There's so much depressing gaming news at the moment you'd think the entire market was collapsing. If it's not a developer going bust, it's another year-on-year decline in the retail sector, or deepening losses leading to redundancies. It's pretty grim reading.
The problem is, we're only hearing part of the story. So much of the good news goes unreported - partly because the big data gatherers have yet to find ways to catch up with how much things have changed.
If a new indie studio is busy selling hundreds of thousands of copies of their latest mobile game, the chances are we won't hear about it, and it's the same non-story whether you're talking about PSN, WiiWare, Xbox Live, Steam or the App Store. That's partly because most people are very protective of their figures - especially the organisations in charge of running the stores.
But at a time when certain sectors are growing beyond belief, this smokescreen is incredibly unwelcome and most likely masks a lot of the good news about the true picture of gaming spend.
Hearing that fewer people are buying games in shops is hardly news. The market is evolving at a breakneck pace, and the fatigue of the current generation of consoles is there for all to see. But outside of that old world, the picture appears to be very different. It would be nice if we could call upon some accurate data to back that up.
- PSN Minis: Free to PlayStation Plus subscribers.
As someone who has to play about three zombie-related games per week, you'll forgive me for tutting and sighing like a stroppy teenager when another one lands on my desk.
Mowing down countless shambling zombies is one thing - but setting off chain reactions of exploding zombies is possibly one of the best ideas ever.
All you need to know is that "for cool and unimportant reasons", Redfield City's army of the undead literally explode when shot. Under normal circumstances, this would make clearing the streets of drooling beings rather simple, but this is video gaming we're talking about. Since when is anything straightforward?
With all but one of your team having been wiped out, you arrive at the epicentre of the outbreak inexplicably short of ammunition. What this means, soldier, is that you have three bullets to deal with the undead horde, and have to set off chain reactions to rid the streets of this menace.
If you've ever played old-school iOS charmer Sneezies, Laughing Jackal's latest works in a similar fashion; the splash damage of the explosion causes those in the vicinity to also explode. But not all zombies are created equal, and some have more explosive energy, while others loose off a few rounds of their firearm in their death throes.
The upshot of a good performance is money, and once you've got enough of the stuff you can set about buying upgrades that, for example, give you more bullets or inflict more damage. Others, meanwhile, grant you more explosive zombies, or increase the radius of their acidic ooze, which generally makes it easier to make a big bloody mess.
All of this adds up to a monstrously addictive quick-fire affair that utterly nails what on-the-go handheld gaming should be about.
- Xbox Live Indie - 240 Microsoft Points (£2.04)
Among the many spirit-crushing jobs that punctuated extended periods of unemployment in the early 1990s, I worked in a rural chicken factory. Some might claim that it was character-building, but no, manning that conveyor belt made furniture delivery seem like rock stardom.
On the plus side, it may have inadvertently prepared me for Mike Enoch's (the code lead on Crackdown 2, dontchaknow) brain-breaking multi-tasking conveyor puzzler, where getting products from A to B to C and back to A keeps an egomaniac supervisor happy.
Rather like iOS gem Trainyard Express, much of it is about laying pieces of the puzzle in the appropriate orientation, but Production Panic takes it one step further by requiring you to continually fiddle around with the arrangement in order to get the job done.
Early on you might find yourself trying to direct sponge bases through an icing machine, or directing planks of wood to their appropriate carving destination before they get made into chairs. But with some of the conveyor belt parts missing, you have to use your initiative, constantly borrow from Peter to pay Paul and hastily swap and rotate sections around to make sure everything ends up where it's supposed to.
On other occasions it's all about forethought and wild multitasking, as items pour out from all directions to be redirected, coloured, then teleported to the other side and back again.
It's panic-inducing, alright, and pretty stressful too. But although it can feel a little overwhelming at times, once you get into its hectic rhythm there's perverse pleasure to be had from the punishment.
- PC Steam - £7.99.
Having just vigorously defended a developer's right to celebrate the undead's potential for gaming goodness, I'm now going to revert to type. Sorry.
But let me start off by saying that Dead Horde isn't that bad. It's a perfectly competent twin-stick zombie blaster, in fact. It ticks all the boxes with its moody, detailed isometric environments, co-op play (both online and local), vehicle sections and ever-evolving band of mutant freaks to battle against.
That's just the issue. It's competent. Solid. Inoffensive. Somewhere down the line, DnS Development got mired in the details and neglected to inject the spark necessary to make the run-and-gun fun.
For as long as your boredom threshold can take it, the game essentially involves trudging along, wiping out one gaggle of undead after another. Over the short term, this creeping dread for what's to come serves it well, and you look forward to upgrading your crappy assault rifle or maybe buying that buzzsaw.
The problem is that the sense of overfamiliarity washes over you too soon, and the game trundles along in a rut of its own making.
New, more challenging creatures enter the fray to keep you on your toes, but you're still largely just mowing down hundreds of samey enemies in the hope that it goes somewhere.
And to add the final insult, if you quit playing before you've finished the chapter, you can forget about picking up from where you left off. It's back to the start for you, sonny. This might not be so much of an issue if the levels were short and sharp. But this, along with some suspect checkpointing, quickly makes you wonder why you're not doing something more fun with your life.
Portable Shrine Wars
- DSiWare - 200 DSiWare points (£1.80)
It's nice to include wilful nonsense like Portable Shrine Wars now and then. Not because it's necessarily any good (it isn't), but because it's fun to wonder out loud how on earth things like this ever get off the drawing board.
As part of GameBridge's never-ending, barmily experimental GO Series, Tom Create's cheerful effort focuses on the Japanese summer festival tradition where dozens of people carry a huge portable shrine on their shoulders called a 'Mikoshi'.
To take the bizarre practice one step further into the surreal, Portable Shrine Wars pits you against teams of Mikoshi carriers in a race that has more than a shade of It's A Knockout to it.
For the initial part of the race, you guide your Mikoshi up the screen trying to build up speed, and doing so involves running into any stray carriers that may have been barged off their respective Mikoshi. The more carriers you have, the faster you'll go.
And as if barging a gaggle of opponents around the place wasn't chaotic enough, you can leap high into the air and try to flatten them instead, or elect to launch your carriers like missiles to smash up anyone in front of you.
As well as having to leap across bottomless pits, you also have to take care of giant festival bosses by repeatedly stomping on them. Obviously.
But despite its hugely endearing premise, the dizzying, chaotic novelty soon turns into a muddled scrimmage where success tends to be measured as much in luck as in skill. If you've got two quid to burn, pick it up and laugh for five minutes - otherwise, just watch the trailer. It does much the same job.
- 3DS - £3.60
Everyone should have a copy of Picross in their life, even if it's a monochrome relic from a time before the internet came along and fried our fragile minds with unending filth.
When Nintendo revived Picross for the DS in the noughties, we loved it pretty much to death, and got all excited about Slitherlink at the same time. But the problem with such patient, probing puzzlers is that it's hard to make such graphically bereft titles look or sound sexy.
Assuming you've never been treated to its all-consuming brilliance, the idea is to reveal a picture hidden beneath a grid. Along the top and down the side of the grid are lists of numbers that tell you how many of the squares need to be coloured in, and from a process of elimination you can gradually fill each one in.
To add a game element, a secondary 'goal' is to solve each puzzle in the quickest possible time. A clock ticks down from 30 minutes, and for every mistake you make, you're docked a couple of minutes. That's Picross in a nutshell.
Unlike some games you could mention, Mario's Picross doesn't exactly suffer in the light of technological advancements over the intervening years. If anything, developer Jupiter nailed it the first time - and the only thing that's aged is the person playing it.