The best thing about the mobile gaming scene right now is never quite being sure of what to expect. With no budget for big marketing campaigns (or even PRs to alert us to their existence, most of the time), some of the very best games turn up fully formed, unannounced, unheralded.
Working out whether a game is even good enough to bother looking at becomes something of a dark art, where you're forced to judge based on the name, the quality of the icon and, eventually, the screenshots. Once you've gone as far as that, you might even bother to read the developer's description, and see what the public at large think of it.
And yet some developers don't seem to have the first clue of how to sell their own product, with tiny descriptions, often useless screenshots (that don't even present the game in its best light) and a website link that tells you even less, or doesn't give you a means of contacting them for coverage.
Occasionally out of all this chaos you can find something genuinely astonishing. Like UFO On Tape, probably one of the most brilliant uses of technology I've ever seen. Sure, there's sod all to it, but as a demonstration of an idea, it reaffirms the feeling that this is currently the most vibrant sector of the games industry.
UFO On Tape
- iPhone / £0.59 (Native iPad support coming soon)
How inconvenient that UFOs have gone all shy on us ever since the entire Western world started carrying cameraphones about its person. It's as if they can tell.
If they really were out there, nosing around the urban sprawl, the results would be something along the lines of Revolutionary Concepts' breathtakingly original point-and-shoot app.
Set inside the confines of a moving car, UFO On Tape's idea is to simply train your shaky cam lens on the distant flying saucer for as long as you can by moving your handset. But with the jerky movements of the alien craft to account for, and the added confusion of the car's window frame, keeping the UFO consistently in the viewfinder is a lot harder than it looks.
The addictive time-attack nature of the gameplay allied to the wonderfully fluid and realistic controls make UFO On Tape a unique gaming proposition. (Just don't bother trying to play it using the accelerometer if you have an iPhone 4 – it's one of the best uses of that model's gyroscope yet.)
Throw in the superb photorealistic visuals and the panic-inducing commentary of the excitable female passenger, and you've got one of the most instantly enjoyable games around. A few more scenarios wouldn't have gone amiss, but for the price, this is unmissable.
- iPad / £1.19
- iPhone / £0.59
Spirit has been sitting in my iPad dashboard for weeks, looking longingly at me every time I flick past the haphazard rows of icons. It's one of those games that you really want to love because at first glance it seems so appealing; but like a sexy lady with racist views, there are some thing you just can't put up with.
Even so, I wanted to give Spirit time, because the concept of guiding a cute little ghostie around and trapping enemies in another dimension works beautifully. Unlike, say, Geometry Wars (with which Marco Mazzoli's game shares a vector-based aesthetic), you can't fire a gun at your oncoming aggressors, so you must instead rapidly move in a circle and create a portal to suck them to their doom.
The problem is the rather broken controls. Rather than go for an intuitive 'follow-the-finger' system, the controls take on a life of their own. Robbed of the crucial ability to be reliably and instantly precise with which path you want your spirit to follow, you have to painstakingly adapt to the game's rather odd demands.
After a while, you'll get used to playing the game like this, but the sudden spike in the difficulty coupled with the vast number of on-screen enemies make it even more ruinous that the controls never quite do what you want them to.
Cheap death after cheap death ensues, and before long your love for the game drains away. Spirit HD: I wanted to love you, but clumsy controls are one thing that I absolutely will not put up with. Sorry.
- iPhone / £0.59 (Ad-supported version free)
If you're the kind of insane superbeing who used to happily spend hours trying to ride the 0.1 bar from end to end on the guitar-string level of Super Monkey Ball, then we may have just the game to spark similar obsessive-compulsive tendencies off once again.
Just like Amusement Vision's classic, Finger Balance tasks you with guiding a ball to a goal with speed and precision, but that's largely where the similarities dry up. This time, you have to place two fingers on either side of a stick, and gently coax the ball to its destination without it touching the sides. Think Buzz Bar, but with a ball, a stick, and a hazard-strewn environment.
After its deceptively gentle introduction, Coconut Island heaps on the pain and taunts you with brutal target times of a few seconds. Once you get the feel for it, though, you'll man up and start chasing down leaderboard times like the arch procrastinator that you are. Because there's nothing better to do, right?
The recent update caters for both the casual newcomers and the hollow-eyed elite, with 30 new easy and insane levels to mine for glory. And if that's somehow not enough, you can always unlock the reversed mode and completely frazzle your brain. Don't say I didn't warn you.
de Blob Revolution HD
- iPad / £2.39
- iPhone / £1.79
I may have mentioned this before, but de Blob really is one of the loveliest Wii games ever, and it spawned a pretty decent early iPhone game into the bargain. But while we await the arrival of a true sequel when flowers bloom next year, THQ's latest top-down take for iOS will sate our blobby urges just fine.
Rather than focus on restoring colour to the drab, grey world, the idea this time is to guide de blob around a simple maze and rescue as many graydians as possible in the quickest time.
At first, you can take as long as you like to carve out the best route to rescue all your friends, but the game soon ups the ante with evil time restrictions and patrolling sentries, forcing you to think on your feet as you tap your way around.
Interestingly, de Blob Revolution dispenses with any notion of a rigid level structure, preferring to challenge players with a seemingly random selection of mazes. If you perform well enough in the first round of challenges, you'll score enough ranking points to unlock subsequent modes, and the difficulty raises accordingly. The beauty of this system is that it feels like the game has no real end, and it quickly becomes of of those games you can dip into whenever you need to scratch that puzzle itch.
- Android / £1.95
Having been downloaded some two million times by Android owners, it's fair to say that plenty of you enjoyed wallowing in Abduction's tilt-based platforming frolics. OK, it was just a reskinned PapiJump. Whatevs. In its defence, you played as an adorable jumping cow. What's not to like?
The inevitable sequel is mostly more of the same. You still have to bounce your cow up numerous platforms to reach a waiting UFO. The controls are still perfect, and it's as addictive as it ever was, but you get much more polish for your pennies this time around.
Immediately noticeable are the exceptionally pretty weather effects, the swanky backdrops and the character customisation options. You also have to be mindful of new platform types, such as spikes, fans and trampolines, and can unlock a ton of new characters as well as mini-games and graphical modes.
In short, it's far from just a cash-in sequel, and although the gameplay hasn't changed to any meaningful degree, there's a much-needed degree of substance to the whole thing now, with a proper Adventure mode alongside the dynamically generated classic levels. The only question marks are around the price, and whether the world really needs another tilt jumping game. Your mileage may vary.