Sync to-do lists and blow away terrorists: iPhone apps of the week

This week's apps include a cloud-synced to-do list manager and an excellent sequel to one of the best first-person shooters on the iPhone.

If you've been checking out the most popular list at the iTunes App Store recently, you might have noticed that a new game has reached the top of the charts--even unseating the mega-popular Angry Birds. It's called Cut the Rope and it challenges you to feed candy to a hungry little monster named Om Nom by cutting various ropes to direct the candy to his waiting mouth. It's a little hard to describe here, so check out Rick Broida's coverage of Cut the Rope here.

Beating out Angry Birds at the top of the charts is no small feat (it's been sitting pretty there for months), so it got me thinking about what type of game reaches the top of the iTunes App Store.

It seems you must have polish--both games were obviously painstakingly produced. From the main characters down to the menus and even the design of the buttons, the whole experience captures the ambiance the developers are trying to convey making the game more immersive. Both games have extremely cute characters; each of the different birds are adorable in their anger, and the little green monster Om Nom couldn't be cuter when he opens wide for the candy. Both games have simple controls that can be played by anyone--this seems to be the biggest factor. Just about anyone from any age group can grasp the simple controls, but the games are still plenty challenging.

Finally, you need airtight audio, with little nuanced and silly additions like the muttering birds in Angry Birds, or the sigh of sadness when the candy misses Om Nom's mouth. Judging from these games' success, it seems as though the combination of these ingredients casts the widest net for capturing most iPhone gamers' hearts.

So what will the next big iPhone game be? My bet is \it will include all of these ingredients. You can be sure there are developers working right now to capture that perfect combination that makes a hit at the App Store. The only question is, what's the next big hit?

This week's apps include a cloud-synced to-do list manager and an excellent sequel to one of the best first-person shooters on the iPhone.

When you're finished with an item on your to-do list, simply touch the task to cross it off. (Credit: Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET)

TeuxDeux ($2.99) is a simple, but effective to-do list app for iPhone that lets you view and edit tasks and sync them with the TeuxDeux Web site. Though there are other more feature-rich task management and note-taking apps, the TeuxDeux app's main strength is its clean simplicity. The simple interface puts your to-do list front-and-center with an input field at the top to enter new tasks. If you finish a list item, simply touch it to cross it off. A swipe of your finger lets you quickly browse through your list. You can tap an arrow in either direction at the top or touch the calendar days at the bottom to look at upcoming tasks throughout the week. You also get a Someday category for tasks that are larger life goals or things you know won't need to be finished right away.

After entering tasks or crossing off items in your list, TeuxDeux has a sync button at the top that syncs your list to the cloud. From there you can go to the TeuxDeux Web site to edit and reorder your tasks or view your calendar from your desktop computer. Overall, if you just want a straight to-do list app with a clean design that lets you sync up tasks between your desktop and your iPhone, TeuxDeux is a good looking and effective choice with no unnecessary features.

Modern Combat: Black Pegasus
The complex environments and dynamic lighting look great on the iPhone 4 Retina display. (Credit: Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET)

Modern Combat: Black Pegasus ($6.99) is the sequel to Modern Combat: Sandstorm, one of my favorite first-person shooters on the iPhone from last year. Much like Sandstorm, Black Pegasus offers a single-player campaign along with online and local multiplayer. But this time the action takes place in multiple locations including the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and South America. You get three control systems to choose from like Modern Combat: Sandstorm, but in this version the controls have been refined along with just about everything else in the game. The result is a beautiful and challenging first-person shooter that's easily one of the best in the app store.

Like most FPS games on the iPhone, the controls take some getting used to, and won't be as easy to use as console or desktop games in this genre. But even with the somewhat awkward controls, you'll quickly get used to the limitations of the touch screen and start holding your own against the bad guys. One added control feature in Black Pegasus I particularly like occurs under special circumstances when an enemy attacks you--a button appears on the screen that allows you to defend a punch, then you hit it again to counterattack. In other situations, something may be flying toward you, and a button will appear that helps you dodge the object. These gameplay variations keep the game interesting break up the action.

As you play through the campaign, you'll find different weapons to experiment with including several types of machine guns, rifles, hand guns, grenades, and rocket launchers. A quick double-tap in the upper right corner of the screen switches weapons, and a single tap reloads your current weapon.

When you feel you've honed your skills well enough, you can set up a Gameloft account and play online in 10-player battles against people from around the world. Multiplayer gametypes include Battle, Team Battle, Defuse the Bomb, and Capture the Flag. In my testing I got into a few different games without a hitch (there seemed to be several populated servers), and noticed only a little lag time while playing.

Optimized for the iPhone 4 Retina display, Modern Combat: Black Pegasus is a beautiful action game, and the story line, while fairly predictable, brings you through the action seamlessly. Overall, Modern Combat: Black Pegasus is one of my favorite iPhone first-person shooters to date, and I think anyone who likes FPS games will appreciate the attention to detail in this action-packed sequel.

What's your favorite iPhone app? What do you think makes the perfect iPhone game? Are you happy with the simple feature set of TeuxDeux? Is Modern Combat: Black Pegasus a worthy sequel to Sandstorm? Let me know in the comments!

About Jason Parker

Jason Parker has been at CNET for more than 13 years. He is the Senior Editor in charge iOS software and has become an expert reviewer of the software that runs on each new Apple device. He now spends most of his time covering Apple iOS releases and third-party apps.