iPad reviews of the week: Tiny Tower, Continuity 2, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Galaga 30th Collection

Game: Transformers: Dark of the Moon HD
Price: $4.99/£2.99
Size: 116MB
Buy it now from the iTunes store:US/UK

We're honestly a little shocked to be writing this, but the iPad version of Transformers: Dark of the Moon is actually pretty solid. Granted, the straightforward action adaptation – which pairs top-down shooting sequences with brief combat driving asides – isn't tremendously remarkable, nor would it even stand out as a downloadable console game. But after slogging through careless garbage like Thor: Son of Asgard earlier this summer, we didn't come into this movie game with the highest of expectations. Surprisingly, it's not a bad way to drop a few dollars (and hours) for series fans on the go.

Dark of the Moon HD follows plot points from the film with 13 levels spread all over – everything from Chicago to the Moon – and the ability to man Optimus Prime and Bumblebee in various missions. You can swap between on-foot and vehicle forms at any time, though the game primarily has a linear top-down shooter feel to it, where you'll use the virtual sticks to move around and blast enemies in any direction. From time to time, though, you'll have a limited amount of time to speed off to another spot on the map, giving you an opportunity to engage in Death Rally-like overhead driving moments where you'll shoot down generic enemy vehicles while avoiding mines and missiles.

It's not heady, complicated stuff, but the two play types work well together and vary things up a bit, and both sides of the coin are pretty solidly executed. Throw in vehicle and weapon upgrades – plus special attack moves – and this single-player adventure easily stands above a lot of the throwaway licensed junk that makes its way onto the App Store. EA's iOS versions lack the multiplayer modes that were arguably the highlight of Activision's console releases, but at only a few bucks (or less – it's already been on sale for one dollar), it's tough for series fans to complain with what's on offer here.

Game: Galaga 30th Collection
Price: Free
Size: 135MB
Buy it now from the iTunes store:US/UK

While 1979's Galaxian is considered the official start of the Galaga franchise, the titular release dropped in July of 1981 – which creates the perfect opportunity for Namco Bandai to bring the series to iOS players via the Galaga 30th Collection. But if you didn't know that Galaga is celebrating the big three-oh, you might just assume the title refers to the 30th time these games have been revived in some sort of retro collection – and that might actually be an understatement!

But while the four included games have been around and back since their ancient arcade debuts, they remain no-doubt classics now in 2011. And though the pricing scheme and controls aren't entirely ideal, it's still an entertaining little package for old-school shooter enthusiasts. The package compiles Galaxian, Galaga, Gaplus, and Galaga '88, but as is often the case with Namco Bandai's iOS franchise releases, the "free" moniker is pretty misleading. You'll get Galaxian for free out of the box, which is a nice touch, but beyond that you'll pay upwards of $3.99 apiece (or $7.99 for the set) to unlock the other three games. It's not as harsh a bait-and-switch as Namco's pulled with some of its previous iOS titles, but while the free tag gets the download on more devices, it doesn't exactly seem to be generating much goodwill.

But all that nonsense aside, Galaga 30th Collection holds up pretty well nowadays, as the classic shooters still offer impeccable tests of skills and reflexes. However, the games clearly weren't designed for touch screen interfaces, and the multiple control schemes here all fall a bit short in one way or another – whether you're sliding along a bar for movement and tapping elsewhere to shoot or trying to maneuver a clunky virtual joystick at the bottom of the screen. At best, it's a cumbersome way to enjoy these true classics, and at worst, it'll probably keep you from notching the high scores you racked up back in the hazy '80s. But even with those caveats, eight bucks isn't a whole lot to pay for quick access to some swell old shooters. Still, the most likely buyers are also those that'll gripe the most at not having a real joystick or controller at the ready.

July 16, 2011

Rhythm-based app will be a free download in Japan

Namco announces new Katamari Damacy for iPad/iPhone

Bungie Aerospace will help indie devs launch mobile games
Harebrained Schemes will be Bungie’s first partner for iOS/Android game