iPad reviews of the week: Modern Combat 3: Fallen Nation, Whale Trail, Quarrel Deluxe, Espgaluda II

While the App Store doesn't typically follow the same kind of end-of-year release barrage that we see from retail games, the late months do tend to offer some notable iPad and iPhone game experiences. Case in point: this week's slate of iPad games is one of the slickest we've covered to date. From the online multiplayer thrills of first-person shooter Modern Combat 3: Fallen Nation to the arcade shoot-'em-up antics of Espgaluda II – with a couple smaller, but still notable releases in between – we're spotlighting a strong set of options for iPad owners this week.

Game: Modern Combat 3: Fallen Nation
Price: $6.99/£4.99
Size: 1.05GB
Buy it now from the iTunes store: US / UK

For all the flak Gameloft takes for ripping off console franchises for their own mobile gains – much of it deserved – nobody else is putting production values like this into iOS shooters. Modern Combat 3: Fallen Nation immediately takes over from its year-old predecessor as the best online FPS on iPad, and aside from Gameloft's own N.O.V.A. 2, there's virtually no competition on this level. While the touch screen will never replicate the precision of a gamepad (let alone keyboard and mouse), and the game design here feels years behind what we expect from the big hits, no other portable shooter to date has been able to deliver multiplayer combat quite like this.

Via its free Gameloft Live service, you can pop on at any time and dive into 12-player matches spread across seven game modes. Standard genre fare like deathmatch, team DM, capture the flag, and domination are here – all with their own stylized names, of course – and they play like a charm. Modern Combat 3 is a universal app, not to mention one of the highest-profile releases of the year, so we've seen a steady array of competition at varying times of the day. Players are adjusting well to the touch displays, demonstrating skilled movements and actions in the heat of battle. Expectedly, you'll also rank up with continued play and can pick from varying loadouts, plus the game includes dozens of messages and icons that'll display on the screen of anyone you shoot down in combat.

Fallen Nation also features a fairly meaty single-player campaign, which bounces between on-foot missions with big explosions and set pieces and a handful of vehicle-based moments. It's solidly constructed for the most part, though we did hit a couple bugs and irritating enemy bottlenecks. However, we wouldn't recommend spending much time with the campaign unless the iPad is your sole platform of choice, since it's standard genre fare and we've seen much better on consoles and PC. But even if you're a fan of more robust shooter experiences elsewhere, Modern Combat's online play still stands out as a fantastic portable option. And iOS die-hards shouldn't hesitate to dive in and get comfortable.

Game: Whale Trail
Price: $0.99/£0.69
Size: 17.8MB
Buy it now from the iTunes store: US / UK

We've fallen for Whale Trail. You might think we're crazy for such a declaration after seeing these screens, which resemble a toddler's cartoon blended with a wicked acid trip, but something about this vibrant casual affair just sings to us. It's like a blend of Tiny Wings – perhaps the year's best iPhone game (sadly still not on iPad) – and Tecmo Kitten Adventure, presenting a leaderboard-chasing experience wrapped up within a surreal hand-drawn aesthetic. If the visuals alone don't grab you, just wait 'til you hear the menu theme song, which was contributed by Gruff Rhys of Super Furry Animals. It's one of the silliest bits of twee-electronic music we've ever heard.

The presentational bliss carried the game through our initial play attempts, when we weren't sure just how much there was to this odd little game about a flying whale. But once we got a hang of the floating controls – simply tap and hold the screen to ascend and thus grab pick-ups and avoid hazards – it really started to click. Similar to Tiny Wings, Whale Trail tasks you with surviving as long as possible; in this case, that means collecting energy dots to stay afloat while dodging dark storms that sap your resources. Accumulating several stars lets you briefly burst through enemy clouds with ease, giving you a moment's respite before you're back on the hunt for dots.

It's a super simple game, but it's one of those quick-hit wonders that you'll want to play every time you turn on your iPad or iPhone, just to see if you can knock off a friend's score or see one of the further colorful backdrops that burst into view along the way. For us, it's enough to keep grinding until the promised new backgrounds and a separate play mode come via updates. In fact, Whale Trail plays quite a bit like Halfbrick's fantastic Jetpack Joyride, so as long as you can deal with the change in demeanor, this may be a great follow-up once that obsession dies.

On the next page we'll look at two more releases...