Pricing evidently has absolutely no bearing on the quality of download games right now. Some are happy to take a punt at retail prices with quite dismal offerings, while others are practically giving away their hard work despite being obviously brilliant.
This week, we've been treated to indie gems like Apple Jack and Numba, both the recipients of exceptional scores, and both available for the price of an tasty break-time snack. Yet, it's often punishing to witness how awful some of the titles punted onto, say, PSN are (Planet Minigolf and Death Race: Resurrection to name and shame) - and at prices that leave you shaking your head, if not your fist.
Should we go back to some sort of old-fashioned official quality control to save people from such detritus, or is the will of the free market a better means of separating the wheat from the chaff? Let us know.
- PSP Minis / £1.24
- iPad and iPhone / £0.59
It's hard to think of a single title in the history of videogames that's as boring to describe as Numba, so the biggest challenge will be to reach the end of the third paragraph without wanting to pull your own eyes out and blow on them.
Presented with a simple grid full of numbers (8x9 on the PSP, 8x6 on the iPad/iPhone), Classic mode tasks you with highlighting and connecting a selection of three or more tiles to create a Numba chain, such as 1, 1, 1, or sequential tiles such as 1, 2, 3, or 4, 3, 2 or odds and evens such as 1, 3, 5, or 2, 4, 6 and so on. Still with me?
Good, because Cobra Mobile's puzzler is probably one of the most maddeningly absorbing tile-matching games I've had the pleasure of playing since the mighty Zoo Keeper.
That got your attention. To begin with, Numba goes easy on you, with only three different numbers featuring on the grid, but as more numbers start to creep in the trickier it is to spot chains, and the harder it becomes to fill your points bar before time runs out. Adding further spice are the special ice, fire, vanish or chameleon tiles, which put the cat among the pigeons when the pressure's on.
Elsewhere, two further modes work similarly well, with Timeless played purely for score with no time pressure, while the excellent Puzzle mode provides the beautiful challenge of removing all tiles from the board via a series of predetermined arrangements.
Addictive, challenging and beautifully pure, Numba is one of those games you'll never want to uninstall. For the price, it's a mandatory purchase, though go for the touch-based versions if you have the option.
Feel For Two
- PSP Minis / £3.19
If you're the kind of thrifty soul who checks at least four reviews before committing 59p to an iPhone game, then how does less than 27 pence per game sound? Available as a joyously bananas 12-game suite of two-player Minis, you'll scarcely care whether they're any good or not - this is like the gaming equivalent of open mic night where everyone's come with excellent wigs and hats.
Given that Sony's Japan Studio is behind all this horseplay [neigh! -Ed], there's an inherent deranged creativity about throwaway nonsense like Love Cupid.
Tasked with helping a couple fall in love, one player holds the left side of the PSP and controls the angel with the bow trying to shoot hearts, while the other holds the right side and has to collect them and bring them to the scales to ensure the couple make sweet love.
Then there's the (literally) barking Sheep Defence, where the two of you have to run around in circles trying to protect your flock from wild beasts, or Pile Up! Bakery, where you have to try to create the tallest tower of cakes and pastries possible within the time limit.
Perhaps in the right circumstances (if you're, say, 15 and want to find a bizarre means of getting physical contact with a 'friend'), then games like Finger Connection will have a disproportionate appeal. Who couldn't love a digit-based take on Twister?
On the other hand, for every charming piece of lunacy, there are a couple of equally forgettable offerings, such as Pinball Duel, Homerun Hitters, One Two Boat Race, or Ramen Heaven, where fighting it out to spoon the oily deposits will either make you giggle or give you an existential crisis.
With its impulse price and feelgood vibe, it's hard to be too down on Feel For Two's hit to miss ratio. Just shotgun a six pack of Pocari Sweat and get into the spirit of it.
- DSiWare / 800 points (£7.20)
I wonder exactly how many high-octane, adrenaline-fuelled racing games there have been in the history of videogames. Let's do a sweepstake! No, I'm not counting.
QubicGames can be forgiven for unimaginative hyperbole, because its rather slick stab at aerial racing succeeds in all the areas that matter.
With its unflinching frame-rate and highly responsive controls, AiRace lets you careen around all six courses without feeling like you're fighting against the limitations of the ageing hardware.
With multiple branching paths and an array of collectibles to aim for, there's a nagging desire to do better next time, which goes some way to making up for the lack of tracks.
While it probably won't get the adrenaline pumping for long, AiRace is certainly high-octane fun while it lasts. (Am I fired yet?)
- Xbox Live Indie / 80 Points (£0.64)
There I was, throwing washing machines at Pandas in Suffolk, wondering how it had come to this. A poor boy. A lost dog. An apple for a head. A plaintive Robert Florence ballad. What better way to spend your last 64 pence.
Like a lost 2D platformer from the Amiga era, Apple Jack is a fuzzy throwback to the days when cheerful wanton destruction of appliances and endangered animals was considered socially acceptable.
With its garish colours, hand-drawn appearance and mechanics casually half-inched from Super Mario Bros., there's an effortless knocked-up-in-my-shed charm that makes it way more fun than it has any right to be. Progress is simply a case of killing everything in the level, but how you go about that evolves My Owl's quirky effort from simple retro platform game into something approaching a puzzler.
At first, merely standing on an enemy's head, picking it up and lobbing it at another enemy does the trick, but before long you're carefully plotting a path, ensuring that like-coloured objects smash into one another to open a barrier elsewhere.
If you manage to smash another object within a time limit, you set up a multiplier, adding a scoring element to proceedings.
With wistful acoustic guitar melancholy providing a pastoral innocence to the rural wildlife genocide, it's like Syd Barrett and Matthew Smith got together, dropped some tabs and fashioned this purely for our benefit.
Lead The Meerkats
- WiiWare / 1000 points (£7.00)
Everyone knows how hilariously rubbish I am at games sometimes, but even I don't normally find my attention so deficient that I'm forced to go through an initial tutorial three times before I can get the faintest grasp of what the game actually wants from me. If you've got short-term memory issues, best keep a pen and paper handy for Inaria Interactive's WiiWare effort.
Promising a Pikmin-esque degree of console real-time strategy, Lead The Meerkats is about reuniting your lonesome mongoose with your pack after a vicious storm leaves you alone against the desert predators. But problems manifest early on, with confusing control mechanics making even the simplest tasks making you feel like a secret handshake is required.
Crazily, instructions are delivered once and once only, leaving you fumbling around trying to dig burrows and figure out what to do when you have. Through dogged persistence and blind trial and error it becomes evident that you're supposed to eat bugs and snakes in order to gather enough food to create an offspring, and eventually you find yourself with a small pack.
But even when you've slogged through the process of digging and foraging and are completely at ease with the control quirks, the rank boredom involved in growing your territory robs you of any desire to persist. Eventually you find yourself battling predators and rival packs, but with so much tedium to endure en route you either have to be blessed with improbable patience or a love of slow-paced repetitive tasks.
What looked like a peaceful riff on one of Miyamoto's finest ideas winds up a far duller prospect than it ought to have been. Shame.