Some weeks, you only have to turn on your console and there's some curious downloadable wonder making eyes at you. This week is one of those rare, beautiful occasions when no effort was made to trawl the dark recesses of the download stores for interesting content. It all just came to me with a beaming smile and a piping hot drink.
Maybe there's a logic to it. Maybe the schedulers of Xbox Live, PSN, WiiWare and Steam have deliberately held back the choice cuts for the crazed run-up to the holiday season. One of my favourites this week, The UnderGarden, was deemed worthy of a full review, and rightly so. It's gorgeous. A real Sunday afternoon chill-out of a game. Go see.
Fighting fans are well catered for with The King Of Fighters 2002: Unlimited Match, another gem, as are the shmup crowd with the elderly but still sprightly (or spritely?) Guwange. But that doesn't mean that I've been left with the dregs. Ho-no.
At the very least, give ThruSpace a spin – especially since Nintendo has finally given us the option to download a free demo. More of that, please.
ThruSpace: High Velocity 3D Puzzle
- WiiWare - 800 WiiWare Points (£5.60)
Spatial awareness is a useful skill. You can weave through Victoria Station concourse in rush hour without being killed in the face. You can peer down curious Kyoto side streets and remember where the hell the Pocari Sweat machine is. And you can play strange, hectic puzzle games that look like three dimensional Tetris. Win!
Luckily, Keys Factory's monumentally addictive WiiWare debut is a whole lot more interesting than that, requiring players to guide 3D shapes (or Keydrons, as they're known) down a moving tunnel before slotting them snugly through predetermined shapes in the oncoming wall.
At first, these Keydrons will be relatively simple constructions; by rotating them through 90 degrees with the dpad you might, for example, be able to turn a three-square-wide shape into a two-square-wide shape. It's essential to get your head around how the shape will look once you've rotated it – something that those lacking spatial awareness will struggle horribly with.
For those who cope just fine with shape-shifting, a secondary combo challenge awaits where you must not only get through the gap, but fashion a shape that allows you to collect two crystals. Build up a multiplier, and worldwide leaderboard glory awaits.
You can also try to rotate the Keydron effectively enough to fill in all the available squares in the gap in the wall. Given the game's incessant pace, I can't imagine you having much joy with that unless you're on a Red Bull drip.
Some people have nightmares about taking out their zombie wife with a sniper rifle. Me? I'm spinning through 3D space at high speed fretting about getting shapes to fit through narrow gaps. Horses for courses.
Garden Gnome Carnage
- Xbox Live Indie Games - 80 Microsoft Points (£0.64)
To quote the wise words of an esteemed Garden Gnome Carnage player: "At first I was wtf. But then I was wtf." I must also admit to being a little wtf upon firing up Remar Games' completely hatstand piece of "comic mischief".
Blessed with the little-known ability to slide an entire building along the ground, you, the grumpy gnome, must stop the happy gnomes from reaching the chimney and spreading Christmas cheer.
Fair enough, I guess, but in order to stop them from succeeding in their irritating quest, you must smash them up by any means available. This generally includes grabbing bricks off the side of the building and lobbing them at passers-by, swinging yourself around so that you knock them off, and calling in air strikes to carpet-bomb them.
Handily, the momentum of shifting the house left and right across the street aids your swinging action, so most of your efforts are focused on being an effective pendulum, sweeping all before you. But the mass gnome genocide merely encourages the relentlessly cheering throng to keep on pouring out in their hundreds. It never ends.
And then there are the cats. Your feline friends apparently have a healthy disregard for festivities, and help restock your brick supply if you allow them to reach the chimney. Allow so much as one cheery gnome up there, though, and it's over. That's the price of failure these days. 64 pence versus no pence: don't ask why, ask why not.
- DSiWare - 500 DSiWare points (£4.50)
- Also available on XBLA, iOS, PC
PopCap knows better than most that words are a sawed-off shotgun. More surprisingly, Google thinks this as well, if its eerily sentient autocomplete search bar is to be trusted.
If that's the case, then expect to find me slumped in the corner with my brains smeared delicately on the wall sometime soon. After two solid hours snaking through a jumble of letters to create words, I can confirm that Bookworm is just as hideously addictive as it ever was.
If you've somehow managed to miss out on Bookworm over the past seven years, then this DSi version is as good an introduction to its insidious word-searching fun as you'll find. Played, appropriately, in book orientation, you use the touch-screen to highlight the letter of your choice, and then piece together a word by joining up adjacent tiles in any direction.
Ferreting out anything more than a four-letter word takes a fair bit of concentration, but the longer the word, the higher the score, and the quicker you'll rise through the ranks. Predictably, perhaps, the game wants to end your fun as soon as possible, and throws in burning tiles that you must eliminate before they reach the bottom of the grid. Fail, and it's game over.
The only problem with Bookworm is that it's shorn of various modes included with other versions - but that'll be because there's a boxed version on the way. Not for the first time, perhaps the fully featured iPhone and iPad version is the way to go.
Who's That Flying?
- PSN Minis (PSP & PS3) - £3.99
God damn the Doom Beasts. Don't they know who they're dealing with? Any scowling veteran entering their fourth decade of side-scrolling warfare won't take kindly to enemies with an absence of facial features. This lot are literally all mouth and no trousers, and anyone with greying facial hair knows that to make it count, hell's denizens must take a bullet between the eyes.
Mediatonic revels in rubbing us all up the wrong way. With a nod and a wink, WTF? (as it would prefer to be known) is actually described as a side-scrolling shooter meets tower defence with courtroom drama and intrigue.
Judged as a shooter, it's a by-the-numbers affair, with wave upon wave of crazy Doom Beasts arcing across the screen in pretty formation. But unlike most shooters ever made, avoidance is not really an option, because every enemy that slips off the screen takes away one of your 50 lives. Run out of those, and it's Game Over. With the focus firmly on taking out everything you see, it becomes much riskier and more frantic.
You can charge up your Super-Beam by blasting enemies consecutively and unleash it with the square button when you need it most. Sometimes, though, the beasties are too big, and require you to hit the R button and hammer the X button to smash them up. We all know how good that feels.
With 15 levels to romp through, gorgeous, irreverent cut-scenes and various challenges, WTF? proves that talented developers haven't completely deserted the Minis scene. Just most of them.
- PC (Steam) - £3.49
If I was a tiny robot slave, I'd almost certainly want to go on big adventures. If only to meddle with my inventor's rubbish iTunes library. I'd probably delete all the terrible teenage girl stuff and duplicate the rest. That'll teach him for abandoning vinyl!
Given that this actually happens in real life, Wadjet Eye's charming little Steam adventure is probably closer to a documentary than a mere videogame. And just like reality, each robot has one special ability, forcing you to into a kind of robotic Escape To Victory minus the stirring soundtrack and random footballers from Ipswich Town.
See that book? Switch to the one who can push things. Oh look, there's some water - switch to the one that can swim. Once you slip into the mindset and embrace Puzzle Bots' lo-fi charms, the initial clunkiness dissipates into a cloud of goodwill, and chipping your way through 17 stages of point-and-click puzzling seems like a fine way to occupy an evening.