With PSN still out of commission, and Nintendo seemingly holding back games for the upcoming launch of its 3DS eStore, it might look like a bit of a dry week in the scorched pastures of download gaming - but seek and ye shall find.
With merciful timeliness, the spotlight falls firmly on the Xbox Indie scene, with no fewer than three games featured: two excellent brand new titles dropped out of nowhere in the shape of Blocks That Matter and Mr Gravity, while the other, Decay, recently concluded its four part series, so we finally got around to sampling that all at once.
While we're on the subject of indie gems, it sounds like our recent Game of the Week Sequence hasn't exactly enjoyed stellar commercial success since it hit the Indie store on May 5th, with only a few thousand sales in the first couple of weeks. Meanwhile, Minecraft clone Fortresscraft has reportedly sold over 100,000 already, so it's not as if people aren't aware of the indie channel. Perhaps 'rhythm-action RPG' just doesn't sound interesting, but give it a try. You'll almost certainly love it.
Blocks That Matter
- Xbox Live Indie Games - 240 Microsoft Points (£2.04)
Every time you think you might have had your fill of 2D platformers with a retro twist, up pops another one to make you feel like a berk for ever harbouring such doubts.
In this charming tale of indie developer abduction, you're tasked with saving the hirsute Swing Swing Submarine duo via their abandoned and underestimated Tetrobot.
And so begins an improbably engaging journey in which you must collect blocks of matter in order to fashion a route to each level's teleport exit.
To begin with, your humble Tetrobot can only collect blocks by headbutting from underneath, but as you progress you gain new abilities, such as a drill, and gradually learn how to deal with different block types and how to create block-clearing chain reactions.
But rather than just being able to collect blocks and replace them where you see fit, you have to adhere to rather eccentric rules that insist you place them in Tetrominoes. And not only that, they must start off next to an existing structure.
This fascinating mash-up of platform and puzzle game even manages to morph into a bizarre boss chase sequence as you hurriedly lay out your blocks in a desirable formation before the evil monster catches up and noms you to death.
With new abilities and more sophisticated challenges appearing in each and every level, it doesn't take long before the penny drops: Blocks That Matter is yet another fantastic addition to the indie scene. With tons of levels to patiently chip your way through, it's well deserving of its slightly higher price point. If you had any doubts about the indie scene's relevance, now would be a fine time to have your preconceptions challenged.
Decay: Parts 1 to 4
- Xbox Live Indie - Part 1: 80 Microsoft Points (£0.68), Parts 2 to 4: 240 points each (£2.04).
We've all been there: you wake up in a bathroom with no memory of who you are. There's a noose hanging from the ceiling, suicide notes are scattered around your apartment, and Drop The Boy by Bros. blaring out of the stereo.
OK, the last one's a bit far-fetched, but the others form the basis of the mystery of Shining Gate's brooding four-part horror adventure.
Played out from a limited first-person perspective, you can check out each room from a few key perspectives, and it's up to you to poke around in all the darkened corners in search of useful items and clues about your identity, and try not to freak out when the ugly doll turns up.
In keeping with adventure tradition, anything not nailed down ends up in your growing inventory, and with a modicum of item manipulation and the usual to-ing and fro-ing you'll eventually get a sense of what the hell's going on.
With the developer clearly growing in confidence and ambition with every episode, what starts off as a mildly intriguing prod-fest morphs into something altogether more challenging and impressive. By the fourth and final part, you're even able to explore each location in 360 degrees.
For the committed horrorphile looking to wallow in the spirit of the mid-nineties, Decay has the grit and grime required to drag you through its misery. It's sullen, morose and unforgiving - but sometimes, that feels like a good thing.
The Tiny Bang Story
- PC & Mac Steam - £6.99.
- Coming soon to iPad and Android.
- Free demo available.
At what point in adventure gaming's long evolution did someone decide that clicking on everything was the fun part? Who needs narrative intrigue and character development when you can spend untold hours wearing your left mouse button out in search of unending random tat?
Colibri Games' latest starts as it means to go on - at a snail's pace, as you patiently scour every last pixel on the hunt for a designated number of objects. Once you've satisfied the overlord of hidden object lore, you're periodically drip fed one-off puzzle challenges, such as piecing together a ripped picture, or putting a train back together, or - thrills - shooting balloons.
