There's no such thing as a quiet week in the wild world of downloadable videogames, but this week's schedule may have been the most crowded yet.
Not only did Nintendo decide to drop 10 free Virtual Console titles on its 3DS 'ambassadors' (too late for this week's edition, sadly), the Indie Summer Uprising on Xbox Live Arcade ensured a handful of interesting titles rubbed shoulders with the usual plethora of games issued elsewhere (look out next week for a full roundup of these).
And just to keep us on our toes, no fewer than four titles hit Xbox Live Arcade, on top of another five on PSN, and loads more via Steam and the rest. How do I keep up? Coffee. Lots of coffee.
On with the games...
Rock Of Ages
- Xbox Live Arcade - 800 Microsoft points - £6.80.
- Coming soon to PC and PS3.
Excuse me while I have a Def Leppard moment. On a Friday, it's the least that I can do to prepare your for the weekend frolics to come.
While I'm here, you might like to know about ACE Team's potty historically minded boulder-rolling fusion of tower defence and Terry Gilliam-esque visuals.
The grand idea - in amongst the madness - is to smash a boulder through your enemy's gates and ultimately squish their cowering body to death. Each level plays out broadly the same way, with an initial short period of setting up your defence towers, catapults, and, yep, roaming elephants.
Once your minions have built your boulder, you wind it merrily through a hazard-strewn environment, bounding over their defences, and gleefully rolling over fleeing civilians that get in your way. The more speed you build up en route to the gate, the more damage you inflict.
The process repeats a further two times, with another brief period of defensive meddling before rolling onwards once more.
But all too soon it becomes apparent that defences (on both sides) are woefully inadequate, and that victory essentially comes down to who gets the third strike in first.
The main problem is the ability to jump, and consequently how easy that makes it to dodge the defences. With all strategy out of the window, reducing the game to a simple race quickly drains all of the rich potential out of it. It's still fun, admittedly, and the 23 missions will keep most players going for hours.
And then there's split screen competitive multiplayer, but all the problems that blight the campaign mode apply here. Elsewhere, neither the race-based Skeeboulder multiplayer mode or the single player Time Trial prove interesting enough to make up for the game's shallowness.
With bags of charm and wry humour, Rock Of Ages gets off to the best possible start. You'll want to love it, but in the end, these are half-baked ideas that ought to have been put to better use. Ah well.
1112 Episode 3
It wasn't that long ago when the prospect of an all-new point and click adventure series had a disproportionate allure. Call it nostalgia for a lost era, call it blind optimism, but there has always been something evocative about a game determined to mesh narrative with slightly too obscure puzzle logic.
On that basis, we should probably be all over 1112, but times have changed. For one thing, the indie/download scene is awash with newcomers - and some genuinely great ones at that.
Like the other two episodes of Agharta Studio's point and click brain strainer, the latest portion certainly gets off to an intriguing start - helped no end by its lavish static backdrops and intuitive interface.
With a medicated lead character happy to bumble around unaware of the crisis facing him, helping to fill in the blanks provides enough of a carrot to keep you clicking away in the hope of progress.
But this initial goodwill gradually sours the longer the game goes on. In the worst traditions of the past, progress mostly relies on painstaking object searching - a process that is made all the more tedious by the realisation that almost everything you can examine in the game is irrelevant.
A hardy few might be willing to put up with being the most thorough investigator in history, but the amount of tiresome legwork required to make anything happen in the game feels unnecessary.
That said, if you don't mind investing hours of your life into dull observational tasks, uncovering the mystery of Johnny Depp's stunt double occasionally feels worth the object hunt. Just don't say I didn't warn you.
- PSN Minis - £1.74
- Also available on Windows Phone 7, Android, iPhone/iPad (universal), PC and Mac.
It might have appeared on every format known to man, but somehow Gamelion's tetromino-troubling puzzler has managed to escape Eurogamer's increasingly bloodshot All Seeing Eye. Not anymore.
On the face of it, Doodle Fit doesn't sound like the most exciting solution to those commuter blues. To complete each of the 350 levels, you simply drag and drop a set of shapes into the given outline. Yay, shapes.
To make matters more challenging, you have to figure out a layout that encompasses the whole shape, so nothing can overlap, and no spaces must remain. Oh, and you can't rotate your shapes, either, so you get what you're given.
But as any experienced puzzlemeister will attest, there's a predictable trial and error fiendishness that gets under your skin. What looks fairly innocuous soon evolves into something to make you blissfully unaware that you've missed your stop, your dinner's on fire and your partner's left you for the neighbour's cat.
To paraphrase Alex Ferguson: videogaming. Bloody hell.
Hole In The Wall
- Xbox Live Arcade - 800 Microsoft Points.
Now that downloadable titles are finally heading to the under-utilised Kinect, we can expect to routinely perform all manner of oddball shenanigans in the name of controller-free entertainment.
Case in point: Hole In The Wall, a game show in which 'contestants' have to strike different poses in order to squeeze their irregular mass through outlines in an approaching wall.
On the real-life TV programme, it's the usual kind of knockabout fun where not getting knocked into the water provides the goofy incentive. On the 360, though, most of the time is spent mangling yourself into forms that the Kinect sensor has rather too much trouble interpreting.
Against an opponent, the technical hiccups are even more testing, with height differences a real thorn in the poor technology's side. Throw in the usual lighting problems and the need to clear a larger than usual space in the living room, and it's likely to be a headache for many to get a game going at all.
But even when Hole In The Wall isn't being a belligerent little git, there's precious little incentive to prance around more than a few times. 10 themed challenges, a survival mode and basic multiplayer (for up to two teams of two players) provide precious little variety for the 800 point outlay. At times like this you really should make like a tree and leave.
Crazy Machines Elements
- Xbox Live Arcade - 800 Microsoft Points - £6.80.
- PSN - £7.99
- Also available on PC.
And on the back of a touch-based resurgence in mobile land (check out Casey's Contraptions and last year's sorely overlooked Create), it's perhaps no surprise to see another attempt to carry on The Incredible Machine's fine work.
But rather than challenge players to build contraptions from scratch to achieve a goal, Crazy Machine Elements does most of the legwork for you, with a nearly complete contraption missing only a few parts. With only a few possible places to lay down the remaining pieces, there's little room for experimentation or creativity, and 'solving' each of the game's 100 puzzle levels takes comparatively little effort.
It's a different story in the game's unlockable challenge mode, though, with all the trial and error nonsense that comes with laying out conveyor belts, boxing gloves, and around 130 other construction items to set fire to your sister's hair. Probably. Annoyingly, to even get to the best part of the game you have to wade through around half of the uninspiring puzzle levels.
And if that wasn't irksome enough, the game has all the production values of an early noughties PC game ported lovelessly to console - but with worse controls and unreadable text.
If you're looking for a slick, tactile contraption puzzler, then you're far better off looking to the mobile scene for the many superior (and cheaper) offerings. By comparison, Crazy Machines Elements is a step into a murky past best forgotten.