E3's over! Out of the frying pan and into the games.
Hector: Badge of Carnage - Episode 1: We Negotiate With Terrorists
- iPhone / £2.39
A cantankerous old copper, a halitosis-ridden fat slag, a taser-wielding granny, hepped-up ASBO yoofs raving on mints, a blind sex fiend, a half-dead heroin addict.
These are the things that put the 'Great' in Britain, and just a fraction of the fescennine cast of this unexpectedly brilliant point-and-click adventure from Northern Irish animation studio Straandlooper.
Rocking up fully formed and foul-mouthed on the iTunes store a couple of weeks back, the first episode of this alternately hilarious and harrowing tale explores one man's struggle to deal with a hostage situation while trouserless and locked in his own cell.
Harking back to the early nineties glory days of sharp writing, stylish art and amusingly malicious puzzles, its effortless charm is apparent right from the opening cut-scenes. With its surly dry wit etched into every line, there's an admirable craft that you'd expect from seasoned veterans, never mind start-up rookies.
It's a tricky little sod, mind you. In typical point-and-click style, picking up everything, scanning every last pixel and 'creatively' combining items until something clicks is often the only way to progress, and with no helpful 'highlight' feature on what you can pick up, you'll repeatedly hit cul-de-sacs.
The payoff is always worth it, though, with some of the best one-liners and crackpot characters seen in an adventure game since the mighty Day of the Tentacle. Yes, it really is that good, and insanely good value for the three hours of fun it provides.
Tales In A Box: Hidden Shapes In Perspective!
- DSiWare / 500 points (£4.50)
Never mind the 3DS - get your 3D gaming thrills right now on the DSi with this alluringly broken hidden object game.
Sporting one of Nintendo's most convoluted titles ever, the gameplay is almost as clunky as the name, and yet there's improbable satisfaction in trying to wrestle with the limitations of the hardware, if only to make the most of Good-Feel Co.'s lofty ambitions.
Tasked with peering into a beautifully illustrated diorama, the DSi's camera supposedly tracks the position of your head in relation to the screen, and gives the impression of three-dimensional depth whenever you change the viewing angle of the system.
If you line up the objects just so, the idea is that you can pick out letters and specific shapes and move onto the next puzzle - in theory, anyway.
Even in optimum lighting conditions it's all a bit of a fiddly muddle, though, as you painstakingly attempt to make the necessary fine adjustments while also trying to point to the object on the touch-screen before it skews out of perspective again.
Play it in anything other than optimum lighting conditions, and these mild frustrations turn to impotent rage.
Tales In A Box certainly scores top marks for originality and its classy visual sheen, but it's sadly hobbled by somewhat incapable hardware. Maybe next year eh?
- PSP Minis / £3.99
Poor, unloved Gitaroo Man. Arriving at a time before rhythm-action turned into the globe-straddling corporate behemoth that it is today, it was content to peddle its peculiar brand of J-Pop infused button-stabbing nonsense to no-one in particular.
As infectious as its quirky charms undoubtedly were, you wouldn't have paid more than about a fiver for it. But now in this brave new world of digital distribution, revisiting such simple but profoundly brilliant idea makes much more sense - hence Vibes, a completely unapologetic homage to iNiS' forgotten gem
The premise of pointing the joypad stick (or, if you're playing on the PSP, the nub) in the direction of oncoming symbols and then timing the button press accordingly remains.
Get the timing and direction right and you'll clock up a higher score, screw it up and you'll suffer the indignity of being a ham-fisted rhythmless clod.
Played out against a breezy backdrop of wacky animation and stirring tunes (check out the wondrous Gitaroo Man tribute, 'Taro Gold' by Itsuka), developer Laughing Jackal seems to know exactly what buttons to press to get its audience nodding along appreciatively. Appropriate.
Robocalypse: Beaver Defense
- WiiWare / 600 points (£4.20)
Ramming itself onto the bursting Tower Defence bandwagon just before the doors shut tight for good, Robocalypse begs the question: what's the point?
At this stage we need to treat the never-ending wave of Tower Defence clones very much like the game itself. We need to swiftly build our critical defences against the fierce gameplay assault and man the barricades against the irresistible charm of the quirky art style, lest we become seduced and are forced to part with cash.
Despite kicking off proceedings with an endearing premise of malicious beavers striking back against their human masters, Robocalypse quickly goes downhill with predictable waves of enemies, done-to-death mechanics and rough-looking nineties-era isometric visuals. Enemies stroll onto the battlefield, you place your turrets, they mince up the enemies, and boredom quickly sets in.
A semblance of strategic choice lets you mull over whether to continually spam the battlefield with turrets or upgrade the existing ones, but you're rarely in any danger either way. Alongside your standard units you also have a Hero unit that you can direct to wherever necessary - and occasionally upgrade, but it's rarely important to focus much attention on him.
With Robocalypse content to be barely average in every department, this is one for only the most undemanding Tower Defence addicts.
- Xbox Live Arcade / 800 points (£6.40)
Now this is a first: a Breakout-inspired game that doesn't make me feel like my soul is flowing out of my eyes like bloody tears of boredom. [I maintain that it would be a second if you'd played Shatter, which you'd love! Get on it! -Ed]
Rather than just sullenly swat a dumb ball to and fro against a wall like Steve McQueen in solitary, Strawdog's chirpy re-imagining thinks it'd be much more fun to bounce wide-eyed animals (Arkanauts) up into the air with a giant trampoline while collecting colourful gems and fruit. They'd be right.
Nolan Bushnell's ancient concept of clearing all the clutter remains, but the path to your glorious tidy-up involves not merely guiding the trampoline around the bottom of the screen with the left stick, but also directing the 'lean' and upward momentum of the animal under your control with the right stick.
The playing area wraps around slightly, adding to the cosmic fun and allowing the gem-collecting to sprawl over the edges of the screen and lend the visuals a curious degree of three-dimensional depth. Once you're well into the swing of it, collecting missile-spewing power-ups and going on insane combo sprees as you play keepy-uppy among the clouds, there's a bizarre platform gaming crossover to the proceedings.
Terraforming your way through the broken planets, there's an unselfconscious joy to the spewing psychedelia that captures Taito's glory days in unexpected new ways. If Bubble Bobble, Rainbow Islands and Arkanoid had a saucy three-way, Space Ark would be the love child.