Version tested: iPhone
Online leaderboards and achievements are a bit of an unnecessary mess when it comes to mobile phones - not least on iOS, where you quite frequently end up logging on to both Game Center and Openfeint at the same time. Sometimes Crystal is involved as well, or instead, just to add to the fun.
Apple could certainly do with tidying a few things up, no doubt, but one thing that Game Center provides that generally goes unremarked is a very quick means of seeing how well certain games are selling.
When you notice that you're ranked 1,103,583 out of 1,577,591 in Tiny Tower, for example, it doesn't just illustrate how much you suck, but that an awful lot more people have downloaded that than the piddling 81,576 that have registered their Zoo Keeper DX scores. Angry Birds, predictably, manages 14.7 million registered scores, while the acclaimed Magnetic Billiards is currently at a miserable 13,514.
While you can't take Game Center registered users at face value, they do provide a sense of proportion to a market currently bereft of reliable data - and perhaps more pertinently, a distressing reminder of the gulf between the hits and the also-rans.
Oh, and by the way: games! Yes, it's very much an iOS-fest this week, but for very good reasons. Android and Windows Phone 7 remain firmly in our thoughts and will return.
Hector Episode Two: Senseless Acts Of Justice
It was almost embarrassing how good the original Hector was. Not for Straandlooper, the Northern Irish animation company that managed to plop its unflinchingly seedy adventure into our ungrateful laps from absolutely nowhere - but for everyone else who had been trying for years to make something worth mentioning in the same breath as the adventure genre's standard-bearers of old.
Rather than get all cantankerous about it, Telltale did the decent thing, took Straandlooper under its wing and made sure the sequel got made. Here it is, and there we are.
In proper episodic style, Senseless Acts Of Justice picks up directly where the previous one left off; you definitely won't want to spoil it for yourself by getting on board midway through the story. If you've any interest in adventures whatsoever and have not picked up the first episode, it's mandatory.
The new episode sticks to the reliable formula: a cast of British society's flotsam provide continual comedy value merely by being themselves, while hapless detective Hector finds himself in all manner of hideous situations, forced to deal with people even more reprehensible than himself. If someone decided to make Life On Mars: The Game, it wouldn't be a million miles from this.
As with all adventures, coming up with a decent array of puzzles can make or break a game, no matter how spiky the dialogue is or how well illustrated it may be. Fortunately, challenging-but-fair lateral-thinking puzzles in the fine tradition pepper the proceedings, and often prove as amusing and satisfying as the rest of the game - just as they ought to be. If you're stuck, a hint system prevents any residual frustration.
Although Hector gets so much right, there are the odd moments when you wish some of the regional accents were a little more credible. Non-natives may never even notice, but some of the (otherwise relentlessly sharp) lines fall flat as a result.
Nit-picking aside, Senseless Acts Of Justice is another harrowingly accurate exploration of the eccentric, perverted, vomiting British psyche. This is less of a game, more of a documentary.
Rogue Sky HD
Those clouds might look pretty, white and fluffy from down here, but the sky is dogged by just as much petty rancour as we get down on the ground. Just try flying a hot air balloon without being constantly manhandled, if you don't believe me.
If you're not being electrocuted to death, there's some other bugger firing pot-shots at you for no apparent reason. And then there are the floating mines. It makes you wonder if all this coin-collecting nonsense is strictly worth the muttered ill-will and raised blood pressure.
But you should also know by now that Chillingo has a fearsome and prolific knack for plucking gems from the mobile maelstrom, and Rogue Sky is certainly no exception.
Pebble Bug's sky-raiding adventure wastes little time getting under your skin, with typically intuitive controls allowing you to slip straight into threading the grinning balloon through narrow gaps in the clouds.
Each level becomes a delicate balance of efficient against-the-clock object hunting with the gradual introduction of combat elements to up the ante. Getting through the level intact is one thing, gaining the bonus stars for skilled performances is another - but you won't mind the repeat visits one bit.
