iPad apps: games that stand out

Now that we've had a couple days with the iPad, some apps are rising to the top and monopolizing our lounging time. We'll have some more roundups for you in just a little bit, but we thought we'd start off with one of the iPad's most natural talents: gaming. The large screen and hardy processor offer a wild in-between space, much more immersive and "stunning" than a PSP, DS, or iPhone game, but hardly on par with modern laptop or desktop graphics. We haven't leapfrogged any platforms here, it's just an evolution, but it's a pretty fun evolution, complete with multitouch gestures, accelerometer tilts, and cheesy soundtracks pumped out over the iPads surprisingly loud speaker. Of course, these games aren't cheap anymore -- most clock in at $9.99, often with the threat of "introductory pricing" -- so we thought we'd wade through the masses and pluck out some of our favorites as well as a few titles to be wary of. Follow along after the break.

N.O.V.A. ($9.99)

The quintessential Halo-esque shooter for the iPhone has received an "HD" upgrade, but probably could've used some more time in the oven. The jumbo-sized graphics look alright on the iPad, but it's certainly not the best 3D we've seen on the machine so far, and the textures are very low resolution -- almost like the game has just been directly scaled up for the iPad (like it has). The game runs pretty smoothly, and loads rapidly, but unfortunately the gameplay UI hasn't been scaled up well. In theory all the controls should be accessible with just your thumbs, but in reality you have to do a lot of moving your hands to reach the gun reload / swap control at the top of the screen, or to pull off the slightly gimmicky two finger grenade launch swipe. At least the oversized "analog" d-pad on the left is a pleasure to use. All in all, N.O.V.A. should be an iPhone + iPad app (that is, a free download for people who've already bought it for iPhone), not a $10 standalone product. [See in iTunes]

Mirror's Edge ($12.99)

EA has experimented with side-scrolling Mirror's Edge before in an excellent Flash incarnation, but for the iPad they really blew out the concept. With gorgeous full screen 3D graphics and a very intuitive swipe interface (you'll feel like an expert before you're even done with the tutorial levels), this is one of our favorite iPad games so far. It's a steep price, but with 14 multi-part levels to play through, it should keep you busy for a little while. Add in speed runs and some really excellent split-screen multiplayer (check it out in the video above) and we'd say it's actually one of the few iPad games worth the price. [See in iTunes]

Touchgrind HD ($7.99)

We'll make this simple: we loved Touchgrind for the iPhone, despite its steep learning curve, and it's a blast to play on the iPad with all this screen real estate, but the addition of larger views (it's the same graphics with just a wider viewpoint) and split screen multiplayer hardly justifies the separate purchase or $3 premium over the iPad app. Or maybe we're just feeling cheap today. [See in iTunes]

Real Racing HD ($9.99)

We confess, we haven't played Real Racing on the iPhone, but we can attest to the fact that it's both real, and racing. Real Racing HD bumps up the graphics and doubles the price for the iPad. Of course, Real Racing was perhaps a bit of a steal at $5, with a very in-depth career mode, plus plenty of tracks and cars to choose from. We understand that developers have to make a living, and at least Real Racing really does have some truly stunning graphics, and controls beautifully on the iPad, but as an overall trend we're not sure we like spending double the price just for the extra pixels. We suppose the open market will settle this in time! [See in iTunes]

Scrabble ($9.99)

Check out our previous post on Scrabble for the full write-up, but here's the gist: this game is a blast to play on the iPad, particularly if you bring a couple of iPhones into the fold, but it's also a little rough around the edges right now, and we hope EA patches some of the foibles in short order. With all the expanded functionality, it's a little tougher to gripe about the price, but we're still not so into the idea of $9.99 being the new norm. [See in iTunes]

Flight Control HD ($4.99) - With some beautiful large-screen menus and great multiplayer implementation, Flight Control HD is pretty easy to recommend if you liked it for iPhone. Sure, you feel pretty dumb sharing an iPad with a friend or loved one, aiming airplanes into their territory, but we'd like to think of it as a good kind of dumb. We also played this in iPad vs. iPad mode, and while it was easy to set up and start games, a bit of the shared iPad magic was lost. [See in iTunes]

