A gorgeous arcade flight simulation arrives for Apple's motion-sensing tablet to give young gamers a great way to show off their aerobatic skills in Air Mail (Chillingo and N-fusion Interactive, rated 4+, reviewed for iPad 2, $4.99).
Through a story narrated by an old man with a heavy accent (think Mako Iwamatsu from "Samurai Jack"), a player learns about and controls Scoop, a boy turned veteran pilot caught up in a struggle to protect his beloved island of Domeeka from Prince Marquese and his invading Verakai forces.
With touches of stunning Steampunk anime design mixed with Nintendo titles such as Pilotwings Resort (3DS), it is told over seven chapters and through more than two dozen missions.
A player takes to the skies in a beat-up biplane equipped with pontoons and first handles simple tasks such as delivering packages (fly near one to pick it up and close to a marked area to automatically drop it), catching fish in a net, accumulating crystals and scaring pigeons off of bell towers.
Life gets more difficult with the occupation, and Scoop eventually must set off fireworks to inspire the citizens (fly through a series of in-air hoops to see the magic), rescue key characters, douse a city's flames with mounted water buckets, steal bombs off of an airship's deck and avoid being shot down by massive armed zeppelins.
Scoop's plane has no firepower, so his efforts are tied to rebellion and support. That's a nice surprise in a gaming world often filled with attacking, killing and destroying.
Three levels of control schemes mix the iPad's gyroscopic abilities and touch screen.
My favorite scheme was simply turning the tablet to control the plane left and right or tilt for up and down with a throttle button to quickly accelerate or slow down to land. It was empowering for me, offering a manageable learning curve, and should be an equal delight for youngsters.
A beautiful, 3-D-rendered landscape greets the player throughout the action. Be it a night sky filled with stars, waves crashing against a rocky shore, multicolored cloud formations set against a sunset, the fiery stalks of Domeeka ablaze, the calm ocean and inlets reflecting the surroundings and fog rolling in, it's always gorgeous to the level of distracting while trying to maneuver the plane.
Those looking for a scavenger hunt will appreciate collecting golden monkeys and scrolls to upgrade the aircraft.
Besides the story mode, a player can take on multiple timed jobs (Express Delivery offers four at this time) or simply travel around the large world and discover new areas and surprises.
Air Mail delivers a memorable aerial experience that highlights the iPad's graphics and comes perfectly priced for families with junior adventurers.
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