Version tested: Wii
Another week, another clutch of interesting games fall into my grateful paws. Obviously Limbo has already had its moment in the sun, and deserves all the plaudits coming its way. But that's not the only game you should be considering this week.
Top of the heap is undoubtedly Q-Games' 3D Space Tank, a DSiWare game of such excellence it's a wonder Nintendo didn't go the whole hog and turn it into a boxed product - or, hey, hold it back for the 3DS.
Elsewhere, it's a bit of an eighties tribute this week, with the likes of Astro Dodge, Miner Disturbance and Crossfire all revisiting familiar retro concepts and giving them an interesting twist - with mixed results.
3D Space Tank (a.k.a. X-Scape)
- DSiWare / 800 DSi Points (£7.20)
Back in 1992, the humble Game Boy wasn't exactly famous for 3D shooters. Given its meagre innards, it was a task roughly akin to asking a poodle to tap dance while quoting Shakespeare. Backwards. But that's more or less what Argonaut's Dylan Cuthbert managed to eke out of the humble Nintendo handheld with the seminal X.
No doubt personally offended that Nintendo never bothered to release X outside of Japan, Cuthbert and his Kyoto-based Q-Games outfit have decided to belatedly redress the balance by releasing a hugely enjoyable sequel (known, bizarrely, as 3D Space Tank in Europe, rather than X-Scape).
Featuring a slick touchscreen control system broadly similar to that featured in the excellent Dementium, you zip around a series of stylish environments, blasting enemies, hacking terminals, collecting energy orbs, opening up warp gates and generally whizzing around the galaxy righting wrongs. Like a proper space hero should.
Missions rattle along at a pleasing pace, and before you know it you're increasingly drawn into working your way up the ranks, upgrading your ship, and taking on side missions to unlock what is a surprisingly big and deceptively challenging game.
But what's really pleasing is how much effort has been put into conjuring a unique-looking title. With its endearingly eccentric colour schemes, you'll swear the team is trying its best to come up with combinations that will fry your eyes out of their sockets. Mmm, orange and green.
There have been quite a few really promising DSiWare titles of late, but none come even close to matching 3D Space Tank. If it was a boxed title, I'd have no trouble recommending it, but as a download game for under a tenner, it's essential.
- iPhone / £0.99
Pausing only to high-five fellow subterranean classics like Boulderdash, Dig Dug and Miner 2049er, Miner Disturbance tunnels straight through your stony heart, hits you in the gut, and reminds you of the time when the pinnacle of gaming excellence meant mining for gems in dark, dank and mysterious caves.
That time was 1984. Some of you probably still wish it was the summer of 1984. Quite right, too. The Smiths were ripping it up on Top of the Pops again, Matthew Smith was a teenage god, and games loaded to your computer via the medium of sound. What's not to like?
Apart from R Tape Loading Errors and the dreaded Lenslock, not much. This breezily confident stab at recapturing those heady glories succeeds remarkably well, cheerfully borrowing leftover ideas and refashioning them with a spring in its step and a song in its heart.
With a simple task of reaching a collection target within a specified time limit, you have to balance your kleptomaniacal desires with the need to get a shift on. Pickaxe in hand, you bound around like the grumpy prospector from Toy Story, mindful that hazards lie in wait.
Bats flutter, and the ground crumbles precariously overhead, threatening to bury you and its secrets if you act hastily. With so many crafted levels to explore, you'll want to lose yourself to its simple pleasures, but the fiddliness of touch screen controls never gives you the precision you need.
Perhaps when ported to Minis or DSiWare we'll see Miner Disturbance reach its lofty potential. For now, though, it's a delightful nod to early eighties platforming, but one held back by an ill-suited input method.
- iPhone / £1.24
Prolific indie powerhouse Assyria returns with what amounts to Asteroids for pacifists.
As the title helpfully indicates, it's all about dodging pesky space junk. Presumably your laser's packed up, leaving you with little choice but to try and steer out of the way of the oncoming shower of rock without getting hit.
Merely dodging spinning hunks of debris on its own would be pretty dull, so for high-score kicks, you're tasked with picking up as many glowing green blobs as you can. But with only one life in stock, it's a delicate balancing act as you try to hoover up the shinies while surviving the projectile onslaught.
To make matters even more taxing, you also have to keep out of the way of nearby black holes, which suck you to your doom should you get too close. With passing cosmic showers also blasting you off course, it's enough to put you off the idea of space travel for good. But with ship upgrades to aim for, and Openfeint leaderboard glory dragging you back for more, the one-more-go factor lures you back again and again.
Once again, Assyria's knack for producing super-cheap, instantly addictive micro-games in the style of classic eighties arcade games makes this a no-brainer purchase.
Pearl Harbor Trilogy 1941: Red Sun Rising
- WiiWare / 700 Wii Points (£4.90)
For anyone with an incurable weakness for a decent aerial combat game, Red Sun Rising ought to be an appealing prospect. With its intuitive and precise tilt-based controls, impressive visuals and decent roster of missions, we should just skip straight to the conclusion and tell you to get on with buying it. It's only 700 measly WiiWare points, after all.
The problem is, it's just nowhere near as fun as it ought to be. Brutal difficulty spikes abound, and within a few missions you can't shake the feeling that Legendo didn't quite get around to balancing certain sections.
More often than not, you're left trying desperately to shake off enemies blasting you with unerring accuracy from behind, rather than getting on with the all-important task of blasting foes. No sooner have you lined yourself up for a shot, you're being raked with fire again, and so the pattern goes on. Rather than help you out with a lock-on system, it's all a bit hit-and-hope, and rather stacked against you.
If you can deal with endless failure, then there's the bones of a decent game in here. With a bit more substance to the missions and a few control refinements it would have been a must-buy. Let's hope Legendo gets it right in time for the next two parts.
- Xbox Live Indie Games / 240 Microsoft Points (£2.04)
It was a little remiss of us not to get around to reviewing radiangames' JoyJoy a couple of months back, but it's fine. Look! They've got a new one out!
This time, we get Space Invaders with a nifty flanking mechanic. Bedecked in Geometry Wars' glowing neon, lines of enemies do their usual bullet-spewing dance while you dodge the death shower underneath and dutifully sweep up the collectibles.
Able to flip to the top of the screen with a flick of the trigger, you can quickly turn the tables on your aggressors and get in behind them. They soon get wise to your tactics, though, flipping their orientation and giving you precious little opportunity to chip away at their defences in a frenzied cat-and-mouse affair.
Played with a co-op buddy in tow, the chaos cranks up further still. Working together to clear a path, there's a hint of playability through the blizzard of unrelenting bullet hell, but it's fleeting.
At times it feels like radiangames is onto something. By the time you get to the later levels, the needle strays into the red so often that participation almost feels futile. Devoid of balance, Crossfire quickly turns into little more than a fireworks display.