For various boring reasons, I haven't actually had a phone line or internet connection since 4th August. As the chap in charge of two sets of digital gaming roundups per week, you might imagine that this would present something of a problem.
A few years ago, this would have resulted in world-ending inconvenience, gnashing and wailing and trips to irritated friends. Luckily for all concerned, a combination of mobile tethering, extreme data rationing and the odd trip to a none-the-wiser Wi-Fi equipped deli pulled victory from the jaws of defeat and here we are. You wouldn't notice the join.
Meanwhile: games. While everyone bangs on about Deus Ex, and I wait patiently for the opportunity to play it, this week is like your average Carling Cup line-up: a few benchwarmers mixed with some future stars getting back to fitness. Final score: 2-2 after extra time (3-2 on pens to the good guys).
- PSN - £5.09
- Previously released on PSN Minis.
For reasons that will almost certainly never become apparent (partly because I'm making this up), a bunch of developers had a secret meeting a while back and agreed to see who could produce the best Qix-inspired game of all.
Well, all bets are off, because Laughing Jackal's cube-based reinvention trumps the others by a considerable margin.
The idea isn't to simply 'land-grab' a single piece of territory like all of its rivals, but to do so across all six surfaces of an entire cube. In all other respects, it works as you'd expect, with most of your focus on avoiding the attention of an unpredictable cluster of squares that prowls around each side of the cube.
If you can reach another edge without being hit, the area drawn fills in and contributes to your overall target. If you reach your target (usually 70 per cent), you'll move on to the next stage. Easy.
Except that it's pretty far from being as straightforward as it initially appears. Worse still, in the game's Arcade mode, you have to complete the fifth stage of each chapter before you're deemed to have 'completed' it. It's punishing, but that doesn't stop it from being murderously addictive.
Other modes, such as Time Attack, merely put you under pressure, but Score Attack and Line Attack force you to take even more risks than usual as you gamely attempt to rack up combos. Elsewhere, the 50-stage Challenge mode turns the simplest task into a mild one-more-go obsession. And then there's the ingenious addition of co-op. There's even seven-player deathmatch for crying out loud. I've got a word limit, you know.
The heroic thing about it all is that Laughing Jackal manages to reinvent Qix in a way that has evidently been completely beyond Taito for the past 30 years. And if that's not a fitting tribute, I don't know what is.
- PC - Steam £5.39.
With a title as knowingly bland as "Alien Hallway", you might expect it to fool us all and be a sprawling space opera with consequence and morals. But no. The joke's on us: Sigma Team's latest is set in a hallway, where aliens endlessly pour out of a teleporter and try to feast on your brains.
In a basic sense, we're dealing with a tank-rush Tower Defence of sorts, where building endless units of all kinds as quickly as you can is about as strategic as it gets.
The early levels hint at a sort of Plants vs. Zombies level of strategy, where resource-gathering takes initial precedence over gung-ho assault. Once things get going, though, you have little choice but to arm up with flamethrower dudes, lob some grenades and get stuck in.
A few minutes down the line and you'll have inched forward enough to take down said teleporter. And with that achieved, the respawn ends, and it's off to the shop to spend your winnings on upgrades before the next corridor-based excursion.
Such is the minimal difficulty, though, that every level plays out roughly the same way. A more varied selection of aliens appear in increasing numbers, but the same all-out assault tactics work every time.
If Alien Hallway bothered to adopt the 'lanes' system of PvZ, it might have worked, but instead this headlong battle quickly descends into a repetitive brawl of little consequence.
Fighting Fantasy: Talisman of Death
- PSN Minis - (£3.49)
To prove how much of an old bastard I really am, my recollection of Fighting Fantasy books actually predates owning a home gaming system. I'd like to think that, in some small way, Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone's Choose Your Own Adventure books inspired my love of video games - or at least my love of creaky text adventures.
Turning the concept into an oddball text adventure-RPG hybrid is both logical and endearingly unhinged all at the same time. It would have made sense in 1984, at least, but it was 'interesting' to witness how Laughing Jackal (yes, them again) could make a video game interpretation of something that crafted an adventure out of multiple choice.
