Owners of the 5th generation video iPods can now experience 11 games that Apple is selling on their iTunes service for $4.99 each. While the games certainly aren't on par with a Nintendo DS or Sony PSP title, these games are extremely well done and function fairly well on the iPod system. Some of the games look downright amazing, and while some are very playable, some games do suffer from the iPod control and this limitation is likely to prove the biggest hurdle for game developers creating games for the iPod. There are currently 11 iPod games available for download and we've taken them all for a test drive and will tell you just how well they measure up.
Below you'll find the game's logo along with one screen shot followed by a brief review of each of the game currently available on iTunes.
MINI GOLF / Electronic Arts Inc. / 37.2MB
Mini golf is easily the best game of the bunch. There's no denying that Mini Golf looks fantastic. Great use of vivid colors and a surprising amount of detail considering it's playing on the iPod. It's easy to tell from the moment you begin playing this game that it was made for the controls of the iPod. You basically use the wheel to move around and aim your shot and then press the middle button to start the climb on the power meter gauge. The longer you wait to press the middle button again the harder your player will strike the ball. Very simple control yet extremely addictive to play.
There are three full 18-hole courses to play and the courses do get quite a bit harder later on in the game. You must get at least a par score on the first course in order to move on to the next course which isn't an easy task to begin with. The game requires a lot of trial and error in order to figure out what approach works the best for reaching each hole in the shortest number of strokes. The music in the game directly reflects the type of course your on, for example the Hawaiian Course you begin on has a distinctly "Tropical" sound to it. It doesn't hurt that the sound is coming out of the full-stereo capable iPod headphones either. All in all Mini Golf is the perfect gaming companion to keep on your iPod and makes perfect use of the iPod control system. (Rating: 10/10)
MAHJONG / Electronic Arts Inc. / 18.0MB
Mahjong has gradually become more popular here in the US since the 80's when Activision brought the game over from China and released it as "Shanghai" here in the US. Now Electronic Arts has put together a great version of the game that retains all of the charm of the earlier releases and does a pretty good job of getting around the slightly clunky iPod controls as well. Even as small as the tiles are on screen they all look perfectly crisp and clear and are all easily distinguishable from one another. Now you can enjoy a soothing game of Mahjong anywhere you go.
You move around the tiles by rotating around the iPod wheel. If you're used to using a mouse, this may seem a little cumbersome at first but you'll quickly get the hang of it and it becomes almost second nature after only a few games. When you reach a tile you want to select you click the middle button and then rotate around the wheel until you reach the matching tile and click the middle button again to remove the two tiles. The visuals in the game are gorgeous and all the tiles and backgrounds feature a huge amount of detail and color. The Chinese background music is very calm and soothing but does tend to get a little repetitive during long playing sessions. Be warned, this is one of the most addictive games you'll ever play and it's obvious that EA knew what they were doing when they developed this game for the iPod. Mahjong is another perfect fit for the iPod as it's simple yet lots of fun. (Rating: 9/10)
TEXAS HOLD'EM / Apple Inc. / 47.5MB
Very few games are as popular right now as Texas Hold'em. This fun variation of poker now makes an appearance on the iPod and is easily the best looking iPod game to date. It's funny to watch the opponents and try to figure out what type of hand they have and the animations in the game are amazing. This is one iPod game that doesn't look the part. And being able to play in exotic locations as well as unlock new locations throughout the game give the game a lot of replay value as well.
The simple playability of Texas Hold'em makes it the perfect game for your iPod and with the game's popularity reaching an all-time high in the US, now is as good a time as any to grab this game and play it on the go. My only gripe comes with the AI of the game that can sometimes be erratic and difficult to figure out. Other than that, Texas Hold'em is a terrific and addictive game. As with the other successful iPod games, it's the simplicity and fun of this game that make it such a good fit for the iPod. (Rating: 8/10)
ZUMA / Pop & Cap Games, Inc. / 17.2MB
Anyone that's played Zuma knows that it's one of the most enjoyable and addictive puzzle games out there. Many a gamer has sat for hours in front of their Xbox 360 playing this game and now you can take this amazing game with you. While Mini Golf is still the best of the iPod games, Zuma is easily the second best and the iPod wheel control fits this game like a glove. Tons of levels and an ever-increasing difficulty make this game hard to put down.
