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iPad reviews of the week: Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP, War Pinball, Chicken Balls, Split/Second, Forget-Me-Not

Game: Chicken Balls HD
Price: $0.99/£0.59
Size: 16.1MB
Buy it now from the iTunes store:US/UK

Angry Birds, meet Chicken Balls. Chicken Balls… well, you're obviously already familiar with Angry Birds, as your bird-flinging, physics-puzzle approach is a thinly veiled "tribute" to the mobile sensation. No doubt, this awkwardly titled casual entry would not exist without the runaway success of those fuming fowl, but at least Chicken Balls HD attempts to shake things up by implementing elements of pachinko and giving you the option to swap special abilities on the fly.

Like Angry Birds, Chicken Balls starts with a catapult; and in that catapult is a bird, though his emotional state is unclear. Aesthetically, Chicken Balls also takes some clear interface and menu design cues from its inspiration, but once the chicken's in the air, the game follows a somewhat distinct path. Rather than busting through structures full of pigs, your goal is to free scads of tiny chicks held in floating bubbles, all the while avoiding pachinko-like bumpers and flying saucers that fling out little green men when hit. At times, through the 50 included stages, you can touch the screen to launch your chicken forward or double his size to crush through barriers. And later on, you're even given the ability to swap between these two effects, rather than utilizing separate types of birds.

And if you collect all the optional eggs in a stage, you'll trigger "FARMAGEDDON," in which a slew of farm animals and aliens fall from the sky, destroying everything in sight in exchange for points. Paired with the rest of the decidedly diverse features and concepts, the resulting experience can feel a little aimless at times. But elsewhere, it hooks you into replaying stages over and over again until you've perfected the necessary routine to pop all the chick bubbles with your limited chicken repertoire. Chicken Balls HD promises more stages, power-ups, and features in the future, so we're curious to see if this quirky knock-off morphs into something truly original and interesting in time.

Game: Split/Second on iPad
Price: $6.99/£3.99
Size: 218MB
Buy it now from the iTunes store:US/UK

Some 10 months after its debut on consoles and iPhone last year, Split/Second is finally available on iPad, delivering its thrilling brand of action-stylized racing to Apple's larger iOS device. And the game is much as it was on other platforms, enabling the player to speed through a variety of stages in fictional super cars and build up a meter to trigger explosive attacks – such as detonating parked cars or collapsing a section of the road – at the expense of your competitors. The iPad version is very similar in spirit to the other releases, as you'll zip around a dozen courses, earning energy from drifting and drafting behind foes to trigger those aforementioned environmental hazards, which your foes can also use to knock you out for a few seconds.

Unlike the console versions, the career mode leaves out the slightly convoluted reality TV concept and focuses strictly on the racing, with four events in each of the dozen "episodes." In addition to standard races and elimination events, you'll also encounter Split/Second's version of a time trial – the Detonator mode – in which nearly everything around you explodes as you spin towards the finish line. The iPad version also includes the Air Strike mode, in which you'll avoid missiles raining down from a helicopter onto the track, but sadly lacks the fantastic Survival mode that had you dodging explosive barrels while overtaking semi tankers.

Split/Second holds up decently well on the iPad – it lacks the flair and polish of the console versions, but maintains enough of the unique racing action and play modes to make it worth a look for tablet owners. It comes with a couple caveats, though. While the game looks reasonably solid in motion, it has a sharply jagged feel to it, with rough textures and geometry around every turn. And the game lacks any sort of manual acceleration option, as you'll use either side of the screen for brakes and triggering environmental actions, respectively. Neither is a huge knock on the game, but they make it a much less essential play than the excellent console versions.

Game: Forget+Me+Not
Price: $1.99/£1.19
Size: 3MB
Buy it now from the iTunes store:US/UK

The App Store offers a great mainstream platform for game designers to dream up interesting retro-stylized experiences – recent releases Minotaur Rescue and Breakeroids are perfect examples – and Forget-Me-Not is another sharp entry that builds upon classic concepts to build something fresh for a modern audience. Forget-Me-Not does pull a strong amount of obvious influence from Pac-Man, with mazes of varying sizes and complexity for you to traverse, each filled with little items that must be collected before you can move to the next.

However, your little character also happens to automatically shoot projectiles at a frequent clip, which can hurt both enemies and yourself; if you're firing on a path without end (which just loops you top to bottom and vice versa), the bullets will just keep moving until they eventually hit something. Once you collect all the little pellets in a stage, you'll need to grab the key and reach the exit to progress, but enemies of varying abilities make that a challenging task at times. And so it continues through stages in random order, as you'll eat up pellets and avoid (or destroy) enemies in a fight for survival. In the standard mode, you'll have a few lives to work with, but the survival mode lends you just one, while the shuffle mode just seems to bombard you with insane numbers of enemies.

Forget-Me-Not initially launched with some unfortunate control issues; the character moves automatically in the direction you swipe, but would sometimes take turns on its own without guidance. Luckily, a just-released patch offers a sensitivity option that lets you dial it back so only the most deliberate swipes on the screen will send your hero off in that direction – and the little bit we played post-patch seems better off. We haven't fully warmed up to Forget-Me-Not, thanks in part to those early control questions, but it's earning rave reviews from players and sucking some in for hours at a time, as evidenced by the handful of folks with unbelievable million-plus scores on the Game Center leaderboards. Will it hook you next?

Apr 3, 2011

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