Version tested: Mobile
It would probably get boring for you lot if every week was filled with top-rated games. In fact, I know that a lot of you kind of glaze over at some of the scores, and some outright moan that mobile games get routinely over-rated ("9/10? Better than Halo? ROFL")
Like any platform, it's important to judge mobile games in context. An inventive 9/10 puzzle game costing 59p can never be the same as a 9/10 epic action game on a home console. But nor would you necessarily want it to be.
Trying to somehow read something definitive into what a score 'means' is, a slippery subject, and yet we all debate them endlessly. But at the same time, as long as you're always dealing with like-for-like comparisons, you're on safer ground.
Does that mean that mobile games can never be considered as good as their bigger brothers? No, of course not, but if a ratings system can be flexible enough to take into account all genres, then it should have no problem being understood across the full spectrum of platforms as well.
And on that note: new games!
Puzzle Agent 2 HD
- iPad £3.99.
- Also available on PC & Mac.
Along with Francis Yorke Morgan, Nelson Tethers is one of the only videogaming characters I'd invite round for dinner - if only to exchange thoughts on where Twin Peaks went wrong during the second season.
But much like David Lynch's masterpiece, this is another second helping tinged with disappointment. Having delivered a puzzle adventure of rare fractured genius a year ago, this second helping does what so many Telltale offerings do, and offers essentially more of the same - only not quite as impressive.
Although the narrative retains its resolutely sinister sharpness and the lo-fi cartoon style still captivates, the freshness is lost through the recycling of characters and locations. But it's the game's challenges that provide the greatest source of disappointment.
If the puzzles aren't trying to probe into long-forgotten mathematical prowess, then they're probably tasking you with rearranging maze sections. Worse still, some of the game's least enjoyable ideas get recycled multiple times, as if their mediocrity wasn't enough the first time around.
When matters become so obscure that you're forced to resort to hints, it's definitely not a hallmark of good puzzle design that you may still be at a loss by the third (and final) hint.
And if you're looking to play the game on iPad 1, be warned that the game is appallingly optimised, with horrific slowdown, stuttering audio and a lack of responsiveness from certain sections of the game.
If you thought Telltale had learned its lessons from the Sam & Max Episode 1 debacle a year ago (where no further episodes were issued, so creaky was the conversion), then you're out of luck. iPad 2 owners have no such issues, but then again, this really isn't the sort of graphically intensive game that should stress original models.
Despite some truly awful sections to put up with, enough of the old magic remains to make it worth sticking with if you loved the original. The real puzzle is how Telltale let it out of the door in this state.
- iPhone/iPad Free. (Universal binary). In-game currency available in-app from £0.59.
The flavour of the month is a curious phenomenon in the mobile gaming world, where titles can become overnight sensations for reasons that defy rational thought. The latest? Tiny Tower.
Apart from the delightful pixelart visual style, there's nothing particularly enjoyable or interesting about Nimblebit's 'freemium' effort. You build a tower, floor by floor, with the 'goal' simply to see how high you can build.
Doing so involves creating apartments and new businesses on each floor, and then employing the residents to staff said enterprises. From there, you have to try and earn money by stocking products, and habitually keep an eye on stock levels.
But it's here where the game turns into a curiously addictive little terror. Despite the fact that you spend most of your time restocking, endlessly ferrying people up in the elevator, and making sure that each 'Bitizen' is employed in their appropriate field, you can literally lose hours to the stupid game. After a while, you feel a bit like a monkey pressing a sequence of buttons for the next chocolate drop.
And yet you come back for more, and dutifully build new floors, open new businesses, continually restock each floor, and repeat the brainless process so that you can ultimately....build even more floors. There is no real payback, just a dose of Billy Idol. More more more.
Relatively quickly, your ambitions tend to literally hit a ceiling, and that's where the sneaky freemium model comes in.
