Escape volcanoes and battle monsters: iPhone apps of the week

This week's apps are both games. The first challenges you to escape the fiery clutches of a volcano, and in the second you direct a band of heroes to battle fearsome foes.


Obviously, the big Apple news this week was the announcement of the iPad 2 (watch our First Look video here). Just as most people expected, the new device offers front- and rear-facing cameras, a faster processor, and FaceTime capabilities, and even has a slightly different design than the original. The iPad 2 will be available on both the AT&T and Verizon networks March 11 and comes in both white and black, and there are several different models and price points to choose from.

Even though I mentioned in an earlier post that I probably wouldn't buy the new iPad 2, now that I've seen it, I can't help but try to think of ways to afford it. I'm thinking of selling my original iPad, or maybe I'll try to use my tax refund to foot the bill, but I bet I'm not the only one making these calculations. My question to you is: did any of you plan on not buying the new iPad, but, after the unveiling, couldn't help but change your mind? Let me know in the comments.

This week's apps are both games. The first challenges you to escape the fiery clutches of a volcano, and in the second you direct a band of heroes to battle fearsome foes.

Volcano Escape
Volcano Escape has good-looking graphics, but suffers from a couple of minor issues. (Credit: Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET)

Volcano Escape (99 cents) is an arcade platformer type of game where your challenge is to see how high you can climb as you escape the rising lava of a volcano. The control system includes onscreen joysticks for movement and firing your weapon, and you have a jump button in the upper right for jumping ever higher, away from the rising lava. As you climb, you'll encounter bad guys you need to shoot so they can't take away from your health (you get three hearts to start off). You'll also be able to collect boxes that give you power-ups like shields and jet packs. Collecting boxes also lets you unlock new characters to play. If you can manage to stay away from the rising lava and clear your path of baddies, you'll be on your way to new high scores.

Volcano Escape is a game that I really want to like, but it definitely has a few problems. On my iPhone 4, the gameplay is a bit choppy; at one point, I even force-quit all my apps and rebooted my iPhone, which still didn't work. It's also difficult to tell where the level of the lava is on your first several games, making it a surprise sometimes when you die. The jump button is also problematic because it's above the shooting controls, and I'd often end up pressing the wrong button. If they fix these issues, it would be easy to recommend this game, but you may want to wait before paying any money.

Overall, Volcano Escape is a pretty fun game in spite of its problems. It's a shame that the good-looking graphics and game concept seem to be undermined by a few minor problems. Once they fix a few of the issues or allow for more control customization, this game will be great for anyone who wants an easy-to-pick-up time waster.

Managing four characters in the heat of battle is no easy task. (Credit: Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET)

Battleheart ($2.99) takes the RPG battle mechanic of fighting in a party of characters and distills it down to the basics for great single-player action. A quick early tutorial shows you how to move two characters and how to use their skills (a sword-wielding fighter and a healing cleric), but later you can hire more characters of different classes to balance out your four-character party. As you progress through the game, your character management skills are put to the test, and you'll definitely have moments of panic trying to get each character to perform exactly the way you want.

As you complete battles in Battleheart, you'll earn money you can use to hire new character classes and buy new and more powerful items. After every five levels of experience gain, you'll also be able to add class-specific skills you can use in battles. The rogue character has a backstab ability you can unlock, for example.

The game can be a little frustrating in certain parts. In some instances your characters end up stacked on top of each other during battle, which often leads to selecting the wrong character--an infuriating problem, especially if you're trying to keep a wounded character alive. Fortunately this problem doesn't occur too often, and you'll mostly have time to move characters out of the way as long as they are not near death.

Overall, Battleheart does a great job of challenging you to work out your strategy for party-based combat. With several unique character classes, tons of skills to unlock, and items you can upgrade for more power, Battleheart has plenty of replay value for the strategy-loving gamer.

What's your favorite iPhone app? Do you think I'm being too hard on Volcano Escape? How do you like having control over an entire party of classic RPG characters? 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.