AirCoaster XL ($1.99) - A 3D roller coaster simulation that makes fantastic use of the iPad's large, multitouch panel, AirCoaster XL is great fun at a very reasonable $2 price. Graphically, the game's a little bland, with rough untextured models for both the cars and track, but it's functionally filled with fun ways to interact with the iPad, first in building insane rail systems in the game's responsive 3D engine with minimal effort, and then in taking those coasters for a dizzying first-person ride. [See in iTunes]

Minigore HD ($4.99) - We're big fans of the Robotron (or Smash TV) style games for the iPhone. We've been playing iDracula and Minigore for quite awhile, so imagine our delight when we spied Minigore HD for the iPad. Before we even downloaded the game, however, our Spidey-sense went off a little bit. The iPhone version is $.99, while the iPad iteration is $4.99 -- a pretty steep increase for the title. But hey, this is higher def, right? So we figured we'd take a gamble. To our shock and surprise, the game actually does seem like just a higher res version of the iPhone title -- not necessarily a bad thing, but not super awesome either, considering the price bump. Still, it's a wildly enjoyable title to play, and the graphics do look really great (in their highly stylized form). We did find our right hand (the shooting / aiming hand) getting a little lost and sliding towards the bezel once in awhile, but it wasn't hugely detrimental to gameplay. Overall it's a fun title, but if you've got the iPhone version you might want to see how playing it in 2x mode feels -- you may find discover that another $5 out of your pocket isn't required. [See in iTunes]

Asphalt 5 ($6.99) - Now we know everyone is making a stink about racing games on the iPad -- and Asphalt 5 proves that there's actually a good reason for this. This game is just amazingly fun, and the controls are surprisingly nuanced. The iPad really shows off its accelerometer prowess here, letting you bank tight turns and helping to keep things stable when you frantically tap the nitro button on straightaways. The game offers solo play and head-to-head racing, either locally over Bluetooth and WiFi, or you can game with someone online. If you're planning on challenging strangers, however, you've got to sign up for a Gameloft Live account. One minor drawback is that we couldn't get the overly-complicated music controls to play from our library -- hopefully that process will be streamlined with an update. Overall, it's not the most original or engaging game we've ever played, but it's well executed and thoughtfully designed. If you're a racing enthusiast (or just looking to show off what the iPad can do to friends), you probably won't regret the small investment. [See in iTunes]

Diner Dash Grilling Green ($4.99) - Diner Dash is part of a whole host of games developed for the iPhone which involve time management (like Sally's Salon and Suzie's Sushi House), and getting a bunch of tasks done quickly. In Diner Dash for the iPhone, you have to wait tables in a diner -- take orders, serve drinks, clean up dirty dishes and so on -- fast enough to satisfy your customers. Simple, stressful, and also pretty addictive. The iPad version of the game takes an already successful game and cranks it up a notch. These games aren't about amazing graphics -- and while the graphics are definitely better on the iPad game than they are on the iPhone -- they're still nothing to shout about. That's really beside the point, though -- the iPad version of the game (though we haven't progressed very far through it) is much better than the iPhone version. The size of the iPad and the gaming area means that you're less likely to make mistakes by moving things to the wrong location -- something that can be pretty annoying on the iPhone version. These games are fun because they're predictable -- they almost all work in exactly the same way -- and Diner Dash for iPad is no revolution. There are some additions, however -- like the option to help the cook (this time your Granny) move a little faster by chopping ingredients and stirring pots for her in a stress-filled "mini game." Regardless, if you're already addicted to this kind of game, the iPad version of Diner Dash is probably right up your alley. [See in iTunes]

Civilization Revolution ($12.99) - When we heard way back when that Civilization Revolutions was out for the iPhone, it took us all of 10, maybe 15 seconds to purchase and download. Still, the experience on the smaller screen really didn't make for an enjoyable experience, and our patience quickly deteriorated. Picking it up on the iPad, however, makes for all together different vibe. The tutorial is very elaborate, and despite the complexity of the system should be easy enough for most people to follow through. Command & Conquer Red Alert is another example of a great real-time strategy transition to the tablet, but if we had to pick only one from the genre to highlight, at this stage in the game, Revolutions would be the one to hold up against all others. [See in iTunes]