Although you can theoretically keep playing for free until the end of time, by the time you're hooked, you're likely to want to invest 'Tower Bux' in speeding up the restocking and building process. If you don't, it takes several real-time hours to achieve anything worthwhile - during which time your stocks will run down if you've switched the game off to go and do something more interesting.
You could just short-cut the process and buy 100 Tower Bux for £2.99, but even that won't get you far enough into the game to make it worthwhile. If a non-crippled paid for version of the game existed, Tiny Tower would be a delightful, brain-optional timesink - but as it is, it reminds me of all the reasons I despise micro transactions and the gurning apocalyptic horse they rode in on.
Continuity 2: The Continuation
- iTunes/iPad £0.59. (Universal binary).
Unless your name's Stuart Campbell, it's not really possible to know about every game that ever existed. Sometimes it's nice to be a Johnny-Come-Lately and stumble across a sequel to something you never knew existed. Like Continuity 2.
Awarded the Best Student Game at the Independent Games Festival last year, six million plays later, Ragtime did the decent thing and turned its intriguing puzzle platformer into something altogether more tactile and lovely.
Now, as then, the idea is to guide a little stickman to an exit. Each level is arranged as a series of tiles, and fashioning an exit involves sliding each tile into the correct place to, for example, allow you to access a key.
Eventually you'll need to similarly figure out a route to a door, and ensure you don't fall prey to one of the hazards in the process. And so it goes on, for 50 levels of progressively tricky platforming.
The one fly in the ointment is the slightly iffy controls. While Continuity 2's central puzzle conceit is a truly brilliant idea, there are times when the swipe-to-jump controls aren't quite as precise as they could be, but it's a problem you'll most likely adapt to pretty quickly.
The iOS is hardly short of inventive platformers, but this one certainly ranks as one of the freshest and most engaging to emerge for some time.
BONUS ROUND: Out Now on Windows Phone 7
You could have counted the number of genuinely new Live-enabled Windows Phone 7 on the fingers of one withered hand these past few months. But while it's arguably not worth forensically reviewing certain well-known titles for the third time of asking, that doesn't mean we shouldn't bring them to your attention anyway - so here's a quick 'bonus round' of the latest offerings that you should check out.
Top of the list is undoubtedly PopCap's genius tower defence classic Plants vs. Zombies. It might be more than double the price of the iOS version, but when you're getting 50 levels, 20 mini games and four game modes for your money, it feels wrong to moan about having to pay £3.99 for one of the best games of the past few years. 9/10
The only surprise about the arrival of Angry Birds is that it took so long. Less surprising is that it's a pixel perfect port, is still horribly addictive bird-flinging nonsense, and comes with those lovely Xbox achievement points for four times the current price on iPhone. But you knew that. 7/10
Once upon a time, the mere idea of Sonic The Hedgehog 4 being available on mobile phones would have blown our tiny minds, but the spiky blue one's recent arrival on WP7 passed without comment. Again, it's a perfectly serviceable port, but playing Sonic on a mobile has always felt like nailing jelly to a wall to me. But if you like the sound of that, it can be yours for a mere £5.49, but the free trial should be enough to let you know whether it's for you. 6/10
As Radio One DJs used to say in the 1980s, it's an oldie, but a goodie. Critical Thought's geoDefense predated our roundups by a good couple of years, so there's a very good reason why it's being ported to WP7 three years on from its original iOS release. Although the idea of yet another Tower Defence variant might not quicken the pulse, this Geometry Wars-styled take on the genre is easily one of the best around. Don't believe me? Then try out the numerous free trial levels, and slap down your £2.49 soon afterwards. 9/10
And if you're really determined to spend your spare cash, then far be it for me to stop you from shelling out £2.49 apiece for seminal Atari arcade classics Lunar Lander and Asteroids Deluxe. But what passed for wild-eyed white-knuckle excitement in 1979 doesn't necessarily translate into compelling mobile entertainment 32 years later. Download the free trials, sigh wistfully with nostalgia, then move swiftly on. Both 4/10