Soccer dribbling and smooth space combat: iPhone apps of the week

This week's apps include a 3D third-person soccer game and a new arcade space shooter with a fun single-player mode.

The Apple event on Wednesday was largely about the next iteration of Mac OS X (appropriately named Lion). But an interesting development came when Steve Jobs introduced the new Mac App Store, which will become available to Snow Leopard users in about 90 days.

Much like the iTunes App Store, the Mac App Store will let you purchase Mac apps and install them quickly on your computers. And as it does with the iTunes App Store, Apple will take a 30-percent cut of the sale price, leaving developers 70 percent. But Jobs was careful to point out that the Mac App Store will not mimic the closed system of the iTunes App Store--it will simply be another option to bring apps to your Mac. But do we really believe him?

It seems to me that creating the Mac App Store is Apple's way of testing whether the market will tolerate Apple getting a piece of the action on software developed for the Mac, just like it does with iPhone apps. We can be pretty sure that several developers will submit their apps right off the bat, if for no other reason than for the exposure that an iTunes-like experience can provide. But what Apple might be banking on is that once the software submissions gain momentum, the larger players may no longer have a choice but to submit their software to the new system. Am I just being paranoid?

While we certainly can't be sure what Apple hopes to achieve with the Mac App Store, this sort of soft launch makes me think there's something more going on here. Let me know what you think in the comments.

This week's apps include a 3D third-person soccer game and a new arcade space flier with a fun single-player mode.

Bonecruncher Soccer (99 cents) mimics the 3D gameplay mechanic of the popular Backbreaker Football, but challenges you to dribble a soccer ball down field and then score goals with a flick of your finger. Just like with BackBreaker Football, you'll use tilt controls to direct your player. But instead of onscreen buttons for moves and dodges, you'll need to swipe your finger onscreen for special moves--each of which will be described onscreen as you play. Once you've dribbled and dodged your way downfield, the action freezes so you can flick to shoot the ball into the goal. Some levels have targets in place for added bonus points, so controlled flicks become a necessary part of the game.

Bonecruncher Soccer is a fairly solid game overall, but lacks the polish of the older and more-refined Backbreaker franchise. The games are made by different developers, but we hope Bonecruncher Soccer has updates on the horizon to smooth out the graphics and control system to be more like Backbreaker Football. The swipe controls are adequate for the job, but particularly when you use the spin-move dodge, you'll often get caught in the middle of a spin if you don't time it exactly right. With a little practice, I was able to make my way up field pretty well, but mostly because I avoided doing the slow-to-complete spin moves.

Even with some minor control issues, Bonecruncher Soccer manages to be both fun and challenging. Tons of clothing customization options means you'll most likely be able to recreate your favorite player down to the uniform and number. If you like soccer and want a great pick-up-and-play game, Bonecruncher Soccer is an excellent choice.

Star Battalion ($6.99) is an arcade shoot-'em-up flying game with great action and visuals, and a solid single-player campaign that keeps you interested as you blow away bad guys. Choose from several characters, each with unique skills, and take to the skies flying support missions and engaging in chaotic dog fights. Before every level you'll have the chance to calibrate your iPhone so you can get the most out of the tilt and touch-screen controls. Tilt to steer your ship and use the slider on the right for throttle. More advanced maneuvers, like a barrel roll for example, require you to swipe your finger onscreen and the game will give you directions when you need to pull off the trickier maneuvers.

The graphics in Star Battalion on the iPhone 4 are excellent and optimized for the Retina Display. Complex ship models and beautiful maps make the game extremely immersive and, though some of the voice acting is less than perfect, the overall ambiance keeps you focused on the task at hand.

The single-player campaign is well laid out, with a solid storyline that mixes up your gameplay between support missions and dogfights. Some quests will have you blowing away air units, whereas others will require that you take out tanks to protect a convoy. You'll also get to sample new ship types based on the mission at hand. None of the missions feel tedious as you play, even though some are traditional RPG quests ("kill 10 of these"). Mostly, the single-player game provides just enough variation in enemies and quests to keep you on your toes and wondering what you're next challenge will be.

Once you've mastered the controls, you can test your skills online playing cooperative missions locally or on the Web, but you won't be engaging in multiplayer dog fights. Though we might have liked the ability to engage in dogfights against other players, the co-op missions are fun, with the winner being the one who blows away the most targets.

Overall, if you're looking for a solid air combat game with great controls, smooth graphics, and plenty of gameplay variation, you should definitely check out this game--even at the $6.99 price tag.

What's your favorite iPhone app? Are you happy with Bonecruncher Soccer or does it need a bit more polish? What do you think of Star Battalion? 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.