iPad reviews of the week: Crimson: Steam Pirates, Machinarium, GoatUp, Flick Rocket

Game: GoatUp
Price: $1.99/£1.49
Size: 9.9MB
Buy it now from the iTunes store: US / UK

On paper, GoatUp's myriad play elements make it sound like the latest heir to the FarmVille crown. As the titular goat, your goal is to amass children by grazing along a path and kissing other goats, all the while collecting icons for points. GoatUp is neither dull nor pandering to casual players, though its simple approach hearkens back to decades-old Atari offerings. In fact, it's the latest of a recent flurry of iOS releases from Jeff Minter, the creator of divisive XBLA release Space Giraffe, as well as dozens of titles dating back to 1981.

Like this year's other releases from Minter's Llamasoft – Minotaur Rescue, Minotron: 2112, and Deflex – GoatUp looks and plays like a lost relic from a bygone era, and in this animal-themed affair, you're tasked with guiding the goat from platform to platform while performing the aforementioned tasks. With the screen continually moving the action upward, you'll have to keep leaping to stay alive. In practice, the grazing and goat-loving elements are actually secondary to surviving, but you eat grass simply by walking along platforms, and kissing a goat means only crossing its path. You'll never lose a step while performing such actions amidst the constant struggle to keep breathing.

Like all of Minter's games, GoatUp features a strange and surreal look, with deliberately retro-stylized visuals and random item pick-ups – including some pulled from Minter's other iOS releases. Backgrounds shift and change, with settings inspired by various pre-Super Mario Bros. platformers. GoatUp's arduous ascent taps into the same leaderboard-chasing mentality that makes Jetpack Joyride and Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2 such quick-hit favorites, and like Minter's earlier iOS titles, it's simply hard to look away from such a uniquely auteur-driven experience.

Game: Flick Rocket
Price: $0.99/£0.69
Size: 5.1MB
Buy it now from the iTunes store: US / UK

Flick Rocket wears its nostalgia for old-school arcade classics on its sleeve. Which retro favorites? Take your pick: Missile Command, Space Invaders, Centipede, and Asteroids all get nods, resulting in a mix that comes together solidly, thanks to a vibrant color scheme that brings these pixel-based graphics to life. What sets Flick Rocket apart from its influences is right there in the title: touch-based controls, which let you guide rockets to their explosive destinations with a flick of your finger.

As aliens attack from above, your lone rocket launcher must protect buildings and towers on either side. Space Invader-like waves of candy-colored foes drip down the stark black backdrops, and blowing them away is as easy as touching the next rocket and flinging it into the sky – and praying your aim is true, lest the aliens bomb another skyscraper from view. You can also use rockets to detonate alien projectiles and collect power-ups, both of which are necessary to survive multiple waves and rack up solid scores.

You'll see the likes of Centipede-esque crawlers and asteroids that expectedly break into smaller pieces when demolished, creating a hectic race to match rocks with rockets. Flick Rocket isn't subtle about its influences, but the merging of disparate classic game elements with the more hands-on approach gives it a lightly unique spin, plus the chunky pixel graphics and chiptune tracks make a strong impression from the start. It might not last on your radar for long, but for just a buck for this universal app, Flick Rocket earns its meager asking price.

Sep 24, 2011