packs and make the whole thing so much easier. Unlike many such freemium releases, we can actually see folks enjoying Frisbee Forever enough to drop a couple bucks to access the rest of the bunch, as it's a decently enjoyable play and feels like a unique App Store entry. Still, we would've rather just spent the cash up front to buy a fully functional version instead of feeling goaded into it.

May 15, 2011

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