It's always the way. The minute you dare to write something off in the download world, up pop a bunch of quality titles to make you look like a babbling buffoon.
After months in the wilderness (partly due to those nice hacker fellows), the seemingly irrelevant PSN Minis selection returned with a whole bunch of free titles to lure people into getting a PS Plus subscription.
On the evidence of the likes of the gorgeous Dr Maybee and the Adventures of Scarygirl and the unexpectedly enjoyable Me Monstar Hear Me Roar, it's worth every penny. Without wanting to pimp Sony's service too hard, the amount of free content and price reductions it offers every month is pretty generous - and something that definitely provides a serious incentive to pay for if you're into the downloadable scene.
- PC/Mac - Pay What You Want
Abstract Pay What You Want art fun seems to be all the rage in PC land this month. Given the absence of a summer to call our own, we should probably take sunshine in whatever form it manifests in.
No such problems for Milan-based artniks Santa Ragione. More likely, they hid from the sun for months at a time to remain cool enough to elegantly splice the genes of Rez and Canabalt for our amusement.
Using a first-person camera, the goal is to run and jump to the end of an obstacle course while trying to gather up pink blobs for extra points. Needless to say, it's never quite as straightforward as it looks, as you power down narrow planks like Usain Bolt trapped in a feverish Tron daydream.
With no need to steer your runner, your focus is entirely based on building up speed and timing your jumps with metronomic precision. Sprint fast enough, and you'll enter the strangely unsettling gold zone, where claustrophobic underwater breathing noises drown out the thumping electronica and the sharp vectors dissolve into an ugly smear.
Although it feels a bit of a one-trick pony to begin with, the existence of online leaderboards and personal pride ensures that chasing the perfect score run takes over common sense. And even when you've had enough sprint-jump score-chasing over the five courses, the endless run ensures that there's always something left to shoot for.
All of which suggests that not paying for Fotonica would not only be alarmingly mean-spirited, but the gaming equivalent of self-harm.
Dr Maybee and the Adventures of Scarygirl
- PSN Minis - £3.49/€3.99, free to PS Plus subscribers until 2nd August.
Scarygirl's not scary, she's just misunderstood. Like the shoegazing Goth you secretly fancied in sixth form, she usually warms up after the third Strongbow.
By that stage, she's bold enough to tell you about the mysterious, bearded gentleman haunting her dreams. Maybe it's exposure to The Eels. Maybe it's Harold Shipman. Whoever it is, it's up to you to guide this part-Octopus girl (hey, we've all got our issues) to Dr Maybee via the magic of beautifully illustrated platform gaming.
No yawning at the back. This is the first game in a while to make the misery of recharging and system-updating the never-ready PSP seem worth the nerve-shredding aggravation. (Or you could just play it on the PS3).
Based on the surreal Nathan Jurevicius graphic novels of the same name (which I'm embarrassed to admit I've never heard of), the game's wonderfully lavish visual style is undoubtedly its best trick. Like so many of the pretty things that light up our lives, it's mainly a means of distracting us from the unpleasant truth that there's nothing especially interesting going on underneath.
That doesn't mean that Dr Maybee and the Adventures of Scarygirl is a vapid exercise in simplistic kleptomania, but nor is it bursting at the seams with life-affirming innovation.
But that's OK. Sometimes it's just fine to bounce and swim through a strange and beautiful game world in search of random tat while avoiding the spiky things. Especially when it's free to PlayStation Plus subscribers. Suddenly that makes everything ok.
Tobe's Vertical Adventure
- PC Steam / Xbox Live Indie Games - £3.14 (currently 10 per cent off).
In my book of completely made-up facts, four-fifths of all download games involve jumping, and 23 per cent of all decent Xbox Live Indie Games are later released on Steam.
And with perfect synchronicity comes Secret Base's long-overdue PC port of its one-time Xbox Indie starlet. Released in the months leading up to our regular roundups, we overlooked this loving homage to old-school platforming and feel compelled to make up for this appalling lapse in judgement.
Like any retro platformer worth its salt it's all about the quality of the controls and level design - and disproportionately large-headed characters. Tobe's Vertical Adventure succeeds admirably on all fronts, with even the well-worn treasure-hunting vibe unable to derail the fun.
