It's hard to wax lyrical about the plethora of downloadable titles currently available without banging on about the iPad and whether it lives up to the insane levels of hype. But. Must. Resist. Our take on the launch line-up will be explored at length in a special roundup soon.
In the meantime, grab some Jaffa Cakes and join us as we skip through four of the most interesting recently released titles on the market. As usual, 'interesting' doesn't always equate to quality or entertainment, but we wouldn't have it any other way.
- iPhone / £0.59
The most interesting iPhone games usually end up being the sort specifically designed for the hardware, and Pinch provides another neat example of that mindset.
On the face of it, the concept's hardly the most engaging, but don't let the idea of shepherding coloured blobs through a simple maze put you off. Known as 'Norbs', you have to figure out a way to get the required number of these coloured discs to the elusive goal.
Moving them around the maze is as simple as sweeping them around with your finger, while uniting them with nearby Norbs expands their size and affects their colour. Sometimes, though, it's necessary to pull them apart again in a pinch motion, and, as with the excellent de Blob, you have to be mindful of colour-mixing logic. So, for example, if you need to create a purple Norb to get through a door, then clearly you need to find a blue and red Norb first.
But colour-mixing is but one of the many challenges that developer Coatsink tests you with. Doors are definitely not your friend in Pinch, and to break on through to the other side will generally involve figuring out a specific sequence to negotiate the various switches, one-way routes, doors that only let a set number of Norbs through at a time, or even doors that you can only go through a limited number of times.
As you delve into its more challenging depths and discover its minimalist nuances, Pinch becomes a minor obsession. The only downside is that you'll rip through the 48 levels in no time, but when the price tag is just 59p, complaining about that feels rude.
- Xbox Live Indie Games / 400 Microsoft Points (£3.74 / €5.28)
- PC (Steam, Gamersgate, Direct2Drive) / £6.99
Less of a game and more of a frazzled interactive visualiser, Beat Hazard is something of an anomaly. Conceptually beautiful, it takes the basic mechanics of a twin stick, top-down shooter and then essentially procedurally generates enemies - and therefore entire levels - based on the ebb and flow of any given music track.
Unsurprisingly, the hook of being able to import all your favourite tunes into the game is a seductive one. Allowing you to barrel through track-by-track, experiencing entirely new levels each time and setting high scores while enjoying the fractured, scratchy visuals and unpredictable chaos is an inspired idea.
The main problem is that the novelty wears off rather too quickly thanks to a somewhat limited variety of enemies to fight against. Once you've had more than a handful of attempts, it all starts to feel a tad samey, and before long you start to yearn for a more structured approach.
But once you get over the requirement for Beat Hazard to be a 'game' and treat it more like an addled visualiser you can fiddle around with, Cold Beam's bold audio-visual experiment starts to make a little more sense.
Save The Turtles
- DSiWare / 500 points (£4.50 / €5)
Being regularly proved utterly wrong is an occupational hazard of covering the download sector, and here's another example of a terrible-looking game turning out to be far more interesting than it seemingly has any right to be.
Despite its rather charmless kid-friendly veneer, Save The Turtles is a commentary on the fragility of nature, full of death and nerve-wracking torment as you tread a delicate tight rope in your quest to usher baby turtles to the relative safety of the sea.
Set on a beach, you use the stylus to sweep away the sand to reveal the egg, and then gently tap each one to hatch it. Once exposed to the elements, you then have to line them up with three of their (same-coloured) brethren in order to invoke the power of the waves and get swept out to the ocean.
Each of the 32 levels tasks you with saving a set number within a time limit, thereby prompting frantic tapping and scribbling as you attempt to simultaneously hatch and rearrange a whole gaggle of turtles before they all die. Faff around too long and the sun will start to roast them alive and make it impossible to move them, but move them too hastily and you might stumble into the jaws of a predator lurking beneath the sand.
The further you delve into Sabarasa's DSiWare gem, the more unforgiving it becomes, turning a pleasant diversion into something altogether more stressful and involving. For a mere 500 points, this is well worth digging into.
- DSiWare / 500 points (£4.50/€5)
Presumably when developer Arika isn't dreaming of playing in an Octopus' Garden, it's fondly remembering the glory days when men were men and gamers sat bug-eyed and took whatever 2D bullet hell games could throw at them. And came back for more.
These days, we're obviously all a complete bunch of lightweight pussies, crestfallen whenever a game deigns to kill us and doesn't checkpoint our progress. So maybe Metal Torrent is the perfect shoot-'em-up for the beaten generation.
Playable in what amounts to super easy or super hard mode, you can either choose to play the game the old fashioned instant-death way with the Blue Nova ship, or plump for the altogether more forgiving Red Orion ship.
With a screen-spanning cone of fire at your disposal, annihilating everything that moves with the Red Orion is an oddly perfunctory exercise, involving little more than basic avoidance tactics to steer out of the way of the regular hail of incoming bullets.
But to make matters even less engaging, the Red Orion can magically soak up bullets to an absurd degree, causing relatively superficial damage to your (recharging) energy reserves. Over the course of the game's eight 'phases', it's actually quite a challenge to lose a single ship and you'll likely never play it again once you're done.
On the other hand, you could just play the game 'properly' and take the blue pill, but with any stray bullet causing instant death, its appeal is likely to be exceptionally narrow. That said, if you've got an eye for twitch shooters and reckon you've got what it takes, then 500 points is a small price to pay.