And to add to the painstaking nature of the fun, each of the game's parts concludes with a good old-fashioned jigsaw challenge.
For those of a methodical mindset, The Tiny Bang Story might hold a very specific appeal, with its self-contained challenges that you can gradually chip away at. But if you were hoping that the game's fetching hand-drawn art style was indicative of its broader quality, prepare for disappointment.
If the hours of object-hunting attrition doesn't numb you to the bone, then the generic puzzle interludes probably will.
- Xbox Live Indie - 80 Microsoft Points (£0.68).
Mr. Gravity - let's call him Clarence - has no interest in obeying the laws of gravity. He isgravity.
With great power comes great physical deformity, mind you, with his hideous moon face taking over his entire body. You'd think that a giant space hopper of a man might encounter a few issues finding a mate, but apparently not. If fact, each maze-like level provides a neat account of how he goes about reaching his lover on a daily basis.
For your part, the aim is to use the forces of gravity to guide Clarence to his belle as quickly as possible, while navigating the isles of the local supermarket, picking up groceries and trying to avoid bumping into any chavs en route. At least that's what I read into the situation. Perhaps she works at the checkout and needs rescuing.
The problem with Mr Gravity's ability is that you tend to pull everyone and everything towards you as you move. For example, as you exert the forces of gravity in a particular direction, you not only move yourself, but everything else within range.
To make sure the way is clear of spiky chavs, you often have to manipulate your foes in specific directions, while, perhaps, wedged up against a wall. With this forward planning, the way may be clear for you to slip past any sentries and home to your partner.
Despite its exceptionally minimalist presentation, Mr Gravity is far more involved than it appears, and once you've earned enough stars to unlock the later worlds, developer Angry Newton wastes no time in heaping the pressure on your with bigger mazes, more enemies and far more collectibles.
At this point, it's contentious whether the steeply rising challenge is actually a good thing. Such is the exacting nature of the inertia-based control, getting through certain later levels can be fist-gnawingly tricky - especially given the absence of checkpoints. This is one game that relies entirely on super low-latency control accuracy, and sometimes it doesn't quite deliver that feeling. Then again, it might have just been me being rubbish again.
Either way, Mr Gravity is like an undiscovered gem from our Spectrum youth. For some, that's the best possible news you could receive on a Friday lunchtime.
Valet Parking 1989
- DSiWare - 500 DSiWare Points (£4.50)
Sometimes it's not enough to play the grizzled space marine or the mechanoid super soldier from The Future. Sometimes all you really want to do is slip into the comfortable leather brogues of the valet parking attendant from a time when Miami Vice was still the epitome of cool.
And it seems that someone at Swedish crazies Zordix AB agreed that we should invest our spare time in the pursuit of parking pretend celebrities' vehicles.
Like Airport Mania, Diner Dash, Tapper or any of these other time-pressured throwaways, the idea is to do your job as quickly and efficiently as possible. They line up, you park them, they sod off for a bit, you park a few more, and then attempt to juggle the demands of those who want to leave and those who are continuing to arrive. Oh the pressure.
The fun bit isn't so much the driving and parking bit, but the cute avatars and knowing jingles that ape the rich and famous of that gaudy decade. One minute, A-ha's Morton Harket is asking you to take on his car, then it's Arnie reminding you he'll be back, then Bruce Willis barking at you to drive hard. You get the idea - or you will if you're over 25, anyway.
Over the course of the game's 12 levels, the goal is to earn enough dosh to buy yourself a smart car and retire to the beach for a life of leisure. Inevitably it doesn't quite work out like that, and it's back to parking spoiled famous folk's motors for a living.
Annoyingly, if you happen to fail any stage (or do what I did, and quit), the game makes you play the whole thing from the beginning. The spirit of the 1980s is strong in this one.
But such is the casual disregard for commercial considerations, it's hard not to feel a certain irrational fondness for this rather odd DSiWare nugget. There are much better things to blow 500 points on, but then you'll never get to hear the cheesy synth jingles, will you?