Version tested: PC
A bumper roundup this week, as we sprint through a brace of releases on every platform from iPhone to PC, and every genre from block-puzzler to FPS. There are some classic games too, although in true download fashion, they might not be the ones you expect. But hey, we need predictability as much as we need a hole in the physical media of our heads. Read on!
- WiiWare / 500 points (£3.50 / €5)
Imagine the abject infuriation of being put back to the start of a song every single time you got a note wrong in Guitar Hero. Well, that's how Gaijin Games rolls with its demonic platformer, which tasks you with guiding Commander Video safely over more than 50 hazard-strewn environments.
Presented in Bit.Trip's typical seventies retro chunkiness, Runner starts off all jolly and innocuous with a spring in its step and a chiptune song in its heart, before gradually removing its mask and revealing the cantankerous grimace that lies beneath. Like Canabalt and The Impossible Game before it, you're sent sprinting off on an unstoppable rhythmical journey, and left to focus on collecting gold and making sure you don't snag yourself on an obstacle or fall down a hole.
With the simplest controls possible, you can either jump, kick, slide or launch yourself via springboards, but within a handful of levels the game turns the heat up and leaves absolutely no margin for error whatsoever. The slightest mistimed jump or fumbled kick, and it's back to the start with you, sonny.
Such unapologetic punishment all becomes part of its masochistic appeal, of course, and before long you get sucked into an obsessive loop, desperate not to be beaten. In the end, though, this is Gaijin Games we're talking about; no matter how much you try to like it, the price of 'winning' will be spending the rest of your days gently rocking in the corner.
- iPhone and iPod Touch / £2.99
And the winner of the 'About Bloody Time Too' award goes to Dundee-based developer Denki for finally getting around to bringing its classic GBA puzzler to the iPhone.
Once described as "a Tetris for the 21st Century", there's a beautiful design simplicity that belies some of the most fiendish block-sliding puzzle design you've ever encountered. Unwittingly tailor-made for touch-screen play, its transition to Apple's handset is a real cause for celebration.
If you've never encountered the game in its many forms before, it's all about reuniting same-coloured tiles by sliding them around a simple environment. The problem is, when you move one block, all the blocks on the screen move in the same direction - unless they're obstructed, that is.
With so many ways of getting yourself in an impossible situation, the trick is to try and think a few moves ahead to figure out a cunning route. As Denki itself admits, some puzzles are like defusing a time bomb, and others like lock mechanisms: one false move and the whole plan can fail. But with more than 100 intricately balanced puzzles and insanely smug Master Challenges to shoot for, this is a game that demands pride of place on your iPhone.
Serious Sam HD: The Second Encounter
- PC (Steam, Get Games and others) / £17.99
- Xbox Live Arcade / date and price TBA
Although by no means as serious as cancer, this Croteam remake of its demented 2005 sequel certainly means business. Following on from last year's superb remake of the original, The Second Encounter continues in the same vein, with the entire game remade using the glorious Serious Engine 3.
It's the same relentless 'Doom on steroids' brand of non-stop action that proves to be a welcome antidote to the excesses of a genre that generally takes itself far too seriously. The irony isn't lost on us.
There's rarely a second to catch your breath before another gaggle of gigantic suicidal beasts home in on your six, and it's a formula you'll either get into the spirit of or tire of very quickly. For the stalwarts, it's an absolute feast, with a ton of new features which make it near-as-dammit an essential purchase.
Easily the most significant of these are the new co-op modes, allowing you to play both the campaign and survival mode with up 15 of your pals. Yes, 15. Fans of old school deathmatch can also rejoice, with eight new maps, while the new Beast Hunt and My Burden modes add more spice to the competitive multiplayer. With new team modes thrown in for good measure, this is fan service at its best.
The jackhammer gameplay won't necessarily win over new converts, but for everyone else, this silky remake is a must buy.
Sam & Max: The Devil's Playhouse - Episode 2: The Tomb of Sammun-Mak
- PC and Mac / £24.99 for five episodes
- PS3 / £19.99 for five episodes
- iPad / £3.99 (coming soon)
If you thought Telltale might have used up all of its great new ideas in the season opener, then this second helping of crime-fighting fun proves conclusively that this purple patch was no fluke.
Having kicked off the new season with a surreal bunch of abilities that allowed Max to read people's minds, turn into inanimate objects and teleport to people's cellphones, this latest goes even further into warping Sam & Max's fragile grip on reality.
Upon discovering a bunch of dusty old film reels, Sam & Max can put each one on in any order of their choosing, and sit back and see how their relatives dealt with a series of problems. But as you soon figure out, solving each reel involves finding out things that happened in the past... or the future. Whenever you hit a dead-end or come to a new realisation, you can switch back to a different reel and pick up where you left off, possibly armed with new information.
With the usual snappy dialogue, hilarious set-pieces and some genuinely brilliant puzzles to wrap your ailing brain around, it looks like Telltale has hit a rich vein of form.
- DSiWare / 500 points (£4.50 / €5)
This charming tale of a boy and his wayward goldfish gives the distinct impression that it's going to be one of those quirky DSiWare games that you wish everyone would buy. That is, until you play it and get horribly frustrated with the clunky controls and useless camera.
The premise feels perfectly fun and engaging at first, involving little more than moving a cute lad around an isometric environment, collecting power-ups and figuring out a path to Flipper. Sometimes you need to blow up obstacles to get there, other times the collectibles allow you to repair bridges, or build a step that'll let you reach a higher block. It's all fairly simple, logical stuff, and despite the sluggish camera rotation system, rather satisfying to prod your way through.
But once the game starts throwing increasing numbers of enemies at you, the inadequacies of the controls really start to grate. With no direct control over movement, you have to tap the screen to get the boy to move to where you need him to go, but it's frustrating and imprecise, and you continually get caught out because it either misread your input, or didn't respond at all.
With its distinct Voxel 3D visual style and some engaging puzzles, there's a core of good game struggling to get out here, but one that is ultimately thwarted by the fiddly controls.