It's the nearing the middle of summer, there are no games out, there's no football on. What the hell are you going to do? Sample the latest in the world of downloadable games, that's what.
On an average week, you're usually weighing up whether to bother throwing a few pennies at the latest indie suggestion or a few more quid at something a little more meaty. You can definitely do that this week, too, with the likes of Half Minute Hero and Block the Laser standing on parade with their hands out.
But this week's most interesting title, Proun, doesn't expect you to pay anything. Instead, you can just pay what you want, in a move more readily associated with bands like Radiohead - but Joost van Dongen doesn't have a lengthy career and the world's press watching his every move. He just has an exceptionally pretty racing game, a truckload of talent and the hope that people like you will spread the word. Maybe he'll even make some money out of his work.
On that note: Games!
- PC - Pay what you want.
You might have endured the 'are games art?' discussion once or twice. I try to avoid it unless I'm feeling particularly combative (usually during the fourth Guinness), but now then it's fun for sport.
But when you're dealing with indie labour-of-love Proun, it literally is art. Or, more specifically, a game wrapped around art.
As the developer Joost van Dongen explains at length, Proun isn't trying to be the best racing game, or make as much money as possible, it exists purely because of a passion for the experimental art of the early 20th century.
It's a noble aim, sure, but the fact that it also happens to be extremely engaging while being one of the most visually arresting games you'll ever play is good fortune for all of us - especially as Dongen has adopted a Pay What You Want model.
There's a separate discussion to be had about the merits of that elsewhere, but purely in terms of what Proun is like to play, it's a wonderful collision of breathtaking artistic flair and simple racing mechanics.
Each 'race' takes place on a thin cable that winds around in a loop in three-dimensional space. Attached to it is, essentially, a sequence of abstract obstacles that you need to dodge in order to keep your speed up. Since there is no up or down, you can rotate your spherical craft around the cable.
As a spectacle, the way these obstacles sweep past you in formation as you slip past them is incredibly alluring. Dongen weaves together the rippling flow of the visuals so effectively that, the better you get at the game, the more it feels like you're not even playing it anymore.
Your role in the proceedings is as a visual conductor, commanding your own hypnosis, sucked into a maelstrom of motion quite unlike anything you've ever experienced.
Within all this, you're compelled to learn a route through the chaos and get 'better', if only to keep the flow fast and to reap the rewards of faster play. With success come even faster skill levels, and the chance to really prove your ability to keep pace, but well before then, Proun's work is done.
Scores feel entirely inadequate when it comes to rating a project like this, but if you feel like rewarding one man's six-year-long quest for creativity this week, Joost van Dongen's work truly deserves it.
Block the Laser
- Xbox Live Indie Games - 80 Microsoft Points (£0.68)
- Also available on iPhone/iPad (universal binary): £0.59
There really is no room for negotiation with a security laser. No reasoned discussion or protracted argument to get it to soften its stance. If you so much as waft past one, that's it. Foom. Ashes everywhere. Goodnight Vienna.
But harsh mistress that it is, it's not so deadly against walls and mirrors, or at least that's what John Paul D'India's fiendish maze-morphing puzzler would have you believe.
In each of the game's 50 stages, the goal is simple: get your little monocycle webcam robot thing safely to the exit. Getting there, mind you, not so much.
Viewed in good old 1980s-o-vision top-down perspective, you find yourself trapped in a seemingly futile situation, with deadly lasers blocking your path to salvation. But with diligent, logical use of pressure pads in the correct order, you can open and close doors or rotate turnstiles and, guess what? Block the laser.
In typical casual indie game style, it starts off all fluffy and accommodating before eventually shedding its mask of genial conviviality to reveal its cold robot heart.
Before you know it, you're dying the valiant death of the persistently curious and going through the trial-and-error routine until something eventually clicks. Of course, the better you get at the game, the more evil and elaborate the level design becomes, with more pressure pads, turnstiles and mirrors to arrange before you can slip in through the out door.
How many tears must be shed before the lasers are vanquished? A lot. Bring tissues. And 68p.
Half-Minute Hero: Super Mega Neo Climax
- Xbox Live Arcade - 800 Microsoft Points (£6.80).
When Half-Minute Hero came out on PSP a couple of years back, Simon loved it so much he went to the trouble of importing it before smearing it vigorously with 8/10 man love.
