Arguably, the first mega-hit for the App Store was a deceptively simple game called Flight Control. The idea of using the iPhone’s touch feature to draw flight paths that would safely land a fleet of planes was a shining example of ingenuity and creativeness for the scrappy new gaming device. Riding on the success of this title, games like The Battle of Pirate Bay and Harbor Master followed, bringing a unique gaming experience that could only come from a touch platform. Although these titles operated under similar principles, they brought enough diversity and excitement to the iPhone that the mechanics became something of a new cult genre for the device. Now enters 33rd Division.
Craneballs Studios puts players at the helm of their own WWII platoon. The objective: maneuver a legion of unarmed men out from enemy lines into a safety zone without getting them killed. To do this, players will need to arm themselves with random power-ups, think on their feet, and use lots of stealth. The experience all adds up to the best line-drawing game on the iPhone.
Visuals: The top-down visual approach remains consistent for the genre, but instead of planes or boats, players control little cartoon army men; each specialist has their own personal look. General are built like an ox while medics are tiny. The rendering of the map environment is top-notch, and sight-lines are easily identified. Small things have been considered: guards with dogs have their own line of sight along with a shorter, omnidirectional sight that is supposedly the dog’s sense, guards sharing a car look for players independently as if each man has their own set of eyes, and machine guns– when triggered– light up with both flames and bullets. Also, deaths are quick and a little bloody but never glorified.
Controls: Each member of the army is a specialist of some sort. Some are slow runners while others are quick and nimble. To control each of them, simply touch them and draw. The game follows finger movement with ease. If an enemy is about to get a soldier in their sites, players can freeze their men by touching them again, essentially hiding them from the German opposition. Once a soldier is safe, another soldier immediately begins his escape. Note: players also have the choice of releasing the next soldier early if they want to capitalize on power-ups that may help the both of them. This feature is nice because it allows players to play at their own pace. The game seems forgiving and doesn’t try to fool player with “gotcha” moments that require replay. For example, if a patrolman turns his sights into your path, there seems to be a fraction of a second where players can “hide” their man before the guard notices them. It’s as if the developer gives the player the benefit of the doubt… if the player is quick enough to react. These features cut down on frustrations that harm lesser games.
Audio: The weapons sound great, and the voice-over work is stellar. Like Minigore, the voices add character to the game. Each specialist comes with a handful of sporadic entrance cues that lighten up the game: medics ask if they can help while foot soldiers greet players with “Sir, yes sire!” Not only do these subtleties remind players that another soldier has entered the battle zone, they also keep the audio track from becoming too barren or repetitive. Each map also has its own musical score that occasionally enters the soundtrack: sometimes this music is filled with Revolutionary American flutes and trumpets; other times its heavy on the dramatic drums. My favorite is in Torino where it seems like the funk/soul band Booker T. and the M.G.’s have arrived to help these P.O.W.s jailbreak.
Variety: Just when players think the game is getting repetitive, the game ups the ante by adding additional patrols, lengthening sightline, bringing in guards on sidecars, or even randomly bombing your safety zone. Power ups like invisibility, super scoring, and freeze come in the form of badges players pick up en route to the safety zone. There are lots of them, and they come often enough to keep the game fresh and fun. Another plus, this game is OpenFeint accessible which means you can one-up your friends from across the globe all day long.
Maps: When you enjoy a game this much you simply want more. Countless hours can be spent on any of the four maps available, but most gamers, like myself, will be greedy and want more environments from which to escape. An update with an Eastern front would be great!
33rd Division brings touch features back to the forefront of the iPhone. The game is easy to pick up a learn within a matter of minutes, but it’s also filled with enough shock and awe to keep your adrenaline pumping for days. Titles like these are what make owning the iPhone so special. This may be the best dollar you spend all year.