Gear Games Reviews: A Foursome of ‘Bite Sized’ Casual iPhone Games


So … where do iPhone games fall in regards to what you should do at a ‘dollar store’? That is always a tough call – $1 seems like so little, but pretty soon you find you’ve spent as much as a full-size game! And hopefully you have actually gotten many hours of gameplay from those dollar games, but just as likely you have played most for about five minutes and never touched them again.

Anyway, for my next set of micro-reviews I am looking at four recently released $1 games – some are good, some are … well, less so. None are high-profile entries, but they might all be worth checking out depending on what you are looking for in a quick-play game for your iPhone.



Summary: One thing I love on the iPad is the ability to have nearly full-sized piano keyboards. The iPod Touch … well, it is fun for a bit of small-scale fiddling, but lacks the screen real estate for full-on keyboard work. There are plenty of other ways to enjoy the love of creating music on the system, though, as well as plenty of music-based games.

mScribble is not really either of those, though. When you start, you choose a backing style and one of four sounds for your lead instrument. Then you start making music! Pitch varies from bottom to top of the screen over a couple of octaves, and the volume increases or decreases as you move left to right. You make music by touching the screen – staccato notes come from taps, and legato runs come from scribbling on the screen. The available notes all seem to be derived off the chords used in the background, so you are never venturing into ‘Free Jazz’ land!

mScribble auto-harmonizes based on the underlying chord changes, so if you keep your finger stationary the tone will change every two beats. If you shake your iPhone the note will have vibrato applied, and it seemed to be proportional to the amount of shaking.

All of that sounds great … but here is the problem. My two kids (both play instruments) were in the kitchen after dinner and I pulled out my iPod Touch and started playing. They quickly came over and watched, then immediately wanted a turn. One child than the other took turns, trying different sounds and backbeats. But when the second son was done, he asked if the other one wanted it back – and my other son said ‘no, I’m good’. And they have never wanted to touch it again. And this entire exchange took less than 5 minutes.

Also, my kids pointed out the resemblance to Wii Music … but with much less variety. I had already figured out the lack of variety – all four solo voices sound very similar, and there is just not enough variety in the backing tracks to inspire you to keep creating. Nor are there any other settings – you can’t vary tempo, for example. If there was a nice chiff flute sound over a new age floating background, and an uptempo fusion jam with a square wave lead …. those are the sorts of things that would make this useful and fun.

You Might Love This If: You like making music and think that a simple ‘draw the notes’ app would be worth $1. mScribble is an interesting idea that goes nowhere and doesn’t do enough to keep you interested for more than about 15 minutes.

TiKi Toss 3D

TiKi Toss 3D

Summary: Have you ever played one of those ring-toss games at a fair? Last summer my wife ‘adopted’ a pair of goldfish that would have died if left at her workplace, and one of them DID die, so while we were hanging around waiting for our kids to rise some of the rides at the New York State Fair she said to me ‘win me a new goldfish on the ring toss’. So I paid for a set of rings and set out to conquer a game obviously tilted against me. In theory it is all physics, and I used that to my advantage and won my wife her new fish. I had no desire to do anything else, and she had no desire for a ‘larger’ prize, so I handed off my rings to a young kid trying to win a big stuffed animal. That pretty much described my feelings for TiKi Toss 3D.

The goal of TiKi Toss 3D is to toss a ring at the end of a rope and have it swing on to a hook attacked to a tree. You touch the screen to grab the ring, and you flick downwards to launch it. Physics controls the power and trajectory of the swing, and you are trying to get it to catch on a small hook attached to a coconut tree. It is an addictive little game – you will absolutely not stop until you get a ringer … though what you do from there should tell you if this game is a ‘buy’ for you.

There are three game modes – Session, which is an unlimited mode; Best of Ten, in which you see how many ringers out of ten you can manage; and Arcade, in which you try to maximize your point totals by earning extra tosses, bonus points, and so on. The scene is island-based, and there is nice cheery music as a background to the game. You can even buy more in-game music if you want, and while I can’t see that as a major pull I appreciate the developers offering it as an add-on rather than charging more for everyone to get it.

