Full-scale, console-style football has been a technical success on the iPhone but many, myself among them, find it prohibitively complex for such a small screen, using multitouch. Other developers have found stronger success breaking the game down to singular acts. To Backbreaker's Tackle Alley, a running game, we can now add Pocket Passer for all iOS devices, by Big Toe Productions.
As the title implies, you're in a football passing drill. Receivers drift down the field on recognizable routes, like targets in a shooting gallery, and your job is to hit them on the hands, which cradle a bullseye, though you do get lesser credit for hitting them anywhere. Pocket Passer is a flick game, and your pass variety - bullet, lob or hail mary - depends on how far and how fast you drag your finger.
At least, I think it does. I really couldn't get the hang of the longer bombs in this game, but I was bullet-point accurate from 20 yards in. Many rounds end with a "Hail Mary" throw that sends a receiver on one final streak route and I never tossed him anything but a line drive at his feet. I did hook up for one 46 yard bomb that was immensely satisfying, but longer connections are a lamentably rare experience as leading the receiver requires timing as well as the correct motion.
The three game types (plus an untimed, unscored practice mode) are well suited to the task at hand. A career mode takes you through an increasingly difficult series of challenges, earning you one of three different classes of performance (red, silver, gold) and the lowest is easy enough to attain and advance. At higher difficulties, robot defenders (which look like Starbucks cups) will obstruct passes, and the time you have to complete a pass before you are "sacked" shrinks.
In Frenzy, you're given an unlimited number of balls to throw, with the aim of besting the high score within 90 seconds. Survival flips the premise, giving you a limited number of balls (though you may earn more) with the objective of seeing how long you can last.
The game engine is Unity and it works smoothly - although for some Hail Mary animations the follow-cam suffered heavy frameskip. The graphics and presentation are strong for the subject. It is an addictive game, but for me, it's because I'm trying to figure out exactly how to wing the bomb consistently. Survival was my preferred mode, being both a compact experience and yet longer lasting than Frenzy.
In the end, it's a 99-cent game. If you're more West Coast Offense than Mad Bomber, more square-out and slant than streak and deep post, the three game modes you get for a buck offer plenty of replay value.
Pocket Passer [iTunes]