Now that there's several years worth of quality download content in the respective archives of Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft – not to mention the various PC and Mac services – it's harder than ever to make a substantial impact.
The more content that piles up week after week, the more price promotions for the back catalogue appear. Indeed, only last week we saw Microsoft temporarily slash 50 per cent off the price of the likes of Limbo, Shadow Complex and Trials HD, while Steam and the PSN scene are routinely awash with tempting offers.
And, just like the boxed market, it's not uncommon for canny souls to hold off buying things until the deals appear. And why not? The simpler nature of downloadable games often makes them immune to feeling tired and dated in the same way as a big-budget epic. It's not like you're going to enjoy Limbo any less now than you would have nine months ago, eh?
But for those of you who absolutely have to have everything the moment it comes out, here are the latest afternoon delights...
- Xbox Live Indie Games - 80 Microsoft Points
- Also available on Windows Phone 7.
- Coming soon to iPhone.
At a pretty dreadful time for the Xbox indie gaming scene, Starzzle stands as a beacon of hope that not everything has to involve zombies and avatars all the bloody time.
As an alternative, the suitably named Bionic Thumbs has crafted one of those instantly endearing games that manages to make the noble pursuit of star collection somehow interesting.
The goal of this charming affair is to steer a smiling red blob around an environment, collecting wonky-eyed stars in the least number of moves. As tedious as this sounds, it's as catchy as a Holland-Dozier-Holland riff on a summer's day.
But as happy as this blob obviously is, he's also a bit simple. Push him in one direction, and he'll just keep on moving until he hits a wall.
With various bits of scenery to negotiate, plotting an economical path requires forethought – but not too much, because you'll also want to also get the best possible completion time.
And to make things more interesting, you eventually acquire the services of a sleepy blue square, who you can shift around and utilise as a temporary wall to aid your progress.
The best part? Not only is it insultingly cheap, but there are dozens of levels to bury your smiling face in. Don't even bother downloading a trial. Just buy it and tell everyone you know to buy it.
Fancy Pants Adventure
- Xbox Live Arcade - 800 Microsoft Points
- PSN - £7.99
I'm conflicted. On the one hand, I want to big up Brad Borne's achievement in scoring one for the little guy, but on the other, I just didn't have as much fun with his stickman platformer as I was hoping.
What started five years ago as a charming browser game has evidently taken on a life of its own, and it's not difficult to see why. With its adorable visual style and minimalist environments, it's jumpy doodle kleptomania, brought bounding to life from the crumpled pages of a sketchbook.
Millions of plays later, the mighty EA has got in on the act, and the whole idea has been fleshed out into an all-encompassing epic, complete with solo or co-op story mode alongside competitive Race and King Of The Hill multiplayer, both online or local. What's not to like?
Well, either I'm having one of my useless-at-games days, or the whole inertia-based jump system really is fiddly to the point of justifiable homicide. With every level designed around building up speed, sliding up walls and pulling off precision jumps galore, the whole thing falls apart every time your timing is off by the smallest fraction.
And despite throwing myself dutifully into level after level, I never quite felt in command of my little fancy-panted dude. As a result I spent more time honing my tourettes than enjoying the ride.
All of which strikes me as a shame. With endless props and silly hats to unlock, and elusive golden swirls to pluck out of the air, it feels like the sort of summery nonsense that's perfect to bound around with friends. If you can adapt to the control eccentricities, there's plenty to recommend, but you might find it too much like hard work at times.
Dodo Go Robo
- DSiWare - 200 Points (£1.80)
These eggs have suffered rotten luck. After two previous outings and hundreds of smashing levels, stocks have presumably run dry. The solution? Robot eggs.
That's not to say their shells are any less fragile. You just might not feel quite the same pang of regret every time you obliterate, incinerate or drown one as you haplessly guide them to safety.
For the third game in the series, the whole Lemming-lite concept has been rejigged, with some of the more fiddly elements chopped out altogether. Rather than worry about a whole gaggle of eggs, and their ever-changing moods, your focus this time is on simply shepherding one across various obstacle-strewn levels, while scooping up collectibles en route.
Unlike the last, rather ill-advised outing, you don't need any prior knowledge of the mechanics, and Neko intersperses the early levels with useful mini-tutorials to get you moving.
As before, getting from A to B relies on careful use of the (very) limited resources at your disposal, because while getting your egg safely to the goal might be straightforward enough, bagging all the shinies can often turn into a crazed exercise in trial and error. Lots and lots of error, in fact.
Progressing through the game wouldn't have been all that much of a headache, but Neko's often overly stringent demands force you to go back and replay earlier levels until you ace them before you can unlock the next set.
But if you're the kind of hardy soul who positively revels in merciless treatment, then a couple of quid is a small price to pay for such joyful puzzle punishment.
- Xbox Live Arcade - 800 Microsoft Points (£6.80)
- Coming soon to PC and PS3.
When you've got an archive that's bulging with classic brands – as Atari does – it's natural to delve into it now and then. But while it's one thing going back to Tempest, Battlezone or Asteroids, you're stretching it to exhume a title that hasn't been touched for 30 years.
To then completely ignore the source material and remake it as a Miziguchi-inspired on-rails shooter makes even less sense. The only solution is to make a game of such undeniable excellence that people get over their hang-ups over its retro origins.
Sadly, Killspeed's re-imagining gets off to a rocky start, sending you into a garish battle against winged beasties and, ulp, giant enemy crabs. It doesn't help that you're saddled with an inelegant control set-up that demands constant use of all four shoulder buttons at once.
And as if juggling standard fire, rail-gun, lock-on missiles, and dodge manoeuvres doesn't scramble your brain, then the need to pilot Yar and her targeting reticule independently might send you over the edge. You get used to its eccentric demands eventually, but genuine enjoyment always feels tantalisingly out of reach.
After you've soared through the air dispatching assorted alien detritus, the obligatory boss battle comes and goes with minimal fuss, and it's on to the next similarly underwhelming set of encounters – but not before some nonsensical cartoons that desperately try (and fail) to add to the drama.
The occasional nod to the visual minimalism of Rez gives cause for optimism that Yars' Revenge will develop into something of substance, but by the end you're left wishing that Sega would produce an HD remake of Panzer Dragoon and be done with it.
3D Twist And Match
- PSN Minis - £1.74.
- DSiWare - 200 DSiWare Points (£1.80)
- iPhone/iPad - £0.59
Some games are so excruciatingly terrible that you feel compelled to review them, if only as a benevolent act of public service to ward off the curious and daft.
The concept behind Sanuk Games' offering is sound enough: rotate three-dimensional objects as quickly as you can so that they fit the silhouette behind them. The problem lies in the godawful execution.
For a start, you're not allowed to freely rotate the object in question, but have to essentially click through predetermined increments until it clicks into place. But the worst part of it is the fact that the shape tends to obscure the silhouette, making it arbitrarily tricky to discern what you're shooting for.
With all that against you, topping up the rapidly diminishing time bar becomes more of an exercise in good fortune than positional nous. On the plus side, the sooner the Game Over screen appears, the sooner you can stop playing this worthless effort. Wasting money doesn't have to involve endless misery.