Version tested: PlayStation 3
Damn it, people. Will you stop releasing so many good downloadable games so I can revert to being miserable about the state of gaming? Every week I think we're due a fallow period, up pop another clutch of outstanding titles that embarrass most of the games lining up on high street shelves.
With games as good as Helsing's Fire, Osmos and Lumi appearing out of nowhere, it's no wonder people are spending less on boxed products. Recent figures from Chart-Track and NPD might look depressing on the surface, but perhaps we're simply spending our money on better-value games available for download?
With so much quality available for so little, why on earth would anyone buy one average game when they can have as many as ten more interesting, more creative games elsewhere? The hard part, obviously, is knowing where to look, which is where this roundup comes in...
- iPad - £2.99
- PC (Steam) - £6.99
Welcome to the iPad's new poster child.
In Osmos, you are a thing. A 'mote', floating listlessly in the ether, disconnected from desire. You're able to consume the smaller motes around it, or to be consumed by the larger ones; the soothing ambient sounds belie your permanently fraught existence.
To propel yourself, you must expel matter by tapping behind the mote. Eject too much and you risk becoming smaller than the mote you wish to consume, but take too long to reach your destination and you risk missing the object of your affection altogether. It's a deliciously delicate balancing act.
Osmos is all about momentum. If you don't get off to a good start, often the bigger motes that surround you will continue their inexorable journey to becoming huge, and make it impossible to consume them. But in the haste to get going, you often leave yourself in an area of the environment devoid of tasty morsels, or perhaps disappear off the edge altogether.
Originally released on the PC and Mac last year (you might recall Jim getting in a froth about it), its transition to iPad is extraordinary. Positively tailor-made for tactile, multi-touch play, you can pan, pinch and zoom with ease, and deftly guide your mote with pixel precision.
At the very least you'll gaze into its gloopy beauty and sink into the chilled tranquility of arguably the finest ambient soundtrack ever committed to a videogame. Quite unlike anything you've played, Osmos is the kind of game even Brian Eno would admire.
- iPhone - £0.59
Professor Helsing is the thinking man's vampire killer. He doesn't need sharpened stakes, silver bullets and crucifixes. This refined fellow can take out the undead with the power of light, a carefully brewed tonic or two, a carefully teased moustache, an arched eyebrow and a deft quip. What a gent.
Set across 90 levels, Clickgamer's cheaper-than-chips puzzle game cannot fail to charm the leather thongs off the most jaded handheld gamer. Viewed from above, the action places you in a room full of grisly monsters, and it's your job to bathe all of them in light and throw tonic at them.
By placing your blazing torch with your finger, you can often angle it so that most (if not all) of them are lit up at the same time. Once you're ready, you hit the tonic bottle at the bottom of the screen, sit back and enjoy watching Helsing high five and fist bump his faithful assistant, Raffon.
As you work your way through the various dungeons, new challenges crop up to make matters more challenging, such as colour-coded monsters resistant to certain tonics, or armoured foes, or maidens whom you mustn't expose to light. Eventually you'll fight the level's boss and duck into the shadows to avoid their all-pervading attacks.
With its insidious wit and gothic charm, Helsing's Fire is a joyously original instant classic that iPhone owners should buy immediately.
- Xbox Live Indie Games
- 400 Microsoft Points (£3.40)
"400 points for an Indie game?" You can positively feel the steaming indignation all the way down here in Brighton. Fortunately, Kydo's latest helping of psychotic game rage is well worth the increased blood pressure and inevitable psychotherapy that results from prolonged exposure to its fleshy innards.
Just like the developer's previous offering, Soul, it all looks innocent enough, with its cutesy premise to bring light back to the gloomy forests. You control a wee yellow Pikachu-Monkey thing, who swings DK King of Swing-stylee around, attempting to hoover up all the fireflies hovering peacefully in the night air.
Dotted around the place are little trees, and placing the fireflies onto them helps illuminate the landscape and, eventually, lets you sneak out of the exit.
Blessed with slightly eccentric game mechanics, you'll spend much of your time barrelling around haplessly, using the left and right triggers to attach yourself to red or blue swing points. If you manage to let go at the right time and quickly switch to the other trigger, the opposing force propels you much further than simply jumping off.
Though it's initially fiddly, you eventually engage in its rhythms and furiously addictive challenges. Either that or you spontaneously combust trying to escape from the huge stag beetle on the fourth level. See if you can do it in under the 160 attempts it took me.
- Xbox Live Arcade
- 800 Microsoft Points
Do you care about which warriors from history were more deadly? Do you lie awake at night pontificating about whether a ninja could mess up a viking, or whether the armour strength of a pirate would put him at a disadvantage against a mighty knight? Then we have just the game for you!
Based on Spike's popular (and ridiculed) TV show of the same name, Deadliest Warrior attempts to answer such furiously debated questions in the context of this rather hollow beat-'em-up.
Having evidently ignored all of the best bits of Street Fighter, Tekken, Virtua Fighter and even Mortal Kombat, we're instead treated to a fighting game entirely devoid of combos. It's like the last 22 years of fighting game evolution never happened, with a hilariously limited range of moves.
You can choose from four different basic attacks assigned to the face buttons, dodge with the right stick, block with the right trigger and perform a signature move with RB. Thanks to a quite absurd damage system, you can find yourself downed in three or four hits, usually meted out with all the precision of a Friday night drunk in Basildon.
Sadly, Pipework Software didn't dare to tackle the thorny issue of whether the IRA could take out the Taliban (as the show infamously did), but it does let you chop your opponent's arm off. A crumb of comfort for some, I'm sure.
- - DSiWare
- 500 DSi points (£4.50/€5)
I suppose 'Marble Flicker' probably wouldn't have been as catchy a title, but it would have been a whole lot more accurate and honest than passing off this breaktime diversion as Crazy Golf.
Once you get over the harrowing disappointment of being mislead so mercilessly, you might even start to enjoy Cranberry Production's latest DSiWare effort. The idea is to coax a ball/marble/cluster of murderous molecules across a table into a portal of doom. At least that's what I read into it.
The table is strewn with random desktop objects, such as pencils, rulers and coffee mugs, and you must try and reach your goal as quickly as possible and with as few shots as possible. With its simple putting mechanic, you simply point and drag a dotted line to vary direction and power, and let go when you're good and ready.
Shots ping all over the place, often snagging on obstacles or dropping down holes, and you quickly get horribly sucked into mastering the array of improbably challenging courses.
Crazy Golf is hardly a revolution in handheld gaming, but sometimes all you want to do of a day is flick balls across pretend courses, if only to ward off the impending existential crisis.