Version tested: iPhone
While all the attention this week will be on the release of the much-vaunted iPad, what better than to completely ignore it in this week's roundup? To be blunt, most of what we're seeing on Apple's slab at present is, politely, shovelware. It's quite lovely upscaled shovelware in many cases, admittedly, but few games of note are taking advantage of what the system can do in any meaningful way.
So rather than pick out a few more games you already know plenty about, our focus this week is - as it should be - on the most interesting offerings we could find across the full gamut of download platforms. The continuing arrival of interesting new puzzle games shows no sign of slowing down, while the appearance of Phoenix Wright on iPhone will be a source of pleasure for John Walker, at the very least. But does the world need another riff on Geometry Wars, or GTA? Read on and find out...
- Xbox Live Arcade / 800 Microsoft Points (£6.80)
Fortunately nothing to do with the Scandinavian purveyors of insidious bubblegum Europop, this "stylish naval action shooter" takes Geometry Wars, puts it on water and adds a superfluous dose of narrative context for good measure.
Proving that it's often more appealing not to know why you're blasting waves of oncoming enemies, Aqua spoils its beautiful hand-drawn cut scenes with tedious exposition, but then more than makes up for it with its gorgeous, WaterWorld-inspired setting and slick twin-stick shooting mechanics.
Set over a meaty nine episodes (each broken down into a set of sub-levels), the game generally sends you off to destroy or defend a series of environments, taking out turrets, waves of bombers or a fleet of naval aggressors. Fluid, fun, well-balanced and thoughtfully paced, it almost always treads a fine line between providing a satisfying challenge and overwhelming you in the way that all the best twin-stick blasters tend to.
With a rewarding upgrade structure and lightweight strategic elements allowing Game Distillery to distance itself from its obvious influences, Aqua develops a personality of its own which, while not exactly breaking much new ground, shapes the shooter landscape in an appealing manner.
The Mirror Maze
- iPhone / £1.19
Following hard on the heels of the hideously addictive The Glowing Void, Assyria Game Studio cements its burgeoning reputation for classy iPhone titles with another resoundingly addictive and absorbing effort.
Providing another game that does exactly what it says on the, er, tin, The Mirror Maze challenges players with gently guiding a blob from the top left of the screen to the bottom right. The problem is, your actions are mirrored exactly by another blob on the opposite corner of the screen, and success depends on your ability to simultaneously steer both to their respective goals without so much as brushing suggestively against any walls en route.
In what amounts to a particularly evil twist on the age-old buzz-bar premise, such a severe penalty for the most minor of transgressions turns this seemingly benign offering into a throbbing battle of wills as you plot safe passage with your trembling sausage fingers.
Equal parts brutal frustration and sweet satisfaction, the hardest pat of The Mirror Maze is knowing when to put it down. For the price, it'd be rude not to add this to your collection.
Car Jack Streets
- PSP Minis (version tested) / $4.99 (on US PSN, Europe TBA)
- iPhone / £1.79
- DSiWare / 800 Points (£7.20)
Coming to the European PSP Mini line-up in the coming weeks, this 'tribute' to the original top-down Grand Theft Auto sticks doggedly to the familiar formula of DMA's 1997 classic with mixed results.
From a quick glance, there's little to separate the look and feel of Car Jack Streets and the game which spawned a thousand imitators. The sheer brazen purity of intent - to create as close an imitator as possible - is flattery indeed, and developer TagGames does a fine job of creating a budget urban sandbox.
Tasking you with paying off $1 million in debts, the curious real-time nature of the gameplay means you have to pay off at least $50,000 a week by doing the kind of regulation GTA missions we all know and have played approximately 90,000 times over: heists, assassinations, car delivery.
All the gameplay ingredients are here, but without the sharp wit it feels like an enthusiastic cover version.
If GTA: Chinatown Wars didn't already exist, it might be easier to stand up for Car Jack Streets. While by no means bad, the old adage of 'you get what you pay for' unfortunately holds true here.
- PlayStation Network / £7.99
- WiiWare / 1000 Wii Points
- Xbox Live Arcade / 800 Microsoft Points (£6.80)
- iPhone / Coming soon
Given how many people thumbed their noses at Capcom's Devil Dice and its tragically overlooked sequel Bombastic, it's hardly surprising that games involving dice are rarer than intellectual footballers' wives. But Exkee and Ubisoft are hoping to change all that with this thoroughly engaging dice-rolling puzzler.
Guiding your dice to the goal is the deceptively straightforward premise, but getting there can be a brain-breaking test of lateral thought and a fair amount of hapless trial and error as you chip your way through 60 levels of barbaric trickery.
Whether you're clearing a path of other dice, negotiating elaborate one-way systems, or activating pressure plates, it's a game with a relentless appetite for catching you out. Don't be fooled by its casual veneer, this is a real wolf in sheep's clothing.
And when you're done navigating the minefield of the single-player offering, a further four multiplayer modes lie in wait, each playable by up to four players. The first-to-the-finish Race and the tag-based Flag mode feel fairly throwaway, but the turn-based Tactic mode and score-based Arcade mode offer more meaty potential.
Adding to what has been an encouraging year so far for Live Arcade offerings, Voodoo Dice is another unexpectedly high quality puzzler.
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney
- iPhone / £2.99
You'll not merely risk actual bodily harm, but the very real prospect of being humiliated to death, if you make the assertion that you have no objection to Phoenix Wright's long-awaited iPhone debut. Ahem.
Appearing to surprisingly little fanfare on the iTunes store this week, the remarkable thing about Capcom's wry legal adventure series is how robust it has been to the ravages of time. Despite this being the its sixth platform since it debuted on the GBA way back in 2001, it feels as fresh as ever and suits the iPhone perfectly.
Essentially a direct port of the DS version, the game's touch screen interface remains, but the slightly smaller screen size doesn't compromise playability. Indeed, if anything the game looks even more striking, with its cartoon visuals crisp and vibrant on Apple's excellent screen.
Unlike its Japanese release, all five episodes come as part of this excellent-value package, and even if you've played it before, the quality of the writing makes you want to find someone fun at Capcom and kiss them right on the face.