Version tested: iPhone
Normally, if things go up by up in price by a large percentage, you expect a public outpouring of rage - but when it comes to the UK App Store, you'd have to say we had it coming.
Without warning, midway through last week, UK App Store prices rocketed, with the traditional 59p entry-level charge suddenly 69p and the £1.19 price point now £1.49. The further up the scale, the bigger the jump, with £3.99 titles (like our game of the week, Ticket To Ride) suddenly priced at £4.99.
Why? Because of those dreaded currency fluctuations, and Apple's periodic desire to bring territories in line. Australia and Switzerland, for example, found their prices actually drop.
For the avid iOS hound in the UK, it's a bit of a drag, but in real terms, we're still doing pretty well out of the current pricing arrangement. Go back a couple of years, and it was tough to find any apps priced anywhere near as competitively as they are now. To put it in perspective, you'd have to buy ten 69p apps to be a quid out of pocket - hardly something to cry over. Let's just hope most of this extra cash is going to end up going to the developer...
In my favoured rose-tinted parallel universe, where the PlayStation went the way of the 3DO and Commodore wasn't run into the ground, Blobster would have been signed up by Team 17 and shot straight to the top of the charts.
As the spiritual successor to the beloved Superfrog, it would have showcased the next generation Amiga and given the world a new platforming icon: a flubbery fellow, a giant among the gelatinous.
In Blobtopia, the vibrant world is threatened by pollution, and the only solution is to stretch, flick and tilt the amorphous Blobster around a series of hazard-strewn, gem-rich platform environments.
You know the deal. Grab the collectibles, stomp on the heads of the baddies, grab the keys and head for the exit. It's a formula almost as old as gaming, but Divine Robot rescues it from tired irrelevance through taut level design, precise but versatile controls and a deceptive, satisfying learning curve.
Just when you think you've got the measure of it, Blobster has a knack of upping the ante with fiendish levels and a consistent drip feed of surprises that keeps you coming back for more. Online leaderboards tempt you back to improve level performance, while the unlockable Survival mode throws you into a procedurally generated environment where it's a perennial battle to stay airborne - and alive.
Behind its playful charm is a platformer of rare quality. Blobster combines the best of what we love about retro platformers, but with modern refinements, and then has the cheek to charge next to nothing for it.
Ticket To Ride
- iPad - £4.99
- New boards in-app: £0.69-£2.49
If it wasn't necessary to lose almost a third of the day to the seductive mistress of sleep, it would be nice to spend more time seeking out quality board games.
It's a regrettable hole in my nerd arsenal, I admit. But until medical science makes it possible to stay awake all day without the bothersome hallucinations, panic attacks and paranoia, superb competitive multiplayer nonsense like Ticket To Ride will most likely remain tantalisingly out of reach.
Or will it? Days Of Wonder has the answer, via an excellent and intuitive interpretation of the (apparently) best-selling strategy board game.
If, like me, you've never played the source inspiration, it's all about rail routes, and your ability to grind your opponents into the dust by building more than them.
Each player kicks off the game with route cards, and it's your goal to unite destinations by using your resources wisely around the map. Each turn, you can decide whether to gather more resources (essentially colour-coded cards) or build, or swap your route cards for potentially more favourable options.
Once you've accumulated enough cards of the required colour, you can begin to take control of that specific part of the rail network - and potentially block your opponent in the process. And so it continues until one player has whittled down their resources.
Deciding the winner isn't merely a case of who built most, but how many unfinished projects you have on the go - so it's often wise not to get overly ambitious. But that's easier said than done in this cutthroat affair.
With its attractive maps and quick-fire premise, matches don't outstay their welcome, either, which makes Ticket To Ride a viable prospect for online play. Predictably, the online community is thriving as a result, with busy, friendly lobbies and a slick, hassle-free set-up process.
Even if you're not a hardened follower of the board game scene, Ticket To Ride stands out as a great turn-based strategy game in its own right, and right up their with the mighty Carcassonne as one of the finest examples on the iPad to date.
- Android - £3 on Gameloft Android Store, £3.99 on Google Android Market Place
- Also available on iPhone and iPad - £4.99 (Universal binary).
To tell you about 9MM, I'd need to break out my best Movie Man voice. I'd fix a neat single malt, stare into the middle distance and ruefully observe that most Southsiders never cross Lynwood.
It's a place where people go and and don't expect to come back - but detective John Kannon crosses it every day. Some might call him a loose Kannon, but that's probably about as far as anyone could carry off the Marlboro man act before it all collapses into ignominy.
Unsurprisingly, it's also about as much as most tolerant gamers will be able to take from Gameloft's latest gangster shooter before the bile rises. If you've previously been beaten around the face and neck by its hilariously terrible Gangstar games, you'll no doubt know what to expect in terms of sophistication - but 9MM does at least avoid the GTA lite formula this time.
Despite coming across like a dog-eared San Andreas with an irony bypass, 9MM has you diving gracelessly into drug dens, Max Payne style, to take down a gaggle of terribly voice-acted perps.
Sometimes you're also forced to engage in bizarre interrogation sequences, where tapping the green words when they flash up makes them crumble at your all-tapping might. You also get to show off your expert quick-time-event abilities, reaching their zenith when you punch two pitbulls in the throat in quick succession.
If someone created a game specifically to create an internet meme, they'd probably end up with 9MM. But in a world that's become one enormous self-aware festival of irony, maybe the joke is on us after all.
- iPhone/iPad: £1.49 (Universal binary). Free trial available.
Klaxons usually go off the moment developer proclaims that its "immersive interactive experience" is "not a game".
You could get away with this kind of guff in 1994 when we were all thrilled just to have justification for the £180 we'd shelled out for a CD-ROM add-on. Walking around a 3D tech demo was interactive! And immersive!
Trying to pull the same trick in 2011 is going to be an uphill battle, unless you've got both a beautiful environment to explore and genuine narrative intrigue to make it worth trudging around.
The problem is, Speedbump only gets halfway there on both counts. The story of a man caught between life and death offers tantalising possibilities, but you spend almost all of your time just wandering around in search of the next prescribed object to move the story along.
If you visit a location too soon, you'll not be 'allowed' to pick up the object, and right from the start you get used to continually walking around the rural locale until something eventually clicks.
Payback comes in the form of diary fragments which shed light on the mystery of your predicament, but do little to mitigate the growing boredom of wandering around locations you've scoped out multiple times. Aside from that, the Unreal Engine-powered visuals are only ever serviceable. Epic Citadel this is not.
That said, if you're an old-school adventurer, the free trial mighty well put you in the mood for some stress-free mysterious limbo dancing.
Beards & Beaks
- Windows Phone 7 - £2.49. Free trial available.
- Extra level packs at 80 Microsoft Points each (£0.68)
It has been slim pickings for new - and more importantly original - Windows Phone 7 games for some months now, so there's an air of fevered expectancy surrounding the arrival of this gnome-flicking turf war oddity.
Crows are straying onto the gnomes' once tranquil patch, so the crackpot story goes, so what better than to send your team of gnomes to speak the language of physical violence?
It's pathetically easy at first, with the goal seemingly extending to little more than gathering up gems and smashing up any crows who dare to stray into view.
But, sure enough, things start heating up - your gnomes find themselves put out of commission by the respawning avian horde, and soon you're having to bring in the rock-lobbing heavy artillery and rechargeable attacks, and employing, ulp, a degree of strategy.
While this patient, probing real-time strategy formula never feels likely to provide WP7 users with something to lord over their rival handset owners, there's enough of a creative spark here to warrant further investigation.