Throughout the 16 levels you painstakingly make your way down through trap-laden caverns, rescuing fluffy animals in search of the big treasure chest. But the second you find the treasure, the cavern starts to collapse around you, requiring a hasty retreat back to the entrance before you end up buried alive.
It's a simple formula, but one with enough charm and character of its own to warrant slapping down a few quid - if only for the chance to play it in co-op with a future lover. But like so many incompatible love interests down the years, your enjoyment on PC is blighted by slightly iffy joypad support and unintuitive button mapping - something the developer could fix in about five minutes if it didn't hate your face so much.
Failing that, just go forth and check out the Xbox version, grow your hair, put on Screamadelica, and wear some baggy clothes and the beatific smile of carefree youth.
Me Monstar Hear Me Roar
- PSN Minis - £3.99/€4.99, free to PS Plus subscribers until 2nd August.
Eat. Grow. Win. It's a mindset that a growing portion of our Super Size Me society appears to be entirely comfortable with, and it's the gluttonous conceit behind Cohort Studio's eat-'em-up.
On each level, you begin as a slight blue-skinned beast on a mission to become big enough to consume everyone around you. Doing so involves a mixture of canny melee moves and a continually scooping up all the 'dreams' that float around the environment.
On a basic level, the more you eat, the bigger you get. But while bigger monsters lumber around, you have to continually boost and barge your way around, shout to stun, and lay into them with your punch attack whenever the opportunity presents itself.
What the game lacks in subtlety, it makes up for with brash energy, slick production values and surprisingly moreish mechanics.
Working your way up the food chain involves a fair bit of button mashing, sure, but once you gain access to the chargeable attacks and nauseating power-ups (such as the self-explanatory chunder cheese and the flame fart attack of Napalm Chilli), an unexpected layer of strategy makes it more entertaining than seemed possible early on.
As a freebie to PlayStation Plus subscribers, Me Monstar Hear Me Roar is a cackling feast of projectile-vomiting silliness to while away an hour on, but you might balk at having to actually pay for it. Man. When did we all get so tight?
- PSN - $9.99. EU release date: August 10th, price TBC.
- NES version available via Wii Virtual Console.
Despite being aged 138 and serving in both World Wars, Spelunker is one of the few platforming hits of the past to have completely passed me by.
Massive oversight or lucky escape? Coming at it without 20-20 hindsight, it's hard to say with any certainty, but one thing's for sure: Tim Martin's fondly remembered platformer has aged with all the grace of a horny, crack-addled pensioner.
Experienced 28 years after its release, Spelunker is saddled with some of the most spiteful, antagonistic mechanics in the long, glorious history of platform gaming. While Bounty Bob and Donkey Kong still feel a joy to play today, this feels like a relic best forgotten.
Death is literally everywhere, with every tiny infraction resulting in petty, unnecessary punishment - and progress requires a steely commitment bordering on the obsessive.
Contempt for the player spews forth from the opening seconds, with unforgiving jump mechanics designed to turn perfectly innocuous-looking leaps into death traps.
Even with the new 'Rope Assist' switched on (an option you can employ to negate one of the more hateful causes of death), you'll still contrive ways to be caught in the splash damage from a bomb, or fall into a pit, or catch falling debris from passing bats, and so on. Even the scrolling system appears designed to irk.
I'd say you get used to it, but only in as much that a torture victim gets used to being electrocuted in the testicles after a few hours. You will make progress. Eventually. But at what cost? How important is that full head of hair to you?
And the less said about Irem's regrettable HD 'makeover' the better. With all the artistic panache of the my-first-game detritus that washes up on the Xbox Live Indie channel on a daily basis, it's actually a pleasant relief that you can switch it all off and play it in NES-style block-o-vision. Strangely, it also feels slightly more playable in its pixelart form, not to mention an order of magnitude more charming.
If, by some weird quirk, you're masochistic enough to actually enjoy unremitting punishment, then there's cause for celebration, with 100 levels, four player local co-op and six player online play to tuck into. You certainly can't fault it for content or additional features.
I realise that, for some, criticising an old 'classic' is tantamount to sacrilege, but no game should ever be beyond reproach. Regardless of how great it was considered back then, Spelunker HD is the kind of shoddy remake best ignored. The download scene is hardly short of platforming fun, now is it?