You rotate your frog idol in the middle of the screen around using the iPod wheel and you shoot colored balls at chains of balls that are gradually moving in towards the golden skull you're guarding. Forming groups of 3 or more colored balls in a row will cause them to disappear and the chain of balls to move backwards, but only for a second or two and then you have to start grouping balls again before the chain reaches the skull. The action starts off slow and easy but soon gets up to an insane pace. Music is outstanding in the game and there are plenty of tunes to go around. The visuals are also fantastic and show beautiful detail in the many variations of the levels. If you've yet to play Zuma, you need to pick this game up and give it a try. It's even more addictive than Tetris was years ago. Outstanding. (Rating: 9/10)
CUBIS 2 / FreshGames, LLC / 20.4MB
Cubis 2 is an interesting twist on the puzzle genre and involves matching like colored cubes on an isometric 3/4 view playing field. You can also use bomb and ghost blocks to remove some of the blocks off of the field. At the beginning of each level your given a required number of blocks in which you have to remove from the field and a time limit in which to do it. Although it's quite simple at first, the game's intensity and time limits get much stricter as you progress through the game.
The game seems a little awkward at first until you begin to get a handle on how the game controls and what exactly your supposed to be doing. You are thrown random blocks and are required to move them around the game board and shoot them out to line up like-colored blocks. It's a little like Lumines only turned on its side and tilted into a 3/4 viewpoint. The visuals in the game are easily its high point and while the game is enjoyable enough at first, the luster seems to wear off rather quickly and it becomes just another tedious puzzler that tried to do something a little different but didn't do it very well. The music in the game was disappointing as well and got repetitive very quickly. If you're a diehard puzzle game fan, you might enjoy this game, but it just doesn't offer up enough new elements to make it enjoyable when there are clearly much better puzzle games out there for the iPod already. (Rating: 5/10)
PAC-MAN / Namco Networks / 8.6MB
What can you say about Pac Man that hasn't already been said a thousand times before. Except now you can take the little yellow muncher along with you on your iPod. Although you might not want to once you get a taste of the clunky and sometimes non-responsive controls. Pac Man is a legendary and outstanding classic arcade game, but it's clear from the first time you play the game on the iPod that it just wasn't meant for this type of control system.
The game itself is a picture perfect version of the classic coin-op, but trying to control Pac Man using the iPod wheel is frustrating to say the least. Even after playing 15-20 games, it was still difficult to get a grip with brushing the different sides of the click wheel to get Pac Man to turn when you wanted him to. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn't and when it didn't the results were usually not very favorable. I'm as big a Pac Man fan as anyone, but even I finally gave up on this game and moved on to something else. Developers are just going to have to face facts that some games just won't work well on the iPod with its limited controls. Maybe for the 6th generation iPod Apple can slap a d-pad on it. : ) (Rating: 4/10)
TETRIS / Electronic Arts Inc. / 14.4MB
As with Pac Man, there's not much you can say about Tetris that hasn't been said before. Easily the most popular and addictive puzzlers to ever hit the world gaming audience. If you were around in the late 80's you know what we're talking about. There's probably been more copies of Tetris sold than any game in history, if the truth be told, and even non-gaming people were playing this game there for awhile. Now EA has brought back the classic puzzle game for the iPod and surprisingly, it works pretty well.
Tetris on the iPod is fairly easy to control and I'm even finding myself preferring the iPod method of control now to the old keyboard method. You basically move the falling blocks left and right by rotating the wheel. You can rotate the blocks around by clicking the left and right sides of the click wheel and bring the blocks down hard by pressing downward on the wheel. If you're used to another method of control it might seem a little weird at first, but after a few games you'll be manipulating the falling blocks with speed and ease. The music in the game features many of the classic tracks with a more modern remixed feel to them. Visually the game isn't as good as I was expecting, and the backgrounds aren't nearly as imaginative as they have been in previous releases but the game is still just as addictive and fun as it ever was. Many people may still be burned out from the Tetris crazy but if you're looking for some more block-falling action, give Tetris on the iPod a try. (Rating: 7/10)
VORTEX / Apple Inc. / 22.6MB
Vortex is another one of the iPod games published directly by Apple and it's clear that Apple has a good bead on what games for the iPod need to be. Vortex is yet another spin on the classic breakout game. Think of it as playing breakout upside down and looking down into a wishing well. The circular movements fit the iPod wheel to a tee and make moving around easy and efficient. While the game might seem a bit too simplistic for some who like their games a little more action-oriented, the simple style and easy game play make this a hard game to put down.
