Apple's iPad has only been around since April, but since its release I've drawn two conclusions:
—It's a great machine for playing games.
—Game developers haven't come close to exploiting its potential.
Oh, there's plenty for sale in the iPad version of the App Store. But most of the games — I'd say 90 percent, and even then I fear I'm being too charitable — are derivative, one-dimensional bores. Most of the free ones aren't even worth the space on your hard drive or the time it takes to download them.
The chaotic App Store doesn't do much to distinguish good software from bad, unless you count the wisdom-of-the-masses provided by its best-seller lists. And, unlike the iPhone App Store, the iPad version doesn't sort games into categories, so you're out of luck if you want to whittle down the list to say, sports or strategy games.
But there are some gems to be found. My favorites can be divided into three groups:
—High-definition versions of iPhone hits:
One of 2009's finest games was Tiger Style's "Spider: The Secret of Bryce Manor," a haunting adventure set in an abandoned mansion. My only complaint was that the iPhone's small screen cramped its gorgeous graphics — which really come to life in the new "Spider: Bryce Manor HD." Even if you played "Spider" last year, the iPad version is worth a second purchase.
Indeed, the developers of some of the most popular iPhone apps have upgraded them into essential iPad games. You can start an impressive iPad library with Popcap's "Plants vs. Zombies HD," Chillingo's "Angry Birds HD," Gameprom's "Pinball HD," Illusion Labs' "Labyrinth 2 HD" and Firemint's "Flight Control HD."
One more recommendation, although it comes from computers rather than the iPhone: Hemisphere Games' "Osmos HD," in which you play a blob that absorbs other blobs. It's utterly hypnotic.
Even in this high-tech era, I still love to crack open an old-fashioned board game when friends are around. The iPad makes board games much more portable; thanks to Electronic Arts, I always have "Scrabble" and "Boggle" on hand.
My current addiction is Gameloft's beautiful adaptation of "Blokus," Mattel's challenging yet accessible tile-laying strategy game. And Days of Wonder's "Small World" — a game of conquest set on a continent crowded with dwarves, orcs and other fantasy creatures — is a delight.
Much anticipated are the iPad versions of two beloved German board games: "The Settlers of Catan" and "Carcassonne." The iPhone versions are first-rate, but I cannot wait to see what their developers can do with the iPad's extra space.
The laid-back, story-driven adventures of the 1990s lost ground this century to more trigger-happy games, but they're making a comeback on the iPad. The best of the bunch is LucasArts' "Monkey Island 2 Special Edition: LeChuck's Revenge," a hilarious pirate tale that's been lavishly upgraded from its 1991 release.
Other games in this genre include "Wallace & Gromit in The Last Resort" and "Sam & Max Episode 1: The Penal Zone" (both from Telltale Games), as well as Revolution's "Broken Sword: Director's Cut." If you want iPad games that work your brain as much as your fingers, these are all good bets.
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