iPod Game Goodness

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iPod Game Goodness

The iPod game catalog has evolved from an eye-rolling list of classic videogame clones to a wide array of options. I played the latest batch over a sailing vacation, testing them on my iPod Video during lazy tacks. While nostalgic cash-in games make appearances—Sonic and Bomberman—I found a new favorite iPod game.




Peggle takes my honors as a surprising, second must-own iPod game. (Phase was the first.) Like the Mac version, Peggle initially looks like a completely random game of pachinko—or Plinko for The Price is Right fans. Players fire a limited number of balls that ricochet through pegs until gravity pulls them off the bottom of the screen. Those pegs disappear, turning into points after each turn. Just clear the orange pegs to beat the level. While randomness plays a factor, high scores require skill and strategy; Peggle evokes billiards as much as pinball.


Peggle strikes an addictive balance between wining and losing; it’s the perfect just-one-more-try game. And its presentation excels. The first stage motif features some sort of unicorn planet, and all art, sound effects, and animation just gets better from there. Several ways to play the 55 boards—including two-person competition—wring out every cent of value.



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Brain Challenge


While I imagine that winching in sails tones my arms, Brain Challenge might keep my mind sharp. (And if it’s a placebo, don’t tell me; I’ll take what I can get.) The mental puzzler is a knock-off of Nintendo’s Brain Age games; skip it if you know those better originals, but try Brain Challenge if you don’t. Successive, quick problems make you think, with the game graphing every improvement.


Brain Challenge is dressed up in a faux-scientific motif, but don’t expect real-world results. Instead, the exercises woke me up if played in the morning or put me to sleep if I try to concentrate late at night. Simple logic, memory, math, and other questions flash on-screen, and players earn better marks for fast, accurate answers. While some of the two-dozen games fail—is arithmetic really a game?—the biggest problem comes with the control. Imprecise input frustrated me when I knew the answer but couldn’t enter it in fast enough, if at all. The daily graph of my progress (read: intelligence) adds to the pressure. If you can keep a light attitude, Brain Challenge is a fun diversion.



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Sonic the Hedgehog


Sonic the Hedgehog transported me back to calm childhood days, even when our boat rocked through heavy seas. This pitch-perfect copy of the original Genesis game puts a saccharine smile on us gamers who played the side-scrolling classic. Everything looks as 2D-fantastic as I remember, with Sonic racing through levels, jumping between platforms, and picking up those golden rings. This simple style worked long before the addition of useless extra characters—a.k.a. the “Poochies” of Sonic games—or the horrible transition to 3D. Sonic looks and sounds great on an iPod.


But this version misses on the controls. Sonic was always fast, and he blurs and rolls through the iPod as quick as ever. But neither of two input schemes gave me the precision to jump at the precise time when needed. I kept playing, but only because the forgiving life system lets players continue as long as they hold one ring. With the difficult controls, you’ll spend more time chasing down lost rings for safety than blazing ahead.



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Bomberman is another gaming classic that loses its sheen in the iPod transition. Players walk the character through top-view mazes by touching different directions on the iPod wheel. The center button drops a bomb, and players have seconds to run away before the fuse ignites the blast. Hopefully, an enemy monster will be in the path of the explosion; otherwise, bombs clear unmoving obstructions that block progress.


While other versions of Bomberman include varied power ups to throw bombs, add shields, and more, this game sticks to its simple roots with only a couple possible upgrades. Without those extras, I grew bored. Most of all, the Bomberman franchise has lasted so long because of its frenzied multiplayer battles. As expected, the iPod Bomberman is one-player only, but I hope a new, multiplayer version arrives with the iPhone SDK.



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Peggle is the runaway hit out of this group, but all of these games will find fans. Bomberman and Sonic the Hedgehog are best taken as nostalgic, visits to the past. (They’re cheaper than a therapist or a time machine.) And casual players who like puzzles should consider Brain Challenge. All games cost $4.99 and work on a fifth-generation iPod (iPod Video), iPod Classic, or the most recent iPod Nano (third generation).




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