Madden NFL 12 is the biggest name in the bunch this week – no competition there – but iPad owners should be particularly psyched about the recent slate of hugely impressive original offerings. Jetpack Joyride (from Fruit Ninja developer Halfbrick) in particular is a pitch-perfect, one-touch action game that keeps things frantic and exciting for hours, while Contre Jour provides a very different feel: a nuanced and relaxing puzzle-oriented experience with stunning piano music and gorgeous visuals. And finally, we’re checking out iBlast Moki 2 HD, which follows up the popular original with some LittleBigPlanet-inspired design within its drawn-out, physics-based approach. It’s a pretty fantastic time for new, dirt-cheap originals in the App Store.
Maybe you heard about Jetpack Joyride when it was called Machine Gun Jetpack – a much better moniker, if you ask us – or perhaps you caught wind of it because developer Halfbrick spawned earlier iOS greats like Fruit Ninja, Age of Zombies, and Monster Dash. And surely some of you are coming into this article blind, but whatever your previous knowledge of Jetpack Joyride is, all it takes is about five seconds gameplay footage to know that Halfbrick has unearthed another smashing App Store smash. It may build upon the formula of Canabalt and other self-propelled running games, but strapping a jetpack on expectedly shakes up the experience – and nothing about this game feels careless or half-assed along the way.
From the moment down-on-his-luck salesman Barry Steakfries – previously a smart-mouthed, shotgun-pumping badass in Age of Zombies and Monster Dash – steals the bullet-spewing jetpack from the local secret lab, he’s off and running through a wilderness of dangerous hazards, from electric shock panels to rockets and laser beams. The goal here is to survive as long as possible (and then mock your friends’ meager leaderboard entries), but your only interaction with Mr. Steakfries is via touches of the screen, which send him skyward with each tap or sustained finger press. One wrong move and you’re toast, but special suits and vehicles give you an extra layer of protection – like the zany teleporter or the Angry Birds-mocking Profit Bird, which sheds cash as it flaps its metal wings.
Jetpack Joyride is consistently tough – immensely so once the speed kicks in and the evasion window disintegrates – but also rewarding. Quick-hit missions, like collecting a certain number of coins or high-fiving scientists, rank up your character, which also gifts coins used for meaningful suit and vehicle upgrades, new jetpacks, and other in-game swag. The game is designed for the long haul, so assuming you don’t use the optional in-app purchases to buy all the bonuses, you’ll be chasing upgrades for hours upon hours. Jetpack Joyride looks fantastic, plays just as well, and delivers thrills and excitement at nearly every opportunity. Plus, it’s only $0.99 and playable on both iPhone and iPad, making this easily one of the best App Store releases this year, and heartily recommended to everyone.
We rarely pull out the “atmospheric” tag on iOS games, whether it’s due to the size of the screen, thinner budgets, or developers’ predilection toward bright color palettes and smiling, bug-eyed animals. But Contre Jour is undeniably atmospheric, thanks in part to its dark, Limbo-meets-World of Goo visuals, but the most entrancing part of the experience has to be the music. Composed by David Ari Leon, who has written music for television, films, and once interned under Danny Elfman, these absolutely haunting piano ballads are some of the most evocative and memorable tunes we’ve ever heard in a videogame. Sure, they loop over and over again, but we didn’t mind – this is the type of music we’d want scoring our lives, through our triumphs and failures alike.
Granted, there’s a game behind all this loving gloss, and it’s a pretty good one at that. Contre Jour – that’s French for “against the light” – finds you moving a cute little blob creature from one part of the stage to an exit elsewhere, with Cut the Rope-like fixed objects in place to help you traverse obstacles and collect lights along the way. Early on, you’ll rely on sticky ropes that can grab onto the creature and suspend it over caverns or fling it to the next nearby rope, but the game also includes a ground deformation mechanic necessary for building momentum and even creating barriers for guiding your Patapon-esque eyeball-centric character to the goal. Doing so is as simple as raising and lowering ground segments using your finger, and having played Contre Jour on both iPhone and iPad (both versions are included in this HD release), it’s significantly easier to perform such tasks on the tablet.
Sixty quick stages are currently included, but while it starts simply enough with the bouncy ropes, you’ll also encounter portals (along with a choice Portal 2 joke), slingshots, cannons, and finally ropes mounted to movable, on-track fixtures. Such additions within a relatively small number of stages help keep the gameplay interesting throughout, and even if the individual ideas don’t seem terribly innovative, the way they interact together is sound. Besides, with music and visuals this fantastic, who’s going to look away from Contre Jour HD? We’re pretty excited to see what extra stages the developer dreams up in the future, not to mention the possibility of this EP-sized soundtrack becoming a full album in time.