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GDC 2012: EA Mobile offers an early look at upcoming iOS favorites

EA Mobile’s Game Developer’s Conference showcase was perfectly timed to fall on the same day as Apple’s new iPad announcement. The various developers weren’t quite ready to start talking about plans to support the upgraded tablet during the showcase — they get confirmation of the new specs at the same time as the rest of the world, after all — but most all of them could at least confirm that upcoming releases are built out at the source using ultra-high resolution artwork. The below games should be ready to roll at or soon after launch for the new Apple tablet’s updated Retina Display.

Flight Control Rocket

Fans of Firemint’s popular aircraft-landing endurance game Flight Control will be pleased to learn that the next crack at the game will be exploring the final frontier with a much more elaborate systems behind it. Flight Control Rocket takes the flight path-tracing action into space, with players getting to guide various types of rocketships onto the landing pads of a lumbering spacecraft carrier.

There’s a lot more variety in Rocket, with a wider range of ships introducing new wrinkles into the increasingly frantic gameplay. You’ll have ships that split into two when you tap them, ships that fire rockets along their flight path, ships that fly together in convoys, ships that crap out smaller probes that must also be landed, and more besides. You’re still working with red, yellow and green landing zones, but the range of different attributes make flying the spacelanes a great deal more difficult.

Players will have a few new features to help them out. There are three “lives” to work with in any given round, so a single collision won’t destroy all of your progress. There are also bots you can unlock using coins collected during play that work like perks.

There are 10 of these bots, and three slots to equip them in (though you only start with one; the other two must be purchased). They can do things like shorten the length of yellow ship convoys or cause random ships to automatically land on their own. Bots level up the more you use them, making them more effective and extending their battery life. The latter is helpful for extending a bot’s longevity; while you own them forever once you purchase them, they can only be used a certain number of rounds in a row before a recharge is needed.

Players can also look forward to two modes of play. Infinity mode is the familiar one; anytime you play it, you start from the beginning and work your way up toward more challenging scenarios. Odyssey mode is all new, breaking the experience up into a series of 20 stages. You’ll be able to grab Flight Control Rocket later this month.

Air Mail

The first time I saw Chillingo and N-Fusion Interactive’s Air Mail, I immediately thought of Pilotwings. There’s a fantasy world backdrop and an elaborate universe behind the game’s story, but it’s all built around a series of flying challenges. You’ll fly through rings of course, but you’ll also do things like buzz towers to scare off pigeons and drag nets through water to gather fish.

You’ll have three control options to choose from, though all of them use the touch screen to a certain extent. Touch controls rely on it entirely, with a virtual analog stick on the left and a throttle slider on the right. The throttle remains on the screen for tilt controls and advanced controls, the latter of which allows for pulling off elaborate maneuvers like barrel rolls.

All told, Air Mail features quite a bit of content spread over its seven, mutli-part chapters. The story alone ought to take most players roughly seven hours to work their way through, and then there’s also an “Express Delivery” mode which ties in with leaderboard rankings and an Explore mode, which gives players an opportunity to fly around the maps unhindered, collecting fortune cookie-style scrolls.

The game looks gorgeous running on an iPad 2, with smooth animation and some downright lovely level design. Hand-drawn motion comic-style cutscenes inspired by the works of Studio Ghibli help keep the story moving along. There’s no release date for Air Mail yet, but it should be popping up in the App Store soon enough.

The Act – An Interactive Comedy

The Act – An Interactive Comedy from Chillingo and React Entertainment delivers one of the more inventive concepts I’ve seen from a mobile title. Cut from the cloth of coin-op classics like Dragon’s Lair and Space Ace, The Act is a 2D animated game of left and right swiping that influence the on screen actions.

The story-driven game has a bit of an elaborate story behind it. Some years ago, before the mobile scene became what it is today, React set about designing a coin-op game in the style of the classic arcade titles from ex-Disney animator Ron Bluth. By the time the game was ready, arcades had pretty much disappeared in all ways that mattered and smartphone gaming had become a massive thing.

With the groundwork already laid and new features like increased storage and HD displays coming to these small screens, React set to work on turning The Act into a mobile title. After two and a half years in development, the game is just months away now from App Store primetime.

The story follows a Brooklyn hospital’s window washer, named Edgar, as he pursues the affections of the beautiful nurse Sylvia. The game opens with Edgar gazing longingly through a window at his lady love; his work falters as he slips into a daydream.

We see Edgar now looking slick in a white-on-white suit with a black bowtie in a restaurant/bar with a distinctly Middle Eastern flavor. He’s essentially become Bogie in Casablanca. His very own Ilsa, Sylvia, sits at the bar, turned away from him.

The game’s controls are relatively simple to explain. Whenever a movie slate-style “Play Now” icon appears on the screen, it’s up to the player to swipe to the left and/or right to influence what’s happening on the screen. In this case, the idea is to swipe very gradually to the right, edging Edgar toward Sylvia in stages, closer and closer and she becomes more and more responsive.

The sequence that follows adds another wrinkle. Edgar is back in the real world, yanked there by an angered boss unhappy with his and his brother’s flagging work. A balancing act begins, with leftward swipes pushing the boss back through the window while rightward swipes keep the oafish brother working.

All of it wraps together around a charming 2D art style. React hasn’t set a price yet, but you should be able to snatch The Act for yourself sometime in the next couple months, in both the iOS App Store and the Mac App Store.

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