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.