It would appear to be a wise move on Pangea Software's part to kick off its iPhone catalogue with a port of the popular Mac racing game, Cro-Mag Rally. The clean, cartoon-like visuals and immediately accessible gameplay makes it dramatically easy for the world of iPhone gaming newcomers to not only pick-up-and-play, but to see what their system is capable of.
This 3D racing game borrows heavily from Nintendo's classic and universally adored Mario Kart, though this isn't a criticism or a particular surprise. A fun and family-friendly racing game is just as vital for a gaming platform as any realistic driving experience, admirably catering to a casual market that's likely to be turned off by the precision realism of many racers.
Cro-Mag Rally places you in the Flintstone-esque driving seat of a primeval racing car, and sets you off on a three-lap dash around nine impressively lengthy circuits. Where the real difference in gameplay is to be found is in the control system, which makes initially questionable use of the iPhone's motion sensing capability.
The handset itself is used as a steering wheel, with a thumb in the bottom corner acting as an accelerator, reverse or brake. You'd be forgiving for thinking this would make the onscreen action difficult to follow, what with the screen being swung around all over the place while trying to keep Captain Caveman on track. But the decent size of the iPhone screen, coupled with its clarity and widescreen ratio overcome this obstacle extraordinarily well.
The high speed of the races involuntarily pulls you into the action, and you'll find yourself leaning with the corners and unconsciously jolting with every bump and grind. This full-body motion intangibly compensates for the rapidly moving screen, and proves the unconventional control system to be something of a success. We anticipate seeing a great many more racing games adopting the motion sensing steering wheel system after throttling around a few laps of Cro-Mag Rally.
Along the way there's lots of primitive weaponry to collect and hurl at other racers, from dinosaur bones and oil slicks to homing pigeon missiles and Chinese bottle rockets. Although they do work and add a subtle action dimension to the racing gameplay, you'll rarely see them in operation as the most take place behind you (unless one of the other racers nails you with their own antediluvian arsenal, of course). It's not a big deal, but it'd be good to see the opposition go careening off the track after taking a pigeon in the face or power sliding through an oil slick.
A bit of wi-fi multiplayer would turn this from a very good game into an unmissable one, but even with this small omission it's a great addition to the iPhone's launch line-up. Anyone who's enjoyed racing around Mario Kart will find Cro-Mag Rally to be a superb alternative and a most impressive introduction to the racing possibilities of Apple's new gaming platform.