Version tested: Windows Phone
Yes, we've finally turned our Medusa-like gaze to Microsoft's recently launched Windows Phone 7 platform, and donned our waders to stride manfully through the detritus of the launch line-up to pluck out the gems.
In terms of game quality, the first impressions are certainly positive, with some fairly decent exclusives lining up alongside canny ports of recent indie hits. Considering it's still in the launch phase, there's just about enough to differentiate it from the iPhone and Android crowds.
On the downside, the game prices are - to say the least - questionable, with most being launched at hugely optimistic levels that dwarf the equivalent cost on rival mobile platforms. Some ports of iOS titles, in particular, are so expensive they seem designed specifically to put people off ever buying a Windows Phone 7 handset. It might be early days, but even the most hardened Microsoft apologist would have difficulty justifying an ageing iPhone game costing nine times as much on WP7.
Max And The Magic Marker
- £5.49 / Previously released on WiiWare, Mac and PC
Ellie quite liked Press Play's PC and WiiWare title when it came out earlier this year, slapping a well-deserved 7/10 on it for its giddy-but-fiddly take on the side-scrolling platformer.
When you first clap eyes on Max And The Magic Marker, you'll want to pinch its little cheeks, if only for maxing out the cute, charming, and gorgeous quotients. There's little flame-haired Max, bounding about drawing bridges and staircases with his magic marker pen to ascend the heights, and lobbing pretend rocks down upon bumbling foes. What's not to love?
Well, neither the PC nor the Wii controls were as precise as they could have been, and as a result it was just a little bit too fiddly to reach its obvious potential. On Windows Phone 7, though, it has found its natural home, thanks to the extra precision you gain from being able to directly draw on the touch screen - and it also helps that the left/right/jump controls are perfectly suited to a touch-screen.
As a result, you'll bask in the inventiveness of the level design and actually enjoy the challenge, rather than fight a war of attrition with input devices. After this, you might even stop being a ginger racist.
- £2.49 / Previously released on Xbox Live Indie Games, PC
Never mind the threat of a zombie apocalypse - what about the clown apocalypse? Send in the clowns? No, really, please don't.
In this case, though, I'm prepared to make an exception, because Gambit's one-time indie game makes for fine mobile entertainment - and also involves repeatedly electrocuting Slinky, a ragdoll clown, and ultimately throwing him into fire. All worthy aims, I'm sure you'll agree.
OK, that's not strictly the aim of the game, but all of the above does occur in this pleasant circus-based diversion. In what amounts to a very polished riff on Donkey Kong: King Of Swing, we must fire the little horror out of a cannon, and try and propel him to a ring of fire located at the pinnacle of a big top.
En route you control little grabbers, latch Slinky on, swing him around and release at the right time, popping as many balloons as possible as you go. Each level rates you out of five stars based on time taken, lives lost, and whether you snagged the secret star, so it quickly becomes a minor obsession to max out the star count and rank up.
But with only 15 levels to show for your £2.49, it's all over before you know it, and the inevitable clown nightmares follow.
- £5.49 / Exclusive to Windows Phone 7
If you're going to try and convince folk that WP7 is a gaming phone worth selling your grandmother for, you might as well try and make the best-looking game possible.
The Harvest certainly buys into that idea wholesale, with the kind of lavish production values normally associated with big-budget console titles. Firing it up for the first time, it's hard not to be impressed with its hugely detailed environments, stylish cut-scenes and intricate character design.
The raised eyebrows soon become furrowed, though, once you start prodding your way through Luma Arcade's rather simplistic action-RPG. It's tempting to say that its point-and-click battle mechanics have been refined for mobile play, but that would be an overly generous assessment.
In truth, the relentless Harvester onslaught soon turns into a repetitive grindfest, where deploying a health pack at the right time and activating your butt-stomp special attack appear to be the main ingredients for success. Aside from painstakingly trudging around maps in search of key codes and the occasional boss battle, that's all that The Harvest has to offer.
Thanks to the ability to respawn at the nearest checkpoint, there's zero tension to anything that you do, safe in the knowledge that you can wade in and finish the fight. The only thing likely to stir any emotion within you is the awful loading time - particularly if you deign to allow the game to go into standby and have to reboot it from scratch. If there's a worse optimised mobile game, I've yet to see it.