If that sordid image is burning a hole in your face, it's nothing compared to the task of repeatedly saving the world from a series of apocalyptic megalomaniacs.
Rather than simply destroy the world and get on with it, they elect to warn you first and give you 30 seconds to fight through their minion hordes, get to their hideout and lay the smack down.
It's not quite as simple as that, but almost. In your favour, you benefit from the helping hand of a Time Goddess, who can reset the ever-ticking clock in return for cold, hard cash. With a modicum of level grinding and cash accumulation from your random battles, you'll quickly be ready to take down the buffoon behind the world-ending shenanigans.
But no sooner have you squished one nefarious idiot, another one appears in the vicinity, and the whole sorry escapade repeats itself - only with progressively tougher enemies and various obstacles to overcome.
As you go along, you'll often require the assistance of mercenaries, who'll join your fight if you go off and collect an object first. Of course, with time against you, your adventures become a perpetual Benny Hill chase sequence, only without the 1970s lechery.
Anyone who played the original will know that this all sounds exactly the same. So what's changed? Basically, Opus Studio took the opportunity to completely revamp the visuals in a gorgeous new style (purists can opt for the original 8-bit style, if they wish), as well as rework the Evil Lord 30, Princess 30 and Knight 30 modes that subsequently unlock after you've battled through Hero 30.
All told, you're getting an absurd amount of content for your 800 Points, but such is the incessant repetition at the core, you may question whether you really need it. If the answer is yes, then this is unquestionably an instant purchase, but over the long haul its infectious opening gambit doesn't quite sustain.
- Xbox Live Arcade - 800 Microsoft Points (£6.80).
When the zombie apocalypse comes, I'm going to be absolutely no use to anyone. I'll be too busy trying to safeguard my record collection and rare C64 floppy disks to bother dismantling furniture and setting up elaborate traps.
It's probably this tendency to get distracted by the detail that makes me so hapless at zombie smashers like Dead Block.
Ideally, you're supposed to diligently board up doors and windows, lay slabs of meat on electrical heaters and find enough loose change to pump into nearby jukeboxes. Yes, because the inherent power of early rock'n'roll has the ability to make the undead spontaneously jive around your dining room. Something to keep in mind.
So in the self-consciously wacky world of Dead Block, you spend most of your time studiously breaking home furniture into bits, and the rest setting up makeshift traps and rifling through assorted junk in the hope of finding the objects that will eventually enable you plug in your guitar and rock these zombies to death.
With just a smidgen more subtlety it might have worked, but the cod 1950s B-movie horror shtick is rammed home in CAPITAL LETTERS and SHOUTY VOICES at EVERY OPPORTUNITY to the point where you just want to tell Digital Reality to just PLEASE SHUT UP.
It doesn't help that game seems incapable of making the basics fun. So much of your time is spent tediously smashing things up and searching for objects that you'd at least hope that decking the undead might be enjoyable, but no. The flimsy combat compounds the issue, and far from providing the amusing romp intended, it just flails along like a windmilling child.
If the core actually worked, split-screen multiplayer might have been a riot, but it's unlikely too many of your buddies are going to be drawn into a poor man's Call of Duty Zombies.
Kirby's Dream Land
- 3DS eShop - £3.40/€3.99/$3.99
It's probably tantamount to heresy around these parts to admit that you prefer the Kirby games to the Mario ones, but there. I've said it. Bite me.
Having recently wallowed in the quilty salubriousness of Kirby's Epic Yarn, going back to the source of this pinky wonderland could have been a sullen reminder of the days before colour was considered a basic requirement for handheld gaming.
But the great thing about the best Game Boy titles is that such trifling matters cease to be important the moment you start playing.
Like Super Mario Land, Donkey Kong and Link's Awakening, Kirby's Dream Land (re)opens your eyes to what a capable little system Nintendo's humble machine really was. More specifically, it neatly illustrates how important HAL Laboratory was to Nintendo.
That said, despite Kirby's Dream Land being a great little game with adorable sprites and tight, inventive mechanics, it's just that: little. Just five stages are present, making it the kind of game you'll rip through in a matter of an hour without breaking sweat. Sure, there are multiple routes to explore and bonuses to discover, but that's clutching at straws.
And with that in mind, the dreaded issue of price rears its ugly head. While the likes of Donkey Kong and Zelda more than justify the asking price, this is little more than a demo by comparison. You'll enjoy it while it lasts, but for £3.40, Nintendo can dream on.