We furnish you with five mini-reviews of downloadable titles every Friday, but it's never enough. The world of downloadable gaming never sleeps. Not content pounding out a couple of dozen new titles every week, publishers and developers are always looking for ways to make money out of their bulging back catalogues. As Barry Norman used to say rather charmingly, "and why not?"
Sometimes it's easy to be cynical about ports, with the minimum effort evidently invested for the maximum return. Other times, we get all a-quiver as some of our favourite games of all time are lovingly remade to take advantage of powerful new tech. Find out which approach finds favour in our gripping 10-game roundup, revisiting all manner of titles old and new.
- iPad £2.99
- iPhone £2.99
Duking it out with Pac-Man as the most widely ported game of all-time, this evergreen turn-based strategy title is as popular now as it has ever been: roll your eyes all you like about Team 17 churning out endless versions of the same game, but they sell by the bucketload.
That said, even the most hardcore Worms fan would admit this touch-screen version of Worms doesn't quite work as well as it might. With its overly exacting control system, coupled with a completely inadequate tutorial, you'll spend most of your time trying to work out the basics rather than enjoying the simple pleasures of blasting your wormy opponents into tiny chunks.
Is it a good port? As with most of the launch games on the iPad, this was ported at breakneck speed, and it shows. Many of the graphics are merely upscaled rather than running at the iPad's native resolution, while no attempt has been made to add new features or improve the fiddly control system. Updates might improve matters, but right now this is a frustrating way to enjoy an ageless classic.
Alien Breed: Impact
- PC (Steam) £12.49.
- Originally released on Xbox Live Arcade - 800 points (£6.80)
Having waited 14 years for a new Alien Breed game, it was mildly disappointing that Team 17 didn't blow the doors off when the brand made its long-overdue return at the tail end of 2009. Instead of delivering an intense slice of horror gaming, we got a fairly humdrum interpretation, where co-op was sidelined and you spent most of your time following simple waypoints, hitting switches and fighting off the same enemies for five hours. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't great either, and this revamped PC version aims to fix at least some of the complaints.
With a new upgrade system, control and camera tweaks, autosaving and the option to turn off the waypoints, it's a marginally better game for the changes. The inability to play the main campaign without a co-op partner is still a bit of a deal-breaker, though. Why, Team 17? Why?
Is it a good port? Played on a suitably specced PC, the visual sheen offers a marginal improvement over the already fine-looking Xbox 360 version, with more detailed (and more varied-looking) enemies addressing some of the visual repetition inherent in the original. Perhaps more significant are the advantages of mouse-based control, which offer not only more precision but a far better camera system to boot. But while no one will have any complaints about the quality of the port, charging almost twice as much for the privilege is a little optimistic.
Command & Conquer: Red Alert
- iPad £7.49
- iPhone £3.49
Just as with many pointer-based games, real-time strategy has found an ideal home on the iPad, with the bigger screen offering the kind of instant precision that's hard to pull off effectively on smaller touch-screen devices like the iPhone.
With that in mind, you'd imagine EA would have no problem converting any of its Command & Conquer games. In reality, Red Alert is the product of a developer still getting to grips with new technology, with an imprecise unit-selection system that's easily confused in the heat of battle. While touch-screen RTS gaming is way more playable than using a joypad, it's certainly no substitute for the real deal.
Is it a good port? Red Alert's arrival on iPad is certainly a more playable step up from the iPhone version, with its triple-touch selection system. Like so many iPad launch titles, though, the upscaled visuals aren't as detailed as they could be, and a version specifically designed for Apple's tablet would be infinitely better. Until this comes down in price significantly, you'd be advised to hold off on this one.
Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2
- iPhone £2.39
Arriving completely out of the blue on the App Store earlier this year, Neversoft's 10-year-old classic is still regarded by many as the high point of the long-running series, if not one of the best games ever made.
For a game that demands absolute control precision, it's a bit of a stretch to try to replicate the game via an on-screen d-pad and buttons, but Activision somehow manages to pull of such an impressive feat without the usual game-breaking compromises.
Is it a good port? The PSone-era visuals are perhaps a little too faithful for their own good, and older iOS handsets struggle a tad with the frame-rate. If you happen to have a third gen or above, though, you'll be able to enjoy it as intended. The lack of multiplayer and a few soundtrack changes may irk some, but overall this is a surprisingly enjoyable conversion that old hands will get a lot out of.
Duke Nukem: Manhattan Project
- Xbox Live Arcade - 800 points
Released so long ago, I wasn't even contributing to Eurogamer at the time, this rather forgotten and, let's be honest, rather forgettable Duke platformer made an unexpected appearance on XBLA a few weeks ago. Fuelled by Duke's inimitable putdowns, you leap across rooftops, blast mutant pigs in the face and seek out an array of rather pointless secrets. If it was considered a bit of a waste of everyone's time in 2002, it all looks rather embarrassing eight years on.
