We knew it couldn't last. After the giddy heights of last week's astonishing roundup, we were denied similar excitement this time around. It was tumbleweed on PSN and Minis, complete dross from WiiWare and a solitary XBLA release to focus on, Zeit², also available from Steam.
Talking of Steam – the new year blues are still in evidence, with nothing of note at all this year, Zeit² aside, so we dug deep into the many interesting Xbox Live Indie titles this week and found plenty worth a mention.
Vorpal stood out as an obvious contender, so we plucked that one out for review. Special mentions, though, for Score Rush, ZP2KX, Chu's Dynasty, Epic Dungeon and Alpha Squad. Given the sheer volume of quality titles coming out via the Indie channel, it's tough to keep up, but it's definitely something every Xbox owner should keep a close eye on.
- Xbox Live Indie Games – 80 Microsoft Points (£0.68)
I know that the real perverts among you like to bathe in a curtain of bullets. I've seen you, unblinking, after dark, illuminated only by the glow of abstract pixel art, refusing to move until the threat has been vanquished.
Red Wolf knows this too. It also fancies that you enjoy the prospect of a Touhou-style shmup bedecked in intricate monochrome Manga art and yours for 80 piddling Microsoft points. It would be right.
Essentially a series of boss encounters, the idea in Vorpal is to try to strip away each enemy's defences, layer by layer, by training your weapons on them for as long as possible. That might not be such a tricky proposition were your opponents not capable of endlessly spewing out vast quantities of bullets in all directions.
About three-quarters of the time you're not actually focused on attacking at all, but writhing around in an elaborate limbo dance of death, trying to seek out the precious gaps in the relentless chaos.
In your favour is the Stress meter. Inflict enough damage on your opponent and the bar will rise to a maximum of 100 per cent. But if you find yourself cornered by certain death, you can temporarily turn the tables by unleashing your stress in one giant column of firepower. It still might not win you the battle, but it brings welcome respite when it's needed most.
If you like your games violent, unremitting, hypnotically beautiful and brutally unkind, Vorpal demands your attention. You can thank me later.
- PSN (PS3 with Move) – £6.29
There's a bizarre psychological condition in the world of darts known as Dartitis, where the player finds it difficult to release the darts. Well, good news, sufferers – Top Darts is the game for you.
What may constitute a debilitating, career-ending issue is a mandatory requirement in Devil's Details' Move-only PSN title; throw your Move controller at your expensive telly and you'll be bellowing louder than an irate Sid Waddell after a bottle of Jack. Chuck it like a teeth-gritting Dartitis sufferer and you'll be checking out with Bully's special prize.
Unsurprisingly, the main problem is that pretending to check a chunky old Move controller at a pretend dart board is all a bit unwieldy, and it's practically impossible to be as precise as the game requires you to be. You can zoom in on the board, take aim, line up your shot just so, do a pretend chuck and end up absolutely miles off.
That said, it's possible to compensate and aim miles off, safe in the knowledge that you'll get somewhere near where you originally intended it to go. Practice doesn't exactly make perfect, only slightly less rubbish. Occasionally you'll nail those treble 20s and check out, but you'll be buggered if you can reliably repeat the feat.
As long as you're all in the same boat, Top Darts is fun in its haplessness, and a cheap bit of Move-related throwaway entertainment.
- Xbox Live Arcade – 800 Microsoft Points (£6.80)
- Steam – £6.99
As the title implies, Time Squared is about being able to do two things at once. But Brightside isn't trying to get us to pat our heads while rubbing our tummies; rather we must take on the scourge of alienkind by duplicating our actions in time and space.
At first glance, Zeit² looks like another Gradius refresh: the sort of side-scrolling shmup Thatcher would have enjoyed in her secret arcade in the bowels of Number 10. But after clearing a few perfunctory waves, you quickly accumulate time, and have the option of rewinding the last few seconds of the action at any point.
Rather than simply being a way of cheating your way through a tricky videogame, reversing time duplicates everything you did in those preceding seconds, allowing you to deal with enemies elsewhere on the screen or enhance your firepower by staying where you are.
You might well ask why you don't just ignore the other enemies, and I'm glad you asked. It's not as if they're hitting your ship, is it? The issue is one of energy drainage. If you allow enemies to pass you by without killing them, they take away a small percentage of your health. Allow too many of them to slip past you, and it's Game Over, but unleash some multitasking fury, and you'll end up gaining extra health – up to of 200 per cent.
Although the novelty soon becomes second nature, Brightside has had the foresight to throw in five extra modes to unlock. As in the similarly mode-happy Geometry Wars 2, the shifts of emphasis keep the gameplay fresh for longer. Wave mode, for example, ends as soon as a ship gets past the left edge of the screen, while Tactics turns the game into essentially a puzzle shooter.
All that remains is competition. If you can persuade your friends list to join in the time-shifting fun, Zeit² threatens to become another score-chasing obsession.
Blimp: The Flying Adventures
- PSN Minis – £3.49
- Also available on iPhone – £1.19 (trial version free)
Crane Balls' charming iPhone title was one of those games that you always suspected might benefit from having 'normal' controls.
The premise of guiding a little blimp around, picking up passengers and dropping them off was reasonably entertaining, and it was beautifully illustrated to boot. But the longer the game wore on, the more the its tilt movement system ground you down.
Upon its belated transition to Minis, it wasn't unreasonable to assume that having a tactile left-right movement system would fix all that, and it would end up a more enjoyable game as a result. Wrong.
On the PSP at least, you're limited to controlling movement with the nub, and, if anything, it's just as unforgiving as it ever was. For reasons best know to the developer, the d-pad remains unused, so you can't even resort to that. Sigh.
The visuals are also a noticeable step down from the pin-sharp clarity on iOS devices. All you're left with is a game that costs almost three times as much as the original, isn't as pretty, and still has all the frustration intact. What a shame.
- DSiWare – 500 DSiWare Points (£4.50)
Because it's scientifically impossible to have too many match-three videogames in your life, here's another one to salivate inappropriately over.
You might well wonder what the point of Super Swap is, until you realise that PopCap – for whatever reason – hasn't yet tasked its port monkeys with releasing one on DSiWare.
Presumably spotting the enormous open goal, Teyon has released a slick, no-frills version covering plenty of gem-matching ground, with four predictably addictive modes that care not about how much time you've got spare. They're having all your time, thank you very much.
In Classic, Speed and the ominous-sounding Death mode, coloured blocks rain from the top and you have to match three of a kind by dragging them in one of four directions. You not only know the drill, you probably made the drill and are on your way to my office right now to exact furious revenge for something I honestly didn't do.
Meanwhile, the fourth of the modes, Rows, tasks you with shifting entire columns or rows to match those bloody shapes. For every three colours you match, a kitten drowns. Do you have any conscience whatsoever? I'm beginning to wonder.