You Might Love This If: You love small-challenge style games and want to climb the leaderboards and grab achievements and just keep working to get better and better. If you are the type who will be trying to get more and more ringers, the highest possible Arcade score, and so on. Depending on how you play these sorts of games, TiKi Toss 3D might be a game to occupy you for quite some time.

Pocket Devil – Hell Yeah!

Pocket Devil – Hell Yeah!

Summary: The ‘Hell Yeah’ in Pocket Devil – Hell Yeah! is not an exclamation on my part but rather part of the actual title from Eyedip. Based on my time with this small $0.99 game, I would tend to say ‘hell no!’

There is a popular iPhone game called Pocket God. This is pretty much a clone of that with amped up violence … but in this one you are trying to kill off as many little devil creatures as possible in a fixed amount of time using a wide array of weapons. There are little creatures called Mugat2s, and you want to destroy them You get a bunch of ways to do it, and that is pretty much it. The game also allows you to use the camera on your iPhone (or new iPod Touch) to capture a face to attach to the Mugat2s.

Visually the game is consistent and looked very nice on the Retina display … but in terms of stability and gameplay there was much left to be desired. In my Flight Doodle review I said that my reaction to a crash tells me much about my thoughts on a game – and when Pocket Devil crashed I always went to a different game. And in terms of the gameplay, there isn’t much there and what IS there never really hooked me.

There are more than 300,000 apps on the iTunes App Store, and many thousands of games for $1 or less. Of all of those, you could easily find something with more compelling gameplay than this. As Nancy might say, just say ‘hell no!’ to Pocket Devil – Hell Yeah!

You Might Love This If: You liked Pocket God and want to play the ‘evil version’.

Flight Doodle

Flight Doodle

Summary: I have found that the majority of games that sell for ~$1 or so tend to be all about executing a single idea – look at the amazing Angry Birds as an example – so the focus is on what the idea IS, and how well it is executed.

Flight Doodle is all about launching a balloon and trying to keep it afloat. And … well, that is it.

From the main menu you select your craft, your enemies, and can customize just about everything. Then you start the game, cut the cords, and float upwards. You steer your balloon side to side by tilting your iPhone, and that is the main control. As you float, there are numerous enemies falling from the sky looking to pop your balloon. You can collect bonuses that will aid you in one way or another, such as things that will give you the ability to shoot or a huge boost upwards. You can also run into windstorms, airplanes (or Witches in the Halloween theme), rain clouds, and so on.

As I mentioned, there is a Halloween version – this launched on October 12th, and adds a nice theme … but also some crashes. I have read about how stable the game was before, and a comment from Eyedip about the crashes and a promise that the new version has already been submitted, so I am confident that it will be sorted out soon. And honestly, my reaction to crashes always tells me something – if I jump right back in the game is good, if I switch to something else it isn’t. In my first fifteen minutes of playing I had three crashes … and kept coming back. And for $0.99, it did nothing to diminish my wholehearted recommendation that you grab this fun little game. It is another simple concept that you will be unable to stop playing!

You Might Love This If: You are a fan of those games that have a simple key concept that keeps you wanting to play.

Conclusions As I have been writing these reviews I have been thinking – exactly what gaming experience should I expect for $1? I will present that as a later stand-alone, but with these games I have found one game I felt was truly worth paying for, another two that many folks wouldn’t mind paying to play, and one that I thought should be avoided.

I find that passing judgment on a $1 game is harder than on a $50 game – the investment is small enough that a fleetingly pleasant experience might be enough to justify the investment. But when it comes down to it – a bad game is a bad game, a cliché is a cliché, and a gem is a gem. The only difficulty, then, comes from games that are aren’t good enough to recommend but not bad enough to warn folks away.

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