Version tested: iPhone
Where do all those twin-stick shooters go? What fate awaits each but a tiny niche of players and, eventually, oblivion? So it is, you feel, with Solomon's Boneyard - and what a tragedy. Though recent iOS titles offer more precise controls and shinier visuals, I've yet to play one that tops this for sheer craft and a brilliant twist to the usual.
There's a reason behind its portmanteau design, one that mixes RPG elements into an endless survival shooter - Solomon's Boneyard is a spinoff. Back in April 2010, the game Solomon's Keep was released on iOS - a top-down RPG with many of the exact mechanics found in Solomon's Boneyard, which was released later that year. Boneyard junks the RPG trappings but retains the ingeniously worked-out levelling system at its core, then builds the waves around this.
There are initially four characters and one map in Solomon's Boneyard, though you can unlock more of both - just one strand of the game is collecting gold on each playthrough, and saving up for perks and unlocks. Mobile games have been getting brilliant at this recently, with Jetpack Joyride perhaps the best example, and Solomon's Boneyard is a less refined but no less compulsive taskmaster. And on that note, it's currently free - there are two possible in-app purchases, but they're hidden away and neither is crucial.
Upon starting a game, your character enters the eponymous arena and sees Solomon digging. He hurls an insult, takes off, and the waves begin. One gorgeous detail is that as you move around the boneyard you'll see Solomon again and again, digging more graves and always bounding off before you get too close. After the gentle initial waves, you're swarmed by skeletons, archers, zombies, mages, tiny grunts and eventually gigantic boss monsters.
What makes Solomon's Boneyard so special is how your wizard or witch develops. Each game lasts around 10-15 minutes, but during this time your little dude becomes unrecognisable, because for every level gained, you choose one concrete improvement.
"What makes Solomon's Boneyard so special is how your wizard or witch develops."
The standards (damage, mana regeneration) are taken care of, but soon the fire wizard's blasts are incinerating nearby monsters and leaving behind embers that burn any stragglers. The frost wizard, who is by the way the daddy, can end up with a cone-shaped area-of-effect attack that covers almost the whole screen, and when you combine this with a twist-like 'Meditation' - it quadruples your mana recovery rate when standing still - you barely have to move.
It gives a 10-minute blast the sense of a journey, and those final minutes of each run are always superb. Solomon himself booms that "levelling up won't save you!" And it never does. Each game ends with those final limping steps into a corner, the bag of potions long exhausted and the box of tricks all but up. All but one.
And in a puff of smoke you're gone - the other end of the arena, with precious seconds to meditate and a lot of revenge to prepare for that U-turning horde. Magic.
App of the Day highlights interesting games we're playing on the Android, iPad, iPhone and Windows Phone 7 mobile platforms, including post-release updates. If you want to see a particular app featured, drop us a line or suggest it in the comments.