We're back from the holiday hiatus with a couple fresh iPad offerings to consider, including an awesomely lo-fi, tough-as-nails Flash transplant called Super Crate Box, as well as Microsoft's unexpected iOS version of Kinectimals. Both are universal apps also playable on iPhone, so if you emerged from the holiday hoopla with a new iOS device in tow (or already had one), be sure to check out our takes on these two recent high-profile releases.
Like Super Meat Boy before it, Super Crate Box will kick your ass time and time again – and if you're anything like us and the untold number of iPad and iPhone gamers that racked up a few million collected crates on the first day of release, you'll take it with a smile and ask for more. Hailing from Vlambeer, the studio behind Serious Sam: The Random Encounter, Super Crate Box began life in 2010 as a free Flash game but seems best at home on iOS devices, where the quick-hit sessions can fill the various spare moments in your day. However, while the individual attempts may span mere seconds, it's tough to resign yourself to quitting without first knocking back a couple dozen consecutive tries.
Super Crate Box's three stages look like facsimiles of the original Mario Bros. arcade game, but the goal here is unique: collect as many randomly appearing crates in each level before perishing. Each collected crate grants you a new weapon – like a shotgun, rocket launcher, reflecting blade gun, or short-range katana – but also amps up the flow of enemies emerging from the top of the screen. Even the tiniest enemy contact ends your game, so the race to collect the most crates takes on an insane tempo marked by precise movement and skillful weapon usage. Most of the time, you'll struggle to hit double-digits in any given attempt. Notching 10 crates in each of the first two stages opens up the next, plus your collected grand total unlocks new weapons over time.
Admittedly, we miss the physical feedback of tapping keys in the Flash version - while the touch controls are solid and better than most, this is the kind of ultra-precise game in which any unrecognized action feels like a sucker punch to the jaw. Things can feel a little cramped on iPhone, but on iPad, the virtual buttons barely obscure the action in landscape mode - plus you can switch to portrait orientation to have the buttons set completely apart from the game window – an appreciated touch. Super Crate Box's quickly amplified challenge rubbed us the wrong way at first, but the curse words and rage quits quickly gave way to determination, propelling us to push further and further with each fresh attempt. It may be bite-sized, but we're nowhere close to retiring this brutally awesome affair, especially with updates promised at fast-advancing worldwide crate-collecting milestones.
What's Kinectimals doing on the App Store? Microsoft's virtual pet simulator arrived alongside its Xbox Live companion app last month; a stunning move from a company that previously only supported its own Windows Phone platform with mobile content. Whatever the decision that led to this surprising reversal, it's admittedly strange to be playing a game designed exclusively for Kinect – and with the word still in its title – on an iPad. But Kinectimals is actually an impressive effort, one that's simpler and less alluring on the whole, but still offers a lot of solid content at a much, much tinier price point than its console counterpart.
Without the impressive tech-demo flourishes of the Kinect launch title – like voice commands and seeing the wild cats mimic your full-body motions – the iPad version boils Kinectimals down to its core elements. Let's be honest: it's not the most enthralling experience. Instead of flopping on the floor or hopping in place to interact with your striped or spotted feline, you'll perform basic touchscreen swipes to make it perform tricks, or you’ll rub the screen to pet or clean the appreciative creature. Beyond learning lightweight skills, you can play fetch and skip rope as the cat, all of which helps level up your trainer ranking and grants access to additional areas of the island and extra items to play with.
Kinectimals isn't quite as flashy as its Kinect counterpart, but still looks slick on both iPad and iPhone despite simpler animations and backdrops. It also has a couple tricks of its own - namely the ability to transfer pets back and forth between the iOS and Xbox 360 versions, plus you can unlock exclusive cats in the console game by using the mobile version. It's an unexpected perk, but it keeps with the theme of being a well-intentioned and well-produced take on the franchise, not just a cheap port to capitalize on the name. While it lacks the wow-factor that made the Kinect original palatable for more than just tykes, Kinectimals makes a better-than-expected transition to Apple's devices – and for the seriously reasonable price of three bucks.