Version tested: iPhone
One of the more insane conversations I've had recently was with someone who was predicting the "brutal" crash of the mobile gaming industry in about two years.
At the time I was having one of those deliberately non-argumentative nights where I just let people spout whatever nonsense they like at me, on the assumption that if I just smile and nod, we'll quickly move onto another subject.
In my more combative (on deadline) mood, I'd probably be keen to explore whether that's even possible. Are we in some sort of crazy bubble of novelty right now? Are people going to reach saturation point and just stop buying apps en masse?
I'd like to think that the relentlessly tempting pricing model and the ever-increasing capabilities of newer handsets will keep that at bay. Also, as more of the 'big boys' join the mobile scene, the better the quality of the games will be, and the more attractive these titles will become to the current set of unbelievers.
Personally, the only direction I can see the graph going in terms of mobile gaming sales is up. Sure, people will drop out through App Fatigue now and then, but you can bet they'll be back the minute something truly ground-breaking shows up...
Dream Track Nation
- iPhone/iPad £0.69. Universal binary.
I'm not sure how many hot dinners I've had in my life, but at this stage it must be neck-and-neck with the number of quirky racing games vying for your attention on the App Store.
PowPow Games must realise this, and to combat the inevitable heckling has made sure that Dream Track Racing's courses are barmier than a hot barm cake.
At first glance, you might equate its penchant for stunts and flips with a kind of DIY Trials, but fortunately there's rather more to it. Once you get into the meat of the game, you're sent on a dizzying whirl of loop-the-loop, where judicious use of tilt control is every bit as crucial to your course time as raw acceleration.
New tracks come and go in seconds as you blitz your way around attractive patchwork environments, but the quest for gold medals makes it the kind of game that you become unexpectedly intimate with.
As that relationship grows and as new, more elaborate constructions unlock, it becomes obvious why Apple was keen to flag Dream Track Racing up as its iPhone Game of the Week.
It's hardly lacking in content either, despite the impulse price, with 60 levels as well as Wi-Fi multiplayer, a track editor for the creatively minded and a soothing massage thrown in free of charge when you're done. Actually, I can't be sure about the last point, but I'm sure PowPow would oblige if you asked them nicely.
- iPhone - £0.69. In-app purchases from £0.69 for 10,000 coins to £34.99 for 1.5 million coins.
A video game featuring zombies you say? What are the chances? But wait! This time you're in the gunner seat of a heavily armed AC-130 ground attack aircraft, and we all know that death from above makes it all OK again.
Cynicism aside, Limbic's stylish shift in approach makes a substantial difference, and any indifference is swiftly swept away as you attempt to cut a swathe through the undead hordes from the air.
Similar to the one-off aerial attack levels you might have seen in Call Of Duty and Ghost Recon, the idea is to stop the zombies from breaching the bunker.
Allow so much as one shambling ghoul into the safe haven and you're kicked off the job. But the money you earn for all your kills and rescues can be put towards upgrading your arsenal - something you'll quickly realise is essential if you're going to save humanity from the zombie apocalypse.
With faster reload speed, a better damage spread and faster bullets, you can start to kill more efficiently, and therefore sweep around the map quicker with every passing turn. But with more powerful weapons comes a greater risk of inadvertently wiping out a fleeing human with splash damage - and if three innocents get killed, there's another excuse for the commander to kick you off the job.
But it gets worse for you the longer you survive, with giant lumbering beasts joining the throng, and huge crowds of undead to dispatch from all angles. Keeping your head above water for more than a few minutes at a time is always a tall order, but with its constant drip-feed of rewards to haul you back, it's the kind of game you can lose hours to without even noticing.
Weapons free. You are cleared to engage zombies.
- Xperia Play/Android £1.83.
- Also available on iPhone/iPad £1.99 Universal binary. Price going up 8th August.
- Free online demo.
It's enough to melt your stony heart. Gamer meets gamer. Gamers fall in love, decide to break out on their own and form their own development studio to make little game babies together.
And so here we have Fenix Fire's 'first born', a rather ebullient side-scrolling platformer that wants - more than anything - to put some sunshine back in your day.
Poor awkward teen robot boy Roboto finds himself on a quest to find his lost love, who has inconsiderately blasted off to another galaxy. Cue jump-filled kleptomania!
It's not terrifically original, sadly, but rather like Cordy (now available for free on iOS, people!), Roboto still catches the eye through its class and high-gloss execution.
Key to its effervescent charm is the quality level design combined with simple yet flexible controls, and a smooth learning curve to ensure players develop a deft mastery of the twitchy hover-jump mechanics. It also helps if you're a decent shot, too, with increasingly irksome sentries to neutralise en route.
By the time Roboto starts facing off against chunky boss monsters, this simple, unpretentious yomp starts to show its teeth a little and adds challenge to its cute cartoon sheen. Roboto could have strayed from the well-worn formula a little more than it does, but as a quick platforming snack between meals, this does just fine.
Sally's Salon: Luxury Edition
It's long been established that hair are your aerials. They pick up signals from the cosmos and transmit them directly into the brain. And yet people like Sally spend their entire waking lives perpetrating follicular vandalism and get paid for it.
Stranger still, government agents like Gamehouse create electronic simulations of this act, where willing participants wander in off the street to have their hair washed, coloured, cut and blow dried. The even have their eyebrows plucked. The indignity.
The better you perform this curious multitasking exercise, the more customers you get. And the busier it gets, the more plates you have to keep spinning, lest your client base storms out in disgust.
Keep on top of things, though, and you'll have more filthy lucre to spend on new washing units, magazine subscriptions, coffee makers and, eventually, assistants. Next stop: world domination and celebrity dandruff.
Sure enough, you'll build your chain into a world famous enterprise and get to snip the stars and ply them with magazines and coffee until your eyes bleed.
If Diner Dash, Cake Mania and their ilk are your grubby little gaming secrets, then I won't hold it against you. Sally's Salon might well be as vacuous as deep space, but since when did that ever stop something being strangely enjoyable?
Somewhere within the heart of the sprawling Gameloft organisation is a menacing cliché-generating machine. Every hit gaming genre in existence is fed, byte by byte, into its gaping maw by concerned-looking lab techs.
No-one has any real control over the machine - we'll call it MAL - because it became sentient a few months ago and began periodically uttering delirious one-liners. In rare moments of clarity, new mobile games are spontaneously delivered to the nervous, white-coated operatives.
The latest of these focuses on agents of a secret organisation who protect society from the invisible threats of the 21st Century. The best agents. The smartest technology. The most generic Splinter Cell-meets Syphon Filter stealth-shooter clone you've ever laid eyes on? That'll be the one.
Perhaps Silent Ops should come fitted with a free memory wipe, because if you'd never played any sneaky shooter over the past 13 years, you could be fooled into thinking that it wasn't bad. Like most Gameloft titles, it looks like it was made in 2001, the twin stick controls are entirely unsuitable for prolonged touchscreen play, and the narrative appears to have been phoned in by bored chimpanzees.
It's also hilariously easy, with an auto-aiming system apparently designed to remove the last traces of whatever gameplay was left. You might be prompted to engage in some swipe-y QTEs, melee battles and sniper interludes, but for the most part you're trudging through the most turgid, unstealthy, third-person shooting crud anyone's dared inflict on the populace since the PSone.
The sooner Gameloft stops wasting its considerable resources making console-lite games and starts figuring out how to make the most out of mobile platforms, the better. Like 9mm, Silent Ops is gaming at its most clueless and uninspired.