It's hard to focus on writing right now. The pull of Pac-Man Championship Edition DX is just... too... strong. Namco has taken everyone by surprise with not only the best Pac-Man game ever made, but one of the best downloadable games into the bargain.
But let's not get ahead of ourselves; there were plenty of other goodies popping up in download land this week – not least Fireball, the fifth radiangames effort to emerge on the Xbox Indie channel in as many months. Whether anyone will buy it is almost beside the point, but it's 80 Microsoft Points – what have you got to lose?
- Xbox Live Indie Games - 80 Microsoft Points (£0.64)
Remember Pacifism mode in Geometry Wars 2? Remember the unblinking nights spent ducking and weaving, leading a procession of enemies to their glorious doom? Fireball takes a similar approach, adds a little more structure, sprinkles radiangames glorification over its silky innards and holds its hand out for 80 of your Microsoft Points.
Rather than lead your dim-witted 'snowball' enemies through gates, Fireball tasks you with setting off explosions by steering near bombs and crashing into powerful 'novas'. The more you blow up at once, the better your score, and the better your score, the more attractive you are to potential lovers. Not bad for 64 pence.
There are limits to your awesomeness, however, with each level giving you a specific kill target to meet. Clear that target, and it's on to the next level, and so on until you've eventually cleared all eight waves. To really build up a decent total score, though, you have to start from the beginning and avoid dying. You can temporarily boost yourself out of trouble when you need to, but one misstep, and it's curtains.
Waves mode is only part of the story, though, and the inclusion of four similarly demanding challenge modes keeps the score attack allure going long after you've milked the rest. Patience, for example, grants you just one opportunity to kill your foes, so leading them a merry dance for as long as possible becomes the primary aim.
Unlike most of the tat on the Indie channel, Fireball is something you'll feel warm inside about owning. And with two more radiangames titles due out before the end of the year, there's more to come from Luke Schneider.
- DSiWare - 200 DSiWare Points (£1.80)
Despite what Freud might argue to the contrary, some days you wake up and you just want to swing. Gamebridge knows what I'm talking about, and has released a game specifically designed to channel these irrepressible urges into the magic of downloadable videogames.
In the latest addition to the cheap and cheerful GO! Series range, this 200-point offering dispenses with any pretence of narrative, and just lets you indulge in some carefree swinging, moving from bar to bar until you reach that elusive exit.
Essentially Donkey Kong: King of Swing without the bananas, you can either painstakingly gather up all the nonsense collectibles, or just keep your eye on the prize and try and get to the goal as quickly as possible.
With its stark, minimalist visual style and unremitting bleakness, it's got the cold heart of a robot, but when there's swinging to be done, such matters become secondary. Let's swing, comrades!
Faery: Legends of Avalon
- Xbox Live Arcade - 1200 Microsoft Points (£10.20)
- PSN and PC - available soon
The Kingdom of Avalon is dying! Time to engage in regulation turn-based battles and patient, forensic interrogation until the hideously ugly townsfolk give us the random tat we need to push the story along!
Having woken up from stasis, it seems that you're one of a handful that can be arsed to do anything about the crisis at hand, judging by the apathetic hand-wringing nonsense that greets you every time you ask someone for the slightest favour.
Of course, you grow to expect unhelpfulness from bit-part characters in videogames, but this lot take the biscuit. Prodding the story along even a tiny bit makes you feel like some kind of moronic errand boy.
To give the game some semblance of combative hook, you wind up fighting stubborn enemy crabs (yes, some of them quite large), petulant goblins and chippy fairies with tiresome regularity. Levelling up feels less like reward, and more of a transparent device to inspire some sense of progress – but with such a grinding repetition to everything that you do, you feel like a rat stuck in a maze, pushing a button for some sugar water.
If you fancy the idea of an RPG-lite Brothers Grimm tribute act, then go right ahead. But if you can tolerate more than half an hour without wanting to eat your own earwax, you'll be doing better than I.
Zen Bound 2
- PC & Mac (Steam) - £3.49
- iPad & iPhone (unified binary) - £1.79
Since most games are seemingly designed to bring on an aneurysm, you have to be pretty Zen to be a game reviewer for any length of time. Either that, or a complete sucker for punishment. I therefore heartily approve of any game purporting to inspire a state of meditative bliss in its user.
Having already found an appreciative audience on iOS platforms, Zen Bound 2's arrival on PC and Mac is something of a curiosity for such a tactile game.
As ever, the idea is to wind a length of rope around a series of wooden sculptures until you've essentially 'coloured in' a minimum of 70 per cent of their surface area. Sometimes you need to make sure the rope is hooked on to certain colour points, while other times the rope itself has little paint bombs that burst onto the sculpture, so it becomes all about patient, strategic placement.
What was a wonderfully intuitive and thoroughly relaxing process on iOS (especially the iPad version) is a bit more of a challenge when you reduce it to mouse control, though. The ability to physically twist and rotate the object with instant precision becomes somewhat less instant when you're just manipulating the object via a pointer – though if you're lucky enough to own a Macbook with a multi-touch pad, it's functionally identical to the original, and therefore completely lovely (albeit at twice the price).
With 100 levels to get yourself in a knot over, Zen Bound 2 does exactly what it sets out to do: calm and soothe. Frustrations over the ongoing obsession with the royals and the X-Factor will just melt away in a pleasant haze.
Alien Breed 3: Descent
- Xbox Live Arcade - 800 Microsoft Points (£6.80)
- PC (Steam) - £6.99
- PSN - available soon
It doesn't seem five minutes ago that the second episode was punted out the door, and yet here we are again, about to launch into why Team 17's episodic reboot hasn't quite delivered what we were after.
As with the previous two portions, it's a perfectly solid, fine-looking blast. With Unreal Engine 3 tech providing substantial grunt to another succession of atmospheric levels, it ticks all the right boxes in terms of how it's presented, but, again, doesn't stand up to extended play.
Given that a good chunk of its audience will have already sunk upwards of ten hours into the single-player portion alone, there's little on offer here that you haven't already experienced.
The team tries to freshen things up by throwing a few new weapons into the fray (notably the knowingly-named Project-X BFG gun, alongside the zappy Electro-Link gun) and, of course, the obligatory new enemy type, the Electro Shocker. It helps, but it's not really enough.
The greater focus on third-person sections is also a pleasant diversion (especially when you're outside of the ship) but, realistically, the real problems are the drudgery of constant waypoint-following and the inability to play the campaign mode with a pal.
Team 17 makes up for this in other areas, of course, with the entertaining co-op survival mode, and a three-level co-op campaign of its own. It's a question of how much the lack of co-op in the main story mode bothers you. I'm still of the opinion that it's a glaring omission of something that was fundamental to what made the originals so enjoyable in the first place.