Part of the reason Flight Control has been a massive hit is because it offered something entirely suited to touchscreens, rather than try to force control conventions from traditional consoles onto an iOS game.
The path-drawing concept that underpins the entire game, with you guiding aircraft to runways and helipads, is intuitive for newcomers, but the game also quickly ramps up the challenge to ensure hardcore gamers aren't left bored.
As with any iOS game that spends a number of months troubling the charts and goes on to sell millions, plenty of brazen copycats subsequently appeared. But when it comes to path-drawing games, some of the better efforts inspired by Firemint's classic extend Flight Control's core gameplay in interesting ways or mash up path-drawing with other genres to create something fresh.
That said, if you're a Flight Control nut and have an iPad, Firemint's own Flight Control HD (£2.99, iPad) should be your first port of call. Unlike most 'HD' games, Flight Control HD doesn't merely provide an iPad-sized version of an iPhone title - although you do get suitably chunky versions of the original five iPhone maps, which are quite a bit easier to play on the bigger screen.
However, if you're the kind of person who's a Flight Control master, lazily scoring into the thousands of points while simultaneously watching television, the HD maps will wipe away your complacency. They dump two airfields on each map, hugely increasing the complexity and overlap of flight paths.
And while great local multiplayer over Wi-Fi or Bluetooth (even with Flight Control on iPhone or iPod touch) is included, there's also a fab splitscreen two-player 'versus' mode.
If maritime action is more your thing, Harbour Master (£1.19 for iPhone, Harbour Master HD for iPad free with IAP levels) takes the Flight Control concept and drops it into the water. Instead of guiding planes to land, you help ships to dock.
What ensures the game isn't an out-and-out Flight Control clone is the addition of cargo. In Flight Control, planes that land disappear, clearing the runway; but in Harbour Master, cargo must be unloaded, and the boats then need guiding off-screen. This creates a more demanding game from a strategic standpoint, since you need to take into account boat speeds, unload times and also dock/cargo colour-matching.
33rd Division (£1.19, iPhone) and Lion Pride (59p for iPhone, £1.79 for Lion Pride HUGE for iPad) also ramp up the strategic aspect of pathdrawing. The former largely resembles a simplified stealth game, with you helping tiny soldiers to sneak past enemy defences and reach the other side of the screen. (This seems a fairly odd way to win a war, but there you go.)
The line of sight for each enemy is prominently displayed, and so the game is about planning a route that won't get you spotted, or tapping your guy to make him lie down should he stray too close to someone with a big, dangerous gun.
Lion Pride has more depth, and tasks you with controlling a pride of lions stalking their territory and ambushing prey. It's strange to play a game that's essentially a hybrid of Flight Control and a TV show by David Attenborough, but it works.
In early levels, you get to grips with how the lions move about, targeting and killing easy (read: slow) prey, but in later levels your lions must work as a group, sending tasty four-legged treats into ambush situations. Lion Pride might not be the fastest nor the most exciting entry in the genre, but it's certainly one of the most interesting, and worth buying if you fancy something different (or have a thing for really big cats with sharp teeth).
Getting back to more action-oriented fare, Axe in Face (59p, iPhone) has Red Beard the Viking defending his daffodil patch against his horticulturally challenged chums in a game that might just take a few liberties with historical accuracy. Paths you draw determine the route of Red Beard's very sharp axe, mostly sending it through the necks of unfortunate cartoon Vikings. It's a great mash-up of castle defence and pathdrawing that you won't put down until all 32 levels are beaten.
Super 7 (59p, universal) is also something of a mash-up, albeit with a maths game. Your aim is to combine numbered shapes as they float around the screen, by drawing paths that connect them 'magnetically'. A combination totalling seven vanishes, but should a combination hit eight or higher, your game is over, something hastened by the arrival of negative numbers and multipliers.
Like Axe In Face, Super 7 is a bargain at 59p, and although it's great on the iPhone, it works particularly well on the iPad's larger screen. Although the majority of path-drawing games are essentially twitch-based and reaction-oriented, albeit with a bit of forward planning, some reverse this dynamic.
DrawRace (£1.79, iPhone) is an innovative take on a top-down racer, but instead of you directly controlling a car as you would in Micro Machines, you instead draw a path before the race begins. The speed and direction of your car in the subsequent race is based on the speed with which you drew the path and the sharpness of the turns you created - if they were too sharp, the car skids, losing valuable time.
Once tracks are unlocked (by beating computer opponents), you can battle players online. There's also a local multi-player mode for racing friends. DrawRace isn't nearly as intuitive as the likes of Flight Control, though - it takes plenty of practice before you master how to defeat opponents in later races.
The former is really a puzzle game, and the paths are train tracks, rigidly sticking to a grid, with you attempting to send the trains from station to station. Initially, you think you'll breeze through, but you soon find yourself battling puzzles and burning brain cells when tasked with combining trains to 'mix' their colours, or laying switchable sections of track. (Also, while Trainyard is not a universal app, we noticed that it uses high-res graphics in 2x mode when installed on the iPad - a nice touch.)
Finally, SteamBirds resembles a steampunk turn-based version of Flight Control, with you drawing paths to bring down German aircraft in an alternate World War II. It's tough and compelling, and while it's still path-drawing in the sky, it and the other games showcased here show how a single simple idea can give birth to a number of great games when developers are willing to take a risk rather than get out their photocopiers.
First published in Tap! Issue 03
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