Nintendo motormouth Reggie Fils-Aime is never short of a thing or two to say about mobile games; about how they're a 'snack', and that most of these games are actually overpriced anyway. Well, he would say that, obviously, when he's the one in the position of trying to justify games that will retail for upwards of £35.
But there's nothing so inconvenient as dozens of extremely high quality games for a tiny fraction of that price to undermine that argument. Games like ilomilo, in fact, or Battleheart.
Battleheart's a great example, actually, of a title that you imagine is little more than a quick snack of a game. And then four hours later you're still playing it, and nowhere near even halfway completing it.
Like most of you, I can't wait to play on the 3DS when it comes out, but this head-in-the-sand approach to game pricing is worrying. The perception of what a game is worth on a handheld has changed forever; the genie is out of the bottle, and Nintendo either figures out how to adapt to that, or watch the riches continue to drain away to nimbler opponents.
- iPhone - £1.79
The idea is to repeat the actions called out by a particularly excitable gentleman, who never sounds less than thrilled as he demands that you twist, spin, pull and of course, bop it. It's so mind-fuddlingly hypnotic, that your previously sturdy IQ is reduced to that of a dribbling chimp, hopeful for his next chocolate drop. Get it wrong or take too long over repeating the action, and you're humiliated into doing better.
Thanks to the wonders of multi touch screens, of course, we can perform our chimply duties on the iPhone until our psyche oozes out of our ears.
To its credit (or eternal damnation), EA manages to simulate the mindlessly insidious tasks rather well on the small screen, with all the actions (and a bunch of additional ones) perfectly replicated via variations intuitive pinches, hits, twists, sweeps, shakes and even shouts.
Like the real thing, it's all about performing not only the correct action, but doing it within a strict time limit. To add to the 'fun', you're also scored on how good your timing is, and can improve your score by pulling off 'X Moves', such as actually shouting on command rather than just tapping the microphone. It's hardly the most commuter-friendly game around.
As you might expect, a ton of additional variants and modes allows you to drive yourself crackers, and drag your friends down into the pit of madness while you're at it, with some hot-swapping antics if you're feeling particularly evil.
If you can handle the deep sense of self-loathing that comes from protracted Bop It sessions, then go right ahead. Just don't say I didn't warn you.
- Windows Phone 7 - £2.49
Windows Phone 7 owners haven't had too many stand-out titles to crow about since the OS launched back in October, but ilomilo is definitely one to inspire spittle-flecked envy in the smartphone playground.
Launched at the same time as the outstanding Xbox Live version, Southend Interactive's phone version isn't simply a worthy approximation of the adorably cute puzzle adventure - it's the real deal, with a few admirable tweaks thrown into the mix to sweeten the deal.
The idea is to reunite the huge-bonced ilo and milo, who start off on opposing sides of an fantasy environment built entirely out of intricately rendered cubes. You can switch freely between them, and have to work together to bridge gaps and create paths for one another in the name of loving friendship and reassuring hugs.
Because of the simple and precise nature of the four-way controls, it all works marvellously on the touch screen. Even better, tilting the handset allows you to gently tweak the camera perspective, which is the sort of thing that eventually leads to soft toy ownership.
As you'll have gathered from Chris' expansive XBLA review, what really stands out about ilomilo is the giddy quality of the level design; but the fact that it also translates so well to handheld play is either a happy accident or the work of unfeasibly clever minds. Either way, any game with this much loving creativity rammed into it warrants a place in your hearts.
- iPhone/iPad (unified binary) - £1.79
Some of the best mobile games take into account the fact that most people have big, stupid, fat sausage fingers, and design their games accordingly.
Instead of trying to shoehorn in ill-suited interfaces and control systems, Battleheart strips out all the fluff and bullshit of real time strategy and RPG, and leaves only the parts that actually make sense on a touchscreen device.
It's the kind of game that doesn't feel the need to patronise the player with dreary exposition. You're told to lead an army to cleanse the land of evil, and left to simply get on with slashing and zapping your way through 30-odd unexpectedly fearsome missions.
At first you'll be charmed into thinking it's a harmless little portion of RTS-lite with RPG sprinkles. You'll sleepwalk through the first few stages, admire the cuddly cartoon bats, and swat away pesky goblins. You'll gathering up the loot, level up a few times, buy some new armour and weapons, maybe opt for a few upgrades, and then find yourself suddenly having to actually play the game properly.
Mika Mobile wastes no time in cranking up the challenge dramatically, and it goes from being case of studiously hacking everything to death, to diligent use of each character's rechargeable power-ups. You might, for example, need to wade in with your 'tanks', while your wizard takes care of slowing enemies down. Elsewhere, you might have your cleric on hand to heal everyone, or a variety of other specialists lurking to chip in with their own special power.
Some levels essentially act as a handy way of farming gold and XP, before the inevitable bastard-hard 'boss' level puts all your hard work to the test. But far from being a repetitive grind, the sense that you're gradually getting better makes it a lot more satisfying than it probably ought to be.
Battleheart's also far deeper than you might give it credit for, and horribly addictive. It truly is the Pringles of gaming. One pop...
Modern Combat 2: Black Pegasus
- Android - £1.00 - Special offer until Feb 14th (compatible with HTC Desire HD, Samsung Galaxy S)
- Previously released on iPhone and iPad - £3.99 each.
- Free iPhone trial version also available.
You can have all the features you damned well like, but the fundamental problem with first person shooters on smartphones is the complete absence of genuine control over what you're actually doing.
Gameloft's latest in a long line of mobile FPS attempts manfully attempts to improve matters with gyroscopic camera controls (not on the iPad, mind you). It's certainly a major improvement over the godawful virtual twin stick system employed previously, but you're still left fumbling around like a loser for much of the time.
The level design tries to accommodate this obvious issue, with unambitious AI, predictable waves of enemies and narrow corridor-based linearity. The biggest challenge is actually forcing yourself to get through levels devoid of any inspiration.
It would be utterly remiss of me not to mention the creditable online options. Indeed, more generous critics than I would call them groundbreaking for a mobile title, with online, local wi-fi and even Bluetooth allowing you to go up against nine other players across four familiar modes (comprised of Capture The Flag, Defuse The Bomb and, of course deathmatch and team deathmatch, known as Battle here).
Whether you'll be enticed by all that depends on your tolerance for shonky control systems; personally, I still fail to see the point when it still feels so horribly unsatisfying on every level.
Devil May Cry 4 refrain
- iPhone - £0.59 (limited time offer)
Refrain from what, one might ask? Refrain from getting excited about the first new DMC title in three years? Refrain from trying to port over a game that can't possibly work within the obviously limitations of touch screen controls?
I'll, erm, resist the obvious temptation to linger what Capcom was thinking, except to say that whatever it was, it doesn't work.
Despite being surprisingly faithful to the game's signature audio-visual template, the whole thing unravels the moment you actually enter any of the dreary missions.
The explorational element is reduced to little more than following a linear path, and the combat is largely reduced to an unsatisfyingly overpowered button mash that requires all the skill of semi-rapid digit movement.
For the most part, enemies appear for purely decorative purposes, and line up waiting to be eviscerated by your endlessly effective throw attack. You can swish your sword or fire your gun, but you're merely prolonging the agony for yourself.
Eventually you'll reach one of the familiar bosses from DMC 4, smash them around a bit, and repeat the boring routine. If you're lucky, the game will throw in a smidgen of puzzly entertainment, but mostly this wallows in tiresome mediocrity. No wonder the price has been slashed a matter of days after release.
Inevitably, my advice is to refrain from purchasing this. Capcom fans deserve so much better than this.