The game play is very simply. You basically have to move your paddle around in a circular motion and you have to be sure you keep your ball in play and smashing the many bricks below you in the set time limit. It starts off very slow and easy and quickly gains pace and difficulty. As with all breakout games, sometimes you get the feeling you don't have a lot of control over the game, but Vortex does a lot to help alleviate this by keeping the ball always reacting to how your paddle is moving when you make contact with the ball. The music in the game is sort of a modern synthesizer mix with some fantastic music and drum beats. Visually Vortex starts off a little plain but picks up visual quality fast and soon the futuristic playing fields are looking quite amazing. If there is one game so far that feels like it was made just for the iPod it's Vortex. It somehow takes a tried and true classic game idea and molds it to fit the iPod style of control perfectly. (Rating: 8/10)
SUDOKU / Electronic Arts Inc. / 25.1MB
Now here's yet another game that's started a crazy lately. Sudoku is a number logic game that's so addictive it's scary. But rather than carry around a book of Sudoku puzzles, now all you need is your iPod and a healthy does of brain cells to go along with it. You can even enter your own puzzles that you have in books or newspapers in "Newspaper" mode. So the puzzle variations are basically endless and with 5 levels of difficulty, it's perfectly suitable for a player of any age or skill.
As with Mahjong the only thing that takes some getting used to is the control of having to use the wheel to move through the grids. It does seem cumbersome at first but it really just takes a little time to get used to it. It seems to be a little more frustrating on Sudoku than Mahjong, but it still begins to feel a little more natural after you've played it for awhile. The music isn't terribly great, although it's a little soothing at times. Visually the game is very sharp and detailed but isn't anything over-the-top like some of the other iPod games. This is Sudoku after all and it doesn't really require much visual prowess anyway. Overall a great game for fans that don't want to carry their giant book of Sudoku puzzles around all the time. (Rating: 7/10)
ROYAL SOLITAIRE / Electronic Arts Inc. / 45.6MB
Although a simplistic solitaire game comes installed on your iPod when you purchase it, EA has developed this feature-rich solitaire package for those who like a little more variety in their solitaire. There are 10 different solitaire games including: Canfield, Klondike, Peaks, Pyramid, Beleaguered Castle, Aces Up, Yukon, FreeCell, Golf, and Scorpion. Throw in a very simple style of control and what you get is Royal Solitaire.
Most people will likely be perfectly satisfied with the standard solitaire game on the iPod to be honest. Although I'm not a huge solitaire fan, even I found myself kind of enjoying all of these games. There are some really interesting twists on the standard solitaire game and they seemed to get better as I went down the list trying them out. Visually the game isn't much to write home about and the music in the game seems a little flat, but all in all this is a package that will mainly only appeal to diehard solitaire fans anyway as most will stick with the included game on the iPod. Would have been nice to see some better visuals and some flashy backgrounds, but this is a decent package just the same. Might be a better deal at $1.99 than it is at $4.99. (Rating: 6/10)
BEJEWELED / Pop & Cap Games, Inc. / 24.7MB
Bejeweled is one of my all-time favorite puzzle games so it's no secret that I was quite excited to see it pop up on the iPod games list. Bejeweled is a puzzle game that requires you to line up like colors of jewels in rows thus eliminating them from the play field. It's a bit like Tetris although all of the jewels are already down and you have to begin tilting and moving them to line up the same colors thus eliminating them from the baord. Now with Pop & Cap Games' iPod version, you can take the classic with you anywhere you go.
The visuals and music in the game are great. That put at least one of my concerns to rest. Although the control in some iPod games have suffered a little bit from having to use the click wheel, Bejeweled seems to be hit the hardest with this limitation. I tried to find a way to like the game but the frustrating control just kind of ruined it for me. Everything about the game is top-notch but the control system is just too clunky to really be able to enjoy the game. When I downloaded all of the iPod games it was this one that I expected to be the best, but sadly it's become too cumbersome for me to enjoy and I'm curious to see if other Bejeweled fans feel the same way. It hurts me to give a game I love this much such a low rating but I owe to those reading this to give fair warning about the control system. Rating: 5/10)
*** WARNING: Games available on iTunes are compatible only with the fifth-generation iPod and iPod software 1.2 or later. These games cannot be played in iTunes, nor are they compatible with other iPod models. ***
For more information or to find where you can download these games for your iPod check out: Apple's iTunes Website