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iPad reviews of the week: Radio Flare Redux, ZombieSmash, Ninjatown: Trees of Doom!, Time Crisis 2nd Strike, Gravity Hook

Game: Ninjatown: Trees of Doom! HD!
Price: $2.99 / £1.79
Size: 24.3MB
Buy it now from the iTunes store:US/UK

If there were any justice in the gaming world, 2008's well-reviewed Ninjatown for Nintendo DS – a tower-defense strategy offshoot based on the world of the popular Shawnimals plush/toy line – would have found a much larger audience, instead of languishing in the metaphorical "best games nobody played" bin. Luckily, developer Venan Interactive forged ahead with the excellent Space Miner: Space Ore Bust for iPhone, and for its follow-up project, teamed back up with Shawnimals for the similarly sharp Ninjatown: Trees of Doom!

This HD version – now sporting twice the exclamation points – maintains all the charm of the iPhone version, complete with glossy hand-drawn animations and seriously addictive gameplay. Trees of Doom! starts with a pretty simple approach: guide the Wee Ninja between two parallel trees by climbing, jumping, and bouncing off branches and mushrooms, all while avoiding hazardous goo and floating enemies. In practice, it's like a very deliberate and considered take on the Doodle Jump formula – while you're trying to rack up the highest score possible, you ultimately need to pay a lot more attention and make smart maneuvers to traverse this upward obstacle course.

Beyond the standard endless mode, Ninjatown: Trees of Doom! HD! also features a timed option in which you're awarded extra seconds for scaling the trees as quickly as possible. Plus, you can share your top scores in either mode on Facebook or Twitter or through the Plus+ network, though Game Center integration is still M.I.A. at this point. Trees of Doom! is simple and engaging fun based on a great, creative brand, and easily worth the two or three bucks on any iOS device.

Game: Time Crisis 2nd Strike HD
Price: FREE – only more like $9
Size: 130MB
Buy it now from the iTunes store:US/UK

If you perused the Top Charts page in the iPad-native App Store recently, you might've been surprised to find Time Crisis 2nd Strike HD listed as one of the top free apps. So were we – but there's a catch, naturally. Sure, this original iteration of the long-running arcade shooter franchise can be downloaded without a fee, but what's actually included feels like little more than a raw deal.

What your free download gets you is a single five-minute stage, wherein you'll pop out of cover, swap between weapons, and pop enemies by tapping them on the screen. Nine other stages are available, but they're hidden behind a pay wall and require an $8.99 in-app purchase to access. You might argue that 2nd Strike is following the "lite version" model employed by many popular apps, but there's no full, complete version in the App Store – this is the only one, and 90% of it is inaccessible without dropping a serious chunk of change.

It's made all the more frustrating by the fact that this free demo version includes banner ads, which are disabled by paying the fee. We'd understand in-app ads for a free full version of the game, but you can't have it both ways without appearing cheap and opportunistic. And frankly, what's here doesn't seem worth nine bucks, not only due to the antiquated gameplay but also some of the fuzzy, unoptimized menu elements and cut-scenes. Time Crisis 2nd Strike HD is strictly for the die-hards, and even then, it's a pretty tough sell.

Game: Gravity Hook HD
Price: $2.99 / £1.79
Size: 15.4MB
Buy it now from the iTunes store:US/UK

Semi Secret Software's Canabalt is a legit iOS classic – and if you haven't played it to death by now, then by all means do so immediately – but while the studio's follow-up, Gravity Hook HD, didn't earn quite as much attention and admiration, it's an addicting little game that works its magic in many of the same ways.

Though the universal Gravity Hook HD app launched last year, its origins date back further to a popular Flash version that hit browsers before Canabalt was an iPhone sensation. Both games are ultimately about maintaining momentum and notching lengthy distances, but in Gravity Hook HD, the crumbling skyscrapers are replaced by grapple nubs and bombs suspended amidst an upward ascent. Simply touch one of the yellow nubs to make your armored character grapple onto it, which potentially launches him further upwards and towards the next grapple spots. You can also latch onto bombs, but failing to release before passing the bomb's location will end in your immediate demise.

Gravity Hook HD's sessions are quick and dirty, as all but the most skilled players will perish in a matter of seconds, but the random layouts and engaging approach makes multiple recurring attempts a given. Plus, with the recent addition of Game Center support, you can easily link up with friends and compare distances, pushing you further towards the sky in your quest to topple the leaderboard competition.

Jan 29, 2011