Rescue photos and engage in cartoon battles: iPhone apps of the week

This week's apps include an image-editing app that offers a big list of useful tools and a castle defense game with RPG elements and a surprising amount of depth.

The big Apple news this week was the announcement that The Beatles music collection is finally available at the iTunes App Store, but that wasn't the only news to come out of Cupertino, Calif. iOS 4.2 for iPhone and iPad is extremely close to release, and we put together a slideshow of some of the new features across both devices. Check out our hands-on look at the iOS 4.2 Gold Master and the slideshows for each device here.

This week's apps include an image-editing app that offers a big list of useful tools and a castle defense game with RPG elements and a surprising amount of depth.

Perfect Photo (99 cents for a limited time) has been out for some time, but a recent sale has pushed it up into the top 10 at the iTunes App Store. At first, I was reluctant to review another photo app (and thought maybe the sale was the sole reason for its success), but once I tried some of the features, Perfect Photo changed my mind. This app lets you edit photos using several tools and effects. Simply snap a fresh picture or use one from your library, then hit the button in the upper-right corner of the interface to see a list of tools and effects. Under the tools tab, you'll be able to crop, adjust color balance, tweak brightness and contrast, and do many more things not found in other apps. Each of the tools gives you sliders to manually adjust each effect--a welcome change from other apps that only give auto-effects.

Perfect photo is not just limited to its long list of tools. You can also make your images look vintage; turn your images into pencil outlines; add black and white effects; and a few others. When you're finished with an image you can save it to your photo library or quickly send it to Facebook, Twitter, or via e-mail. As one of several photo-editing apps at the iTunes App Store, it's tough to choose the best one of them all. But Perfect Photo has a solid set of tools that will prove useful for "saving" images that didn't turn out the way you wanted.

Cartoon Wars 2: Heroes (99 cents) is the sequel to Cartoon Wars, featuring castle defense type gameplay with deep RPG elements. The object is to defend against an assault; in the first mode, you defend a castle using attack units and skills, and in the second mode, you need to destroy swarming enemies using your hero.

In the castle defense portion of the game, you use a mix of melee and ranged units to beat back attacking forces and make your way to (and ultimately destroy) the enemy castle. Each unit can be upgraded in between battles with money you earn by killing enemy units and destroying the enemy castle. There are several upgrades for units and you can even add more-advanced units once you earn enough cash. Frankly, the number of upgrades and new units is dizzying, and later in the game you're even able to buy air units (also upgradable) to rain down destruction from the sky.

Even with just the castle combat portion of the game, Cartoon Wars 2: Heroes would be worth the price of admission, but the game goes much deeper than that. The second mode challenges you to take on multiple forces using only one hero (chosen at the beginning of the game) in a frenetic dual-stick battlefield melee against several enemies. As your hero gains levels, you'll be able to add stat points for more attack power, better speed, and other advantageous options. You'll also be able to upgrade skills to give your hero better weapons and added spell-like abilities for difficult situations.

Heroes has been out for a few weeks, but it wasn't until I noticed its lasting popularity on the top apps list that I decided to check it out. At a glance, a game with cartoon in the title and stick figures didn't seem worth my time, but after playing I can say I am definitely impressed. The only issue I have is the infuriating control system for the castle turret, but mostly Cartoon Wars 2: Heroes is very enjoyable with challenging gameplay and surprising depth.

What's your favorite iPhone app? Do you have a better image-editing app than Perfect Photo? How do you like the two-part gameplay in Cartoon Wars 2: Heroes? 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.