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Going for distance games on iOS

This week's collection of perpetual running games includes a couple of classics alongside a couple of new titles that are perfect for getting into the genre.


The perpetual running game genre that works so well on touch devices doesn't seem to be winding down anytime soon -- and I, for one, am very glad it keeps getting refreshed with new and unique games.

Running games are perfect for when you need to kill a little time because you can go for your high score a couple of times while waiting in line at the DMV or perhaps while riding the train, but they're not so involved that you can't put them down at a moment's notice. There are plenty of classics to explore in this category, such as Hook Worlds, Monster Dash, and many others, but I thought I would run a little comparison of old vs. new to see where the genre is headed.

This week's collection of iOS apps is all about running for your life. The first two are favorites of mine that are easy to recommend for anyone who hasn't tried the running genre before. The second two are new to the genre, and offer both good and bad new elements, but still offer the same heart-thumping action as you'll try anything to stay alive a little bit longer.

As an added bonus, every game in this collection is iOS Universal, letting you play on your iPod Touch, iPhone, or iPad.

Tried and true
Jetpack Joyride (Free) is an older distance game from the makers of Monster Dash and Fruit Ninja, but in this game you use a machine-gun jetpack to maneuver past obstacles and use discovered vehicles to try to survive as long as possible. The control system is incredibly simple: touch the screen to propel your jetpack.

Jetpack Joyride
The great thing about this classic game is the ability to use vehicles you find along the way. Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET

As in Monster Dash, you play hero Barry Steakfries, but in this game you'll break into a secret laboratory to steal and use experimental jet packs. As you propel yourself through this side-scroller, you'll need to gather coins you can use between runs to buy new jetpacks, different outfits, upgrades for vehicles, and extra utilities that help you last longer. Some of the upgrades can be fairly expensive, but you can take your chances with a slot machine at the end of a game (if you gather Spin tokens floating through each level) that will add to your cash or give you bonuses you would usually buy in the store.

Part of what makes Jetpack Joyride fun are the strange vehicles you'll discover and use along the way. Along with the already interesting machine-gun jetpack that fires downward, you'll also find a Profit Bird that eats coins and requires that you flap its wings; ride a motorcycle that speeds along the ground but can jump up to grab bonuses; or use a strange machine that lets you teleport out of the way of obstacles. There are several vehicles to discover and each adds to your frantic run as you try to survive as long as possible.

To keep the game interesting, you also can gain achievements by doing various things in the game. Once you earn enough, you'll level up, which gives you even more coins to use toward new jetpacks and items.

Overall, Jetpack Joyride is a fun and addictive distance/running game that offers plenty of replay value with the countless upgrades and strange vehicles you find in each game. If you like distance games and haven't tried this classic, this is a must-have for only a buck.

Temple Run
The only 3D option in the collection might be one of the best runners of all time. Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET

Temple Run (Free) is a one of the most popular survival/escape games to date, where you play as a character who's a lot like Indiana Jones from the popular action movies. It's also the only 3D game in this collection. The simple storyline is that you've stolen a cursed golden idol, and now you need to run for your life from demon guardians through all kinds of obstacles. A little different from the other games in this collection, Temple Run gives you a 3D perspective as you run, jump, turn, and slide down pathways while grabbing coins. You'll definitely want to grab as many coins as possible; in between runs, you can buy upgrades like the coin magnet that sucks coins toward your character, or the coin value multiplier that gives you double and triple coin value the farther you run.

Temple Run is unique in the perpetual running game genre with a new level of interaction as you run. You run on 3D stone platforms, crude rock walls, and wooden walkways as you grab coins and avoid obstacles. A swipe upward makes you jump, a horizontal swipe lets you turn at intersections, and a swipe downward lets you slide under low-hanging obstacles. You also can run from side to side on a pathway by tilting your iPhone or iPad left or right--a necessary action when you need to grab coins on the side of your run and avoid broken parts of your path. The combination of all of these moves adds even more challenge because you never know what you're going to face when you go around the next turn.

Overall, with beautiful graphics, dynamic levels, unique controls, and power-ups you can buy with coins, Temple Run is an excellent addition to the survival/escape genre of video games. If you like the idea of running for your life while making quick moves to escape, Temple Run is an excellent time-waster.

Fresh and new
Gun Runner (Free) is a perpetual running game that models itself (to a certain extent) after classic arcade shooters like Contra. Using similar graphics to that old standby, in Gun Runner your job is to, and gun. At first, I'll admit I was thoroughly unimpressed with the pace, and the environments and continuous 80s arcade-style music quickly got boring. But I realized after passing a certain major milestone that the game gets exponentially better. The interface for Gun Runner has you tapping on the right side of the screen to jump, and touching the upper or lower part of the left side to aim your gun.

Gun Runner
Gun Runner uses the classic graphical style many 80s arcade game fans will remember. Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET

You start off with a single-shot gun that automatically fires as you jump and double-jump over obstacles and collect coins. Gunships fly in regularly and drop soldiers that try to take you down (you can take three hits before you die) and it takes a number of shots with the single-shot gun to blow up a gunship. As you get further into the game, larger gunships show up that drop harder foes, and you'll quickly see that your beginning gun is no match for the bigger bad guys.

While testing this game, I decided to at least reach the 1,000-coin level in order to buy the next gun upgrade. I figured I might as well see if it gets any better before deciding Gun Runner was better left out of this collection. Once I got the triple shotgun, though, it was definitely worth the time spent. With the new gun you can blow up a gunship in seconds, which means you'll last much longer, gather more coins per round, and generally feel much more powerful. There are several guns you can buy, but my main issue with the game is that they're increasingly expensive and the large jumps in price mean you'll end up playing for a very long time to even be able to afford the third gun.

In the end, Gun Runner is not the best game in the category, but it gets much better once you can afford new guns and might be a good way (free) to enter the genre. Hopefully the developers will realize lowering the prices of the guns could make the game a lot more fun, but I'd still recommend you play this free title at least until you get past that 1,000-coin milestone.

Madcoaster (99 cents) is an escape game where your job is to last as long as possible as you speed along on ever-changing tracks with a five-car coaster. The interface is all swipes and touches with no onscreen buttons, with a touch to jump the coaster, a swipe up to move to an upper platform, and a swipe down to drop down to a lower platform.

I'm not sure these people knew what they were getting into when they got on this roller coaster. Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET

Beyond the endless track-jumping action, Madcoaster offers beautiful environments, coin collecting, and other challenges that keep you interested. The game is broken up into 1,000-meter runs through environments from icy arctic zones to tropical palm-tree-populated landscapes where you'll tackle different obstacles appropriate to the environment. As you progress you can gather coins, swipe upward at the right moment to go through loops, or ram into the abundant wildlife to add to your score. You'll also grab power ups such as the Bird Magnet which attracts all the birds to you for more points, and the Jetpack that lets you blast your coaster out of harm's way in sticky situations.

Just going for distance is fun enough, but what keeps you playing Madcoaster are the objectives that, when completed, give you new coaster designs. My current objectives after playing several games are to go for a distance of 4,000 meters, hit three gorillas, and hit three penguins or pandas. All of the objectives have similarly silly requirements and trying to seek out each animal type as you zoom through the levels definitely adds to the fun. It's worth noting that the new designs don't change the gameplay, but there's a certain feeling of satisfaction when you earn them.

Madcoaster is a refreshing take on the escape game genre that will appeal to anyone who likes these types of games. The added objectives, collectables, and unlockable coaster designs make this endless escape game even better.