All we really want to do is talk about the iPhone 4S and all the amazing-looking games we'll be playing shortly thanks to the pairing of the A5 processor (from the iPad 2) and the Retina Display (sadly still not on the iPad), but we have a job to do, and this week's slate of iPad offerings is superb throughout, thanks to sharp fare like Gears of War-like cover-based shooter Shadowgun and the iPad version of NBA 2K12. We're also checking out Disney's Where's My Water this time around, as well as Loop Raccord, one of the strangest original games on the App Store.
Shadowgun has been propped up as the first notable mobile substitute for Gears of War – a Gears-alike, if you will – but such comparisons rarely end well for any app. iOS games rely on a tiny fraction of the budgets utilized by console blockbusters, and touchscreen interfaces rarely re-create the speedy flow of controllers. Shadowgun demonstrates both of those deficiencies at times, but what surprised us is how well it overcomes them.
Shadowgun presents crisply rendered characters and environments, plus impressive lighting effects and varied level designs. It's truly a stunner on par with Infinity Blade for sheer iPad 2-pushing prowess. The character animations can be awkward, and you'll see the same identically-dressed foes way too often, but otherwise it's a sleek little number. While the cover-based action is simplified, the shooting satisfies, and the virtual controls work well throughout.
The ten-mission campaign takes a few hours. Aside from a few poor checkpoints, the journey goes down smoothly. The story initially seems frivolous and forgettable but picks up down the line. It's a dumb, fun action game, but it's a lot better than we've come to expect from such console-like experiences on the iPad, and with multiplayer coming in future updates, Shadowgun could become an even better portable option.
Disney's efforts to branch out beyond established cartoon properties may not have panned out on consoles (at least for the bottom line), but it's a different story on the App Store. Where's My Water? is the latest success. Guiding water through underground paths filled with dirt, fungi, chemicals, and bombs starts off simply, with a touch interface that's easy for players of all ages. The charm shines through with just how well the gameplay scales through the 80 stages thanks to more complex challenges that require smart planning and spur-of-the-moment tinkering.
Swampy is a cute, cartoon alligator, but he has a pressing problem – the shower's not working. It happens to most of us at some inopportune moment in our lives, but at least in this case we can clearly see why: the water isn't reaching the pipes. You’ll need to create a pathway for the water by using your finger to clear dirt away, while collecting optional rubber ducks which unlock later stages. It's not necessary to collect them all, but you'll want to grab them when possible to keep the game chugging forward.
Initially, solutions simply require drawing a path from A to B, but stages quickly become remarkably large and complicated as acidic substances and water-triggered explosives add layers of chaos. With limited water in certain stages you'll need to plan well. Where's My Water? looks great on both iPad and iPhone, and the smart play mechanics and slick controls make this a great pick for iOS players young and old.