iPad reviews of the week: The Last Rocket, Peggle, Rogue Sky, Let's Golf 3

Game: Rogue Sky HD
Price: $1.99/£1.49
Size: 27.1MB
Buy it now from the iTunes store: US / UK

Rogue Sky is an undeniably striking iOS offering, as the hand-drawn clouds and 2D environments blend perfectly with the polygonal air balloons to create a wonderfully imaginative tapestry to play upon. The gameplay makes an impression as well, as you'll guide said balloon through electric storms and into the path of mines and rival balloons alike, all in the hopes of reaching a destination, accumulating sparks, or seeking hidden rainbow icons. It's a unique approach and certainly an alluring experience, but it's also something else: consistently difficult.

Command of the balloon falls to a unique control scheme – one that primarily utilizes large buttons on the left and right sides of the screen. Pressing both sends you upward, while pressing one or the other will send you in the direction, and double tapping sends a quick projectile along the intended route. Later on, you'll notch the opportunity to fire downward shots with another button, as well as utilize balloons with different attributes (slower but durable, etc). It's certainly an adequate scheme for the approach, and it feels pretty manageable after several stages, but weaving through the storms and hazards can be a frustrating state of affairs. We've botched many missions by holding down a button for just a hair too long, and while these stages can certainly be cleared through persistence, be prepared to wince and grumble along the way.

Still, we quite liked what Rogue Sky was serving up, at first because of the good looks and lively, Harry Potter-esque tunes, but later because the game has a very unique and original feel and requires a skillful touch to topple. Plus, the mission variety keeps things fresh thanks to objectives that alternate between speed, accuracy, and combat tasks, though all three still demand careful attention. The result is a stellar, whimsical experience that looks like a fluffy casual release, but it's actually a demanding test of skill and reflexes that is well worth the meager asking price on either iPad or iPhone (via separate apps).

Let's Golf 3
Price: Free
Size: 712MB
Buy it now from the iTunes store: US / UK

App Store enthusiasts rely on Gameloft to develop generally decent copycat versions of popular console and PC franchises, so the emergence and popularity of the Hot Shots Golf-aping Let's Golf series is hardly surprising. Countless developers have cloned the formula over the years, so it's really not a big deal at this point. What may be surprising is how well Let's Golf 3 captures the formula with smooth on-course antics, solid mechanics, and slick visuals throughout. Less shocking, though, is how badly the company botches the approach shot by utilizing a grating "free-to-play" formula that hits you up for a buck at nearly every turn.

Let's Golf 3 is the most polished entry to date, sporting an easy-to-use interface, well-designed courses, and vibrant and crisp on-course visuals that really pop off the iPad screen. Playing against yourself for strokes is entertaining enough, but Let's Golf 3 also features a well-designed online approach in which you'll see the other players' screens in a little window next to their avatars; yet the whole thing runs pretty smoothly despite the taxing effect. Plus, you can significantly customize your players with all sorts of clothing and equipment, all of which naturally boost your skills on the course. Just like in real life! At its core, Let's Golf 3 really feels like it goes above and beyond what you'd expect from an arcade-like iOS golf entry.

But all that polish comes at a price, which is advertised as "free" but really requires either your money or your patience – whichever is worth less to you. You'll use in-game tickets to play each hole, but once you run out, you'll either have to purchase them with cash or wait hours for more to automatically generate. Unlocking content is a slow and arduous grind, as well, and one that is significantly eased again by popping actual dollars into the game. We get it: the free-to-play model is lucrative and all the rage right now, but if you're really hoping to invest a bunch of time into Let's Golf 3, you'll be spending a lot more than what would've been an appropriate asking price ($7-10) for the experience without microtransactions. Unfortunately, it's the only way to enjoy this game at present, so if you want to do so without breaking the bank, here's our advice: play slowly.

Aug 27, 2011