Version tested: iPhone
No sooner have I hit 'send' and filed another excitable mobile roundup, I've got people ranting and raving about the next great mobile classic that I should definitely, totally cover.
Such is the pace of the market at the moment, it's no wonder that the industry veterans with the most to lose are getting all hot and bothered. Dennis Dyack was at it last week, bemoaning the "dramatic disruption" of the mobile games industry.
But while it's easy (not to mention lazy) to slam the "17,000 fart apps", what's more problematic isn't so much the endless crap that appears - that's easy to ignore - but that there are so many good apps coming out. All the time. And really cheap.
It's a bit like the situation in the music industry, where so much great stuff exists between the cracks, and yet so little actually makes money. If it's true that the average gross for an iOS game really is $700, few will survive the great App gold rush.
- iPhone/iPad - £1.79 (Universal binary)
You should never judge a book by its cover, but what about judging an app from its icon? Bumpy Road would have us believe that it's a wistful journey about two ageing lovers going for a pleasant country drive in their tiny car.
That much is true, but you're probably just a big old cheat if you guessed that it was also a slightly twisted platform endurance mission where death is only a pothole away.
Just like Simogo's similarly charming Kosmo Spin, the designers are on a mission to mess with the conventions of control. In Bumpy Road's case, you don't so much control the car as the entire environment, and have to guide the couple on their trip by manipulating the ground beneath their wheels.
Doing so is akin to running your fingers across a keyboard; as you swipe across the landscape, each 'key' bulges upwards obligingly. This, of course, allows you to fashion slopes that tilt the car left and right and give you the means to build up speed or go into reverse.
In the game's Evergreen Ride mode, the goal is to simply keep going as long as you can, and doing so involves collecting all the tat littering the level while trying your best to avoid dropping into a hole.
Averting instant doom is trickier than it looks, though, with a slightly fiddly jump mechanic that involves tapping underneath your car. What should be a simple process appears to confuse the game more often than you'd like, and quite often you'll tap firmly, only to wind up steering your car down into the abyss.
Elsewhere, the Sunday Trip mode avoids such petty annoyances by removing the holes and turning the game into a race to the finish line, but it doesn't quite have the one-more-go appeal to keep you coming back.
Whether you'll stick with Evergreen Ride probably depends on how invested you are in collecting the photographs that reveal the game's story. As effortlessly charming as the beautiful art style is, Bumpy Road veers perilously closely to being style over substance.
- iPhone/iPad - Free (Universal binary)
It's hardly a novelty any more that you can pick up great games for pennies, but few free games have ever been as good as Frisbee Forever.
As if to thumb its nose at the old-fashioned notion of charging £30 or more for the likes of Pilotwings, Kiloo Games has come up with a game every bit as entertaining using the usually hateful 'Freemium' model.
The first hour or so of content comes completely free of charge as you steer your frisbee through a series of progressively tricky courses, collecting stars and spinning through speed-boosting hoops and loop-the-loops en route to the goal.
Played via the responsive tilt controls, it's a perfectly balanced obstacle course that has you dodging and weaving between relentless trees.
The key to progress is collecting stars, and the more stars you collect, the more courses and miscellaneous upgrades you can exchange. Before long, you'll either have to go back and grind previous courses to collect all the stars you missed or shortcut the process by buying stars in packs, ranging from 1000 for 59p, right up to a ludicrous 275,000 for £59.99.
Fortunately, most of that is optional, and if you object to paying to unlock most of the 90 courses, then you can just continue to grind away.
With production values that smell of money and brow-furrowing challenges, Frisbee Forever is an essential download. All you have to decide is whether to shovel some coinage up the developers' willing cash pipe.
- iPad - £1.79
Casey's story is a familiar one: a bored child, a house filled with random objects and an endless desire to create elaborate contraptions out of anything that comes to hand.
In the case of my own irrepressible five year-old, the living room has recently become his own personal Tardis. The Dyson becomes the console, the guitar amps the control panel. In Snappy Touch's more conventional imagination, though, you're generally tasked with fashioning a cunning chain reaction to achieve a goal.
A table, a football, a ballon, a pair of scissors and a boxing glove suddenly become a challenge to pop a balloon. A carefully stacked pile of books must be completely knocked down using nothing more than an eight ball, a pipe section and a boxing glove on an extending arm. The trick is arranging them just so.
Being a touch screen affair, placing and rotating objects is second nature, but finding a solution can often require far more trial and error than you bargained for. Fortunately, not only does Casey provide his own solution, you can see your friends' attempts via the neat Game Center integration.
Once you've worked your way through the 70 or so levels, creative types can even come up with their own devious contraptions and challenge their pals over email.
If you've somehow lost your inner child, you might find it skulking impishly in the confines of Casey's Contraptions. Even the price is from your youth.
Hydro Thunder GO
- Windows Phone 7 £3.99 (Free trial available)
Every game should have a name you can holler with gusto: the more inappropriate the better, so that unassuming execs can exert their latent masculinity during sleepy presentations. On that note, may I present Hyydroooo Thunnnderrrrr GOOO!
After a few months wallowing in self-imposed mobile gaming purgatory, Microsoft appears to have realised that some big-name headline content is probably a good move. A big, flashy speedboat racer featuring nine excellent tracks is certainly a nudge in the right direction - or at least it would be if someone at Microsoft Game Studios understood the word 'optimise'.
The old Midway arcade heritage does its best to come across on the small screen, with the kind of brash, summery visuals that Sega once had a monopoly on. The excellent tilt controls lend themselves perfectly to a game that requires some rough treatment as you rip through the swell. But the frame rate...oh my.
It's all very well having a game where the boats move like s*** off a shovel and you spend half the time boosting, but if the hardware's not quite up to the job, scale back your ambitions - or figure out a way to achieve them. It's not that bad, but it could be a lot better. Let's hope they patch it.
For now, it's still one of the better Xbox Live efforts to hit the Windows Phone 7 store to date, and it's not offensively expensive, either. Is someone paying attention out there in Microsoftland? Let's hope so.
In the cutthroat world of mobile gaming, nothing is sacred, and no blockbuster is safe from a cheap knock-off.
Despite a few absolute howlers down the years, Gameloft is actually getting rather good at 'approximating' gaming's greatest hits. The latest example of its run of impressive form is its unashamed take on StarCraft-style real-time strategy.
Originally released on iPhone, Starfront's recent appearance on iPad and Xperia Play may prove more interesting due to the control advantages that both platforms bring. As you'd expect, the iPad's bigger screen is an immediate plus and lends itself perfectly to the game's icon-heavy point-and-click gameplay, while the Xperia Play's combination of touch screen and buttons provides an intuitive alternative.
The gameplay itself follows the old-school RTS template to the letter, but is no less engaging for it. As usual, three factions (humans, aliens and sentient robots) are all battling it out for control of the planet's rare minerals, and you eventually see the conflict from the perspective of all three.
If you've played any mainstream RTS since Dune 2 you'll know the base-building, resource gathering drill inside out, and Gameloft knows better than to tinker with a successful formula. But it more than makes up for its evident lack of innovation with a lengthy and varied 20-mission campaign, intuitive controls and surprisingly lavish production values.
On top of all that, you can meddle with four-player online or local multiplayer across five maps using Gameloft's robust Live 2.0 system.
You shouldn't expect anything more than a solid cover version of everything you've played before, but if that's what you're after, Gameloft delivers.