Asbury Park, NJ. Coney Island, NY. Santa Cruz, Calif. All of these places conjure a very specific and very American sense of having fun — fun at old-style arcades just like you’d find on the carnival midway or boardwalk near the beach. I want to draw your attention to two recently-released products on the App Store which echo that era. And their prices are peanuts for what you get.
The Iconfactory and DS Media Labs drew inspiration for their $1.99 Ramp Champ from the games of skill that populate many amusement park fairway tents that involve throwing or rolling balls at targets. Knock the targets down and win a prize — or in this case a roll of virtual tickets you can cash in for in-game virtual prizes — prizes unique to each of the four mini-games included.
The four games include Clown Town, where you knock down clown pins; Breakwater Bay, filled with fish, seahorses and other sea creatures; Space Swarm, a Space Invaders-esque throwing gallery; and The Icon Garden, a throwing gallery that will take you back to classic Mac OS days.
Ramp Champ also features In-App Purchases. For another buck, you can buy add-on packs that include two additional games (two are available for download as this review was written), each with unique prize vaults and goals you can unlock.
Those goals unlock a trophy that’s added to your case. Some are point grabs, others are skill-based. Some achievements aren’t immediately obvious, and require some skill to uncover. Cultivating the black pearl in Breakwater Bay, for instance, requires you to understand how to open the giant clam, and that takes a bit of trial and error and some good old fashioned target practice.
The aiming and ball-rolling mechanics in Ramp Champ are unpredictable and difficult to master, but you can ring up high points once you get into the rhythm of it.
I can’t say enough about the extraordinary visual style of Ramp Champ. The level of detail the Iconfactory put into the images in the game is really gorgeous, and it’s no wonder these folks are at the top of their own design game. Although timing is key to winning at each of Ramp Champ’s game, there’s no time limit, so you can enjoy the gorgeous graphics as much as you want.
Skee-Ball is actually the second incarnation of a game originally developed by Graveck Interactive and now published by Freeverse. It’s a reskinned version of Graveck’s 10 Balls 7 Cups, one of the most unfortunately named iPhone games in the short history of the App Store. (If the reference eludes you, there’s an infamous bit of scatological porn on the ‘net called 2 Girls 1 Cup. Do not, under any circumstances, search for it.)
Whatever it’s called, Skee-Ball is a picture-perfect iPhone recreation of the classic boardwalk arcade game that celebrates its 100th anniversary this year, for just 99 cents — that’s a penny less than four games of real Skee-Ball, if you’re counting. You roll balls up a ramp, trying to sink them in holes guarded by thick plastic bumpers, each with a different point value. The more challenging the shot, the higher the points. Occasionally the holes will illuminate — if you hit that hole on that shot, you’ll increase a point multiplier.
To roll the ball, you either flick your finger upward on the screen or position your thumb where you want the ball to roll and then flick the entire iPhone or iPod touch upward. I find the finger-flicking method to be more precise. You can also tilt your device back and forth when the ball is in the air to put spin on it; helpful to guide the ball into a hole if its trajectory takes it to the rim.
The more points you amass, the more tickets you receive at the end of the game. You can redeem the tickets for prizes within the game — a prize case constantly replenishes with objects from the banal (vampire teeth, a half-eaten donut) to the spectacular (a flat-screen TV, a pair of noise canceling headphones). Of course, it’s all in fun, but you can “brag to your friends” (e-mailing them) about the great stuff you’ve received.
And unlike the prize section in Ramp Champ, the items will replenish when they’re taken, so if you just have to have two half-eaten donuts or two slices of gum, you can get them.
The game’s Skill Star Bonus increases depending on how consistently you target the glowing holes. The more often you nail those holes, the higher your points can get overall. It’s an addictive way to build skill and to keep coming back to the game once you’ve found your rhythm.
Skee-Ball also makes use of the Plus+ Network, a social media framework for the iPhone developed by iPhone game publisher Ngmoco, which it licenses to other iPhone game makers too. The Plus+ Network tracks achievements you’ve earned in the game, like your highest score, and provides global leaderboards so you can compare how you’ve scored with other players.
Skee-Ball doesn’t have In-App Purchases like Ramp Champ, so what you see is all you’ll get. But the game’s execution is superb.
Freeverse and Graveck’s recreation of a real arcade-style Skee-Ball machine is superb. They got everything bang on, right down to the sound of the Skee-Balls unlocking and dropping into place after you insert your quarter. All that’s missing is the smell of hot cotton candy and fresh midway popcorn.
Don’t be a cheapass, spend $3
Both Ramp Champ and Skee-Ball use similiar gameplay mechanics and feature a virtual token economy that enables you to buy prizes; both games feature the sort of fun you’ll find at an old-time boardwalk arcade. But if you were hoping for me to tell you which one to buy, you’re going to be disappointed, because I want you to get both of them.
In the end, you’ll only be spending $3, or $5 if you buy both add-on packs for Ramp Champ. And if you’re anything like me, you’re going to get a lot more than your money’s worth out of both games, compared to the quarters you’d spend at the midway arcade.