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Archives  Features  iPod Games Review: Pac-Man, Vortex, and Zuma  

iPod Games Review: Pac-Man, Vortex, and Zuma
November 28, 2006 | Bryan Clodfelter

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Ah yes, another Breakout clone. Vortex is yet another derivative of that classic paddle-and-ball game (in fact, another variant, originally written by Steve Wozniak in 1979, is already on your iPod) where the player must use a paddle to prevent a ball from escaping and simultaneously knock out the bricks aligned in rows and columns above. In Vortex, things are presented a mite differently: instead of presenting the game in a linear 2D space, Vortex makes it appear as though someone has sunk a very deep, round mineshaft into your iPod’s screen. Near the surface of the screen is your paddle, and the bricks are arranged in concentric rings below. As before, the objective of the game is to knock out all of the bricks while preventing the ball from making it past you.

There are several twists thrown in to make it more interesting, however: certain bricks can take more than one hit before they crack (some can never be eliminated), others slide in and out of the walls of the shaft, and some even release powerups. Unlike the universally positive powerups featured in most arcade games, Vortex’s powerups are either good or bad depending on the situation, and stick with you for only one level. Each powerup (with the exception of the most powerful ones, like a very useful machine gun) generally has a corresponding “powerdown” (my terminology)—a collectible that does just the opposite of the powerup. For instance, there’s a powerup that makes your ball fly faster, and a “powerdown” that makes it go slower. In certain cases, you may want to speed up the ball in order to finish a level quickly, netting yourself a nice time bonus. If you have multiple balls bouncing around (another powerup), or find yourself facing some other difficult situation, you may want to let that speed powerup go by and grab the powerup that slows everything down a tad to avoid losing control.

Tailored for the iPod
The unique layout of Vortex means that the iPod’s scroll wheel works perfectly for this title. There are two methods of control: one that aligns the paddle with the exact position of your finger on the wheel (so moving your thumb to the top of the scroll wheel moves the paddle to the 12 o’clock position of the shaft), and one that uses the velocity of your finger to move the paddle to determine how fast the paddle reacts to your input. Regardless of the method you choose, the physics that control how the ball rebounds off the paddle, which largely determine how well you can aim, is predictable and forgiving. It's hard to put yourself in a situation where the ball is moving so fast sideways that you can't keep up with it, and eliminating that last brick shouldn't be a monumental effort for most players.

While the look of an arcade game is far less important than the way it plays, Vortex's graphics are pretty slick; it's definitely one of the best looking titles available for the iPod. Audio is a different story. While Vortex has it's own music, it basically consists of a single audio track looped over and over; a classic failing of arcade games. Luckily, you can always substitute your own music. If you prefer silence, or want to switch tracks, the play, skip, and repeat buttons on your iPod will allow you to navigate your library and playlists without having to take your eyes off the screen.

Overall, Vortex is a solid title and probably one of best games available for the iPod, despite the fact that it’s simply the newest addition to an extremely long line of Breakout clones. One thing that sets it apart from it’s numerous brethren is the unique "top down" perspective, that when coupled with the iPod’s scroll wheel, could not be played better on any other platform. Essentially, if you’re looking for a second or third new game for your iPod, Vortex is a good choice.

Score Breakdown
Graphics: 7
Gameplay: 7
Sound: 5
Value: 7
Tilt: 7
Overall: 6.5

• Fun and simple gameplay
• Creative and attractive visuals
• Powerups keep gameplay varied
• Above average physics

• Another Breakout clone
• Single audio track leaves much to be desired
• Powerups can be difficult to distinguish from each other
• Once you’ve played one level, you’ve played ‘em all


Archives  Features  iPod Games Review: Pac-Man, Vortex, and Zuma