When a game as good as Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes HD comes along, it does make you recalibrate your price expectations of other games. It doesn't happen that often, granted, but when it does, it's hardly surprising that some of the old-school thinkers in the industry worry about the kind of precedent it sets.
The fact that a game of such startling quality has come from Ubisoft is interesting in itself. This is a company, after all, that has traditionally made most of its money from flogging millions of big-budget boxed products.
But it is pouring more of its resources into providing a steady stream of top-notch downloadable titles like Beyond Good & Evil HD and, soon, From Dust, Rayman Origins and Outland. It is commanding this area of the market in a way that many of its rivals, frankly, are not.
Enough about that. Go and buy Clash of Heroes. Now. Do it. You'll thank me later.
Might & Magic: Clash Of Heroes HD
- Xbox Live Arcade - 1200 Points (£10.20)
- PSN - £11.99
A few months back, a friend of mine was utterly incredulous that I hadn't bothered to play the DS game Clash of Heroes yet. "What the hell is wrong with you? Go and play it immediately," was roughly his response.
Of course, I did that thing that all idiots do and promptly didn't bother. But as luck would have it, its arrival in the land of the downloads has given me the chance to make up for this absurd lapse in judgement.
Those of you smart enough to have cottoned on to this low-key Might & Magic spin-off a year back will already know that developer Capybara has essentially created a beautiful, smiling offspring from the eternally virile Puzzle Quest and Advance Wars.
As with either of those perennial classics, it's all about marshalling your units in the most effective way. But Clash Of Heroes does so with a breathtaking elegance that obscures a deceptively complex – and hugely engaging – battle system.
In basic terms, two armies face each other on a grid, and the goal is to whittle your opponent's HP down to zero before they can do the same. You each have three moves per turn to reorganise your units into defensive or attacking formations and try to pierce your opponent's rearguard.
At first, the game schools you in fashioning defensive walls by lining-up three like-coloured units horizontally, or attacking by arranging units vertically. But then you start to peel away the layers of strategy that lie within, such as fusing one unit with another.
Before you know it, you're neck-deep in the kind of strategic puzzling that you probably would have thought unfathomable only a few hours before. Such is the grace with which the game reveals its inner complexities, the hardest part is tearing yourself away from the bloody thing.
With a depth and longevity that humbles most full-price releases – including five single-player campaigns and online multiplayer – Clash Of Heroes HD demands your immediate and undivided attention. Don't make the same mistake I made.
Dungeon Hunter: Alliance
- PSN - £9.99
Some games have a knack of hauling you in even when you know full well that's there's absolutely nothing of substance to them. May I introduce Dungeon Hunter: Alliance.
We've had fair warning. The appearance of Dungeon Hunter 2 on iOS a few months back had us unavoidably detained, fingers clamped down on the attack button, clearing one dimly-lit dungeon after another in the vague search of some bad guy or other.
It's much the same story here. The visuals have been spruced up, but at its core, Gameloft's latest is a simple hack-and-slash with those all too moreish RPG mechanics bolted on top.
It doesn't even bother with elaborate back stories. For the most part, you just walk up to some quest-giving dude who tells you to beat so-and-so up, and then you spend the next half an hour patiently dealing death.
You'll save up your heavy attack for the big guys, and repeatedly cut a swathe through the minions while hoovering up the vast amount of loot they leave lying around. All the while, you'll be watching your health bar like a hawk, ready to dispense a potion the split second it looks like you're in danger.
And so it goes on. One quest leads to another, and all that lovely experience leads to new skills and new attacks. Before you know it, hours have passed, all sunk into the guilty pleasure of dungeon crawling.
The addition of four-player local and online multiplayer (with voice chat) merely spreads the madness. No-one would claim that Dungeon Hunter: Alliance is up to the standard of that other Diablo-alike, Torchlight, but that's not to say you won't enjoy it anyway.