In Talisman of Death, the adventure progresses in much the same way as one of the books, with a brief description of your scenario, followed by a few choices, and the corresponding page to turn to. So far so trad.
For a while, it follows the same formula, but once you get to actually fight people you can engage in a bit of turn-based RPG-lite to decide the outcome.
Faced with a hex grid, the tiles flip for a brief moment to give you a glimpse of the possible outcomes. Once they flip back, it's up to you to pick one and determine whether you land a hit, or get hit yourself. The harder the opponent, the fewer chances there are to pick a 'safe' tile.
If you succeed, you can move on with the story and continue to walk headlong into trouble even when you're trying to be careful. You'll pick up things you assume will be helpful, only to turn into a mouthy moron, or try to be bold when you're clearly out of your depth. You'll probably not do very well, but it doesn't matter.
The way the game manages to weave simple RPG mechanics on top of the narrative works surprisingly well, even if, ultimately, it all feels like a curious throwback to the days when even the most basic graphics were something of a luxury.
If you weren't schooled in the dark art of multiple-choice, narrative-based adventuring, then the chances are you weren't much of a nerd in the eighties. If, like me, you stood in WH Smiths thumbing through The Warlock of Firetop mountain for larks, then it has a disproportionate allure. Like the man says, choose your own adventure.
Space Pirates And Zombies
- PC Steam £9.99.
If you want a job done properly, you do it yourself, so the grumbling mantra goes. This might not be such a smart idea when it comes to Ikea furniture assembly, admittedly, but when it comes to obscure gaming sub-sub-genres, developer MinMax Games might have a point.
Anyone looking high and low for top-down shooter/space strategy-RPGs hybrids this past 30 years might have been out of luck (correct me if I'm wrong). But that's part of the fun of ice cream pizza game development: sometimes it works out. Kinda.
In the case of Space Pirates And Zombies, what starts off as a simple deep-space mining mission quickly morphs into something altogether more interesting and elaborate, as you fend off pirates and gather up enough resources to improve your ramshackle fleet of ragtag nobodies.
OK, so the initially flimsy combat is off-putting, the sub-menus sprawl, and the lack of joypad support is a bit of an annoying oversight in 2011, but if you can put the nit comb down long enough to delve into the game's unfurling campaign, there's a grand vision worthy of investigation.
Beyond the initial shooter frippery is an involving tactical side of the game, where commanding a fleet and issuing commands becomes progressively important. There's also an absolute treasure trove of stuff to do, see and unlock: 30-odd ships, dozens of parts, a vast number of increasingly steely missions, factions to align with or fight against... and the promise of a zombie ecosystem. Well, quite.
It takes a while for Space Pirates And Zombies to really play its hand, but that's the trouble with something so wilfully creative - it takes time to peel away the layers. But if you make the effort, it's worth the effort.
- DSiWare - 800 DSiWare points /£5.40.
There's a reluctant acceptance within the downloadsphere that ideas are going to be repackaged and recycled even more than they are in the world of Big Bastard Budget Blockbusters(TM). That's the way it goes. But, seriously, what's the point of making a knock-off that's so enormously terrible it can be seen from outer space?
The stunt-racing Kikstart/Trials template has proved predictably popular over the past couple of years, but that's hardly surprising. It's an age-old formula that can provide endless OCD leaderboard fun in the right hands.
But the usually reliable Chillingo clearly had a bit of an off day with Moto eXtreme, to put it politely.
Even on the most basic level it fails to drag itself out of the mire, with haphazard handling and regrettable collision detection conspiring to ensure that any enjoyment you eke out of it will be entirely coincidental.
You might force yourself through each of the 32 levels in dutiful search of the stars contained within, but at some point you'll probably get snagged on, or more accurately within, a chunk of scenery and emit a chuckle of sympathy.
But any residual goodwill for what was intended quickly drains with every incident of incompetence, and you're left to reflect on an irrelevant addition that's priced with all the misguided optimism of a T-shirt wearing Englishman in summer.