How inconsiderate is this ludicrously balmy weather? Did they not realise that I don't look good in shorts, and that playing games in 30-degree heat is about as much fun as being forced to listen to miserable football pundits bang on about how useless your football team is?
Even more inconsiderate is the fact that most of this week's selections are must-buys, with at least one that will probably go down as one of the very best WiiWare games to date, if not one of the best download-only titles anywhere. Without resorting to too much spoilerage, I'm sure a quick glance at the big fat 9/10 further down the page will catch your eye, and all I will say is that I may yet regret not giving it full marks.
Elsewhere, a couple of well-deserved eights should also get you scurrying off to download two superb little efforts, both in this instance benefiting from free demos, in case you don't believe me. Even better, some of the titles we've got to look forward to in the next few weeks turn an otherwise game-free summer into probably the most exciting we've ever had. If only someone would just turn down the big beaming death ray in the sky, that'd be marvellous.
Art Style: Light Trax
- WiiWare / 600 Wii Points (£4.20 / €6)
In a psychedelic parallel universe where Shigeru Miyamoto spent the 1980s obsessed with Tron, disco biscuits, Snake and sinister, fractured electronica, there is no Mario Kart. There is only Light Trax.
Colours flit and walls shake as skip's hypnotic audio-visual experiment, played cross-legged in air-conditioned, darkened rooms by saucer-eyed, ghoul-faced youths, pounds the senses with its abstract mutation of the racing game.
Without explanation, the game tasks you with piloting a single coloured line on a perilous journey to cross to the finishing line before your 'opponents'. Hazard-strewn circuits offer the unwary untold opportunities to fall behind, and threading your way to and fro amidst the traffic is made all the more challenging by virtue of not being allowed to occupy the same 'track' as your opponent.
Once you know your way around, the key to success is drafting your opponent by lining up next to them and building up your boost bar, then rocketing past them once it's full. Meet a wall head-on, though, and you're quickly scrapping it out with the pack, nervously steeling yourself for the next assault.
Furious, wasp-in-a-jar electronica does little to diminish the pounding tension, while the restless minimalism of the visuals throws your perception into a blender, morphing seamlessly between 2D and 3D and back again, spinning you upside down before leaving you in a disorientated heap in the face of the next malevolent onslaught.
Once you've recovered sufficiently from competing in the three-round championships, respite comes in the form of the Freeway, a soothing journey that serves little purpose other than to chill you out and prepare you for future journeys. After you've moved up the gears, you hit the freeway ramp, certain of only one thing: that nothing will ever be the same again.
Nelson Tethers: Puzzle Agent
- PC / $9.95 (about £6.50)
- iPhone, iPad and WiiWare / coming soon
The first fruits of Telltale's newly launched Pilot Programme, Puzzle Agent attempts to combine the twisted sensibilities of David Lynch and the Coen Brothers with the puzzle-adventure template of the ludicrously popular Professor Layton titles, and makes a surprisingly decent fist of it.
Set in the Midwestern backwater of Scoggins, Puzzle Agent casts you as nerdy FBI agent Nelson Tethers, a member of the US Department of Puzzle Research. Sent off to investigate a mysterious fatality at an eraser factory, he finds a resolutely unhinged town, where every oddball and his in-bred brother harbours some sort of twisted logic puzzle that he has to unpick.
Despite appearing to revel in its reverence to Level-5's approach, Puzzle Agent succeeds where it matters most - by simply being good at everything it does. Based on Graham Annable's indie comic Grickle, there's an endearing freshness to its grubby hand-drawn 2D. It's a style that skirts around Telltale's perennially limited 3D engine and gives the game the look and feel of an interactive animated short. You may wish the Telltale mob had gone down this road a long time ago.
With sharp writing paired with a charming if amateurish cast, Puzzle Agent's appeal is rough-hewn, but improbably cohesive. Were it not so instantly likeable, you might not care so much about the fairly standard logic puzzles.
As it is, once the game gets into its stride, the puzzles come into their own, with regular helpings of brain-teasers that challenge without frustration. With its helpful hint system and transparent scoring process, it's a thoroughly entertaining and thoughtfully constructed experiment that deserves all the plaudits heading its way.
- iPhone / £0.59
It always seemed a distressing waste of talent that Denki spent the best part of the past decade slaving away on digital interactive TV games (our favourite: Barbie Luv Me 3 Puppy Tricks). It's a bit like finding out that one of your favourite songwriters writes jingles for daytime quiz shows.
But following swiftly on from last month's marvellous Denki Blocks port, the road to redemption for the Dundee-based 'digital toy company' continues with the release of another tempting retro-flavoured morsel for the iPhone.
Doffing its battered cap to the granddaddy of them all, Pong, the idea of this lovely throwaway is to try and bat away blocks as they rain down from above. With its visual style designed to emulate the soft phospor glow, curvature and scan lines of a black-and-white TV, you're zapped right back to the sights and sounds of the seventies. The only things missing are Grange Hill, a packet of Spangles and an imminent power cut.
Played out to an audio backdrop of hypnotic blips and bloops, the game initially only drops one block at you, but the longer you keep it in play, the smaller it gets. It kicks up a notch as more blocks enter the fray, necessitating a focused approach as you gamely attempt to slide your bat left and right to postpone their disappearance.
With three-minute, five-minute and endless modes to battle against, there's not exactly much to experience (DEnki does admit it's a "microgame"), but OpenFeint support ensures that you'll be obsessing over your online ranking whether you like it or not.
- PSN (PS3) / £9.99
You know how it is. One minute you're a grumpy art thief, the next you're washed up on a tiny tropical island surrounded by the hungriest sharks the world has ever seen.
So what do you do? Well, you certainly don't build a boat or search for the secret submarine or probe the mysteries of The Dharma Initiative (what a waste of time that would be).
Rather less obviously, you find some dude called Marley (oof) to build you a helicopter from driftwood and palm trees and go around picking up fellow unfortunates like some sort of aerial Crazy Taxi cabbie.
OK, so the premise is about as sturdy as the wooden chopper, but Bearded Ladies' riotous little offering proves diverting over the course of its 20-level campaign. Played out against strict time limits, the idea is to fetch and carry each passenger safely to their destination while juggling various other assorted goals, such as refuelling the local bar with barrels of rum, or stopping the locals from drowning.
Although there's a certain chaotic charm about it (especially the frenzied split-screen duels), the inherent repetition quickly has you raising an eyebrow at its rather off-putting price tag. For a tenner, you'd expect a lot more.
Ancients of Ooga
- Xbox Live Arcade / 800 Microsoft Points (£6.80 / €9.60)
Continuing the current Xbox Live Arcade hot streak, NinjaBee's puzzle-platformer is yet another reason to forget all about the fact that there aren't any decent boxed releases for the next couple of months. Forgotten already? Good, let's press on.
Said to be something of a spiritual sequel to Cloning Clyde, this unapologetically bananas offering has you guiding a tribe of Ooganis through routinely bizarre environments, where eating your friends and then puking them up is considered socially acceptable. They'd get on well with England fans.
Faced with a procession of switches, ladders, pressure pads, wheels and bits of machinery to operate, you'll spend much of your time rounding up the required number of buddies to open up the next chunk of the environment.
With its twisted humour and mutated style lending a pleasantly Oddworld vibe to proceedings, this is a crafted effort for those of us with a tendency to mutter that they don't make 'em like they used to. Apparently they do.