Like so many plying their trade in 2D action adventures, Rogue Sky wins the day through eye-catching art and simple, effective mechanics that always manage to avoid straying onto the wrong side of the challenge/frustration divide.
- iPhone/iPad (universal binary) - £0.69
I don't know who Barry Steakfries is. I'm not aware what his problem is, or of the motivations for his unfairly addictive missions of destruction, but he's really done it this time.
His jetpack controls have become fused with his weapon system, causing bullets to spray out underneath him in an attractive arc as he tries to make his way through the confines of a secret laboratory. Who needs backstories when you can make your own?
With lasers, traps, missiles and electrified arcs of death opposing him, escape is probably futile, but at least we can measure his heroic attempts in metres and collect coins in the name of one-more-go fun.
So, yeah, it's an endless runner of sorts, but one with a ridiculously moreish set of upgrade progression mechanics. The gameplay remains stripped down to the point of obscenity, with delicate prods simultaneously dictating Barry's level of elevation and weapons fire. No left, no right, no tilt even. Just a one-touch hazard-dodge complete with gleefully crazed vehicle pickups, including the Lil' Stomper mech, a massive motorbike and the money-s***ting Profit Bird.
With every turn you earn more coins, and with riches come superfluous-but-tempting upgrades. You're also tasked with meeting certain mission objectives in order to level up, and even though progress rarely brings truly tangible rewards, you'll eagerly chase down the next rank regardless.
Jetpack Joyride is further evidence of Halfbrick's unseemly knack for producing games designed to test both the battery life of handheld gaming platforms and the sanity of players. Needless to say, both run out eventually.
How many of you initially wrote off Cut The Rope as another throwaway piece of populist trash, only to play it and realise that it's actually a hardcore puzzler in cutesy clothes? Probably quite a few, I'd wager.
Mokus, meanwhile, pulls the opposite trick by dressing Contre Jour up in dark, mysterious arthouse threads and creates a cloying, enigmatic ambience. But behind the beautiful inky monochrome and dense soundtrack, its mechanics bear more than a passing resemblance to Zeptolab's hugely popular effort.
Much like Cut The Rope, the focus is on creating safe passage for an object - in this case a disembodied eyeball - and trying to collect up to three stars en route to the goal.
Getting there involves squishing up the ground beneath the eyeball with your fingers, as well as attaching and manipulating tendrils that help swing it across to its next destination. Later, such mechanics become embellished with slingshots, pulleys and blowers as the goal becomes increasingly elusive.
With 60 levels offering hours of patient probing, it's another impossibly good-value offering. It's hard not to sound like a stuck record when so many quality offerings keep crawling out of the woodwork every week, but Contre Jour deserves to be loved.
- iPhone: £0.69
- iPad: £1.49
Roaring onstage to the strains of Survivor comes Bounder, one of the most unlikely forgotten heroes to re-emerge in recent times.
Without wishing to come across like a grizzled veteran screaming "You had to be there, man!" the original Bounder scooped a prestigious Zzap 64! Gold Medal back in the day, when such things were all that mattered. As such, it was regarded with fondness - as much for its quirky originality as its effortless playability.
Then - as now - the idea was simply to safely guide a perpetually bouncing ball from one end of a precarious environment to the other. Viewed from a bird's-eye perspective, the journey was a perpetually fraught one with an unending stream of hazards designed to put a crimp in your day.
If you recall Gremlin's C64 original with any clarity, you'll know that it was unrelentingly tough and concerted progress was far from assured. These days, such attitudes have long been outlawed, and as such Bounder's World obligingly lets you romp through level after level without really breaking a sweat.
Dozens of levels of stress-free bouncing later, there's the dulling realisation that Urbanscan has failed to keep it interesting, and it takes far too long for new gameplay elements to appear or the for the difficulty to rise. It's also desperately bland and characterless to look at, with ditties seemingly composed to disperse annoying children.
As comebacks go, Bounder's World never really gets out of first gear, and is a bit of a false start for Urbanscan's Gremlin reboot project. Maybe it's keeping the powder dry for Monty Mole...