The only problem with swimming in the download pool is that it completely rewires your gaming habits. Sampling upwards of ten games every week is like stepping back into that mythical past when you'd come home with a bagful of cheap games (or, more likely, a C90 cassette rammed with the latest pirated gems).
Back then, games had to impress you immediately. There was no time to wait for a slow-burn intro. No time to mess around learning complicated control schemes. You were already impatient enough as it was, what with hideous loading times. Designers cut to the chase, and knew they had to grab you in those first few minutes, or you'd move onto something else fairly swiftly.
Sometime after the PlayStation launched, that all seemed to change - seemingly forever. We all got increasingly sucked into playing sprawling epics, and demanded lavish production values. Happily, the growth of the download scene has proven beyond any doubt that there's room for both approaches to flourish side by side.
As for me, though, my tolerance for average big-budget games is at an all-time low. There was a time when I'd happily lap up most half-decent boxed games - but no more. Give me a handful of brilliant, inventive, instantly playable download titles any day.
- PSN (PS3) / $9.99 (Coming soon to Europe.)
- iPhone / £0.59
Some of you want nothing more than to stack things up and just keep on stacking. You should come over for dinner sometime. The more destructive types, though, I hate you with every fibre of my being. You just can't wait to ruin a tense game of Jenga, can you? Honestly.
Cast as the cuddly mediator in the great stacking war, Super Stacker likes to wave peace signs to both camps, allowing you to either play the constructor who piles shapes gently on top of one another, or the dude who enjoys knocking stuff down.
Adapted from Sparkworkz' popular Flash game, this vastly beefed-up and revamped PSN version shares a lot in common with recent WiiWare title Art Of Balance - albeit with a little more variety for your sheckles.
In Stacker mode, you're given a number of shapes and must pile them all up as quickly as you can and make sure they don't fall over. Simple. Elsewhere, Present Stacker mode puts a small twist on the theme, tasking you with piling the shapes up to a specified goal. Unstacker, meanwhile, has you blasting away dynamite blocks to coax a single block down to a designated area.
As you progress through the skill ranks of each mode, you'll endure increasingly complex tasks, forcing you into desperate improvisation that gets ever more frantic the further you go.
Played out against madcap backdrops and jolly tunes, Super Stacker is an instantly likeable puzzle title, and its forthcoming arrival on the European PSN Store will be well worth the wait.
- iPad & iPhone / Free, unlimited version £1.19
In times of dangerous sobriety, can there be anything more gently relaxing than tilting a cog through a mystical world filled with physics-based puzzles? I thought not.
Sadly, first impressions are cruelly misleading. Following on from the deceptive brutality of Limbo, this accelerometer-based affair is another wolf in sheep's clothing. It's also seductive in its beauty, opting for a minimalistic hand-drawn approach in the style of Chinese shadow art.
But once you've ushered your cog through a few rudimentary puzzles, its true colours start to emerge, with a barrage of often impossible-looking tasks. Sometimes the solution is easier than it initially appears, with a deft touch and well-timed jump often the key to persuading locks to spring and passageways to open.
Other times, it's just a matter of momentum. Go back a couple of screens, wind up your speed and hurtle through by the skin of your (cog's) teeth.
The problem with Trundle is that it's great... until you're stuck. Once you hit a wall, that's it. The user reviews of the iPhone original are littered with tales of woe of people wanting to love it, but finding no way to progress.
With no hint system, nor even help on mobile bros.' website, you're always one problem away from giving up in impotent frustration. And that's a shame for a game that displays such obvious potential.
- iPhone / £1.79
Angry Birds on the high seas probably sounded like an absolute winner on a night out in a Soho nightclub. On a Tuesday afternoon in Willesden Green, though, it just feels plain fiddly, frequently irritating, and eventually unplayable.
It gets off to a flying start, mind. Given the exalted 'App of the Week' status recently, Plunderland's eye-catching visual style looks every inch the summer smash it promises to be. On the iPhone 4's shiny new retina display, it's almost rude how sharp it looks. You could slice your eyeballs on the bloody thing.
To begin with, it all feels remarkably good fun, with its jolly rogering premise of smashing ships on the high seas, murdering everyone you see, and scooping up the gold. You tilt left and right to steer your boat, swipe your finger behind the cannon to fire shots at anyone in your vicinity, and vary your trajectory by moving your finger left or right. Simple enough - or so you'd imagine.
The trouble is, in combination with the tilt controls, it's all too easy to screw up in the heat of the fight, tilting yourself backwards just as you're lining up a shot, or overcooking the rotation of your shot and getting nowhere near your target.
With iPhone games, it's the absolute minimum requirement to get the controls right, but in that regard Plunderland fails. And considering that it seems to get everything else right, that's a big shame.
- Xbox Live Indie Games / 80 points (£0.64)
Strange but true: to guarantee instant popularity on the Xbox Live Indie Channel, ensure your game has Avatar support. You'd think people would be wise to this kind of uber-cynical caper by now, but apparently not, and so we must endure some of the most spirit-crushing pieces of crap imaginable.
But what's this? An Avatar-based title that doesn't make you want to rip your own face off and stamp on it? Surely not.
As the helpful title points out, the point of HaikuInteractive's soothing indie effort is to glide your grim-faced avatar around, performing various relaxing deeds for no-one in particular.
To a backdrop of unnerving lift music, you drift woozily around a trio of islands, racing through rings, collecting stars, or dropping parcels onto targets. With various tiers of medals to shoot for, there's a flimsy pretence of challenge, but in reality this is about pure, calming stress relief.
- PSN Minis (PSP & PS3) / £3.49
- WiiWare / 1000 Wii Points (£7.00)
Top game design tip: if you want your game to score instant novelty value points with game reviewers, come up with a bizarre control system that they'll spend their whole time fighting with.
Originally released for the Wii at the back-end of last year, Pallurikio's transition to Minis hasn't been especially fruitful. Based around a neat point-and-hold jump mechanic, you have to guide a ball around twisting, turning platform environments to a goal, while avoiding traps and scooping up cards. It's classic cutesy platforming fodder with a pleasing twist.
In its original incarnation, the controls were simple. You pointed the directional arrow where you wanted your ball to jump to with the Wii remote and held down the A button to apply the desired power, then hopped around gingerly, skilfully timing your double-jump to change course and nimbly avoid the many hazards en-route.
Stripped of the slick, instant precision of the remote, though, PlayStos' Minis port is forced to rely on analogue stick control, and the results aren't anywhere near as satisfying.
Manoeuvres that were routine on the WIi (like quick course correction) become an exercise in hand-gnawing annoyance - especially via the PSP's infamous nub (less so if you play on a PS3 pad, it must be noted).
Despite promising around 50 levels, it's hard to imagine all but the most tenacious gamer wanting to slog through Pallurikio on a PSP. If the idea still tweaks your fun dial, you're best to check out the more expensive WiiWare version.