Is it a good port? What's left of 3D Realms has certainly done a serviceable job of bringing one of Duke's more obscure adventures to XBLA, but the art style, character models and environments had the shonkiness of a shareware title at the time, so seeing them run in high definition is hardly going to help. Avoid, avoid, avoid.
Metal Slug XX
- Xbox Live Arcade - 1200 points (£10.20)
- PSN (PSP) - £23.99(!)
Metal Slug games have always been specifically designed to embarrass hapless gamers like myself, with their vertical learning curves and endless procession of bullet-spewing enemies and screen-filling bosses. It's the platforming equivalent of bullet hell, meaning that to stand even half a chance of playing them properly you have to be supernaturally gifted at twitch gaming and pattern recognition.
Originally released as Metal Slug 7 on the DS back in 2007, Metal Slug XX's recent reappearance on PSP and XBLA gives everyone yet another opportunity to be ritually humiliated by this deceptively cuddly platform-shooter.
Is it a good port? Given SNK's admirable/foolish reluctance to move away from the series' sprite-based 2D roots, you'd expect nothing less than a perfect conversion, and that's what you get for the princely sum of 1200 Points. It doesn't scale well on gigantic tellies, and you must endure nasty 4:3 borders, but for the committed, that's all part of the authentic retro fun.
Broken Sword: Director's Cut HD
- iPad - £4.99
- iPhone - £2.99
If only because Charles Cecil is officially one of the nicest men ever in the games industry, it's great to see this popular point-and-clicker return on platforms practically tailor-made for the prodding, probing nature of the gameplay. Broken Sword is, and always has been, one of the finest-ever British adventure games, and feels as fresh as it ever did, with a superbly tailored interface that's as intuitive as you could wish for.
Is it a good port? With its beautifully illustrated backdrops and elegant hand-drawn style, it all scales up reasonably well on the iPad's famously delightful display. That said, it's a bit misleading to call this an 'HD' version, with most of the graphics clearly upscaled rather than running in the native resolution, while the low bit-rate audio grates on the ears.
Although the game's still good enough to warrant a purchase if you've never played it before, those of you who've already got the iPhone version have every right to feel a little miffed about the conversion.
- Xbox Live Arcade - 1200 points (£10.20)
- PSN (coming soon)
It's be nice to think that publishers re-issue HD versions of old games precisely because they need no introduction, but RayStorm was neither particularly famous nor ever considered a classic. Released as part of Square Enix's ongoing efforts to monetise Taito's vast back catalogue, it's completely baffling why the Japanese giant feels compelled to charge 1200 Points for a game so few people care about. But there we are.
It wouldn't matter about the price if RayStorm was some sort of timeless, overlooked gem that demands reappraisal, but in the cold light of 2010, it's little more than a mildly diverting period piece, released at a time when developers were just getting to grips with 3D. Some of you might have fond memories of its 1997 arrival on the PlayStation, but everyone else will just see it as a rather by-the-numbers vertical shooter, with few defining characteristics.
Is it a good port? If functional is your definition of good, then yes. Otherwise RayStorm comes across as a gaudy glimpse of the bad old days of mid-1990s 3D. And no-one wants that.
Gangstar: West Coast Hustle HD
- iPad - £2.99
- iPhone - £2.99
Gameloft is perhaps the publisher most guilty of shovelling its mobile offerings onto the iPad, and Gangstar is a typical example of this. If the year was 1999, and we'd never seen Driver before, and GTA III was nothing more than a distant rumour, then Gangstar would probably blow our tiny minds. Sadly, this is 2010. We've all played dozens of urban sandbox adventures, and every single one is an order of magnitude better than this rancid attempt.
Is it a good port? By all accounts it looks like Gameloft has hit the upscale button on the iPhone version and farted out an iPad version in its lunch hour. Poorly detailed environments, garish colours and hideous character models are the least of its worries, with gameplay so fundamentally broken it's hard to know which element is the most offensive. From crippled tilt-based driving mechanics to laboured combat and stilted movement, this is easily the worst GTA clone I've ever seen. Even the reduced price isn't remotely tempting.
- Xbox Live Arcade 800 Points (£6.80)
- PC (Steam) £5.99
Going back to Doom II after years of manly cinematic epics serves as a startling reminder of just how pure and single-minded first-person shooters were when they started out. Packed with secrets and a seemingly endless procession of brutally unforgiving enemies, it'll give a bloody nose to even the most hardened run-and-gun maniac.
Is it a good port? Just as the original XBLA port of Doom fitted snugly on the Xbox 360 a few years back, this steroid-pumped sequel works well. Wisely, Nerve Software hasn't messed around with visual or audio makeovers, and instead opts for a rather beautiful 'warts and all' approach that delivers the game exactly as id Software intended in 1994. The controls work beautifully, the multiplayer options are ideal, and the No Rest For The Living expansion pack adds nine new levels. What more could you want?