At a time when there are few so-called 'triple A' boxed releases to get excited about, it seems like the opposite is true in the burgeoning download space. About 15 games of note were sifted through for inclusion this week, from cute indie experiments to former boxed product being repurposed for the download channels. While a lot of them are admittedly nothing more than neat ideas chucked out for pennies, it's surprising to see how many of them, like Lazy Raiders and Aqua Panic, offer countless hours of gameplay for little more than the cost of your lunch...
Chronos Twins DX
- WiiWare / 700 points (£4.90 / €7)
- DSiWare / 500 points (£4.50 / €5)
Given that most people seem to struggle to do one thing at a time with any degree of competence, Chronos Twins DX's multitasking premise may well be your idea of hell. But have patience, for this knackered-looking side-scroller by EnjoyUP is secretly one of the most engaging titles to hit WiiWare or DSiWare this year.
Glossing over the convoluted back-story for a moment, the gist is that your character has the cunning ability to exist in two times at once. Displayed as two screens stacked on top of one another (or in dual-screen format on the DS version), you control both versions of yourself at the same time, in the same place, but in different eras of history.
Whether you walk or jump, both characters perform the same actions simultaneously, but traversing obstacles becomes a matter of getting your head around the game's logic. The golden rule is that if a platform exists in one era, then it supports both characters - regardless of whether it looks like you're walking into thin air in the other era.
Similarly, if an obstacle needs to be avoided, ducked under or jumped over in one era, the same holds true in the other, and the need to continually keep an eye on two fields of play at the same time becomes a hilariously haphazard trial-and-error affair - with the emphasis firmly on the latter.
But over time, once your poor addled brain adapts to the game's unique demands, Chronos Twins DX's maddening appeal becomes increasingly apparent.
- PlayStation Network (PS3 and PSP) / £7.99
Described memorably as "Pachinko Lemmings" by Tom Bramwell the other day, this tarted-up HD version of Aqua Panic finds itself a much more suitable home on the PlayStation Network.
Originally launched as one of those pesky boxed releases via Ubisoft last year on the DS and Wii (and before that on PSP as Downstream Panic), this frantic puzzler is guaranteed to have the swear box overflowing with contributions over the course of 80 taxing, fish-packed levels.
Like Lemmings, you have to save the defenceless little sods as they pour out of giant water tanks, inexplicably suspended high in the sky. With hungry predators determined to feast on these tasty fishy snacks, it's your job to create a safe passage to the ocean with timely placement of the tools available to you.
Using the right stick to control the cursor, and R1 to cycle through the available tools, you'll be able to bomb through weak points in the environment, create makeshift dams with plants, and harpoon predators before they get a chance to do their worst. It's deceptively simple and charming for the first 10 or so levels, but do not believe its lies. Preventing fish genocide is a multitasking, second-guessing nightmare, with the kind of plate-spinning madness that would stress out an accomplished juggler.
Just when you think you've got the measure of Aqua Panic, it heaps further misery onto you with a greater array of tools and ever more complex challenges. Soon, you're using snails to direct the flow of water to open up valves, or using fans to set off contraptions.
The sheer unabashed evil that Eko Software has managed to cram into a seemingly cute puzzler is something to behold. Despite its soothing colourful cartoon visuals and plinky-plonky soundtrack, within an hour or so, I was ripe for medication, punching the sofa and roaring obscenities to the developers' mothers as yet another fiendish slice of lateral brain trickery was unveiled. Man, if high blood pressure and incandescent rage was a measure of a game's quality, Aqua Panic would win awards.
The Glowing Void
- iPhone and iPod Touch / £1.19
Being completely literal with your game titles is a practice I heartily approve of, mainly because it makes life a whole lot easier when it comes to explaining what it's all about. With no wittering back-story to bore you with, Assyria Game Studio's The Glowing Void cuts to the chase.
Essentially a brilliant riff on Qix, the game's Filler mode presents you with a similar screen-filling premise. But rather than drawing lines, you must fill 70 per cent of the screen with circular voids, which you create by touching anywhere on the screen. The longer you hold your finger down, the larger your void grows, and the more points you gain.
But while you're busy marvelling at your swelling creation, little red dots bounce around the screen, threatening to undo your good work. If one of the red voids touches your glowing void while you're creating it, you lose a life, so it quickly develops into a monumentally addictive cat-and-mouse affair.
Every time you clear a stage, another red dot is thrown into the fray, making it progressively more challenging to create voids without getting hit. But with a modicum of luck and no small amount of skill and anticipation, you can effectively create yourself little protective barriers by tilting the device and penning in the red dots with your collection of voids. The frame rate can be a little unhelpful at times on older handsets, but hopefully future revisions will improve optimisation a touch.
A second mode, Burst, works on the basis of creating voids purely for points. As soon as you create one, it disappears again, leaving you with the task of tentatively stabbing around the screen between a flurry of red dots. Although not as ludicrously moreish as Filler, the challenge is knowing when to stop.
With its woozy soundtrack and neon minimalism, The Glowing Void is a fine piece of retro-futurism. It'd be rude not to get sucked in.
- iPhone and iPod Touch / £0.59
Ninjas' irrepressible hatred of fruitkind is well-documented. Frankly, who can blame them? Stupid bloody pineapples with their detestable spiky tufts. And who thought the kumquat was a good idea. Off with their heads!
Halfbrick's Fruit Ninja buys into this fruity massacre wholesale, providing cibophobics with the perfect release. As the evil fruit is lobbed into view, you must slice it up with gay abandon, swiping your finger across the screen before gravity denies you a killing opportunity.
To add to the fun, bombs are tossed into the fray, and must be avoided at all cost - if you so much as touch one, it's Game Over. As the action gets ever more frantic, these fizzing explosives make it tough to find an opportunity to slice up your prey. Miss three fruit, and, likewise, it's a return to the start menu.
As simple and fun as Fruit Ninja evidently is, it feels like a Wario Ware game isolated for a single release. The 59p price tag and online leaderboard support make it worth a quick spin, but the urge to return is limited - no matter how much bitterness you have towards Mr Citrus and his pals.
- Xbox Live Arcade / 800 points (£6.80)
Dr Diggabone is my kind of adventurer; a man so completely bone idle he refuses to walk, and expects the ground beneath his feet to move on his behalf. I recommend reviewing videogames for a living, renting a flat on the top of a hill and rolling to work.
But this particular "lazy raider" has riches to reap, so it's up to you to spin each maze around and slide him around treasure rooms, collecting various keys, dodging traps and collecting gems and relics on the way to the exit.
With beautifully simple mechanics, Lazy Raider's appeal is instant. Controlling with the left stick, you tilt the world left or right, sending Diggabone (or your custom Avatar) careening around the place with scant regard for his safety. Usefully, you can also flip the world's gravity entirely by pressing A, sending everything crashing down to the opposite surface and potentially opening up previously inaccessible areas.
Set over an impressive 80 levels (including five tutorial run-throughs), Sarbakan's game is an instantly engaging bite-sized affair with plenty of replay value. Screenshots don't really do it justice.