If you added up all the downloadable games across Steam, XBLA, PSN, Minis, WiiWare, DSiWare and even the foolishly overlooked Xbox Indie Games Channel, how many games have been released to date? 4000? More?
Whatever the actual figure is, perhaps it's strange that so few of these games have been bundled up for retail release. Microsoft issued an XBLA showcase compilation a few years back, and PopCap is getting in on the act right now with two four-game volumes on Xbox 360. But apart from those, who else is bothering?
The point is, while it's easy to grasp the motivation for keeping literally thousands of titles locked onto a download service at the same price for years on end (money money money!), a large proportion of the potential audience presumably remains unaware of the cheap gems out there.
Boxed compilations may not work for everyone, but at the very least there needs to be a more aggressive attitude to pricing in general, with Steam and App Store-style offers to tempt people into actually taking the plunge on games that often look pricey at their default levels.
Acceleration of SUGURI X-Edition
- PSN - £7.99
I see someone finally got around to building the long-mooted genre-fusion random generator. The first fruit of its labours? May I present to you a bullet hell beat-'em-up, where two boggle-eyed anime lovelies slug it out in blizzardous fury over issues of great import.
One of the marvellous things about this technology is its (possibly accidental) ability to graft earnest exposition regarding pudding onto the edges. In developer Rockin Android's world, it's only possible to settle such trifling matters with a volley of rockets and homing missiles to the face. But don't worry, because the ammo's infinite.
Maybe there's a perfectly rational explanation for all this, but it's a place where dainty ladies have total command over gravity's pull, and can launch themselves forward with a bat of their lashes. Can't they just talk it over?
As you alternate furiously between confusion and excitement, the explosive gaggle never lets up even for a moment. You'll launch a curtain of certain death, dash, homing missile strike, dash. Dash dash. Laser in the face. Die! WHY WON'T YOU DIE?
And so it goes on until one of your life bars runs out. But do you continue to fight another day, or move on to a game less likely to infect your dreams? I suppose that rests squarely on your ability to argue about cake.
Bejeweled Blitz: Live
- Xbox Live Arcade - 800 Microsoft Points
Is it possible to have enough Bejeweled in your life? Probably not. PopCap certainly seems to work on the assumption that we could all do with another fix, even if it means just tinkering with the classic match-three formula a tiny bit. It's the Mini Pringles of puzzle gaming.
As usual, the idea is simply to twizzle gems until they line up in either rows or columns of three or more of the same colour, at which point said gems disappear. No change there, then, but there are now more ways to indulge in your gem-matching madness.
First up is the regular Classic mode, where you select which adjacent gem you want to swap and try to fashion a match, while Twist involves rotating blocks of four gems at once (either clockwise or counter clockwise) to achieve the same net result.
The big difference with Blitz, though, is that you've got just 60 seconds to show what you're made of, and it's a formula that definitely lends itself to competitive score-whoring over Xbox Live. Just like the ludicrously popular Facebook version, it's all about shaming your less spatially adept friends into submission via the magic of high scores.
But where Blitz justifies its 800 point price tag is the rather desirable ability to play simultaneous 16-player Party matches online, as well as one-on-one matches locally or online over Live. On top of all that, the various leaderboards make long-term Bejeweled addiction a viable, even socially desirable outcome. You can even form a team fercryingoutloud.
Honestly, the question isn't whether you should play Bejeweled or not. It's more of a question of how much you covet the glory of fast-paced simultaneous competition.
- PSN - £6.29
If there's one type of game the PS3 isn't exactly lacking in, it's the brick-breaker. Well, tough luck, kids: here's another one to remind us that it's nearly 35 years since Breakout first invited us to smash it.
'Blessed' with a somewhat overwhelming 150 stages and more power-ups and 'ships' (i.e. paddles) than you can wave a dismissive arm at, TikGames' deliberately enigmatic attempt certainly won't leave anyone wanting for content.
Where it does leave you wanting is for an adequate explanation of what's required. You'll bounce around each level picking up rings, collecting power-ups and earning upgrades, but once you've unlocked a new paddle it fails to give you any clue of what advantages it brings over another, or how to utilise its functions. Often there's an air of mystery that just leads to mute frustration.
Persist, though, and you can eke enjoyment through the fug, and progress to the more imaginative stages where obstacles often move in sweeping, rotating waves to add to the fun. Once you peel away the layers of needless complexity and start to figure out which of the power-ups to avoid, there's fun to be had curving the ball and causing maximum mischief with unexpectedly destructive pickups.
If you wish Breakout games looked and sounded like they were made by Amiga obsessives in the early nineties, Ricochet HD might have an unlikely allure. The rest of you should probably look up far superior Shatter.
Back to the Future
- PSN - $19.99 for the series. EU release TBC
- Also available on iPad (Ep1 £3.99), PC and Mac (£16.99 for the series)
Like most of Telltale's output, Back to the Future never tries especially hard to break loose from people's expectations. Chat to everyone, follow the dialogue tree to its conclusion, pick up everything you can, examine everything listed, and eventually use the thing with the other thing and move the scene on.
If that sounds like a worn out formula to you, then move right along; there's nothing here that will change your mind. Stacking this most definitely is not.
What it does have, though, is total respect for the fiction, a quality script and a pair of voice actors absolutely tailor-made for the starring roles of Marty and Doc. [Hardly surprising given that one of them is in fact Christopher Lloyd! Apologies for the oversight. -Ed]
Fortunately for the diehard fans, merely meddling in the Back to the Future world, chatting to characters we know and love and solving the odd puzzle is probably just about enough.
If you're not already invested in the 'brand', then there's an equally good chance that it will come across as fairly unremarkable. Innovation is largely absent, the stylised visuals are good without ever being great, and the stripped-down gameplay is disappointingly undemanding.
Subsequent episodes may yet prove us wrong, but for now we're in safe, predictable territory. You'll already know whether or not that's a good thing.
- PSN Minis - £3.49
Ever played a game with looks only a mother could love? Swap Zap definitely falls into that category, with visuals so hideous you wouldn't risk the potential damage to your monitor if it was a flash game.
But if you squint a little and tilt your head like an inquisitive hound, beneath the garish colour scheme and hideous backdrops PlaygroundSquad has an unexpectedly engaging block-shifting puzzler to which you may nuzzle up.
Your job is to guide the wonderfully named Pam Spacetrucker to level's power cores, but getting there is the tricky part. Trapped inside a cargo hold of a Space Shuttle, the idea is to clamber up a stack of boxes, collect your prize and head into the airlock to the next level.
Positioning these boxes, though, takes a fair bit of lateral thought, as you have to literally 'swap-zap' each one individually. Building a stack, for example, might require you to jump on top of, say, three blocks, then swap downwards, grab a block from your left or right, and then repeat the process until your tower is tall enough.
Other levels introduce falling bombs that destroy all your hard work if you don't get rid of them, or directional spikes that damage you if you attempt to swap into them. The difficulty level's all over the shop, and it's easily the most amateurish-looking game we've seen in ages - but it's also a hugely satisfying concept that someone should look at reworking forthwith. Critical acclaim awaits!