You lot owe me big time. While most of you have been outside enjoying this unfeasibly unseasonal hot weather, I've been slaving away over hot gadgets to seek out all that's important in the world of mobile gaming. It's a dirty job, but someone's go to do it.
This week's a little on the disappointing side, though, with most of the high-profile releases proving to be a bit of a waste of everyone's time. As usual, some are looking to tap into the bottomless well of nostalgia, while others are desperate to lead the race to be cutting edge. Can you guess who wins? There's a pocket-soiled piece of Extra in it for you. It's the least I can do.
Game Room: Centipede / Asteroids Deluxe
- Windows Phone 7 - £2.49 each. Free trial available.
Having already made a proper pig's ear of the ill-fated Game Room service on the Xbox 360, Microsoft has come up with the brazen idea of selling individual titles on Windows Phone 7 for the princely sum of £2.49.
First out of the blocks are two bona fide Atari classics, in the shape of Centipede and Asteroids Deluxe: simple but brutal shooters that anyone over the age of 35 will probably have fond memories of from their formative dabbling with the arcade scene.
Since they're fully Xbox Live-enabled, you benefit from the dubious privilege of gunning for achievement points, as well as online leaderboards and notifications when your friends top your score. All reasonably standard features these days, but nice nevertheless.
On the other hand, there's the absurd pricing to consider, and the fact that neither game is even remotely enjoyable when played on a touchscreen device. The controls are fiddly, imprecise and plainly not suited to the system.
Also, as per bloody usual, you can pick up either game on iOS platforms for a tiny fraction of the price. Fortunately you can save yourself shelling out anything at all by just downloading the free trial. See for yourself what a pointless exercise this really is.
Atari's Greatest Hits
- iPhone/iPad - Free. Games £0.59 each, or £8.99 for all 100.
If Microsoft's Game Room was an object lesson in how not to repackage retro games, then Atari's Greatest Hits does a rather better job at peddling teary-eyed gaming nostalgia.
For a start, most of the company's early arcade classics make the cut, including the daddy, Pong, alongside other seminal greats such as Super Breakout, Asteroids, Missile Command,Tempest, Battlezone, Centipede/Millipede, and Lunar Lander. So far so good.
For the committed arcade aficionado, it doesn't hurt to also have the likes of Crystal Castles, Gravitar, Liberator, Major Havoc, Black Widow, Space Duel, Warlords, and Red Baron to keep you warm at night. Not many of them stand up today, of course, but there's a certain amount of curious satisfaction to be gained from poking around in retro gaming's darker corners.
Developer Code Mystics deserves credit for not simply shovelling them onto iOS, either, and many of the paddle-based titles (such as Super Breakout and Pong) actually play brilliantly via a touch screen interface. Trackball games (including Centipede, Crystal Castles and Missile Command) don't fare quite as well, though, while others, like Asteroids, feel like too much of a compromise to be truly enjoyable.
The presence of 82 Atari 2600 games, mind you, is wholly questionable. Unless you have a finely tuned fetish for specific titles from your long-lost youth, their appeal is almost certain to be lost on you. (Full disclosure: I owned an Atari 2600 back in the day, and even I struggle to find a flicker of interest in these garish relics.) Again, their suitability for touch screen play appears to be governed by the same principles as the arcade collection: paddle controls, yes, joystick control, probably not.
But even with the 2600 stuff taken out of the equation, nine quid for the whole lot is reasonable value, and if you're only interested in certain titles, you can buy each one in 59p packs.
The only annoyance is that some of Atari's most celebrated arcade titles are missing - presumably because Warners now owns the rights to Atari Games' catalogue (as opposed to Atari Inc.). One day we might see the full Atari set reunited with the likes of Gauntlet, Super Sprint, Paperboy, Marble Madness and Empire Strikes Back, but don't hold your breath. Until then, enjoy this serviceable Volume 1 of Atari's Greatest Hits.
Resident Evil Mercenaries Vs
- iPhone - £1.79 "for a limited time only"
Three attempts down the line, you'd perhaps hope that Capcom could finally do justice to Resident Evil's rich heritage on mobile devices. Sadly, Mercenaries Vs fails to buck this sorry trend.
