Do you think price should come into it when we're reviewing mobile and download games, or do you think a game should always be judged on its own merits solely? It's an issue that never goes away, and few people ever seem to agree one way or the other.
When we were covering Android games alongside iOS games, it was a fairly simple equation, because the pricing models are more or less the same, but with the arrival of Windows Phone 7 games, it's no longer that easy. Quite often we're judging games on Microsoft's platform that are three or four times the price of comparable titles, and it's tempting to growl on about the fact.
Then again, since when did £2.49 become 'expensive'? Is £5.49 really an unreasonable price to pay for something that we'd happily shell out £20 for on the DS? Of course not, but we've been spoiled rotten this past couple of years and occasionally we lose perspective. On that note, here's the latest crop of ludicrously cheap games for your delectation.
- iPhone - £0.59
Pro tip: if you don't want people to know about someone's blatant rip-off of your game, it's probably best not to moan about it on Twitter. The result, obviously, is that the press picks up on the rant, and everyone immediately goes out and buys said game to see what the fuss is about – and then finds out that it's not bad at all.
Contrary to what Twisted Pixel thinks about Capcom Mobile's carbon copy of 'Splosion Man, MaXplosion actually does it rather well. The cartoon style looks great, it's ludicrously cheap, and, more to the point, it's simple, dumb fun.
Exactly like the 2009 XBLA release, you blam an explosive dude (named Max, obviously) around 20 side-scrolling platform environments, trying to locate a level exit. Along the way, you'll try to collect as much random tat as possible, blast into patrolling sentries, and avoid a plethora of hazards.
The movement system is basically identical, in that you have the ability to blast yourself three times in a row before you run out of pep. Once you touch the ground again, you'll refuel and can bounce around, triple-tapping up wall passages and trying not to get soaked in water or squished by spikes.
MaXplosion might lack some of the depth of its rival, but given that it's less than a tenth of the price, it's entitled to. Buy both with the money you're not spending on beer tonight. Make everyone happy.
Scarlett and the Spark of Life: Scarlett Adventures Episode 1
- iPhone - £0.59
Sometimes, developers, it's definitely worth tapping us on the shoulder to remind us that we still haven't reviewed your amazing new game. Especially when it's as breezily confident as this.
In this instance, your loose change buys you a 60-90 minute chunk of point-and-click adventure, boasting finely honed dialogue, silly but satisfying puzzles and the kind of random nonsense that only seems to turn up a couple of times a year in videogames, if you're lucky.
You play as the sharp-tongued Scarlett, a princess who's not entirely impressed with being captured, tied up and chucked on the back of a horse. Rather than merely accept her fate, she figures out how to get free from her rather dim-witted aggressors and spends most of the episode trying to fashion an escape vehicle with a God complex.
This being an adventure game, that obviously gives her license to build a talking horse out of bits of wood, and convince the oddball locals to help her out in their own slightly cracked way. But unlike a lot of the crappy adventure games that get shovelled onto iOS devices, Scarlett and the Spark of Life doesn't make you want to chew your own face off. The interface is unobtrusive and intuitive, the puzzles actually make sense, and the (text) dialogue is amusing without trying too hard. It even looks good.
While it's a bit on the short side and a tad easy, this is a hugely promising start for Launching Pad Games. More, please.
Catcha Mouse HD
- iPad, iPhone - Free (in-app levels £0.59)
As Ratatouille illustrated a few years back, the modern rodent can be a right fussy sod when it comes to cuisine. No longer content with the rancid cheddar that used to lead them to their doom, we're forced to up our game in pursuit of this domestic menace.
Catcha Mouse puts a strategic spin on the age-old problem, as you try to prevent the mouse from disappearing down the nearest hole in the woodwork.
30 levels come free in Odasoft's ludicrously addictive turn-based offering, and beyond the first half-dozen it becomes a lot trickier than it initially appears. As you lay your trap down to block off one escape route, the mouse responds accordingly and makes a beeline for one of the other holes in the vicinity. More often than not, the little critter finds a way to outsmart you, slipping through your defences long before you have a chance to get the jump.
But plan your moves with calculated foresight and eventually you'll figure out a means of leaving your bulging-eyed foe with nowhere to go. And so it's on to the next one, and the next one, until you give in and cough up for the advanced level pack and drive yourself properly potty.
As devilishly addictive as Catcha Mouse undoubtedly is, though, there are times when a level appears to be impossible, and no matter where you place your trap, they'll always find a way through. On such occasions you have to wait for a rare mistake to occur before you can corner them. It's not unfair, but it is downright annoying, and enough to make you want to give up. Catcha Mouse might be free, but what price your own sanity?
Puzzle Quest 2
- Windows Phone 7 - £5.49
- Also available on iPhone and iPad (unified binary - £5.99), PC, XBLA and DS.
If there's a platform that Puzzle Quest hasn't come out on yet, you can bet that D3 Publishing and Namco Mobile will rectify the situation. And with Windows Phone 7 providing another suitable outlet for this curious match-three/RPG hybrid, who are we to deny it another day in the sun?
For those of you wondering what the fuss is about, the game consists of being ushered around an attractive isometric environment, accepting quests, and then engaging in tense turn-based gem battle. Every time you match three or more items, you can use those 'resources' to unleash attacks or spells, with the ultimate aim to defeat your foe by reducing their HP to zero.
As Christian noted in his 7/10 review back in the summer, this sequel is a safe bet for anyone who lost untold hours to the "emptily compulsive" 2007 original. It plays it pretty safe, with a few cosmetic changes to the formula, and a tweaked item system that adds a smattering of extra strategic depth.
The game would be an awful lot more enjoyable, though, if you didn't periodically run into overpowered road blocks, and come up against opponents that, essentially, look like they're cheating. Unlike Christian, I continually encountered opponents who ran up insanely powerful chains – often from the very first turn.
If you have the patience to work around such issues, Puzzle Quest 2 is a hugely effective formula, and dangerously compulsive. While we wait patiently for Gyromancer to finally hit the mobile scene, this will do just fine.
- Android - Free (requires Android OS 2.2 to run)
You can hardly blame them, but one day bunnies will rise up against their human oppressors. They will develop advanced rocket technology, and then spend the rest of their days rescuing their friends from intergalactic terror cells. Or at least that's what Defiant Developments reckons, and who are we to crush its beliefs?
In this ad-supported title, the idea is to hop from one planet to the next and scoop up all your bunny pals in the shortest possible time. Like an intergalactic DK: King Of Swing, you start off in orbit, and can propel yourself from one planet to the next by simply tapping on an adjacent world. Time it correctly and you get a handy speed boost, and gaining a three-star rating involves carefully plotting your route around the galaxy.
As you go through the universe saving your mates, you find yourself forced to dodge all manner of hazards en route, such as electrical traps, exploding planets, space junk and pursuing space spiders.
But somewhere along the way, the all-important fun-to-challenge ratio shifts alarmingly into the red. Suddenly it's Defcon 1, the colour drains from the scene, expletives are uttered, and the Android's being flung out of the window and kills a passing pedestrian. Is that what you wanted, Defiant Developments? Well, is it?