Week in Mobile: After Burner Climax, Metal Slug 2, and the first wave of new consoles
From now on, every Saturday here on GameZone, we’ll feature a handful of new titles released for iOS/Android and update you on the biggest news we covered that week.
Last time, Little Inferno blazed through the App Store. Now, Sega has reinvented an arcade hit for iOS, and the first wave of mobile consoles have acquired launch dates.
We also taught a frog to shoot spells, squashed zombies with locomotives, and run-and-gunned our way through a nostalgia trip.
After Burner Climax
Sega returned its arcade fighter After Burner to the skies this week, introducing After Burner Climax to the App Store (universal app, $2.99). You can grab it on PlayStation Network or Xbox Live Arcade if you’d rather grip a controller than a mobile device, but I’m happy to see more retro hits come to this particular platform.
Climax is a little wobbly in the air, even though it soars past several quality checks. Even the Start screen straps you in for the ride -- it lets players drift left or right to move a jet and cycle through the modes and options available. The game opens with a tutorial, and for the most part, the controls are easy to grasp: the left thumb steers, and the right thumb fires. Barrel-rolling is trickier. Tap and hold your left thumb too close to the edge of the screen, and it’s hard if not impossible to pull off this maneuver. Leave ample room on either side of your thumb, though, and you can guide the fighter jet in one direction and then successfully bank the other way to execute a roll.
These mechanics are slippery in general. Sometimes the controls work just fine, but other times, you’ll lose control or will be forced to reapply your thumb to even get the jet to respond. This is really the only detriment beyond the stiff price point; players will notice the problem more in levels where you have to weave around cliffs or through tunnels. The only other concern is shooting everything that fires back by aiming the ship’s cursor over multiple targets, and often the range of attack doesn’t extend far enough to lock on to a sneakier enemy.
After Burner Climax is an adapted arcade title, so the meat of replayability comes from surviving the 20 stages (plus any bonuses found along the way) to earn higher scores. Don’t expect a full-on campaign or a story mode. The better you do and the more achievements you unlock, the deeper the well of options becomes, altering the number of available credits, lives, and so on.
Change the music if you want to. Switch between three types of aircrafts and multiple color schemes. Try Score Attack mode. It’s good fun, even with the finicky controls.
No matter what, save the frog. That’s the concept behind Ballpit Monster Studios’ Frog Orbs (universal app, free), a modern take on Missile Command where you blast endless streams of colored blob-like enemies as they storm toward your precious elemental orbs.
The frog in the middle happens to be a sorcerer, and he can charge each orb to unleash an ice, fire, wind, or earth attack (not so powerful at first, but these get more devastating as you earn enough stars to level them up). These moves help temper the zig-zagging, quick-footed, or armored foes whom you otherwise have to tap to kill — catch them in the radius of your attack, and they’ll vanish in a poof.
The colorful art style is gorgeous and detailed, especially on the opening and loading screens, and you’ll wish the actual graphics during play had as much depth to offer. Most of your time is spent either protecting or fixing damaged orbs (the wind spell is crucial for this), keeping enemies away from the vulnerable frog and his three heart points, or tapping the screen like a crazy person. Sadly, that’s often a better strategy than taking your time and patiently hitting a few spots at once.
No matter how you play (and you’ll probably find yourself varying it up), Frog Orbs is a bit of a bore. The smartest method is to meet the requirements for any of the three available achievements and then lose and restart (opening up more achievements), as you won’t earn any special rewards after that point. Collecting stars for meeting these objectives is the only way to progress and reach new themed regions.
Flies are currency, and breaking them out of bottles during play adds them to your (slowly growing) stash. Deciding whether to target them or the enemies running frantically around the screen introduces a nice risk-versus-reward edge to otherwise endless gameplay that grows duller by the second.
Zombies & Trains!
If the zombie apocalypse ever does happen, we’ll die of boredom. Gamers have killed the undead in just about every way imaginable … except by train.
Zombies & Trains! ($1.99, iPhone and iPad) from Kristanix Studios and Dragonhead Games is one big zombie-smashing arena challenge -- you versus the zombies, who pop out of the ground in hordes to precariously cross the tracks and seize in the prize of brains in the middle.
Beating them involves carefully timing when your finger hits either of the two horizontal or vertical overlapping tracks, and the more zombies that splatter at once, the bigger the score and the better the chance of acquiring power-ups (like ones that slow down the enemy’s movements or erupt a trail of fire behind speeding trains).
Amusingly, you can wreck the trains together, which is probably the best part of the game.
Zombies & Trains! grinds a little too hard on one idea, though; its entertainment value doesn’t last for too long. The game is generous at doling out coins, which helps with unlocking purchases (one-time use or permanent items) from the store, but its four modes -- Arcade, Wave (survive rounds), Crossing (keep the zombies away from the prize for one minute), and Slaughter (kill as many enemies as possible in one minute) -- all focus on flattening enemies, no matter how the tracks are laid out or which way the zombies are traversing the field.
Metal Slug 2
I kind of suck at Metal Slug -- always have and probably always will. But that doesn’t make these run-and-guns any less enjoyable, and Metal Slug 2 stands out as one of my favorites.
It’s a wonder, then, that I’m not any worse on the iPad -- which can be fidgety when it comes to players manipulating onscreen analog sticks and buttons -- than a joystick or controller, which feels more comfortable in my hands for these kinds of shooters. Part of my complacent delight in my terribleness has to do with how SNK Playmore keeps the player moving along. It’s not just through good design; in that department, Metal Slug 2 already excels. No, this version makes sure I'm visually impressed and feeds me an obscene number of credits (on top of lives) so that when I fail, I can keep going. Twenty is rather generous.
That’s OK because a lot of people picking up this title for iOS are going to be equally as miserable at it, and maybe they don’t have the patience to torture themselves learning the ins and outs.
SNK has given the game a gorgeous anime-style interface, so the menu screens are beautiful to behold. Players can choose between four difficulty settings (Easy, Medium, Hard, and Very Hard) and two modes. Each is essentially the same, but Mission mode lets you hand-pick which area you want to start in out of the ones you’ve unlocked. This version also allows you to play as any of its four soldiers: Marco, Eri, Tarma, and Fio (two girls and two guys for a rounded selection). If you’re around a friend’s device, you can team up for Bluetooth multiplayer.
The nicest surprise is found within the settings menu -- in video options -- where you can adjust the aspect ratio and enable scanlines and video filtering, for either a smooth look or a sharp, authentic CRT TV experience.
The cost ($3.99) is more demanding than your average mobile game, but Metal Slug 2 is well worth it.
These games were reviewed on an iPad Mini.
The 7-inch Wikipad debuts this spring for $249, with a 10-inch version to follow at a later date. The tablet can access games from Google Play, PlayStation Mobile, Big Fish Games, OnLive, and TegraZone.
Ouya announced that it will be releasing a new iteration of its Android-based microconsole every year, following the mobile strategy, with “faster, better processors.” All games will be backward compatible. The first retail launch is due in June. (Meanwhile, PlayJam’s GameStick launches in April.)
Publisher Paradox Interactive unveiled an iOS/Android-tablet version of its PC game Magicka, coming soon with single-player and multiplayer modes.
The location-based role-playing game Life Is Magic is now available worldwide.