Thanks to its fancy 2048-by-1536 resolution retina display and powerful quad-core graphics processor, Apple's third-generation iPad has created a perceptibly tiered iOS tablet platform, especially when it comes to games. Interactive entertainment just looks better on Apple's latest whiz-bang slate than it does in an iPad 1 or 2.
That is, so long as it was designed with the latest hardware in mind.
Most older games look and play fine running on the new iPad, but only those optimized to make the most of its crisper display and more powerful guts – so far just a tiny handful of the tens of thousands of games available through the app store – really show off its potential.
Here are a dozen games – both new releases and existing titles given fresh updates – that have been optimized to make the most Apple's most recent tablet.
Total War Battles ($6.99)
The first game in Creative Assembly's popular series of real-time strategy games to be designed specifically for tablets is a treat. It looks lovely running on Apple's new hardware, with wonderfully detailed units and fine particle effects showing off the device's amazing resolution. More than that, it's a slyly designed piece of tactical gaming. Real-time action set in feudal Japan takes place on a hexagonal grid upon which players build structures and manufacture units, each with specific strengths and weaknesses. The catch? Your soldiers can only move forward, never back (talk about gung-ho!). Missions are quick and satisfying and the interface is smart and intuitive, as befits a handheld device. Don't miss this one.
Sky Gamblers: Air Supremacy ($4.99)
This air combat game is a mixed bag. Its deadly war planes handle beautifully using onscreen controls, but, sadly, not as well should you prefer a gyro interface. And while its intricately modeled aircraft look terrific viewed on the iPad's retina display, terrain often appears dull and smeared, especially in urban environments. It is, however, an excellent candidate for folks who want to try playing iPad games on their televisions using AirPlay and an AppleTV or the Apple Digital AV Adapter HDMI cable. The clutter of maps and flight information gets pushed down to the iPad screen, leaving your television to show an unobstructed view of the game's pretty planes.
The most compelling games are often the simplest. All players need do in this puzzler is tap circles of solid colour to have them radiate a halo that travels across the screen. Your goal is to time taps so that all expanding halos reach a small white circle at exactly the same time. It's easy at first, but then blooms begin travelling at differing speeds, depending on their colour. When you hit level 30 and the white circles begin shifting position you're timing and estimation skills will really be put to the test. And while more sophisticated games do a better job showing off the third-generation iPad's technical capabilities, Circadia's circles still benefit from smoother edges (thanks to all those extra pixels) and agreeably vibrant primary colours that seem to jump off the game's pitch-black background.
Real Racing 2 HD ($6.99)
The iPad 3 optimization update for Real Racing 2 HD, one of the most popular racers available for iOS devices, does more than just improve car details and driving effects. It also significantly boosts performance. That occasionally choppy frame rate? Gone. The game now runs slick as a whistle and even loads a little more quickly, too. Plus, support for higher resolution output makes it a fine fit for HD televisions. It's still no substitute for Forza Motorsport or Gran Turismo running on a console, but you'll be hard pressed to find a better looking or deeper racing sim for five bucks.
Bike Baron ($0.99)
There's no denying this cartoonish motorbike game was designed to capitalize on the popularity of RedLynx's Trials games for Xbox 360, but that doesn't mean it's not fun. The two-dimensional racing action is easier than that made popular by its muse, and the physics system seems just a little off at times, but the game's mind-bending loops and explosive crashes have an addictive quality that makes you want to keep trying and re-trying events until you nail that three-star performance. The just-released retina optimization update simply makes things look a little sharper. Track edges have cleaner lines and riders sport crisper edges. Sadly, textures and background remain bland.
Alexy Pajitnov's classic puzzler has never been a great fit for touch screen devices. Rotating and dropping tetraminos without a physical d-pad or control stick just doesn't feel right. The latest edition tries to fix this problem with a curious "one-touch" interface. When a new piece appears we're provided options of where to stack it on the blocks below. Simply touch where you want it to drop, and you're done. It works well enough, but it also removes a player's dexterity from the equation, and with it part of the challenge – and fun. It launched with retina support, and its simple design and bright colours look lovely on the iPad's new screen. That said, the game's decidedly square-ish objects are a pretty good fit for lower resolution screens, too.
When it comes to action and adventure games on iOS devices, the best are those designed from the ground up for touch control. Epoch is one of these games. This cover-based sci-fi shooter starring a beat-up robot eschews clunky virtual joysticks, opting instead to let players strategically select movements and attacks via intuitive swipes and taps. This leaves players some time to appreciate game's gorgeous, Unreal Engine-powered visuals, which look even better with the retina optimization update applied. The war-torn environs and intricately designed characters are more clearly defined and sport more detail than before.
Flight Control Rocket ($0.99)
This sci-fi flight control game – the spunky retro visuals of which pop pleasantly on the iPad's retina display – throws a few wrinkles into a well-worn genre. Players need to guide incoming craft to different ports of matching colour, taking into account some wildly convoluted flight paths and lending additional guidance to drones that some ships drop along the way. It gets tough in a hurry. Unfortunately, publisher Electronic Arts has put a bit of a damper on things by prodding players toward micro-transactions that secure valuable aid in the form of specialized robot helpers. If you don't like spending more on a game you've already paid for, best avoid this one.
Zen Bound 2 ($2.99)
Puzzle games aren't generally known for gorgeous graphics, but this series of physics-based brainteasers relies as much on realistic visuals – which enhance its pleasantly meditative vibe – as it does clever conundrum design. Players spend their time wrapping rope around ornate sculptures, attempting to achieve 100 per cent coverage. The game's retina optimization update gives ropes added grain so that you can better imagine how they might feel as you pull them tight across stone and timber models, which also benefit from improved textures. It's an engaging and beautiful game made ever-so-slightly better when played on a new iPad.
Air Wings (Free, with ads)
This mildly entertaining multiplayer game employs simple and accessible motion controls to let players fly paper airplanes around obstacle-laden rooms, hunting down other players with spitball cannons and sticky-dart missiles along the way. It lacks a solo campaign, but online matches can be found and started in just a couple of seconds, so there's never much worry about finding challengers – unless, of course, you happen to be unable to connect to the Internet. It was released with retina support baked in, though you wouldn't know it, given the dull appearance of environments and general lack of detail in the game's objects. It may be free, but unless the idea of multiplayer paper plane dogfights really clicks for you, might as well skip this one.
Siege Hero HD ($1.99)
Inspired by the perpetually popular Angry Birds games, Siege Hero HD is among the better physics-based puzzlers currently in vogue. Players simply tap spots on fortresses where they want to throw rocks, vials of flaming liquid, grappling hooks, bombs, and other projectiles, then watch with satisfaction as they come tumbling down, burying the cartoonish soldiers standing around them in rubble. The game's new retina optimization update gives it noticeably cleaner lines and geometry, and the display's warm colour temperature results in more vibrant and inviting hues. Such subtle enhancements probably won't make you have any more fun dropping concrete slabs onto behelmeted baddies, but keen-eyed players won't complain.
Dark Meadow ($5.99)
Already one of the prettiest iOS games around, this atmospheric horror adventure set in a decrepit hospital has received a retina display optimization update that makes its creepy-beautiful environments even more realistic. Textures – think peeling walls and grungy floors – have added layers of detail, and lighting and particle effects have been noticeably improved. Horror-loving gamers yet to experience this gothic chiller's spooky pleasures would do well to make a point of playing Dark Meadow on Apple's third-generation tablet, if possible.