Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Five iOS Games Worth Looking Forward to in 2013

With this past year having been a strong one for iOS titles, one can only hope the incoming year will be even better. As developers continue to refine their respective approaches to gameplay on a platform that lacks any physical buttons or sticks, there's no reason to believe this year will be anything but.

Games for iOS generally lack the same sort of pre-release hype as titles for other platforms. Because iPhone and iPad games are very often created by developers with no more than a few employees, there is less need for the backing of publishers capable of spending large sums of money on marketing. As a result, it's not uncommon to hear about a great iOS game for the first time once it's available, or only just before.
There are, of course, exceptions to this, and what follows is a look at some of this year's games that we already know about and worth getting excited over. The sheer number of 2013 iOS games we know about today may not be able to rival those for other platforms, but among those we do know of, it looks as if iOS gamers need not worry about running out of games to play this year.

Super Stickman Golf 2

Originally scheduled to be out before the end of the year, the sequel to the 2010 hit has slipped into the new year, which is perhaps a reflection of how much new content to expect from it. It has all of the stuff you'd expect -- new courses filled with new hazards, new power-ups, etc. -- but if that were all, a simple in-app purchase for the original could have served as a sufficient method for delivering it all. The gameplay itself isn't in dire need of tweaking; there's a very good reason the original SSGwas so acclaimed at the time and remains a frequently opened game for myself and many others. Instead, Noodlecake Studios is finding new things to do with the already solid 2D golf action.

For starters, there is the new Puzzle mode that involves less straightforward courses than those comprising the main game. From the sound of it, these will be extra difficult, which is good news for expert players looking for a challenge. If that's not your thing, you'll still be able to enjoy the new asynchronous multiplayer support, allowing for multiplayer matches between players who can't or don't want to devote a set block of time to get through a round of the existing multiplayer race mode (though that does thankfully remain available). Asynchronous multiplayer has proven to be a major boon for the multiplayer side of many iOS games, and I couldn't be happier to see it implemented here.
Should multiplayer also not be your bag, you still have something to look forward to in the new customization and experience systems. These allow for you to trick out your avatar and accumulate XP for various tasks which can then serve as one way of unlocking certain content, including courses. The two should add an appreciated metagame to a title that, if the original Stickman Golf is any indication, could easily suck up many, many hours of your time.

Infinity Blade: Dungeons

Another game originally meant to be out before year's end, Dungeons will now be released in 2013. From a technological standpoint, we already have a good idea of what to expect: Infinity Blade titles have routinely been among the most impressive visual showcases for Apple's hardware, and it's with good reason that Apple frequently showcases them alongside new hardware. Dungeons was shown off alongside the third-generation iPad earlier this year and it appears to be no slouch in this department.

The lack of a 'III' in the title is indicative of it being a prequel, rather than another sequel; it takes players back in time to help forge the titular Infinity Blade, giving those who care about the series' story something to look forward to. What makes Dungeons intriguing even to those who aren't swiping away at enemies for the plot is the new developer (and its new approach). Rather than being handled by the same team as its predecessors, Impossible Studios is in charge this time around. Briefly known as Epic Baltimore, the studio is largely comprised of former Big Huge Games staffers who were almost split up after this year's 38 Studios collapse.
That means a good portion of the new Infinity Blade will be coming from some of the same people who developed Rise of Nations and Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning. Dungeons is more of a dramatic departure from the first two Infinity Blade than you might expect, and having some new blood at work on it should help to freshen up a series that could easily become stagnant. The delay allowing for extra development time should end up being worth the wait, particularly if its roots as a non-Infinity Blade title continue to be embraced and Impossible is able to put its own unique stamp on the final product.

Super Meat Boy: The Game

Some games lend themselves well to being ported to iOS. Super Meat Boy is not one of those games. With precision controls needed to make it through the tremendously difficult platforming stages devised by Team Meat, a virtual analog stick and virtual buttons simply would not suffice. After contemplating the prospect of a port, designer Edmund McMillen put the reality in plain termsback in March: "Sadly, there was no way of doing this without the game becoming a pile of garbage." I find it difficult to disagree. You die a lot in SMB, but never because of the controls. Were the game on iOS, that would no longer be true.

Fortunately, Team Meat's approach to bringing SMB to iOS is an admirable one. Described as a "brand new game" being "SPECIFICALLY designed for touch devices," it sounds as if it has the makings of a platformer that will feel at home on iOS. What's encouraging is the fact that everything McMillen has said about the problems with mobile games suggests SMB:TG will not fall victim to the pitfalls many other iOS titles fail to avoid.
Beyond two screenshots (one of the game and one of its level select screen), we've yet to see or hear much in the way of specifics; it's unclear if The Game will take on the form of an autorunner or some other form of platformer. We also don't know that the game will be out in 2013: Team Meat currently finds itself occupied with developing Mew-Genics, which was recently confirmed as coming to iPad, among other platforms. (Gameplay details are awfully hard to come by in its case, too.) For now, we're left to imagine how Team Meat will do SMB justice with such a radically different set of circumstances.

The Drowning

Typically I hesitate to have any interest in a first-person shooter for iOS. Particularly after playing Modern Combat 3 earlier this month, a well-received game that, unsurprisingly, I found to have very lacking controls, I again find myself turned off to the idea of playing an FPS without a controller or keyboard and mouse. Fatiguing as it might be to face yet another game set in a zombie apocalypse of some sort, The Drowning seeks to abandon the problematic virtual sticks employed by most FPSes on the platform: Players shoot, move, and look around using taps and gestures.
It sounds rather odd in theory, but with former Battlefield executive producer Ben Cousins involved and the virtual stick route clearly imperfect (to put it mildly), I'm more than willing to consider that Scattered Entertainment might be on to something here. As a free download coming sometime in early 2013, we'll all have the opportunity to find out if that's the case four ourselves before long.


Although developer Camouflaj needed to promise support for non-iOS platforms before it could surpass its Kickstarter goal, République remains an important game for iOS. Success has been hard to come by for iOS games whose initial download costs more than a few dollars, and Republique has the potential to bolster the argument made by the likes of Infinity Blade and others that a market truly exists for higher-priced, original iOS games with large (by App Store standards)budgets.
Despite looking early on as if its Kickstarter might fail (arguably due more to being a Kickstarter for an iOS game, rather than a lack of interest in the game itself), it stands a good chance of doing that because it looks great. Visually, it's reminscent of a bygone era, and its Japanese influences could help to set it apart from the pack as much as its production values will. Its distinctive gameplay -- you play the role of Big Brother, whose task is to help a young girl escape from her captors by solving puzzles, turning off lights, closing doors, and so on from the vantage point of a security camera -- sets it apart from most everything else found on the App Store. Even if only for that reason, République is well worth looking forward to when it comes out later this year.

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