I'm very happy for the success Rovio has achieved with Angry Birds. However, when one particular game gets so much hoopla in an already overcrowded and under-marketed space, a lot of good games tend to go unnoticed. In this article I take a look at three physics puzzle games that don't involve enraged fowls. In some ways, I find them more enjoyable than Angry Birds because I haven't run into a level yet where I couldn't get the equivalent of three stars within a few tries. I don't mind a challenge, but I don't have an hour to spend on each level just to have the satisfaction of knowing I mastered it. Let's take a look at these cool games.
The first comments I heard about Siege Hero were along the lines of "it's like Angry Birds, but from a first person point of view." Anyone who has played both games knows that's not true at all. They do share the common task of causing a structure to fall down on top of their enemies, but the mechanics and atmosphere of the games are completely different. Siege Hero is more like a tactical shooting gallery game, since you get to precisely target the area you wish to shoot. You simply tap an area quickly to launch ammunition at it, or you can hold your finger down to produce a scope that lets you zoom in and find just the right spot to strike. In scope mode the ammunition is launched once you let go of your finger.
Ammunition and other features create tactical challenges
Like other games of this style, you start out with basic ammunition and get the cooler stuff as the game progresses. In this game you start with a single rock, and eventually work your way to triple rocks. Then you get gunpowder, which has a little more kick to it. Next you get fire, which does wonders when it comes to burning wood. So far, the final element I've received is oil, which is a neat tool because instead of destroying the building blocks like wood or stone, the oil barrel simply breaks and splatters lethal oil all over the enemy. It's a nice tactical nuance that I don't think I've seen in another physics game. I also like the fact that there are "civilians" in the game that you gain points for saving but lose points if they get killed.
The visuals and audio are ok
Visually, the game is a bit of a mixed bag. Nothing is bad looking, but the backgrounds are pretty bland. The objects you can destroy are kind of boring until you start breaking them apart. I like the cartoon style of the characters, however. There are also nice little touches, like the soldiers' faces turning to skulls before they disappear, or little wings floating up when you accidentally kill an innocent civilian. There are some nice ambient sound effects, and the noises the enemy makes when dying are okay for a while, but overall the sound isn't very impressive. Even worse, there's no music. It's really a shame they didn't put the same level of effort into the aesthetics as the game itself.
Gameplay is Siege Hero's strength
While the audio and visual elements of the game might not be up to par with others of its ilk, Siege Hero more than makes up for it with actual gameplay. It's kind of nice being able to play this type of game without having to use the pull back and release method so prevalent in this genre of game, and it really does make Siege Hero feel like a whole different experience. Grade: A
Much like Angry Birds and most other "wreck the castle" style games, Melon Truck uses the drag and release method to adjust speed and angle and launch objects as ammunition. In this case the "weapon" of choice is the watermelon, but what I love about this game is that it's not about destroying things. Instead, the object of the game is to score at least 1600 points per level by launching the melons into scattered baskets.
Sensitive controls make the gameplay difficult
My main issue with the game is that the controls are way too sensitive for something that needs to be quite precise. Many times I had the angle and speed set to the exact values I wanted, but in the fraction of a second I lifted my hand off the screen, I shifted enough that one or both values changed. This usually results in a missed shot, which is never good. It's especially important to be able to adjust the values accurately because, aside from showing the numbers, there's no visual indication of the path the melon will take.
Visuals are slightly lacking, but soundtrack has tribal undertones
Speaking of visuals, the graphics in Melon Truck are pretty average. Nothing looks bad, per se, but it also looks like something I could do with a few hours of Microsoft Paint. Thankfully it doesn't impede the gameplay, and you do get used to the look after a while. The sound of the cannon firing is a bit odd, but I like the rest of the background jungle noises. I also like the music—it has a nice tribal undertone to it and reminds me of the soundtrack to the classic video game, "Shadow of the Beast."
With Melon Truck you don't have to destroy everything
Despite less than adequate controls, Melon Truck is actually a decent "aim and launch" game. Granted, I'd enjoy it more if the controls were easier to manage, but I've learned to deal with it and just keep trying until I pass a level. I just appreciate the fact that you get the same style of mechanics as Angry Birds without having to destroy everything. Grade: B+
Popstar Physics: Save Toshi 2
If Siege Hero is Angry Birds from a first person viewpoint, then Popstar Physics is Siege Hero in 3D. Thankfully, every time you add perspective to this genre it both enhances and varies the gameplay. Much like Siege Hero, in this game you just tap where you want to launch your ammunition. You can pinch to zoom, but you don't really need to in my opinion. You will need to take advantage of the rotating board to view it from different perspectives; there are times when you'll need to attack a level from different angles to be successful.
Use tennis balls to crumble surroundings and crush zombies
Each level requires you to crush one or more zombies. To do this, you must use your supply of tennis balls to knock down the structures that are over, under, and around the zombies. Wood can be broken, stone falls but does not break, and ice slides around the stage. You must decide which objects are the best ones to strike to cause the surroundings to crumble to your advantage. You only have to kill all the zombies to advance, but in order to get three gold stars you'll have to do so without using all your tennis balls. Unlike some other physics games, however, you won't have to spend an hour on each level to earn those gold stars.
Zombies scream, but the Popstar is music-less
In contrast to the other games in this article, the backdrop in Popstar Physics is quite well rendered. It would be nice if there were more than one setting, but at least it looks really good. There are also some nice ripple effects when an object falls in the water. The zombies look decent, though they are clearly just a re-skinned Toshi from the first game. The sound effects are great, whether it's the ball hitting a particular surface or a zombie screaming when it dies. It surprises me that while you're saving a supposed pop star, there's a distinct lack of background music.
Only 20 levels, but it's a joy to play
Popstar Physics has been quite a joy for me to play. I find myself giggling just a bit every time I get that third gold star. My main gripe is that there are only 20 levels right now, but I'm hoping that they'll come out with some additional levels after a while. Grade: A-
This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to fun physics games. Sites like AppShopper.com list games by release date, forums like TouchArcade.com are always discussing the best and brightest releases, and friends are always a good source for new gems. These developers have worked long and hard on these projects, and most of them can't really afford advertising. They certainly deserve a return on their investment. Besides, if you like the game, then it's a win-win for all of us.