The sun's shining. The sky is blue. That can mean only one thing: it's time to reduce your risk of skin cancer and sit inside and play games until your eyeballs bleed.
This week there were way too many releases to do the download scene full justice, so we'll try to get to G-Rev's shooter Strania next week, as well as the likes of Dino D-Day (Dinosaurs! In World War II!), Dungeon Hunter and the various PSP Minis and DSiWare nuggets that invariably look rubbish at first glance, but turn out to be rather good.
So, queue up those downloads, draw the blinds and ignore the warmest start to April in living memory.
- Mac App Store - £5.99
- Previously released on Steam for PC and Mac - £14.99
- PC version on Get Games - £4.95
There's a fair chance that Machinarium passed you by when it first emerged 18 months ago. That's the problem with the indie/download scene: keeping up with the dozens of really interesting titles that crop up all the time is like a full-time job in itself.
However, the really good stuff tends to keep rising to the top, and Amanita Design's decision to chuck Machinarium up on the burgeoning Mac App Store (and, shortly, port it to PS3 and Wii) does it no harm at all.
For those of you with fond, fraying memories of the golden era of point and click adventures, it's easily one of the most charming games to appear in the genre. Everything from the Tim Burton-inspired art style to the one-room-at-a-time puzzle design is absolutely first rate.
Despite the complete absence of dialogue, the game's tale of a tiny robot's journey to foil a thuggish plot is similarly adorable. Telling the story through occasional thought-bubble sketches, Amanita brings more character to the world through subtle touches and simple animation than most games ever manage.
Unlike most adventures, the game effectively feeds you one problem at a time, meaning that you cannot progress to the next area until you've solved the latest challenge. Although the it runs the risk of frustrating through such limitations, the inclusion of a helpful – but non-spoilerific – hint system keeps you invested even when you're stumped.
Perhaps the only thing that stops the game from being perfect is the slightly fussy way you can only interact with objects if they're within reach. When all you want to do is click on something, having to waddle across to it first can be a little testing.
But with so much in its favour, you'd probably forgive Machinarium if it cussed your mother. In fact, if you don't buy it, I'll cuss your mother.
Red Faction: Battlegrounds
- Xbox Live - 800 Points (£6.80)
- PSN - £7.99
While the world waits for the fourth in the Red Faction series to appear, what could be better than to toss out a downloadable teaser offering in the weeks leading up to its release?
But what worked for Dead Rising 2 doesn't really hang together in this instance. For one thing, Battlegrounds is little more than a tenuous twin-stick shooter spin-off which has almost nothing to do with the series it's based on.
What you get is essentially a collection of 16 against-the-clock challenges set inside terraformed arenas, and these act as your 'training' for the online modes.
Sometimes the sole aim is to survive an onslaught for as long as you can, while other times you'll have to wipe out a certain number enemy waves in the shortest possible time. Other challenges task you with capturing and delivering flags, or just destroying designated targets one after the other.
Despite its solid production values, it doesn't take you long to realise that Battlegrounds isn't destined to be regarded as another great-value download classic. The uninspired single-player content lacks spark and purpose, and there's nothing that the XP and medal system can do to lure you back once you're done with each level.
Online, it fares even worse, largely because the arenas aren't big enough. In the free-for-all deathmatch, for example, you seem to continually respawn next to an opponent, and matches boil down to whoever's fortunate enough to pick up a power-up first. Team Deathmatch and Capture The Flag are less painful, but only just.
Some committed souls might eke a few hours of mild entertainment out of Red Faction: Battlegrounds, but only if they try really hard. It might not be irredeemably terrible, but there are so many better games in the download scene. Don't waste your time on this forgettable spin-off.
- Xbox Live Indie Games - 80 Microsoft Points (£0.68)
- Also available on Windows Phone 7.
It's a pity that Hemisphere Games never got around to porting the magnificent Osmos to consoles. But when you leave the door wide open like that, you can bet someone else will come along and take full advantage.
And that's exactly what 2.0 Studios has done with Cell. Just like Osmos, the premise is to grow your cell by absorbing smaller ones around you. Just like Osmos, you propel yourself around the playing field by ejecting a tiny piece of yourself. And just like Osmos, it's a thoroughly zen experience.
But some of the original spirit of its source inspiration has been lost in translation. Most obviously, the visuals are nowhere near the beautiful standard of Osmos – though, to be fair, that applies to more or less every game ever made.
But the gameplay doesn't quite hit the mark either. Rather than opt for large, expansive levels that take time and patience to conquer, Cell opts for a much more stripped-down approach that makes it relatively simple to clear levels quickly.
On the plus side, 2.0 Studios does throw in some interesting new ideas, such as gravity wells that you have to steer clear of, and cells that think like you and try to grow at the same time. In addition, the ethereal electronica that accompanies your journey is outstanding.
So while you'll probably start out determined to dismiss Cell as a cheap knock-off, there's a grudging acceptance that 2.0 has actually built on the ideas in interesting ways. And for the price, you can't really complain.
The Dishwasher: Vampire Smile
- Xbox Live Arcade - 800 Microsoft Points (£6.80)
It's well documented that I enjoy killing things, but even my more psychotic urges have their limits.
As insane, side-scrolling beat-'em-ups go, this sequel to Ska Studio's indie hit delights in putting ideas of sensible moderation to the sword. Obliterating everything in the most frenzied, violent way possible is once again the name of the game, as you battle through 50 increasingly claret-splattered stages in the name of revenge over something presumably important.
The unremitting bleakness has a certain stylistic charm, but such is the relentlessness of it all, Vampire Smile is too intense to digest for more than a few levels at a time. It's an-all-you-can eat banquet at gunpoint.
But if you've got the appetite, the content is almost overwhelming. Two intertwining story campaigns provide the main meat, along with hefty side servings of co-op play, as well as various standalone battles to compete in if you enjoy leaderboard bragging rights. It's even got a 3D mode if you enjoy looking silly in your own home. (It made my eyes hurt after about 30 minutes, though.)
There's no question that the whole package is extremely polished. The dark, twisted artistry is a hellish vision like no other, but whether you'll get on with the endlessly repetitive button-mashing combat is another matter.
At its best, the lightning-fast dodge mechanic adds twitchy strategy, and the presence of unlockable special attacks and multiple weapons to discover lures you through the chaos. But when it boils down to it, there's only so much limb-severing a man can take.
Chime Super Deluxe
- PSN - £7.19
Zoe Mode's wafting music-creation block puzzler felt like something of a work-in-progress when it first emerged on Xbox Live Arcade.
You'd settle down and have a thoroughly pleasant time, laying down irregular shapes, and trying to create as many 'quads' of 3x3 or more as possible within a time limit. The more quads, the more 'coverage', and the more notes layered on top of the basic backing track. It was forgiveable that there wasn't much in the way of modes or content, because it was all for charity.
A year further down the line, though, and its arrival on PSN addresses many of the niggles that people had with it in the first place. Zoe Mode has added a handful of new songs, for a start, as well as a glassy new visual sheen, beefed-up lighting effects and generally jazzed-up presentation.
More significantly, this Super Deluxe version adds both four-player (offline) co-op and versus multiplayer modes, giving the gameplay an entirely different slant. If you're feeling benevolent, working together in co-op mode to get that elusive 100 per cent coverage is a pleasantly chilled way to pass the time.
But if you're in a destructive mood, then, equally, being able to pinch each other's quads and generally cause havoc with each other's coverage adds a welcome competitive dimension to what was once all about feeling the love. The absence of online play is a bit of a shame, but maybe that'll find its way into the Super Duper Deluxe version. We can but hope.