Luma Arcade certainly succeeded in bringing one of the best-looking games to mobile platforms - it's just a shame that The Harvest quickly reveals itself to be little more than a rather hollow tech demo.
The Revenants: Corridor Of Souls
- £2.49 / Exclusive to WP7
The spirit of the mighty Atic Atac is still twitching in Chaotic Moon's top-down spookfest, if the screenshots are anything to go by. Sadly, they aren't.
As the most ambitious spirit on the block, it's your job to rise to the status of all-consuming Revenant god. Fated to wander the dusty corridors, you must create little portals with your finger and capture all the smaller ghosts lurking in the darkness.
That's easier said than done, mind you, as the game's rather imprecise mechanics make the process of creating these voids a hit-and-miss affair. In basic terms, drawing a quick circle should create a void that causes all the enemies in the vicinity to be dragged mercilessly to their infinite doom. Sometimes, though, your sketching efforts don't register, and you're often left haplessly swirling your fat sausage digits until something happens.
More often than not, though, the immediate price of failure is that you'll wind up hitting one of the smaller ghosts and lose a life. Given how many enemies pour into the fray, this one-hit-kill mentality makes it tough to make any headway, and resigned frustration quickly takes over.
O.M.G. Our Manic Game
- £2.49 / Exclusive to WP7
A week ago we had a shooter called WTF?, and now it's time for OMG to step onto the podium and try and convince us not to LOL at its price tag.
Like most touch-screen vertical shooters, you steer your ship through a hail of enemy flak and try and clock up a respectable score. That's easier said than done, though, as OMG's Big Idea is to enrage your enemies by fondling them inappropriately.
If you dare touch them there then they immediately spew out more bullets in response to your insolence. The payback, though, is a bigger score when you eventually smash them into little chunks, and so a cunning bit of risk-reward plays out.
Seeing as it's from the Arkedo chaps behind a trio of much-admired Xbox Indie titles, you can expect bags of style for your £2.49, with a lovely pseudo vector aesthetic that Jeff Minter would high-five if it ever passed him in the street.
On the downside, it's the sort of thing that's fun for approximately 10 minutes, and therefore worth considerably less than the £2.49 that Microsoft wants for it. Download the free trial, admire its nonsense and move right along.
The best of the rest
There are a whole pile of titles out there for the WP7, but most of them you'll have seen before, at prices that make you wonder what planet the publisher is on.
Top of the heap is undoubtedly Hexic Rush, which remains one of the most absorbing XBLA puzzle games ever made. Sadly, the controls are a bit too fiddly on touch screen for my liking, but for £2.49, you can't really go wrong. Another worth picking up is the simple match-three puzzle classic Flower, especially as it's free.
One title that just missed getting the full roundup treatment was Rocket Riot, a former XBLA title dusted down for WP7. As Christian noted in his review last summer, it's a hectic, crazed multiplayer-centric shooter, but one that doesn't translate especially well to a tiny touch-screen - especially at £5.49.
Glow Artisan, meanwhile, was a rather good puzzle effort on DSiWare last month, and unsurprisingly stands up well on WP7 too, but maybe not at the £3.99 they're charging for it currently. THQ's twin iOS ports, de Blob Revolution and Star Wars: Battle For Hoth, are also worth checking out, although at £2.49 they're about 50 per cent more expensive.
If money's no object, by all means pick up the likes of Tetris, Uno and Flight Control, but, again, they're vastly cheaper on iOS. The Sims 3 is also worth a look, but at £5.49 is almost double the iOS price. It's a familiar pattern.
The worst of the rest
Some folk seem to think that one-time Xbox Indie zombie slasher Twin Blades is good, dumb fun, but I found it to be repetitive sludge that bored me before the trial was even done with, so is definitely not worth the £2.49 currently being demanded.
Avoid Frogger, More Brain Exercises, Need For Speed: Undercover, and Assassin's Creed: Altair's Chronicles, though. Not only are they not particularly good, but insanely expensive compared to the App Store price. Case in point: Assassin's Creed, which is 59p on the App Store, and an insane £5.49 on WP7. Finally, steer clear of the even more insanely priced Guitar Hero 5. Not only is one of the lamest attempts at rhythm action on a mobile, Glu wants £7.99 for it. I think not.