Given the huge surge in popularity of the Android handsets, it's surprising how poorly organised the Android Market really is. Sometimes you wish there was even a tiny bit of quality control to allow you to filter out the endless detritus from the odd decent game battling it out for recognition.
Simple things would make all the difference, like making sure that the 'Just In' picks were a list of everything worth checking out, as opposed to a long list of crap interspersed with a few gems. People are fond of knocking Apple for its closed system, but at least it seems to be able to filter out the worthless dregs. Would that be so hard for the organisers of the Android Market? Or is this a price of having a free market without compromises?
With so many of you out there checking out the Android scene, tips of interesting new titles are always welcome. There's so little publicity given to 99.9 per cent of all these releases, so the good stuff needs all the help it can get.
- Android / $1.99
- iPhone / £1.79
In the murky den of infinite sin that is the Android Market, the appearance of a celebrated iOS title sometimes warrants a ticker tape parade. This is one such occasion.
Ported with loving care by Gray Fin Studio, supermono's side-scrolling blaster puts you in control of an improbably nimble aircraft and tasks you with knocking everything out of the sky.
It's based on a joyously responsive and smooth rotational control system where you slide your thumb around the left corner of the screen to steer the plane, gunning everything down in sight, including flocks of seagulls, ducks and wiggling UFOs. They probably had it coming to them.
Set to the strains of Mozart, Beethoven and Tchaichovsky, the fun in MiniSquadron comes from how fluid it feels to play. There's an immediacy of control that hooks you in, and a resolutely stern, frantic test that never strays into the bowels of bullet hell frustration.
Every bit as polished as the original, MiniSquadron is another sure sign of Android hitting its stride, and easily one of the best titles available right now.
- iPhone / £2.99
Offering all the satisfaction of flossing with overcooked spaghetti, FIFA 11 provides an object lesson in how not to make a football title for mobile platforms.
For starters, the frame-rate is astonishingly poor for a game that boasts "visual excellence made to maximise the stunning Retina Display". Perhaps inspired by FIFA 97 running on a 486, angular players wheeze out of the tunnel like Gazza after a fraught night with Jimmy Five Bellies, and proceed to trudge around with all the urgency of geriatric ravers entering the K-hole.
To compound EA Romania's horror show, the gameplay is bad enough to make even Liverpool fans look on the bright side. As usual, trying to shoehorn joypad controls onto a touch-screen offers the worst of both worlds: fist gnawing imprecision and tiresome inflexibility.
Trying to craft simple build-up play feels bizarre, with opposing defenders content to amble alongside you. Wading through the treacle-slow action, you'll have plenty of time to ponder on the creative cul-de-sac of attempting to bring the full footy console experience to the iPhone. It hasn't worked before and still doesn't work. Make it stop.
Meanwhile, Eurogamer editor Tom Bramwell has had to check into the gaming rehab clinic after losing 18 hours to FlickKick Football. (High score: 676.)
Gangstar: Miami Vindication
- iPhone / £3.99
One of these days, Rockstar will get around to porting its rich PS2 back catalogue to the iPhone and show up Gameloft's uninspired releases for the tacky GTA knock-offs they really are.
Until then, the Gangstar titles continue to assume a peculiar significance among mobile gamers who kid themselves that a bit of openworld drivin' and shootin' can't be a bad thing. Unfortunately, when you're saddled with mission design as tiresomely generic as you get in Miami Vindication, it's enough to put you off the genre completely.
Missions come in the usual flavours, meaning that you're either sent off to kill some dudes, or pick someone up, or tail such-and-such. You know the drill.
Curtailed into bite-sized sorties, they're certainly ideal for on-the-go play, but, bereft of any of the scripted flourishes that made Rockstar's epics so memorable, you're left with only the bare bones.
To make matters less agreeable, the character models have all the allure of upscaled PSone escapees, complete with robotic animation and phoned-in voice acting, while the environments are similarly low-budget.
All of this would have been acceptable in the nineties, but expectations change. Sure, it's only a few quid, but for once it feels like you're getting what you pay for.
- iPad / £2.99
Picking over the bones of ancient top-down racing favourite like Super Sprint and Overdrive ought to be a fairly straightforward exercise in 2010. Plenty of tracks, power-ups and modes. Bring it on.
Released exclusively for iPad, Cobra Mobile's latest effort looks a safe bet. Fashioned with crisp, detailed visuals, simple controls and a simultaneous two-player mode, it looks like an instant purchase - except out there on the track it's an oddly soulless experience, bereft of the simple features that still make Atari's 1986 arcade classic so much fun to play even now.
The basic rotational controls are serviceable enough, but with no track items to collect, no damage system and a distinct lack of meaningful between-race customisation, it quickly becomes predictable and rather dull.
Part of the problem is a distinct lack of content, with a mere eight tracks on offer and four rather simple modes that offer little more than basic variation.
Once you've seen the main Arcade mode and raced each track a few times, there's little to keep coming back for. Freeplay allows you to tinker with the number of laps and opponents, Challenge is a simple time trial, while the unlockable Mirror mode merely tasks you with racing the other way.
There always remains the possibility that Cobra will beef up the package through updates, but, right now, Danger Derby is a disappointingly limp affair.
Time Crisis 2nd Strike
- iPhone / £5.99
An on-rails arcade shooter on iPhone makes perfect sense. With little more than ducking and shooting to worry about, it's a platform tailor-made for lightgun blasters.
The gameplay here relies on the usual Time Crisis system of pressing a pedal down to pop up from behind the nearest item of scenery, and firing back swiftly and accurately at whoever had it coming to them. It's a dumb, brain-optional experience, but potentially a ton of mindless fun when you're in the mood.
What a shame, then, that Namco Bandai has ballsed it up completely, with hideously unbalanced playability and muddy visuals that would have looked out of place in the early PS2 era.
You'd imagine that being able to tap the screen to fire would give you a huge advantage over waving a lightgun, but not so. Even if you have the reactions of an apoplectic fly, the game seems determined to make the task at hand ridiculously challenging.
You'll stab relentlessly at fuzzy enemies the split-second they appear and still find yourself struggling to meet the time limits. Having always enjoyed great success at rail shooters down the years, this was a rather humbling experience for yours truly, and even the greater screen real estate of the iPad made little difference to my dismal efforts.
There's also the question of the price. At more than double that of even most premium releases on the iPhone, Namco is, frankly, having a laugh. Maybe with a price cut and some rebalancing work this could be worth getting, but right now it's a bit of a shambles.