Game of the Week: Time Ducks

Kcauq.

You know how it is. We've all been there. You don't manage to do something you were supposed to do because you got distracted playing video games. Except, in my case, the thing I was distracted from was playing another video game.

This is why you don't yet see a review of Trine 2 (released this week on PC and Mac, on the 21st on PSN and XBLA) on the site. We'll bring it to you soon. It's a shame, as Frozenbyte's co-op platformer would have had an almost clear shot at Game of the Week after an almost deathly quiet seven days in games land. It's also why I've taken the unconventional step of tipping the nod to a game we haven't reviewed yet (and probably never will) - because it was the culprit that stole my time from the game I was supposed to be playing.

Well, one of them. The other was the Diablo 3 beta. I hadn't touched this since I had the chance to preview it back in the summer, but Star Wars: The Old Republic had got me in the habit of having some in-development online monster-mashing open in a window, and that beta was now over, so why not? Because it will eat your life, my rational mind didn't manage to say in time.

It's only the briefest glimpse of my most anticipated game of next year, and nothing I haven't seen or played before, but as demos go it's still terrifyingly complete and compulsive. What's more, living with the game is a world away from playing it intensively chez Blizzard. Custom beta achievements and the opportunity to level characters of all classes past the end of the beta content - playing around with even the most basic crafting or skill combinations - offer a window into a world-ending obsession. It doesn't even have runes or difficulty levels in yet!

Diablo heads deep, deep, deep into a relatively unexplored video game space - where insane depth, customisation and advancement on an MMO scale meet savage, immediate, arcade gratification. It's that almost unimaginable sweet spot where World of Warcraft and Geometry Wars meet (and that strangled gasp you just heard was John Bedford having a heart attack). I cannot wait.

Back to the present, and quiet times like this offer us a chance to catch up with the games that got away. Typically this includes a few PC indie gems; this week John indulged his Hyde side with Waves while Simon checked out the equally mesmerising Fractal. We're also taking it upon ourselves to sift through the recent spate of 3DS releases hoping to capitalise on the console's Christmas-and-Mario-driven boom. Dan started with Sonic Generations and you can look forward to F1 2011, Ace Combat, Tales of the Abyss and Super Pokemon Rumble next week.

But in truth, December belongs to the App Store. Infinity Blade 2 kicked things off on the 1st; this week there's Batman: Arkham City Lockdown, a pretty one-on-one brawler by the Mortal Kombat team NetherRealm; Kristan enjoyed Football Manager Handheld 2012's journey back to Sports Interactive's roots; remakes of Grand Theft Auto 3 and Dizzy hit both iOS and Android this month, too.

These gamers'-game crossovers are a healthy subset of the mobile scene, and they grab our attention for obvious reasons, but they're not really what this sector is about. Tiny Wings, Tiny Tower and Contre Jour are a fairer representation of the mobile zeitgeist - and it's quite weird to see these simple casual concepts get turned into high-stakes, big-budget bandwagons by the likes of Whale Trail as everyone chases the Angry Birds dollar (literally, these games cost one dollar apiece). But that's the nature of a gold rush, I guess.

I don't know about you, but sometimes I prefer my snack gaming to be a bit more lo-fi.

Time Ducks

Enter Denmark's Tough Guy Studios, which with its debut title Time Ducks has chosen to follow the Dead Island route to getting noticed - make a trailer that's as impossible to ignore as it is to describe. Seriously, just watch it.

Watch this mental Time Ducks trailer

Within minutes of seeing that I'd spent my 1.49 and found a surreal little game with a pleasantly woozy rustic soundtrack, noted German film director and madman Werner Herzog sitting atop the high score table, and a house band of pixellated scrawls telling jokes to each other on the title screen.

The clash of the superb sound with the comically nave artwork - and a few genuinely funny lines - is enough to keep Time Ducks on the right side of twee indie whimsy. But of course, what matters is a moreish pot-pourri game design that mixes Braid's time manipulation in with Frogger, Flight Control and a gloriously illogical hierarchy of animal combo scoring.

Put simply, you have to draw paths to get animals safely across the streams of traffic. You tap away menacing dogs and keep some animals in holding patterns so you can get them home in matching groups or ascending order, thus keeping the slot machine jingling and the combo multiplier rising. There are also plenty of arcane achievements to go for that unlock new animals or iconic traffic or badly drawn pictures of Justin Bieber.

Swipe-powered time manipulation can help avoid a game-ending collision, but in fact, this showy feature is much less important to Time Ducks' appeal than its brain-tickling blend of memory test (you have to remember that fox follows llama follows rabbit, and a penguin is a level three duck), risk-reward scoring and blind luck. Good, old-fashioned game design, in other words.

Why am I telling you all this here rather than in a proper review? Well, perhaps I could and should have. I'd probably have gone for a 7/10, since you asked. But in many ways our scoring system and reviewing style aren't very well suited to a game that you stumble across by accident, that costs loose change and that disposably fills a happy hour or two.

It's also very difficult to be thorough and fair in your selection of games from a rampant wild-west market like the App Store, and subsequently difficult to make coverage of them fit in to everything else we do here at Eurogamer. This is a conclusion we regrettably had to reach when drawing Kristan's heroic download and mobile games roundups to a close earlier this year - the fact is, in a number of (quite boring and depressing) ways, they were simply more trouble than they were worth. It's a shame, because we enjoyed them as much as many of you did.

Nonetheless, the mobile market is an increasingly important part of the gaming landscape, and we're sure you'd like to read more about games like Time Ducks here - not to mention the dozens, possibly hundreds of equally deserving titles we never got round to or even heard of. That's why 'find a way to make coverage of mobile games work on Eurogamer' is on my to-do list for 2012.

Unfortunately, so is 'review Diablo 3'.

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