Welcome to a slightly watered-down Download Games Roundup where the quality of the offerings is not quite as tip top as it usually is. But there's a good reason for that! For one, most of the games I was planning to cover got bumped up into full reviews, which is always a good sign.
A game like And Yet It Moves was simply too good not to shout about as loudly as possible, while Dead Rising 2: Case Zero was just too high profile. And then there's DoDonpachi Resurrection, which we've got lined up for a full review in the next few days.
So that left a few gaps, and the alternatives weren't quite as exciting, unfortunately, and demonstrated how variable the quality threshold is when it comes to downloadable games. It wasn't all bad news though. Read on to see why.
Tales of Elastic Boy: Mission 1
- WiiWare / 600 Wii Points (£5.60)
Tales of Elastic Boy had so much potential. I imagined a brooding tale of a misunderstood youngling who faced a long stretch for armed rubbery. (Kill me now.) Instead, we get example number 327 of why shoehorning motion controls into conventional platform games is a terrible idea.
Simple navigation, jumping and combat is rendered an exasperating chore at every turn, as you fumble around trying to persuade your yellow blob (known, for the record, as Mooky) to do as he's told.
With no choice but to use motion control for every element of movement, you have to hold down B while tilting the Wii remote left or right, flick up to jump, and hold down A and B and then flick down to ground pound. Adopting these imprecise actions is bad enough, but to force players to point at the screen and press A every time you want to grab onto a sticky item makes the whole thing intolerable. Bad form, Lexis Numerique.
What could have been a mildly enjoyable platform excursion swiftly degenerates into one of the worst adverts for motion control I've ever seen. Suffice to say, we won't be rushing out to check Mission 2.
- Xbox Live Arcade / 1200 Microsoft Points (£10.20)
Does the world need a gorgeous Streets of Rage remake in 2010? Maybe. When you've got animators and artists as talented as Klei Entertainment evidently has, it'd be rude not to utilise their worrying talent for making evisceration look purdy.
If Shank was an animated short, I'd happily roll a fat one and sit hurgh-hurghing on the sofa at the dumb grisliness of it all. But as a game, it just feels pointless and irritating, and about as engaging as repeatedly attacking the sofa with your own face.
It's the same deal as all the 2D side-scrolling brawlers you've ever played. You trudge from left to right as enemies emerge from all angles and you attack them with a knife, chainsaw or a gun. You can string together combos, or even lob a grenade or two - but it's one of those games where it's not terribly important to bring actual skill to the party.
Enemies come and go in a blizzard of severed limbs, and eventually you come across parts of the environment that you have to leisurely negotiate. Oddly, these are the most enjoyable parts of the game, as you scale walls and monkey-swing around. Perhaps with some puzzle exploration they might have been onto something, but no.
Instead, we end up fighting on the back of a train while a nearby Jeep fires an endless barrage of grenades and rockets. What ought to be a brief interlude turns into an aggravating exercise where you can only cause damage to your aggressor with extremely precise throws. A pixel either side and the computer says no.
In that moment, the sliver of enjoyment you were getting out of drably slugging through Shank evaporates, and the chance to be an exciting Viewtiful Joe of the download scene is lost.
PixelJunk Racers: 2nd Lap
- PSN / £6.29 (free to owners of the original)
Q Games' main man Dylan Cuthbert made the fantastic admission the other week that PixelJunk Racers isn't actually a racing game at all, which makes the choice of title something of a shame on reflection.
For anyone who never got around to playing the 2007 PSN original, it was actually more like an infuriating reaction test - just one that happened to be loosely based on top-down slot-car racing. But as fun as it looked, with its 32 different modes, the difficulty level was all over the shop, making it the kind of game to inspire controller-hurling rage, rather than party game camaraderie.
2nd Lap is a chance to make amends for all that, and, with a sanity check applied to most of the game's modes, it's now a pretty playable, largely fun game - with trophies, a global scoreboard and ghost laps to boot!
As before, it's certainly not wanting for variety, with a ludicrous number of tweaks to the basic formula to task you in all manner of ways, be it patient overtaking, destruction, avoidance, or crazy nonsense like puffing yourself up like a balloon on the start line and whizzing around the track as long as possible without crashing.
With much more manageable targets to aim for, the fact that the tracks are still insanely packed doesn't factor quite so much, although you'll still be thoroughly disorientated when steering left and right. But with up to seven players supported in multiplayer, the options for incendiary silliness are obvious. If you've got it already then it's a no-brainer, but otherwise it's inessential fun from one of the best indie developers out there.
Balls Up! HD
- iPad / £0.59
Apart from the fact that playing an iPad on a train automatically gives you the aura of a massive git, I definitely got the feeling that my fellow commuters weren't feeling the love for Balls Up! HD when I played it on the way home yesterday.
You can't blame them, really. It's a game where the sole purpose is guiding a flow of coloured balls into their respective exits as they pour inexorably from their source. Set on graph paper, you get to drag and drop a few shapes into position and deflect the balls in the required direction. It's a chain reaction game - rather like Enigmo, in fact.
But while Enigmo had a bit of substance to it, developer David Tillotson deliberately narrows the focus to a point where it all feels a tad limited and restrictive. You can't, for example, rotate any of the shapes you're presented with, or scale them in any way, so you're stuck with what you're given.
There's only a few puzzles, too - most of which you'll solve in a matter of minutes. With a bit more depth and a lot more content this could have been a real time sink, but for the price you can't really go far wrong.
Midnight Mysteries: Salem Witch Trials
- iPad / £5.99
Hidden Object Games usually make my teeth itch. I'm not sure how people can possibly extract enjoyment out of essentially playing a point-and-click adventure with all the dialogue, exploration and puzzle elements removed, but apparently they do. So why did I mildly enjoy Midnight Mysteries, then?
Well, for one thing, it's a hybrid, expanding the hidden object concept into something approaching a traditional point-and-clicker, and for another it throws in puzzle-solving, exploration and bit of dialogue for good measure.
With a half-decent story to hang the whole thing on, you find yourself wanting to find out more about the ghost of a dead writer who has come to you for help. Probing around a spooky 17th century town, you probably won't mind the occasional hidden object interlude. As an occasional challenge it fits rather well.
The puzzles aren't bad either, and flitting between nicely-rendered static environments is pleasantly old school, and works well on the iPad.
The only question mark is the slightly beefy price that MumboJumbo is asking for it. It might be a Collector's Edition with tons of extras, but for most of us this sits just outside the impulse purchase bracket.