Although these weekly roundups serve as a buyer's guide, it doesn't hurt to celebrate the many excellent freebies while we're at it. In fact, someone's already done all the hard work for us: app fiend Stuart Campbell, who once terrorised the Amiga scene and now prefers to spend untold hours sifting through thousands of iOS apps to pluck out the shining gems among the endless detritus.
Well worth checking out is his recently launched Free App Hero, which provides a handy means of seeing which apps are currently or permanently free. The best part of all this is that he only recommends the good stuff, meaning all the tiresome free sludge out there can stay right where it belongs: in a big old heap of misery.
For the ultimate freeloaders out there, he's also released an ad-supported free Cheapskate Edition, with a few features trimmed off the edges.
For those of you who enjoy parting with your cash, we've got another quality-strewn line-up, with four out of the five titles scooping 8/10. Fine times, indeed...
Backbreaker 2: Vengeance
- iPhone/iPad (unified binary) - £0.59 (limited offer)
- Original version currently free on both iPhone and iPad.
Because I'm a bit weird like that, I was mildly disappointed when the original Backbreaker failed to feature spine-shattering tackles. I wanted to leave a sickening trail of twisted bodies in my wake and hear the collective moan of broken men as I touched down.
Alas, the sequel continues to focus on wholesome family fun, where one heavily armoured tank of a dude must evade a bunch of oncoming maniacs who are after his prized, egg-shaped 'foot' ball. This time, though, it's rather more involved, with a fair bit more variety to spice up the already extremely moreish formula.
For starters, the game now contains two distinct modes. The first, Tackle Alley, is much like the original, where the idea is to beat the defenders to score a touchdown. Vengeance mode focuses on beating defenders to tackle the runaway ball carrier.
But rather than just leave it at that, NaturalMotion has slipped in a few new moves to give you a little more to think about than merely spinning, juking or sprinting away from oncoming opponents.
'Trucking', for example, allows you to barge yellow-bellied opponents out of the way or duck under obstacles, while the new jump move lets you hurdle determined red opponents sliding in or any barriers strategically designed to knock your block off.
These additions might not sound like much to get excited about, but the extra depth elevates Backbreaker 2 from being an impressively fluid tech demo to something you'll actually want to come back to repeatedly.
- iPhone - £1.79
If you play enough mobile phone games, even the best puzzle games tend to bring out the arch cynic in you quicker than you can spray 'Match Three' over your keyboard with a mouthful of cornflakes.
Fortunately, with Dungeon Raid, Fireflame Games has plumped for the relatively meadow-fresh puzzle RPG formula, and done so with canny mechanics that help set it apart from the great unwashed.
Unusually, you can trace a mazy line across the entire playing field, which allows you to match not only horizontally and vertically, but diagonally as well – and any combination of three. But matching tiles is the easy bit.
On every turn, you can choose to match three or more coins, shields, health-restoring potions, or go on the attack and match swords with those dreaded skulls. For every skull left on the board at the end of each turn, you'll lose health, so the challenge comes from trying to balance your resource requirements with your attacking instincts.
A certain amount of luck comes into play. Sometimes the board fills up with tiles you don't need, or stumps you with an unhelpful arrangement. Part of the skill, then, comes from your ability to dig your way out of a jam and strike back.
The game being replete with RPG mechanics, the longer you survive, the more money you accumulate to buy new upgrades, the more you rank-up, and the more useful spells and the like you can accumulate to dispense when the going gets tough.
Once you get going, the hardest part is knowing when to put the bloody thing down. As long as you don't mind missing your stop occasionally, this is one to add to the puzzle pile.
- iPhone/iPad - £1.79 (unified binary)
- Free version available with over 100 levels.
If a woman's work is never done, what about the plight of the poor puzzle gamer? The gaze haunted by post-abstract shape-dreams. The never-ending thought treadmill, knowing that there are many more problems to solve in the days to follow.
The only answer, obviously, is to feed that thought animal with the tastiest logic nuggets money can buy – except, in the case of Blockoban, money isn't even required. Not for the first hundred-odd puzzles, at least, if you opt for the freebie edition.
For once, we're not concerned with matching-bloody-three. This bunch of wastrels merely want to be shown the way to go home, and your must employ the finger of justice across a simple grid to course-correct this unruly mob.
The problem with this lot is, of course, that each block slides idiotically in a straight line, and only comes to a halt when it hits an obstacle. This obviously presents something of a challenge, and it's up to your straining brain to push each block in a logical order so that they eventually all wind up sitting pretty in their colour-specific homes. The fewer moves you use, the greater chance you'll have of getting to heaven. Or at least that's how I interpreted the medal system.
Needless to say, such a simple, neat concept doesn't stay sane and mild-mannered for long, and after hooking you in over a set of overly simple tasters, Monsieur Jean-Phillipe Sarda then turns the heat up to gas mark 9 and leaves you to silently stew in your own juice for a ridiculous 2252 levels. If that sounds like your idea of fractured gaming bliss, then you're probably welcome to each other.
New Puzzle Bobble
- iPhone - £2.99 (iOS 3.0 or above required)
The trouble with making something so incredibly perfect the first time around is that any attempt to meddle with the formula invariably falls flat on its arse. That's certainly been the fate of the Puzzle Bobble (a.k.a. Bust-a-Move) series ever since its inception way back in 1994.
And here's perhaps the most alarming revision to the game yet, with a whole host of 'innovations' seemingly designed by people with absolutely zero understanding of what made the game so great in the first place.
Top of the list of face-palming changes is the control system, which now allows you to point directly at the bubble you want to hit, therefore removing any semblance of aiming skill.
But if that wasn't already enough, the new Jump Shot allows you to hold your finger on the place you want to hit, and effectively drop your bubble from above on it. Ruinous.
All manner of other game-spoiling additions have been needlessly injected as well, such as the ability to swap out the bubble in your launcher for another one, or bomb bubbles which allow you to 'solve' stages with minimal effort.
Perhaps the most serious omission is the absence of a multiplayer mode, which was and always will be by far the most entertaining way to play the game.
If Taito had had the good sense to include the classic version in this release, it would be an obligatory purchase. Instead, we're bemoaning yet another tiresome remix of a game that needs meddling with about as much as chess does.
- Windows Phone 7 - £2.49
- Android - £1.86
- iPhone (ad-supported free version, or £0.59 ad-free)
- iPad - £1.19
It's usually a good sign when a game hits every smartphone platform going, and Tiki Tower's recent arrival on Windows handsets does little to disprove my homespun theory.
Fêted back in 2009 as one of the finest casual games around, it instantly gets my vote for including three of my favourite things: bananas, monkeys and bridge-building.
Very similar in principle to the numerous other construction games out there (check out X-Construction on Android, or the wonderful World Of Goo on iPad for two choice examples), the idea is to try and fashion a sturdy bridge for a posse of expectant simians to get from A to B. With only limited resources available, it's all about placing each strut wisely to get them across safely without your bridge collapsing like a cheating Premiership prima donna.
Shore up one side at the expense of the other, and you'll notice the tell-tale red stress points on the weaker areas, and have to painstakingly meddle with your creation until it eventually takes the strain from all the leaping chimps.
As if that wasn't enough of a challenge by itself, you'll only get to scoop the gold medal if your cheeky monkeys also manage to pick up all the bananas en route.
With its jolly vibe and intuitive, responsive controls, Tiki Towers is timelessly engaging. If it passed you by the first time around, don't make the same mistake twice.