Version tested: iPhone
It's been three whole weeks since we last had the chance to cop a sly feel of the mobile gaming sector. You can blame E3, the deluge of PSN releases and the launch of the 3DS eStore/eShop/eByGum, but you categorically cannot blame me.
In the intervening weeks, my poor, game-fried eyes have been gathering lint like a soiled 1990s mouse, and it will be to the surprise of precisely no-one that there are a bajillion new releases to choose from - many of which are both ridiculously good and ridiculously cheap.
I've spared you much of it, mainly because I'm quite sure you don't want to spend all your money at once - so if your latest mobile squeeze doesn't feature this week, fear not, we'll get round to it. In other news: games!
- iPhone - £0.59
Normally it wouldn't be possible to get excited about a riff on Snake. Not unless the year was 1981 and Landscape were playing Einstein A Go-Go on Top Of The Pops.
But then Spilt Milk Studios comes along and whips off its velcro skirt in the name of light entertainment, introducing us to a plucky underdog hero called Lionel. I'm not even making this up.
As the former frontman of smooth soul combo The Commodores, his solo career hasn't taken off yet, and he's auditioning for Tron all night long, showing us his light cycle chops. The problem is, he can't slow down.
So there you are, riding around, turning at right angles, trying to mangle all your opponents by getting them to crash into your trail. It's a formula as old as gaming itself, but made more interesting by amusing quips and throbbing electronica.
It also has the decency to include a wide selection of modes, such as the self-explanatory Survival alongside the three-minute-limit Deadline, Time Attack, the kill-or-be-killed Piñata mode, the death-defying, all-or-nothing Gauntlet - and, of course, good old fashioned Snake.
Like most things in life, personality goes a long way, and Hard Lines has it in spades. And probably buckets as well.
Grand Prix Story
- Android - £3.08. Free Lite version also available.
After the brilliantly self-referential Game Dev Story, Kairosoft could either quit while it was ahead or just keep churning out slight variations on the theme and make lots of money. Plan B it is, then!
Following on from Hot Spring Story, the third in the series adopts many (if not most) of the same tricks that made us play long into the night, faces aglow with touchscreen illumination.
In Grand Prix Story, it's once again a moreish balance of hiring, training, researching and upgrading, as you aim to work your way up from a team of aspiring amateurs to all-conquering motor racing behemoths.
At first, you'll pour your limited resources into a fairly useless car and a small team of hopeless nobodies, and systematically prod them in the right direction via research points and cold hard cash.
Periodically you'll enter races and watch as your plucky losers inch their way up the rankings with every incremental update. It hooks you in with the micro rewards of bettering your race standings and lap times, and before you know it, you're actually capable of winning things.
And then off you go, developing new cars and parts, and bolstering your team with your winnings. Good performances then leads to sponsorship, and the chance to enter progressively challenging races, and so the cycle goes on until, inevitably, you have to tear yourself away from the damned thing.
In some respects, the ability to see the fruits of your labours in action only makes it more engaging. You're no longer just churning out some imaginary product - you're watching the product go out and perform, albeit in endearingly wobbly pixel art fashion.
Eventually Kairosoft will run out of things for us to manage, or just repeat the same ideas until the whole thing becomes utterly transparent. But right now, these are stories worth telling and games worth owning.
Storm In A Teacup
- iPhone/iPad - £0.59.
As someone who appears to employ games as some sort of perverse vent for anger, it's nice now and then to just float along in a teacup scooping up sugar lumps. No snarling irritation here, just the sweet escapism of flowing platform kleptomania.
Some of you might take one look at Cobra Mobile's twee visual style and mutter into your overpriced caffeine infusion. I pity you and your gritty realism. To these eyes, its Spectrum-era, two-dimensional surreality only adds to the game's charm.
And like a lost relic of our now-mythical past, it's a love affair with all things spiteful. As you guide your floaty man-cup through the 40 levels negotiating hazards, getting to the end of the level becomes an evermore taxing exercise as you deftly deploy your limited boost power. A boost here, a boost there, he could die soon, but he doesnae care.
Even in the throes of endless, savage death, it can't provoke a frown. You are, after all, a boy in a teacup, soaring defiantly through the clouds.
To-fu: The Trials Of Chi
- iPhone - £0.59.
Once, he was a humble block of coagulated soy milk; now he's the world's most malleable martial artist.
If this was another sorry attempt to get our attention, it worked, but no matter, because Croydon's own HotGen has made its iOS debut with a game of rare, elastic loveliness.
Equipped with hard-man bandana, you stretch, ping, stick and rebound Mr To-Fu around hazardous two-dimensional environments (aren't they always?) in search of glowing blue orbs of inscrutable function.
In practice, it's a sticky platform-puzzler, tenuously reminiscent of System 3's ancient Amiga classic, Putty. The big difference with To-Fu is your inability to walk around. You can stretch yourself in any direction, but all you're really doing is setting yourself up to be launched onto another surface.
You have to avoid spiky areas, head for moving platforms, bounce yourself around and eventually try to reach the fortune cookie in as few moves as possible. The loot is optional, but you'll be shunned by your peers if you don't bother.
At approximately half a penny per level, you wonder how HotGen is planning to make money out of To-Fu. Presumably the plan is to make it so entertaining that we all tell our friends to buy it, and millions of pounds roll in. That would be called justice being done.
It would be great for a Windows Phone 7 port to not be the perennial whipping boy, but what choice do we have when publishers keep releasing games at four times the price while omitting key features? This week's lucky contestant: ongoing phenomenon Doodle Jump.
The love for Lima Sky's horribly addictive take on Papi Jump is well-documented. With 10 million sales at the last count, you'd be hard pressed to find someone who hasn't spent a few minutes of their lives bouncing the big-nosed alien up an endless array of platforms.
Yes, it's mindless enough to provoke an existential crisis if you spend too long gently tilting your device left and right in the name of high-score-chasing obsession, but there's something sweetly satisfying about hitting a spring or strapping on a jetpack and soaring into the unknown.
The higher you go, the greater the chance of spiralling into the abyss. If there's not a tricky assortment of collapsable platforms lying in wait, there'll be black holes or monsters ready to knock you down a peg or two. You can shoot the buggers, of course, but trying to aim and balance at the same time is enough to make a grown man cry into his touch screen.
As you'd expect, WP7 hardware doesn't even break a sweat at this doodly nonsense, but that hasn't stopped Lima Sky from neglecting to include the online multiplayer mode. It's hardly a deal breaker, but it's still a bit mean-spirited. Maybe extra features will be added in an update, but don't bank on it.