E veryone is looking for the next “Angry Birds.”
Since the avian menaces invaded Apple’s iPhone in December 2009, the game and its spinoffs have been downloaded more than 250 million times. Since the iPad debuted last April, “Angry Birds HD” has been at or near the top of its Top Paid Apps chart. The characters have moved on to T-shirts, plush toys and board games, and there’s even been talk of a movie or TV show.
There’s no way to duplicate such success, although there are enough critter-flinging rip-offs in the App Store to populate a good-sized zoo. But if any company has a shot, it would be Chillingo, the U.K.-based publisher that picked up “Angry Birds” from Finnish developer Rovio Mobile.
“Feed Me Oil” ($1.99 for iPad, 99 cents for iPhone) is Chillingo’s latest brain-bender. Like “Angry Birds,” it’s a “physics puzzler” — to solve each level, you have to work around the somewhat unrealistic physics of the game’s universe. In this case, you have a monster that is thirsty for the oil spewing from an inconveniently placed spout. You’re given a limited assortment of simple tools, like rotating platforms, fans and magnets, to direct the oil flow into the monster’s mouth.
Your score depends on how many tools you have to use, and since there’s never just one correct solution, you’ll be tempted to retry levels to find more elegant solutions. Easy to grasp yet increasingly devious, “Feed Me Oil” is slick stuff. Three stars.
“Tiny Tower” (NimbleBit, free for iPad and iPhone) is closer in spirit to another phenomenon, the Facebook-based time-killer “FarmVille.” Instead of growing crops and breeding livestock, though, you’re building an urban skyscraper. As the clock ticks, you earn coins to invest in your tower, adding residential and business floors; you need some of each, since the “bitizens” who work in your stores need apartments to live in.
You can also earn “Towerbux” by completing simple tasks, like finding a particular bitizen, and you can use Towerbux to speed up construction or inventory restocking. If you want to rush things along, you can spend actual cash to buy Towerbux, but you can erect a perfectly good building without spending real money. Ultimately, “Tiny Tower” is pointless — the only goal is to keep going higher — but it is endearing and addictive. Two and a half stars.
“Puzzle Agent 2” ($6.99 for iPad, $4.99 for iPhone) is the latest from Telltale Games, which has built its reputation on the kind of point-and-click adventures that have seen a major revival on the iPad. In this sequel, FBI agent Nelson Tethers returns to Scoggins, Minn., home to an eraser factory, a tribe of forest gnomes and the most eccentric locals east of Twin Peaks. Several of those locals have disappeared, and Nelson has to follow a trail of puzzles to find them.
The brainteasers in “Puzzle Agent 2” are solid, with a good mix of visual, mathematical and logical challenges. The scratchy line art by Graham Annable fits the quirky nature of the story, and Telltale finally delivers answers to some of the questions left hanging in the original. It’s a fascinating four-hour journey that left me craving the next installment. Three stars.
“Cargo Runners” (Trouble Brothers, $5.99 for iPad only) is another board game for a device that has seen adaptations of everything from checkers to Monopoly to (my favorite) Ticket to Ride. The difference is that this is a completely original game, built for the iPad.
Each player has a cargo ship, and the goal is to sail around the world, collecting fruit or coffee or whatever other commodities your clients want. Some unpredictable elements are thrown in; a storm, for example, might force you to take a more roundabout route back to your home port.
“Cargo Runners” has just the right mix of luck and skill, and while it’s simple enough for kids to learn, it has enough strategy to satisfy older players. The only drawback is the lack of a single-player mode, but the developers say they’re working on it. Three and a half stars.