- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 20, 2011

Here’s a review of some of the coolest games for Apple’s iPad:

Ultimate Spider-Man: Total Mayhem HD (Gameloft, 99 cents)  Marvel Comics’ famed web slinger stars in a third-person adventure beautifully crafted for Apple’s tablet computer.

In a game based on the comics publisher’s popular ‘tween-friendly Spidey title, the action mixes a colorful design with environmental obstacle courses and button-mashing combat to satisfy a solo player.

Spider-Man resides in an authentic cel-shaded universe in a story tied to the escape of supervillains in New York City and the infection of some of its residents with a symbiote substance.

Most important to the design, the player controls a character who sounds and acts exactly as Peter Parker’s alter ego.

Our authentic hero can swing on webs through the city, slide to the rooftops, climb buildings, perch on objects before attacking, blast minions with webbing while cracking a joke, rescue tied-up people and swiftly clobber classic boss foes, including Electro, Sandman, Venom and Green Goblin.

The game features dazzling high-speed combat through 12 levels where the quicker a player taps combinations of on-screen buttons, the more impressive are the moves that result.

Geared toward the 9-year-old fan, our hero never falls to his death (if the player follows on-screen prompts with a finger), always can find some health orbs to stay alive and avoids danger with a tap on the ever-appearing Spider Sense icons.

The Spider Sense moves, usually available when our hero needs to duck exploding projectiles, a giant hammer, the horn of a charging Rhino and such, are slick counterattacks, often with slow-motion responses.

Players also can collect power-upgrade orbs and comic-book cover art, take photos of the villains and even unlock Spider-Man’s black suit.

Those who have not bought the game have no excuse not to enjoy Spider-Man’s exploits, thanks to the ridiculously low price.

Total Mayhem HD is one of the more satisfying titles ever created for the mobile-gaming comic-book lover.

Risk (Electronic Arts, $6.99)  The granddaddy of world-conquest board games debuts on the iPad with a virtual adaptation as strategic as the original.

The objective has been around since 1957 and sounds simple enough. Amass armies to occupy territories and then whole continents while crushing opposition to completely take over a world map.

In the turn-based challenge, each player works through three phases. He positions newly acquired troops, attacks opponent-owned areas of the map and then fortifies one territory by moving his forces.

The iPad’s multimedia touch screen works perfectly with the action as individual soldier pieces are touched and moved to regions and can be grouped with a pinch of the fingers to combine might in one territory  or troops can be assigned via a numerical meter.

Battles are resolved via up to three dice per attack, each representing an aggressive unit. A player can swipe his finger across the tablet to roll all three of the dice, roll one at a time or tap a button to see automatically the end result of the complete battle.

Players also accumulate Risk cards, just like in the original game, which can be combined to receive extra troop bonuses.

Toss in an occasional animation, sound effects and options to set up matches such as automatically placing troops on the board to start a game, and it becomes a completely addictive experience.

Let me state the obvious, however. Risk works best with live opponents, and those software options also do not disappoint.

Besides the solo war (versus the computer) match variations include passing the iPad around to up to six other players and a local multiplayer option (Wi-Fi or Bluetooth) with each opponent owning the game on his tablet.

Rock Band Reloaded HD (Electronic Arts, $9.99)  The rhythm-based video game that launched the faux careers of thousands of virtual musicians returns in a mobile format for the iPad owner.

This compact version offers a design style and objective to sort of, kind of play lead guitar, drums or bass or sing (sans the instrument controllers) as seen in entertainment consoles.

Players use their fingers to tap on icons (such as guitar picks or drums) to rhythmically match colored notes cascading down or across the screen tied to popular songs.

This latest edition also adds vocals support through the iPad’s microphone.

Let’s think about that for a minute. The game encourages singing to a mobile device and suggests using headphones for the maximum aural experience. (I’ll suggest that anyone within shouting distance of your tablet should be given complimentary earplugs.)

Besides a Quickplay mode to get right into tackling a tune, a robust World Tour takes players through six cities, performing in 36 venues to amass fans and stars to unlock songs and gain high scores.

As far as song selection goes, for this older fan of rock, it stinks. Players get just 15 tunes (Pat Benatar’s “Heartbreaker,” Billy Idol’s “White Wedding” and Duran Duran’s “Hungry Like a Wolf” slightly satisfy) with an option to freely download 16 more songs from obscure bands  at least to me  such as Death of the Cool and Bang Camaro.

Adding to the game’s song inventory requires rifling through a slim online catalog (let’s hope it will grow quickly) and purchasing 99-cent downloadable two-song packs that include more familiar artists, such as the Pretenders and Roy Orbison.

The ability to define the controller scheme for righties or lefties is a welcome option, along with four difficulty settings, a whammy-bar effect and Facebook access to tout achievements.

As far as multiplayer options, a riffing competition has a pair of gamers using the same tablet via a split screen, but the real fun is forming a band with three other iPad owners through a local Wi-Fi or Bluetooth connection.

Although the design looks great, with some decent replayability, if you don’t include the singing, Rock Band Reloaded still misses feeling like the authentic experience. I was reminded just how critical those wireless instrument controllers were to the role-playing fun after just a few minutes of tapping away, feeling more like a typist than a musician.

* Send e-mail to jszadkowskiwashingtontimes.com.

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