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Appletell reviews The Iron Horse for iPad

Sections: iDevice Apps, iPad, iPhone/iPod touch/iPad, Reviews

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Iron Horse for iPadCategory: Rhythm game
Seller: AppStar Games
Requirements: iPhone OS 3.2 or later
Compatibility: iPad (iPhone version available)
File Size: 21.9MB
Version Reviewed: 1.2
Price: $0.99 (free lite version available)
Age Rating: 4+

Games don’t get much simpler than AppStar Games’ Iron Horse. That makes sense, considering the company’s principals are Garry Kitchen and David Crane, the resumes for whom date back to the Atari 2600 when technology forced all games to be simple, and developers still had to find ways to make them fun.

Although technology has obviously advanced, AppStar is still taking a basic approach to gameplay. This is smart, because too many iPhone/iPad games have been ruined by horrible controls that just don’t work on the device. With Iron Horse, there’s no virtual d-pad or no tilting, you just tap.

Iron Horse for iPad

And it works here. Basically, a train is driving along the screen. Eventually, the last car on the train will pass by a car parked on a lower track. At the right moment, you tap the screen to connect that car to your train. A perfectly timed tap will improve your score, and four of these reward you with Free Turns you can stock up to use when things are going too quickly. A miss will penalize you, and you lose the game if you get three on one train. And of course, the longer you go, the faster the train moves.

That’s pretty much it, aside from a bonus round. Here, you hook up as many cars as possible to run up your score. The angle is that if you miss, you lose all of your points. You want to go as long as possible, but you also need to know when to “cash out,” as it were, for fear you’ll miss a car and lose all the bonus points you’ve accumulated.

Iron Horse for iPad

If this sounds too simple, I suppose it is…for a bit. It quickly becomes quite hard, but it’s always…well, playable. I wish I could say more iPhone and iPad apps are playable, because it’s higher praise than it sounds. My kids can play it without my help, and they can do quite well. When I sit down to play a game or two, it becomes nine or ten. It’s just very easy to pick up and play, very intuitive. I never once played it for more than five to ten minutes at a time, but it’s always one of the first games I’d play when sitting down with the iPad with intent to do something else.

And another thing; the game looks great. The open, parallax scrolling landscapes add a great degree of depth to this 2D game (squint, and you can almost imagine it in four colors back on the Atari 2600). The trains look great, as well, with a nice smoke effect to round it all out.

Iron Horse for iPad

Accurate sound effects help to build the mood, but I especially liked how the music changes to match the era of the train on the screen. With this amount of attention to detail, AppStar has created a game that will appeal to enthusiasts of vintage gaming as well as to train aficionados, I’d image.

Everyone else, though, should be aware that Iron Horse is a rhythm game. Tap the screen at the right time, advance. Considering the complexity of competing games like Tap Tap Radiation, Iron Horse is going to be too basic for a lot of gamers. But that is, after all, it’s charm. It’s simple by design and it’s subtle in presentation, but it still manages to be quite challenging and entertaining over short distances.

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