Version tested: iPhone
Having just spent the past week in Cologne at Gamescom, two things came across loud and clear: mobile games were conspicuous by their absence, and most non-mobile games were sequels.
Neither came as a revelation. Vast consumer events don't exactly lend themselves well to showing off handheld games of any kind, but it's still disappointing that few - if any - publishers took the opportunity to at least give it a go at a time when the sector is booming.
Instead, we saw colossal stands (and jet planes) devoted to big-budget games - most of which required people to queue up for hours to gain entry. If you didn't know any different, you wouldn't think that anything had changed in the market.
Perhaps you could reasonably argue that mobile games don't need to be showcased in the same way. The market is so fast-moving - and the games are so cheap and plentiful - that most of us are quite happy just taking a punt as and when. We don't need to know about these games months up front.
Even so, it would be great if there were a bigger presence. Being entirely invisible hardly feels like a sensible alternative.
Mega Mall Story
- iPhone - £2.49. Lite version available.
A handful of games down the line, you should know what to expect from Kairosoft by now - but that doesn't make it any easier to resist the obsessive allure of its bite-sized management sims.
This time around you must prove yourself as a retail maestro, with 15 years to build a "five-star mall of mega proportions".
With little more than loose change in the bank, the first few years are a meek struggle to ensure that your bakery, grocery store, florist and cafe don't keep running out of stock before the day's even over.
But with the inexplicable loyalty (and investment) of a few local regulars, you'll gradually accumulate enough 'hearts' to reinvest in providing new services that, ultimately, attract more custom to your ramshackle retail outfit.
Over time, of course, you inch your way to respectability, and can start to offer better quality goods and a wider variety of stores. And with cash in the bank, you can also work on promoting yourself better, hire better staff, and figure out effective ways of coaxing the local community to your burgeoning enterprise.
The upshot is that Mega Mall Story quickly gets under your skin, just like you hoped/feared it would. With its familiar interface, simple mechanics and hummable ditty, resistance to its effortless charm is completely futile. At this stage, you might as well buy shares in Kairosoft.
The Last Rocket
- iPhone/iPad - £1.99. Universal app.
It was all going so well. Intergalactic war was over, rocket production had ceased, and stellar incineration was about to commence. And just as the bunting was unfurled, a solar flare goes and scatters the ship's memory gears, forcing us into 64 levels of retro puzzle brow-furrowing and chiptune dance routines to stave off the threat of death.
For once, though, it's not a platformer. Despite initial appearances to the contrary, you spend most of your time swiping The Last Rocket through various hazard-strewn rooms, negotiating air currents and conveyor belts and dodging flame jets and inconsiderate spikes.
En route to each area's exit, you can make yourself more appealing to future lovers by collecting the optional memory gears that (entirely coincidentally) find themselves in dangerous locations. Getting them is another matter.
Sometimes you have to perform an initial 'pass' across the outline of a memory gear before it reveals itself, but with life-ending danger at every turn, I wouldn't blame you for zooming headlong towards the exit.
Now and then, though, the kleptomaniac within gains control, and you find yourself sweeping with the grace of a conductor, performing death-defying turns and mid-air hovers like you were born to do it.
Suddenly it doesn't seem right unless you're dying twenty times per level in focused pursuit of shiny things against the odds. Would this have happened if The Last Rocket didn't look like it was made 25 years ago? Possibly, but then it wouldn't have transported us into the mind of an excitable eighties teen.
Cut The Rope: Experiments
Few would disagree that ZeptoLab's Cut the Rope, of all the breakaway mobile phenomena, deserved its moment in the sun. After all, you're going to need plenty of sun once you've got speedboats, mansions and pretty ladies to high five.
Now you're probably casually eyeing up yacht brochures and rush-releasing a self-published sequel in the hope that the desire to feed Om Nom with candy hasn't waned just yet.
The original succeeded through its incessant cuteness aligned to an accessible, yet fiendish, brand of puzzling that - crucially - felt fresh. But with around 200 levels to battle through, it wasn't exactly short of content.
On that basis, Experiments feels more like a straightforward level pack than a bona-fide sequel - and one that most players will blitz through in no time.
The premise (and presentation) remains identical, with the goal based around guiding rope-bound candy into the gaping maw of a boggle-eyed creature, while attempting to collect each level's three stars.
New gadgets such as rope shooters and suction cups add welcome novelty to the level design, but they're not exactly game-changers.
Then again, it's a minimal price for new content for committed fans. The rest of you might want to see how much free content was added to the original before you contribute to the ZeptoLab yacht fund. A worthy cause, I realise.
- Android: Free. Requires Android 1.5 and up.
Wading through the endless Android freebies is on a par with being a regional X-Factor judge. Half the time you're not sure whether to laugh or cry. Mostly you just wish that dignity and self-awareness will save the day, but it generally doesn't.
Mouse Trap isn't going to change anyone's world. You might not even feel compelled to show it off to a mate. It's basic, it looks crap, and it's not even slightly original, but that won't stop you from playing it for hours on end.
Even the premise is painfully dull: get the mouse to the exit by sliding blocks out of the way in the shortest number of moves. Whoop-de-doo.
But once you actually get on with playing it, there's a rapid realisation that it's making your brain happy. You solve one puzzle. You want more. Then it's on to another. And another. A few dozen later and, oh, your train has reached its destination.
The fact that you'll almost resent ending your commute probably tells you all you need to know about Mouse Trap. That there are 1900 levels of the stuff might not be such good news for anyone else trying to sell mobile games.
Midnight Mysteries: Devil On The Mississippi
- iPad: £2.99. (50 per cent off for a limited time.) Additional content £0.69 - £1.99.
Of all those peddling the bafflingly popular hidden object games, MumboJumbo succeeds in managing to stave off the existential crisis just enough to allow me to enjoy them.
In the third of its Midnight Mysteries series, it continues to believe in the idea of dead people making for a good cast. In this instance, we hook up with the likes of Mark Twain and William Shakespeare to try to vanquish evil that's stalking them in the afterlife.
But determined stalkers aren't the only problem with being dead. Apparently an awful lot of things get lost in amongst untold junk, and it's your lot in life to patiently prod and poke until things eventually reveal themselves. Once you've managed to prove your worth in such matters, you can actually get on with the business of solving actual puzzles in the vein of early-nineties point-and-click adventures.
When Devil On the Mississippi actually lets you off the leash to explore, collect items, solve puzzles and interact with characters, it's a perfectly serviceable affair. But as with MumboJumbo's other titles, too much of your time tends to be invested in tasks that you could solve without even looking.
If the point is make your mundane life seem exciting by comparison, then I guess it's job done, but hardcore adventurers may find these sections taxing for all the wrong reasons.