Version tested: Mobile
Goodness me, does nobody ever think to turn off the tap in mobile gamingville? Before Christmas, at least, there was such an almighty flood of interesting, big-name releases that I feared that many of them would end up being ignored.
Thankfully, the festive flood has turned into something of a New Year trickle as far as quality releases are concerned, which has given us a rare opportunity to pluck out a few more gems released at the back end of the year, alongside Jeff Minter's long-overdue debut iOS offering.
Is it any good? Did you cave in and buy a shiny new smartphone for Christmas? What are you playing? Anything we've missed? Do tell.
- iPhone - £3.99
Developers are always bitching about how art-intensive videogames are these days. Somethin' Else has a fine solution to this money-draining graphics conundrum: don't have any.
The task at hand is a simple one – or so it seems. Trapped in a room with a sleepy monster, you have to daintily tiptoe around, collect an item and then creep to the exit without being caught and eaten. But without any visual stimuli to assist you, the whole 'game' happens in your head, as cunning spatial audio techniques provide the cues that you need to survive this thoroughly fraught journey.
The touch-screen serves entirely as a movement device, with two footprints in the lower half enabling you to take a step forward, and the semi-circular dial acting as a means of orientating yourself in a direction of your choice. With only your ears to rely on, you find yourself hunting out the source of the sound and creeping towards or away from it.
Of course, not everything is desirable in each of the rooms. While it's relatively straightforward to hunt down the tinkling sound of the gems, and easy enough to hear the snuffling moans of an enemy, you won't have the faintest warning about scattered squeaky toys or bones, and stepping on them immediately alerts vicious sentries to your whereabouts.
Getting away is often as much luck as judgement as you try to run towards a less noisy part of the room, hoping you don't barge into one of the enemies on the way. Eventually, you find yourself able to map out the rough positioning of the hazards in your mind's eye and beat a path to the exit – only to be challenged all over again with yet another, tougher room of death.
For a while, Papa Sangre is a wonderful novelty. Unfortunately, the further you get, the more trial-and-error annoyance starts to put a crimp on your enjoyment. If you're man enough to fight the monsters in your head, dive right in – it's unlike anything else you've ever experienced and worth it for soothing tones of the narrator alone.
Real Racing 2
- iPhone - £5.99
There aren't many mobile games that warrant shelling out more than a couple of quid, but it's hard to argue with a £5.99 price tag when you're greeted with a game as uniformly excellent as this offering from iOS expert Firemint.
While the original Real Racing was certainly interesting, it felt more like the promise of things to come rather than a must-own. Fortunately, this supremely slick sequel delivers in every area you care to mention, with intuitive, precise handling and exquisitely detailed visuals making an irresistible first impression.
Fortunately Firemint's ambitious $2 million project allowed the team to flesh out the details, and it's here where Real Racing 2 ultimately claims the honours over the multitude of rival mobile driving games, with 30 licensed cars, customisation options, 16-player online multiplayer, eight-player local multiplayer, 15 tracks, five camera angles, numerous control options and the promise of a 10-hour career mode. There's barely the slightest chink in the armour.
The feature list sounds impressive, but happily it more than lives up to the press release bluster. This is a game into which you'll gladly sink proper gaming hours, even when things aren't going your way (and make no mistake, it's a challenging little bugger).
The important thing, above all else, is that it's extremely good fun, a fantastic showcase for the technology (particularly on iPhone 4) and comfortably the most rewarding mobile driving game money can buy right now.
- iPhone/iPad - £0.59
And about time too. Ever since the App Store got off the ground, and the tales of overnight indie success started to roll in, it has always been a bit of a puzzle why Jeff Minter and his ilk didn't get with the program sooner.
Better late than never, I guess, as the cuddly llama-lover finally graces the scene with his inimitable presence and another typically off-the-cuff project. Designed around the quirky limitations of his fictional 'Ataurus TVC 2605' retro platform, Minotaur Rescue aims to ape the "pure abstraction" style and aesthetics of old hardware "but with none of the limitations".
So while at first glance Minotaur Rescue looks a bit garish and rough around the edges, it's entirely deliberate, as usual, and charming in its own daft, wilfully eccentric way. As loving homage to gaming's long-lost past, what we end up with is basically Asteroids with Spacewar's gravity well, some peace-loving Minotaurs to rescue, and a whole heap of Minter nonsense sprinkled liberally around the edges.
Swiping your auto-firing arrow-shaped ship about the wraparound environment is simple enough, but played on your lonesome, it can become a little overwhelming thanks to the sheer amount of debris to deal with at any given point. Miss too much of this space junk and it's progressively more difficult to avoid being sucked towards the gravity well.
Played with a co-op partner in tow, however (or a third or fourth player if you have an iPad), you can take care of your little corner of the screen and delay the inevitable for considerably longer – and start climbing those leaderboards in the process.
Depending on the response, Minter reckons this won't be the last the iOS market will be seeing from him. With the prospect of more enjoyably warped re-imaginings like this, maybe his best work is yet to come.
Rise of Glory
- Windows Phone 7 - £2.49
Not for the first time this month, Microsoft has dangled a cheque under the noses of a proven mobile developer and tasked them with essentially reskinning an existing hit.
Last week we took a peek at Revolution, a barely-different version of Geared, and this week it's Revo Solutions' turn, with Rise of Glory not enormously different to the studio's rather decent flight combat effort, Skies of Glory.
Both do a nice line in tilt-based aerial dogfighting. Both sure look purdy, run with the kind of smoothness we take for granted these days, have very similar HUDs and expect us to chase down targets and blast things to bits. It's by-the-numbers stuff, obviously, but you can't help but be drawn in by the excellent controls. They really lend themselves to this sort of thing.
It's a shame, then, that Rise Of Glory features missions designed by some kind of manic sadist. One example has you swooping low to destroy a train... only to follow up that hair-tearing exercise with yet another train. Sod. Off.
To add to the insult, ROG features none of the Bluetooth multiplayer or eight-player Wi-Fi dogfighting that came as standard with SOG. This only rapidly leads me to the conclusion that for £2.49, they can BOG off.
- Android - Free trial (paid-for version under construction)
The more attentive may recall that I rather enjoyed PSN bridge-builder Elefunk, and pretty much proposed last week to World of Goo. It appears that I rather enjoy piecing together structures. Who knew?
So it won't come as any great shock that I came over all unnecessary when a close acquaintance pointed me in the direction of Cross Construction's silly old bridge-builder.
Like Pontifex, or any of these other games of its ilk, you're given a limited pile of girders and it's up to you to plonk them down as a bridge so that foolhardy creatures can cross a perilous gap.
In this case, your guinea pig is a train full of passengers, who remain blissfully unaware of your lack of engineering prowess – that is, until your creation bends, buckles, and swiftly sends them shrieking to their doom. The appalling racket of 478 terrified souls perishing inside your smartphone ought to provide enough of an incentive to get it right.
As matters progress, it becomes tougher to save these tormented individuals from their fate. You'll likely agonise over the precarious placement of each piece, wondering aloud whether it matters if it's a bit bouncy in the middle.
In summary, it's horribly addictive. Unfortunately, it seems that Mr Developer hasn't quite gotten around to releasing a paid-for version yet, so for now enjoy this curiously compelling and slightly fiddly six-level trial offering.