These iOS game sequels successfully up the ante

by Phil Hornshaw

As mobile games become a bigger and bigger part of the greater video gaming scene, sequels have started to dominate.It’s not exactly interesting that sequels exist, per se, because they make perfect sense. There’s a degree to which the existence of mobile game series and franchises indicates the popularity of the medium. A game you can play on your cellular phone is so well-liked that it gains a following.

In Temple Run’s case, that following might be a giant murderous monkey, but that’s part of its appeal. Last week, we saw the release of Temple Run 2, indicating that one of the biggest and most popular games in the iTunes App Store has become even bigger. Luckily, Temple Run 2 isn’t just a more-of-the-same cash-in; it’s a great sequel worthy of the burgeoning franchise that expands on all of Temple Run’s best ideas.

For starters, Temple Run 2’s graphics are much improved over the original, despite the fact that the  developers maintained the original art style and graphics engine. Like its predecessor, Temple Run 2 features a behind-the-back perspective of a temple-raiding archaeologist (one assumes) fleeing in terror from one teed-off giant temple guardian monkey. Where Temple Run took place in a jungle ruin, Temple Run 2 takes advantage of its amped-up visuals to put players on a mountain top ruin. It also plays off the scenic vistas and distant sights to throw players off, confusing them by alternately placing important turns in front of sheer cliffs and high walls to throw off your visual cues of what to expect.

Mechanically, Temple Run 2 feels like a step forward. Obstacles are less obvious and more varied, and while the core gameplay remains the same – swipe to jump, duck or turn a corner, and tilt to move around the path while moving forward – the game has been tweaked to add additional power-ups and a new power mechanic that can be built up and used in dire situations.

Mostly, where Temple Run 2 shines is in the smart simplicity of its level design. Obstacles are varied to a large degree, which means the game is less rote memorization than its predecessor. There’s just more to deal with and experience, like the addition of ziplines and more varying paths through the game. These are little changes that have a big effect on the way Temple Run 2 feels.

Temple Run 2 takes its place among some of the strongest sequels in the iTunes App Store, and there are quite a few notable ones. They tend to be members of the best franchises in mobile gaming, which accounts for their popularity, but it’s their quality that makes them shine.

Redefining (and re-branding) Angry Birds

One of my favorite games of 2012 was Rovio Mobile’s Angry Birds Space. The game appeared after now fewer than three versions of the original Angry Birds had already been released – Angry Birds, Angry Birds Rio and Angry Birds Seasons – so it wasn’t too much of a stretch to say that the formula might be wearing thin, and the tremendous popularity of Angry Birds was actually making the franchise a bit dull.

Angry Birds Space changed that in a hurry. The game took the core of Angry Birds and introduced totally new mechanics to the game world, allowing players to deal with things like variable gravity, inertia, planetary obstacles and more. We’d been playing the same Angry Birds for literally years by this point, and Rovio came along and shook up the snow globe to awesome effect. Suddenly, the well-loved but aging Angry Birds was totally revitalized.

It’s a testament to the strength of Angry Birds Space, and to Rovio’s quality design, that the game soon spawned another spin-off in Angry Birds Star Wars, which also manages to be a great addition to the franchise with smart new mechanics plus new bird abilities, and not just a tie-in for the sake of easy sales.

Slightly less reckless racing

One of the genres that seems ideally suited to mobile devices is top-down racing, in which players drive their cars around a track they can see from a bird’s eye view. Tight controls and fast gameplay made the first Reckless Racing title a lot of fun. It’s the intelligent improvements and tighter gameplay, not the increased recklessness, that makes Polarbit’s sequel even better.

Reckless Racing 2 totally improves the core gameplay of the original. Everything about Reckless Racing 2 is more polished. Graphically, the game is brilliantly detailed, even though its zoomed-out view keeps the action small. Even better, though, is that it provides a whole lot more content than the original, like more tracks and cars that you can customize.

It’s a great sequel that can drop what doesn’t work about an original while improving upon what does, and Reckless Racing 2 does just that. The game is smart in that it feels like it takes itself more seriously, and in so doing, provides better gameplay than the original.

Fleshing out the story makes a better game

The visually impressive Infinity Blade, with its easy-to -learn, hard to master swipe-based sword-fighting mechanics, became a mainstay of iPhone gaming when it was first released in 2010. While it included some semblance of a plot – there’s an oppressive immortal tyrant living in a tower, and he continuously kills members of your family’s bloodline until you take him down – it was exceedingly thin the first time out.When developer ChAIR attacked making a sequel to the super-popular Infinity Blade, it added a whole lot more to the puzzle, but the first step was giving the game a much more engaging story for framing the action. Now players get swept up in the science fictional intrigue, and there’s even a novella that sets the stage for the second game and bridges the gap between the two.

Having a real story facilitates a bigger game, and the second thing that makes Infinity Blade II such a great sequel is that it’s enormous. There are new mechanics, new enemies, new settings, multiple paths through each playthrough, and even a sort of collective multiplayer mode in which players compete in challenges to earn in-game prizes. Infinity Blade II manages to take what was fun about the first game and add tremendous value to its formula. Soon, the developers will release Infinity Blade Dungeons, a prequel to the first game. Not only does this revise and solidify the storyline, but transforms the game experience from turn-based slashing to a sprawling dungeon crawler.

These aren’t the only great sequels to iOS games, by far, but they rank among the most commendable. All of them show the continued growth of the mobile market, not only in size, but also in quality and depth. Mobile games are here to stay, and as time goes on, they can only get better.

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