Billed as Capcom's first online multiplayer mobile title, Mercenaries Vs' general idea is to let you run amok in a series of free-for-all or two-on-two shootouts. Three of the gang have turned up for their appearance fees, so you can play as Chris, Jill or Wesker, and each comes with a subtly different weapon weapon loadout. So, shotgun for Chris, SMG for Jill, magnum for Wesker, the usual drill.
Three maps make it into the package, and you get to endure several minutes of teeth-grinding combat, seeing who can rack up the best score. Points are earned for shooting the infected (or each other), and that's basically all there is to it.
A basic single-player training mode simulates the whole thing with AI players, or you can opt for some coin-shooting nonsense, where the aim is to blast all 15 coins within a time limit.
As you can probably tell, it's not the most thrilling thing I've ever had to play. In fact, it's a horribly lazy cash-in. The visuals are (still) hugely disappointing, and the controls haven't moved on from where they were on the Resi 4 abomination three years ago.
If Mercenaries Vs was a basic online extra on a full-fledged mobile Resident Evil, you might forgive it, but as a standalone release it has no redeeming qualities. Come on Capcom, you can do better than this.
Real Racing 2 HD
- iPad - £5.99
- Also available on iPhone
There haven't been too many reasons to get excited about the iPad 2 from a gaming perspective to date. Infinity Blade and Dead Space run a bit better, sure, and the gyroscopic controls are a bonus, but it's hardly enough to justify the expensive upgrade. Real Racing 2 just might, though, as it's the first title to show off iPad 2 in all its full-screen, 1080p TV-out glory.
Assuming you've also shelled out for the HDMI adaptor, you can just plug your iPad in and the signal appears on your telly automatically. Once you fire up the game, there it is. No configuration necessary.
Cunningly, the game keeps all the menu items and some of the HUD on the iPad itself, with minimal clutter on the TV screen. When you're out on track, things like the map and current race standings appear on the tablet screen, necessitating a glance between the two.
You use the iPad like a steering wheel, tilting into corners, while the AI (by default) takes care of acceleration. The effect is, unsurprisingly, a pleasant novelty – especially given how crisp the visuals look scaled up on the big screen. Firemint's claims of 30 frames per second seem to hold true as well, though we did experience the odd stutter.
The only niggling issue is the chunky HDMI adaptor and its uncomfortable positioning. Ideally, you'd be able to use an iPhone as a bluetooth controller and leave the iPad to one side, but right now that's not an option.
Aside from all the novelty value of full-screen TV output, Real Racing 2 is by far the most accomplished mobile racing game out there right now. Whether you dive into the career mode or the 16-player online multiplayer, the breadth of content is impressive, the handling is superb, and it's easy to appreciate why the game has garnered such universal acclaim. If you're looking for justification for blowing all your spare cash (again), here it is.
- Xperia Play/Android - £3.00
- Coming soon to iPhone.
It's long been accepted that every Gameloft release is a barely disguised cover version of a blockbuster hit. We've had everything from GTA (Gangstar), Halo (N.O.V.A.) and Counter-Strike (Modern Combat) to Diablo (Dungeon Hunter), so it was only a matter of time before Assassin's Creed was given The Treatment.
The swashbuckling piratey setting might be entirely different, but within a matter of minutes the free-running, sword-swishing, stealth assassin formula reveals itself.
And it's not terrible, either, in a 2002-prototype-for-Assassin's-Creed kind of way. But that's not to say it's anything special: you'll breeze through one undemanding section after another, metronomically carving a swathe through dim-witted enemies using one simple attack.
Later, you'll find yourself engaging in more exploratory tasks, darting nimbly across rooftops, and dispatching sentries with ruthless efficiency. In between, you'll sit patiently through some of the worst voice acting in a decade. It's a trip down memory lane, but not in an especially good way.
On the plus side, it's another example of how much more enjoyable third-person action games can be on an Xperia Play compared to dreaded virtual sticks. If someone could kindly get around to porting existing classics, our disposition would be altogether sunnier. As it stands, Backstab is just another inferior tribute.