When it comes to videogames, Apple burst onto the scene with its one-two punch of iPhone and iPod Touch and has seriously upped the ante with its new iPad device. While its iPhone and iPod Touch devices certainly do more than play games (there’s an app for that), Apple has already taken a bite out of Sony’s (PSP and PSPgo) and Nintendo’s (Nintendo DS, Nintendo DSi, and Nintendo DSi XL) profits over the last couple of years. According to research firm Flurry, portable game revenue from Apple grew from 5% of the U.S. market in 2008 to 19% in 2009.
Now with the iPad, gaming graduates to high definition and the touch-screen experiences become more engaging and addictive on the brilliant 9.7-inch (diagonal) screen. For those who’ve already picked up the $500 16GB iPad ($600 gets you twice the memory and $700 gets you 64GB) or plan on adding it to your electronics trove, the following games stand out as must-haves in the first batch of offerings. Expect more exclusives and better games to come down the pipeline if Apple sells the 8 to 10 million (U.S.) iPads that analysts are currently forecasting for this year. The good news is that many games allow players to battle across all Apple devices, so you can school friends who only own an iPod Touch or iPhone in the same game.
Plants vs. Zombies HD (PopCap, $10)
This popular and highly addictive casual game gets an HD makeover. While your wife or girlfriend has probably played some variation of this game in the past, don’t let that scare you away. This humorous strategy game puts you in control of an army of plants that are protecting a home from invading zombies. The touch control makes it easier to pick apart multiple zombies piece by piece using “weapons” like buttered popcorn and cabbage. Beyond the 50 levels of gameplay, there are 18 mini-games including Walnut Bowling (zombies play the role of the pins) that will keep you coming back for more.
Real Racing HD (Firemint, $10)
There are a ton of racing games out on iPad but this is the one to buy. The HD visuals literally put you behind the wheel of a suped-up car (there are 48 cars across four classes in the game) and the iPad becomes your steering wheel. The vibrant visuals come to life on the big screen and the touch screen controls make it a snap to customize vehicles. Also new for the iPad is the ability to download ghost races and compete against other drivers’ best times on the 12 courses. Or you can jump on Wi-Fi and race against five other players across multiple Apple devices.
Command & Conquer Red Alert (EA Mobile, $13)
While strategy games have not translated well to mobile phones or even portable game consoles, the huge iPad screen breathes new life into the genre. Command & Conquer Red Alert makes full use of both the large screen and the touch screen functionality, which makes controlling multiple vehicles, troops and weaponry throughout the game map a synch. iPad exclusives include a triple-touch Selection Box for quick troop directions and a double zoom level for more tactical controls. Multiplayer support includes both WiFi and Bluetooth, and the game comes with six bonus skirmish maps and an expansion pack for extended replay.
Mirror’s Edge (EA Mobile, $13)
Mirror’s Edge was a critically acclaimed first-person shooter that was lost amidst the Christmas rush two years ago. Now iPad gamers get a fresh 2D take on the game and a new angle on the action. Gameplay still focuses on futuristic courier Faith Conners, who must use her acrobatic skills to outwit armed guards and deliver important messages. The world comes to life with gorgeous HD visuals. And beyond the 14 challenging single-player levels, this game introduces split-screen, two-player races that can be played on a single iPad – yet another innovation with the large screen.
Flight Control HD (Firemint, $5)
If you’re not one of the 2 million people who have downloaded this iPhone/iPod Touch hit, now’s your chance to become a flight control operator. But unlike the real flight control pros, who still operate on 1960s computers, this game has received a fabulous HD upgrade. In fact, the game can be played in stereoscopic 3D if you own a pair of those glasses. The larger screen allows sending multiple planes safely to the appropriate runway more precise. But the action amps up quickly and the frenetic pace is what makes this game so addictive. Split-screen multiplayer has been added so you and a friend can compete while thousands of virtual lives are at stake. Or you can join forces and play cooperatively on the same iPad. It’s a lot more fun than flying these days.
N.O.V.A. Near Orbit Vanguard Alliance (Gameloft, $10)
iPad has its answer to Halo with this slick first-person shooter. This sci-fi action game stars Kal Wardin as a Marine out to protect the last remnants of humanity from invading alien forces. With settings ranging from near orbital satellites to alien cities, the 13 levels of single-player shooting is great to get used to the unique controls (which includes a two-finger grenade toss for accurate trajectory and context sensitive environmental interactions). Then you can take the fight multiplayer – armed with assault rifles, rocket launchers and plasma guns -- with online and local deathmatches for up to four players. The touch screen opens up multi target acquisition, which allows you to draw a grid when using the rocket launcher and frag every enemy on screen.