Another week, another busy crop of games that won't take up any shelf space whatsoever. Top of my personal list is definitely Double Fine's latest, Stacking which instantly catapults us back to the days of Grim Fandango for cracked originality. And then there's the genius puzzling of Space Chem, while AI War got some overdue love. Quality at every turn I tell yer.
That doesn't mean we're bereft of any decent download games to rant nonsense about in the roundup this week. Look at Ninja 360°, the Trials of platforming, or compulsive zombie slasher Twin Blades, two games that took up more of my week than is strictly healthy.
- Xbox Live Indie Games - 80 Microsoft Points (£0.68)
If I put on a pound every time I played an indie platformer featuring spikes, I'd be one huggable guy by now. Not that I'm not already, you understand. In fact, after enduring 987 deaths by grisly impalement in the past couple of hours, I really could do with a few restorative arms around me to take the pain away.
You see, Ninja 360° is not interested in playing nice, nor is it concerned with such trivialities as entertainment or fun. It just wants to break your spirit with impossibly exacting level design and the kind of time limits designed to etch miserable lines of defeat on your face.
The premise - scoop up objects of inscrutable function in the quickest possible time - couldn't be much simpler, but figuring out how to do so at speed transforms the game into platforming's answer to Trials HD. The slightest misstep and the most innocent fumble has no place in a game where only metronomic precision can earn you the medals you'll covet so inexplicably.
And despite the relentless misery of such exactitude, the hardest part is finding the presence of mind to stop what you're doing. If you plan on doing something constructive with your spare time any time soon, steer well clear of this game's 99 levels of compulsive madness.
- Xbox Live Arcade/PSN - £7.99
- Coming soon to WiiWare and Minis.
The days when jolly circuit racers like Mashed could rub shoulders with the elite in the new release racks are long gone - and more's the pity. But what's perhaps more curious is how few developers have bothered to pick up this baton in the download space; something that makes TNT Racers' unheralded arrival all the more welcome.
Sticking doggedly to the beloved template, you line up with three other racers and blast around a track, trying to leave your opponents for dust via sneaky power-ups, weapons and plain old dirty tricks. Get far enough ahead and you'll knock out your opponents one by one, and scoop the round. So far, so familiar.
But rather than leave players to sit out the round when they get knocked out, the Shadow Race feature allows them to return in ghost form and earn points for whatever mischief they can cause.
Numerous modes also add a smidgen of variety to the mix, but not much. Sometimes you'll want to focus on accumulating points to win the round, other times you'll need to consistently try and get to the front of the pack, while occasional time trials and obstacle course challenges pad out the campaign modes.
Ideally you'd want to play multiplayer, of course, but the lack of any discernible online community makes that a fairly distant prospect right now. More likely, the game will work best in local multiplayer with four players battling their way to supremacy on the sofa. As a homage to past glories, Keen Games has done an admirable job. All you need is a Friday night, some old friends, gallons of beer and a gigantic pizza and the past is yours.
- WiiWare - 500 WiiWare Points (£3.50)
Some games are way more fun than they have any reasonable right to be. Take Peakvox's latest contribution to WiiWare. For a game that looks, for all the world, like an unhinged at-tempt to create the most garish, nauseating pile of eye-vomit the world has ever seen, it's curiously entertaining.
At first, Viral Survival comes across as little more than a hapless Snake knock-off. You move a blob of DNA around a violent orangey-yellow ooze, trying to add as many blobs of DNA to your strand as you can while avoiding the viruses swimming around. Should you so much as brush past the baddies with your head, it's Game Over and a swift reminder of your online score ranking.
The more you play, the more the Pac-Man element comes into play, as you wait patiently for the hypodermic needle pick-up to arrive so that you can turn the tables and gobble up your relentless pursuers in one swift act of retribution. You can also set off homing missiles and buy yourself some time before it all gets completely overwhelming.
Fortunately there's a little more to it than merely Pac-Snake, with five variations on the theme to keep you amused. Progressive mode, for example, ups the stakes by moving you continually, while Zoom 128 tasks you with collecting 128 DNA strands in the quickest possible time. Elsewhere, Horde puts the focus on your ability to nudge homing missiles repeatedly, while the utterly insane Shooter mode fills the playing field with bugs and dares you to hold out for as long as possible.
Despite its throwaway appearance, Viral Survival is probably the only WiiWare game released so far this year that warrants a second glance. That's not saying much, admittedly, but if you've got 500 points knocking about, you could do a lot worse.
Twin Blades: The Reaping Vanguard
- PSN Minis - £2.49
- Xbox Live Indie Games (400 Microsoft Points - £3.40)
- Windows Phone 7 - £2.49 (Free trial available)
- iPhone - £1.79 (Free trial available)
- iPad - £2.99
It's nice to be proven utterly wrong about a game now and then. When Press Start's excitable hack-and-slasher made its way to mobile phones last year, there was no doubt that the Manga styled visuals were fantastic, but the touch-screen controls made it about as much fun as slamming an egg slicer down on your tongue.
I mentioned it in passing during my Windows Phone 7 roundup last year and thought no more of it - until it appeared on yet another format, PSN Minis. In the spirit of forgiveness, I thought it might be nice to see how it fared with 'proper' controls. In short: perfectly.
Now that you're able to actually switch direction and select your attacks with precision, the endless, endless repetition of hacking or shooting waves of zombies into chunks doesn't seem like a chore at all.
In fact, the game hooks you by virtue of a well-judged difficulty curve allied to a drip-feed of upgrades. Just when you think you've improved your weapons sufficiently, along comes a better-protected enemy that laughs in the face of your enhancements. It's a balance that keeps you coming back for another few minutes of button mashing, and a structure that manages to create the illusion of satisfaction from the upgrade grind. Clever swines.
Hard Corps: Uprising
- Xbox Live Arcade - 1200 Microsoft Points (£10.20)
Ever since Green Beret bloodied the noses of innocent teenagers 25 years ago, I've held a suspicion that Konami is a bunch of cackling sadists. Contra took the idea and ran with it ever since, and here we are again, being pummelled into submission for our slightly cracked side-scrolling run-and-gun amusement.
Designing this game as a prequel to 1994 Mega Drive hit Contra: Hard Corps, Arc System Works makes almost no concessions to the modern gamer, so you get what you're given - and be grateful for it, sonny.
Despite dropping the Contra name (for reasons that aren't obvious), this is every inch a Contra game, albeit even more resolutely hardcore than usual, if that's possible.
For many (if not most), this endless blizzard of bullets from all angles will most likely be an exercise in the purest form of gaming frustration: endless cheap deaths, coupled with the abject misery of having to start from the beginning when you fail. Welcome to the party, pal.
But if you're willing to break through the pain barrier and patient enough to take the time to figure out a means of squeaking through the chaos, then you'll learn a few new moves that help make it possible to survive - such as the ability to dodge attacks, dash, reflect bullets and lock your aim in a specific direction.
Fortunately, the game does at least make it possible for the non-hardcore to eventually grind some extra powers (in the Rising mode) to make things slightly easier - but, you guessed it, you have to work pretty damned hard to get them.
Isn't that always the way with Contra games, though? You either man up and deal with your face being rearranged, or you look on with baffled bemusement with your pretty features intact. As you were, then.