Game Review: uDraw Studio: Instant Artist

The expansion of uDraw to the PS3 and Xbox 360 brings a very family friendly option to both systems and opens up the artistic side of both. This game (which is also available as a standalone title for the Wii) is broken into three parts, each of which emphasizes self-expression in a different way. Art Camp lets kids participate in a half-dozen activities, such as paint-by-numbers and dot-to-dot pictures — as well as an arcade-like game where you whack aliens who fly across the canvas. (It’s a cute idea, but not a lot of fun.)

Art Studio is literally an open canvas, letting players use the game to create whatever they’d like via the peripheral. And Art School is a very thorough tutorial full of instructions on how to improve your art skills, covering all of the basics of art and design. The interface keeps tools on screen; and players can share and send images. While it’s a wonderful artistic tool, the peripheral isn’t perfect. The cord feels short and users will fight against it from time to time, which can be annoying — and drawing on a peripheral in your lap, while watching it appear on screen isn’t any easier than it was on the 2010 Wii game of a similar name. (Should you own that one, there’s more to this game, but probably not enough to justify paying full price.)

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App Review: Aquaria

Aquaria has appeared on other gaming platforms, but it feels at home on the iPad, offering an experience that is both intriguing and serene. As Naija, you’ll explore a stunning underwater world trying to fill holes in your memory. While there’s some combat, this is a game about character development. The most interesting element to the game is the use of music. Learning new abilities (such as transformation or shields) is essentially a game of Simon (i.e. parroting back notes), but the songs of Naija, blended with the background music, make this an incredibly soothing game that makes time fade away. The app suggests playing with headphones — and it really does improve the experience.

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App Review: Beauty and the Beast: Storybook Deluxe

Sure, this app has a vested interest in getting people to buy a copy of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, but don’t let that distract you from all it has to offer. Blending a high-quality storybook app (you can read it yourself, listen to the narration, or record your own telling of the story), with extended song (and other) clips from the film, art opportunities, and games, it has something to interest every child. It’s also easy to navigate, a bonus considering how much there is to explore.

The only point of hesitation is the price. At $8.99, it’s an expensive app — especially for something aimed at children. The price, admittedly, is a tough pill to swallow, but the deep catalog of offerings makes it worth serious consideration. And if you see it on sale, grab it.

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Game Review: James Noir’s Hollywood Crimes

James Noir’s Hollywood Crimes isn’t a great game, per se, but it’s one that has that magical quality of wanting to play just one more round. The puzzles are intriguing and the game show motif it uses (along with lots of audio and Max Headroom-like animations) is oddly captivating. The story itself isn’t especially interesting, though — and even with the threats you’ll face, there’s not a real sense of urgency to the game. The juxtaposition of leisurely puzzle-solving and catching a serial killer is an awkward concept that never quite gels.

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App Review: Squids

By blending the strategy and action genres (and tossing in a dash of role playing), Squids is a unique creature in the App Store. Though it presents itself as a mix of Final Fantasy and Angry Birds, there’s really nothing like it. That’s commendable — and the game is a technical marvel, with jaunty music and nice graphics. It also has an ideal difficulty ramp — not too tough, but sufficient to still leave you with a sense of achievement.

But with every new genre, there’s a learning curve — on the behalf of both players and developers. Squids feels like a game that, while fun for a while, doesn’t entirely live up to its potential. Moving around the levels doesn’t feel natural, and it’s hard to connect with the characters onscreen (and not just because they’re squids). You certainly won’t regret this purchase — and many may love the game — but others will wonder why the smiles on their faces aren’t as wide as they should be.

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App Review: Super Crossfire HD

Super Crossfire has been charming people since it was an independent game on Xbox Live, but in a rare twist, it actually works better on a touch screen than it does with a controller. It also becomes a must-play game for anyone who spent part of their youth in a video game arcade. The Space Invaders homage is impossible to miss, but the game adds enough twists and turns that it sheds the clone label and stands on its own.

The in-app purchases seem superfluous and a bit of a money grab, but that issue aside, this is one of the rare apps that kids and adults alike will both love.

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App Review: Contract Killer: Zombies

While Contract Killer: Zombies certainly isn’t for everyone, you have to give the game credit for paying attention to the details. The graphics are fantastic, and the story and voice acting are much better than they need to be. Those alone put it above so many of the zombie shooters on the market. Ultimately, though, it gets repetitive and its difficulty curve is designed to encourage players to buy in-game currency, which leaves a bad taste in our mouth. It’s certainly much too violent and scary for kids, but if you’re a George Romero fan, you’ll likely have a great time with it.

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App Review: Modern Combat 3: Fallen Nation

Gameloft’s latest homage(or, if you prefer, blatant rip-off) of the Call of Duty series might lack originality, but it has some impressive gameplay. Modern Combat 3 is definitely inappropriate for children, due to its realistic and frequent violence and overly harsh language, but adults who enjoy combat games set in the modern era will quickly embrace the game. The artwork is incredible — detailed and vibrant — and competes well with the most visually impressive games on the iOS platform. And the action is well-paced.

The single player mode is pretty straightforward — walk, crouch, shoot, repeat. Fun, but not something you’ll likely return to once you finish. The multiplayer mode, though, is very well done, with six maps and seven modes, supporting both online and local wi-fi. This gives the game legs and could keep it alive for some time. Even with its high price tag, this is a game that adult action fans will consider a bargain.

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App Review: Hungry Sumo

Hungry Sumo scratches the same itch that a Fruit Ninja or Doodle Jump game does. It’s overly simplistic, but utterly addictive. The goal is simple: Fatten up your sumo to defeat floating enemes (but don’t run into them while you’re eating). Despite the 100 levels, there’s not a lot of diversity, but that’s not important, since the concept is so easy to grasp and so fun on a visceral level. It’s snack gaming in grand fashion, but it’s also a title you’ll find yourself coming back to again and again. Deep? Not at all. But fun? More than most of the games you’ll find in the App Store.

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App Review: TRIVIAL PURSUIT Master Edition for iPad

TRIVIAL PURSUIT Master Edition for iPad certainly has all the elements of the hit trivia franchise, but while the game can be an uproarious good time in the real world, it’s a bit restrained in the electronic world. That might be due to the looping, ever present soundtrack, which seems tacked on.

On its merits, though, it has all the right ingredients. Q&As are peppered with visual questions to shake things up a bit. And the game automatically shows you all of your move choices once you roll the dice. The questions come in three difficulty levels, but are too hard for younger children, who are likely to get upset and frustrated quickly.

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