I’m back and the glut has worsened. Now in addition to the queue of books and games I had before the holiday, we can add about ten books and three games to the list, which means I won’t be back at even until May, at least. Then Game Tunnel has to put up their excellent Indie Games of the Year special and I find about fourteen more games I want to try.

Before I left for the break, I mentioned I had downloaded some iPod games for the trip. Since there are very few sites that seem to comment or do iPod game reviews, it’s probably useful for some Googlers to come across a post with some reviews.

First up is Phase, Harmonix’s music game for the music device.  As with all of their games, you are matching notes to a song as they fall down the screen. You know that much already. The real innovation in Phase is that you can play your own songs rather than ones that ship with the game as in Frequency, Guitar Hero, et al. This is a pretty cool feature, but results are varied. Sometimes you will get a song that seems to have notes falling at random and sometimes you will get songs that feel like someone at Harmonix made this game simply for that song. You will have to try with your library to see which songs actually end up fun to play. One annoyance with the game is that you must make a separate Phase Playlist in iTunes for your songs to show up in the game. Luckily, I noticed this before my trip, or I would have been SOL on Phase‘s main feature. It is graphically compelling, with a distinct art style and a fun background with billboards passing by in a pseudo-3d environment. Overall, Phase is an interesting idea, but like applying Guitar Hero to a toaster, it strangely doesn’t seem to fit the device. The pull of Guitar Hero and Rock Band is immersion and social play and you can’t get either on a three inch screen. A competent game and worth spending the five bucks, but nothing gangbusters.

Next is Brain Challenge. I’ll be honest, the game seems to have a lot more features than I have tried, so maybe I am not giving this a fair set of impressions. I played through a few challenges, but one aspect kept killing me about the game.  The iPod touch wheel is incredibly sensitive, which can lead to it shifting focus if you press the center button while barely touching part of the touch wheel. This caused me to miss a bunch of questions on a bumpy plane ride. Annoying. Also, in a game that requires speed, sometimes the touch wheel’s sensitivity causes you to move over two spots when you wanted to move one, causing you to have to shift back one more and lose precious time. There’s a simple design solution for this:  make the previous track, center and next track buttons the keys for three different answers and limit your possible answers to three choices. Then I could just hit a button rather than scroll over, hope that I am hovering over the correct option and then hit a button. Overall, it is a fun Brain Age-style game, but like Zuma before it, the controls kill it, so I can’t recommend.

Third is EA’s Sudoku game. There isn’t much to screw up here. Sudoku is a fairly simple concept and this iPod version, for the most part, gets it right. It too, suffers from touch wheel sensitivity issues, but since the game is a lot more deliberate that the aforementioned Brain Challenge, it is forgivable. Once again, instead of using the buttons, you can tap on the touch wheel to move around the grid. This sometimes results in double moves. Why can’t you use the buttons? Is this an Apple TRC that the non-center buttons have to control the music? If it is, it will seriously limit design of iPod games. Overall, if you like Sudoku, this is probably as good as it will ever get on the iPod. The Insane-level puzzles are diabolical. I ended up copying one down to a piece of paper for easier control because I was generally fed up with the sensitivity issues. However, I would still recommend this for a quick and satisfying experience on the go for fans of the puzzle.

Last is Peggle, PopCap’s ridiculously addictive casual game. If you’ve played Peggle on the PC, then this will be very familiar as it is a direct port, with most of the features in tact. If you have not played it on the PC, then shame on you as it is one of the greatest simple games of all time. Where it could go wrong is the same place Zuma went wrong – the controls. A small accidental nudge on any shot would completely ruin this largely skill-based game. Somehow, PopCap figured out how to avoid this in a way no other game I have seen on the platform has. The game controls impeccably and delivers the same tension and excitement as it’s PC brother has been known to provide. Apple should ship Peggle on every single iPod. If people knew iPod games could be this good, they would line up (virtually) at the iTunes Music Store to plunk down cash money for other titles. I drained my battery twice this break just playing Peggle.  People like to crow about the Orange Box‘s value-for-money, but it absolutely pales next to a $5 game of Peggle.