Next-level platformers on iOS

This week's collection of apps takes platformers to the next level with unique playing styles and level design that will keep you coming back for more.

iPhone (Credit: CNET)

If you haven't guessed already, I'm a big fan of platform games. Maybe it's my background of playing games from both the Mario and Sonic franchises or the sheer number of solid platformers in the iTunes App Store, but I simply can't get enough of them. There's just something charming to me about exploring a level, making all the right jumps, and trying to collect all the items to go on to next level.

There have been several popular platform games to come through the iTunes App Store, but as time goes on, I've noticed the genre evolving in interesting ways. Particularly with a few of the newer games, I'm seeing unique types of challenges being added that take the genre to places it hasn't been before.

This week's collected iOS apps are all platformers with something extra. The first uses an interesting foreground/background playing dynamic that adds to the action. The second is a continuous climber with added bonuses that keep trying to get higher and higher. The third offers tons of side challenges and secret areas for those who like to explore.

Paper Monsters

In the foreground here I'm riding a moving platform, but if you look closely, you can see another secret level in the background.

(Credit: Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET)

Paper Monsters (99 cents) is a polished traditional platformer with some added extras and winningly cute art and sound design.

Paper Monsters will instantly evoke other classic platformers, but in a good way: the play and interface are intuitive (a roaming virtual joystick on the left, a jump button on the right, which you tap twice to double-jump), and levels with collectible coins ("buttons"), warp pipes, enemies to jump upon, checkpoints, and lots of hidden pick-ups and paths to encourage repeat play. As the game progresses through its four chapters, with four levels each, the enemies and environments get more interesting and challenging, but the game never strays from its satisfying roots--and it's easy to get further sucked in by a couple of add-in minigames and the ability to customize the game's boxy protagonist.

What's particularly interesting about Paper Monsters is that on several levels you can warp from the platforms in the foreground to areas in the background of the level. What ends up happening is you'll see the background area beforehand, making you want to find the secret entrance to get more coins and bonuses. Other games offer secret areas, but the added visual cue of seeing it in the distance somehow adds to the excitement.

With its high-quality, DIY-craft aesthetic, and unique secret level implementation, Paper Monsters is a must-download for platformer fans. I look forward to seeing what the game's developers can do in future versions--and hopefully they will also fix the game's loud intro, which unfortunately ignores the hardware mute switch and volume controls.

Tobe & Friends Hookshot Escape

As you climb higher, you'll have to come up with creative ways to get up to the next platform.

(Credit: Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET)

Tobe & Friends Hookshot Escape (99 cents) is an adorable-looking vertical platform climber where you'll need to use your character's special abilities and other earned items to get high scores. There are several games in the climbing category already in the iTunes App Store, but what sets Hookshot Escape apart is the ability to play as different characters with different skills and several unlockable items that will give you an advantage. And don't let the cute aesthetic fool you, this game is very challenging.

When you start the game, you can only play as Tobe, whose means of getting to higher levels on the screen is a little grappling hook you can shoot straight upwards, latch on to platforms, and pull yourself up. But after playing 20 games, you'll unlock the second of four characters, Nana, who has a double-jump ability and can break blocks with a hammer. Each of the four characters provides unique challenges and changes the way you play the game, giving tons of replay value.

If the character variation in Hookshot Escape wasn't enough, you'll also unlock several tools (20 in all) that will give you an advantage in getting higher scores. The funny thing about the game, however, is that you unlock the tools by failing. For example, stepping on spikes 20 times will unlock iron boots so the spikes no longer hurt you. Similarly, receiving damage from monsters 30 times unlocks a shield. Each character has limited slots for unlocked tools, so you'll have to experiment to see which combination gives you the biggest advantage with your particular playing style.

My only issue with this game is that you can only play in portrait mode. While it's definitely playable, and not as crowded as you might think, it seems like it would be easier to play in landscape mode. Hopefully this is something that will be included in future updates.

Tobe & Friends Hookshot Escape does a great job with the climbing-for-distance genre and adds just the right amount of extras to keep you coming back for your next unlock. If you like climbing games and want a little something more, this cute yet extremely challenging game is the perfect fit.

Fancy Pants

Each level has a number of different challenges, but you'll have to search to find the secret areas.

(Credit: Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET)

Fancy Pants (99 cents) is only new to iOS, having already been a big hit as a Flash game on the Web. But the developers of this game did a great job in the touch-screen translation, with tight controls, extremely smooth movement, and fun gameplay as you explore a strange and complex hand-drawn world.

The game starts you off easy, with a tutorial level that shows you how to do each of the Fancy Pants Man's moves. The control scheme is standard for platformers, with directional controls on the left and a jump button on the right. If you have a sword, you'll get an extra button on the right so you can swing and smash your enemies. But you'll also have special moves depending on the terrain. The most common is the wall jump that allows you to reach higher platforms, but you also have a power roll (kind of like Sonic the Hedgehog's) that lets you stun enemies as you zip by them.

The object of the game is to save your sister, Cutie Pants, from evil pirates who have kidnapped her. This quest will have you jumping and sliding through several extraordinarily designed levels with different themes, monsters, and challenges. Each level often has several bonus areas and hard-to-reach items, and I had a lot of fun trying to find every secret before moving on.

There are several unlockable items to add to your wardrobe (the Fancy Pants Man is highly customizable), and you'll earn new items by gathering squiggles and stars spread out through each stage. You'll also unlock items as you complete levels. Though your clothing won't have any effect on the gameplay, collecting the items adds replay value as you try to grab every pair of pants, hat, and weapon in the game.

Again, Fancy Pants isn't a new game, but it's new to the iPhone, and the execution in this iOS version is flawless, with smooth controls and great-looking graphics. If you're looking for a deep platformer with much to explore and collect, Fancy Pants is a great choice.

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