Just as it did with Modern Combat: Domination, Gameloft has provided another high-quality, no-frills alternative that might just surprise you.
GO Series: Captain Sub
- DSiWare - 200 Points (£4.50)
DSiWare games have a troubling habit of looking absolutely terrible and turning out to be improbably good fun. Captain Sub is another of these frisky old dogs to win us over on charm alone.
Like a lost Taito arcade classic from 1984, Tom Create's latest nugget has you piloting a grinning submarine on a hunt for the lost treasure dotted around the ocean depths.
Unfortunately for fans of stress-free gaming, there's a bunch of vengeful marine life standing between you and a big heap 'o gold, and it's down to your piloting skills to scoop up the riches without suffering too much damage along the way.
To make matters trickier, you also have to collect keys, thread a path through one-way currents and eventually find the door to each level's 'boss'. For reasons that we probably shouldn't dwell on for too long, these materialistic mutants feel particularly protective of their booty and spin around in a spiteful rage to try to stop you from making off with it.
And so it goes on, with progressively more elaborate mazes to unpick and more gold to retrieve. It's a simple enough formula, but for those of you looking for an uncomplicated reminder of a forgotten era, Captain Sub is a fine waste of time and money.
- PSN Minis - £2.49
- Free to PlayStation Plus subscribers.
Two ships, two hands, one brain. What's a multitasking-deficient soul to do in the face of dozens of red and blue alien invaders? Panic, that's what.
But in the face of intense provocation, it appears that it is possible to indulge in retro shooting's equivalent of patting your head while rubbing your tummy without it all going to pot.
Unlike ye olde traditional Space Invaders, Laughing Jackal's twist on the formula has you blasting at the red and blue alien foes from either side.
To make matters more interesting, an aggro system known as 'Skew' makes the aliens more angry if you shoot enemies that match the colour of your ship. The angrier they get, the more points you score. The more points you score, the more attractive you become to the opposite sex.
The multitasking process is made substantially easier by assigning the respective fire buttons to the shoulder buttons. With only up and down to focus on, the process of juggling your attention between the two ships is much easier than it initially appears. Too easy, in fact.
After thirty-odd rounds of Duæl Invading, it becomes increasingly apparent that a Game Over screen isn't going to appear any time soon. With extra lives spewing out at a rate of knots, it seems like the difficulty level wasn't quite as finely tuned as it could have been.
Strania – The Stellar Machina
- Xbox Live Arcade - 800 Points
If Duæl Invaders is designed as a confidence booster, then Strania is here to remind us that, deep down, we're all pathetic narcissists that need taking down a peg or two.
Yes, G.rev's Xbox Live debut is one firmly designed to test the mettle of vertical shmup veterans that enjoy nothing more than to dance around a curtain of bullets singing That's When I Reach For My Revolver.
If you're looking for compromises, don't bother. You kick off proceedings able to take just three hits from the enemy before you perish, and can continue the game just twice from where you left off before you have to shuffle off back to the beginning. In G.rev's world, if you're not good enough, tough. Get better or go home.
For the kind of soul who thrives on these routinely unkind affairs, then there's much to admire. The visuals retain a vibrant late-nineties soul, and each stage is a finely choreographed, embattled thrill, designed to test your memory for patterns as much as your twitch abilities. You might not quite ever enter bullet hell, but this game has its own ways of making the journey uncomfortable.
Success also comes down to smart weapon loadout and selection. As each power-up drifts past, it's up to you to decide which ones suit the situation best, and you'll frequently get it all horribly wrong. The bizarre sword melee attack might prove effective in some confined sections, while others, like the side lasers or the homing missiles, allow you to strike from a safe distance.
Whether Strania's trial-and-error-heavy formula will appeal is easy enough to find out thanks to the free demo. Whether you'll want to take this punishing relationship any further will come down to good old fashioned raw skill. Show G.rev what you can do, and it might even let you beyond the third stage. Might.