Every week on Eurogamer, Kristan Reed hunts down the best in everything digitally-distributed and bite-sized across every format: iPhone and iPod Touch, DSiWare and WiiWare, Xbox Live Indie Games, Xbox Live Arcade and PSN, Steam and other independent PC distribution channels. We'll still bring you standalone reviews of the best and most interesting download games, but the idea is that by going multiformat with the roundups on a weekly schedule we can bring you a broader range of reviews of more exciting games more quickly. Win!
This week: how to use a set of scales, how to declare thumb war on zombies, how to navigate a maze with sound, how to solve a fruit mystery and how to make the impossible... impossible.
Art of Balance
- Developer: Shin'en Multimedia
- Format: WiiWare
- Price: 800 Wii Points (£5.60 / €8)
Apparently, stacking objects precariously on top of each other in a bowl of hot soup isn't acceptable dinner party behaviour. Some people can be so uptight.
Rather than risk the indignity of becoming a social outcast, you could just spend a few quid and enjoy Art of Balance instead, and save on unwelcome laundry bills into the bargain. Currently available only on WiiWare, this physics puzzler tasks you with gently stacking up all the available shapes without any of them toppling into the bowl of liquid.
With 100 levels of progressive difficulty, it's not simply a case of rotating and placing objects in the correct order, but manipulating the reticule with the Wiimote with increasing care. Presenting you with a stable plinth and regular shapes, initial levels offer a safe haven, but Art of Balance's initially forgiving nature soon gives way to challenges which reek of pure evil.
With a wonky base and a selection of increasingly awkward shapes to work with, success becomes ever more elusive, as you tentatively teeter on the brink of losing all your blocks to the merciless forces of gravity.
Once your stack is complete, you then have to sweat it out for a few agonising seconds for the three green lights to appear, only to have to do it all again in a succession of even more taxing levels. The variety of shapes increases, including ones which break if more than two are stacked on top of them. It's enough to drive you loopy, but you'll always come back for more.
With two-player co-op and versus modes adding a welcome dose of multiplayer fun to the package, Art of Balance is nothing short of essential.
- Developer: gamedoctors
- Format: iPhone / iPod Touch
- Price: £1.19
Some games appear specifically designed to make the player look like a frothing lunatic, involuntarily twitching away like Thom Yorke in the midst of a harrowing episode. Exhibit A: ZombieSmash, a game where you spend most of the time flicking your thumbs across the screen in frenzied protection of your house, under siege from groaning undead hordes.
The basic premise is to swat these rancid denizens of the dark away before they start smashing the front door down. Unlike the four million other Tower Defence clones, there's no physical unit placement as such - just a great deal of physical interaction as you swipe each enemy away from harm's reach.
Simple flicks send each enemy unit flailing in that direction, so as the onslaught progresses, the rate of your swipes increases proportionally. And no sooner have you flung the zombies into next week than you also have to tap the screen to pick up each star that emanates from them.
But increasingly powerful zombies necessitate the use of powerful countermeasures, such as guns, rocks, rolling boulders, wrecking balls and even liquid nitrogen. Occasionally, an enemy unit will drop one of these weapons, allowing you to pick it up and store it for later use in an inventory slot at the top left portion of the screen.
When mere frenzied flicking proves ineffective, sending a wrecking ball careening across the screen helps restore order for a brief period. Such tactics have to be brought into play sparingly, though, as you'll often clear one gaggle of foes only to find yourself up against something unflickable.
Failure is all part of the fun, mind, and such is the bite-sized nature of this "survival comedy", it never feels like a chore to start over - far from it. With its demented twist on tower defence, ZombieSmash is not only a quite brilliant timesink, but a sure-fire way of getting a train carriage all to yourself. Bargain.
- Developer: GLPeas
- Format: Xbox Live Indie Games
- Price: 80 Microsoft Points (£0.64)
This thoroughly sinister maze game has you guiding the titular BlindGiRl through a world of darkness on the way to finding musical notes. It's less Pac-Man, more Alone In The Dark, with added misery and chilling paranoia.
Unable to physically see your surroundings, you're forced to rely on your sensory understanding of soundwaves and the way they propagate your environment.
Represented by a pair of footprints, you walk around in search of clues to direct you to the next note, and can 'see' the walls around you via the red soundwaves which ripple around the walls with greater velocity and amplitude depending on how fast you walk.
As tremendously unusual as the play mechanics are at first, navigation quickly becomes intuitive as you pace the darkened corridors in search of clues, while avoiding the attention of lurking beasts. Attracted by the sound of your footsteps, you learn to tentatively lure them out before giving them the slip with graceful tip-toeing silence.
Collecting notes eventually has gameplay implications, allowing you to play back the song and fill the world with green soundwaves, revealing otherwise hidden waypoints which help guide you through the correct exit.
With its unnerving atmosphere, stylish minimalism and unique premise, BlindGiRl is another sterling example of why the Indie Channel is proving to be a fertile arena for artistic expression.
Super Yum Yum Puzzle Adventures
- Developer: Mastertronic / Airplay
- Format: DSiWare
- Price: 800 DSi Points (£7.20 / €8)
Despite the colossal presence of the iPhone's App Store, Nintendo doesn't appear to have quite cottoned on to the pricing system that has made its rival so unstoppable. Available via the DSiWare shop for a princely 800 Points, Super Yum Yum Puzzle Adventures is unavoidably hamstrung for being so highly priced.
And that's a shame, because it's actually an absorbing, addictive puzzle game despite its ill-advised name, gaudy Amiga-era visuals, curiously lengthy load times and amateurish presentation.
You play as a somewhat insatiable chameleon named Leon, whose passion for fruit evidently knows no bounds. Your sole aim is to manoeuvre your way around, flick your tongue out and gobble up as much as you can before you head for the exit.
Being a particularly picky sort, he only likes to eat fruit that matches his skin colour and then changes to whatever the colour its leaves are. Plotting a course around each level also involves careful navigation, with Leon able to haul himself across gaps with his prehensile tongue, but unable to reach fruit below him.
Some fruit also requires you to enlist the help of baby chameleons, so the puzzle mechanics quickly become pleasingly convoluted as you wrestle with the addictive trial-and-error nature of the gameplay. With a rewind button included, mistakes are easily rectified and it's a real pleasure to play.
If you can ignore the much cheaper, vastly better-looking iPhone version (Super Yum Yum 3), then this is undoubtedly one of the best puzzle titles on DSiWare.
The Impossible Game
- Developer: FlukeDude
- Format: Xbox Live Indie Games
- Price: 80 Microsoft Points (£0.64)
If at first you don't succeed, sit there like an obsessed maniac trying over and over again until the blood vessels pop out of your temple and start freestyle swearing in frazzled protest.
Like the OCD platformer Canabalt, The Impossible Game positively goads you with its hostility. Designed in as minimalist a fashion as possible, this deceptively benign side-scroller puts you in control of a simple orange square with the task of safely traversing a landscape populated with black squares and triangles.
Played out to an aural backdrop of insistent electronica, timing is everything in a game where the only thing to focus on is when to stab the jump button. Swept along perpetually, the slightest mis-timing is enough to send you plummeting to your doom - and right back to the very beginning.
It's monumentally frustrating, but also bafflingly addictive as you continually try to make precious progress. Despite the entire game only lasting about 90 seconds, even managing the first 30 seconds feels like a monumental feat. Give it a try and see how long your sanity lasts.