Version tested: iPhone
59p might be the most important price point in gaming at the moment. It's the cost of a gamble - the exact amount of money that App Store shoppers are willing to spend on a title that might turn out to be rubbish, but has a tempting icon - and something developers may well view as curse as well as a blessing. 59p can send a game racing up the charts on a platform where the charts mean everything, but it can also cripple a designer's ambitions, holding teams back from working too hard or too long on a product they know is unlikely to bring them huge returns, no matter how well it sells.
But what will 59p actually buy you? The answer, of course, is anything from a buggy ill-conceived mess to a polished mini-marvel. In the App Store, the cost of a Mars Bar can equate to a surprising amount of entertainment if you shop wisely. Below, you can find a few of our low-cost favourites.
- Developer: Clickgamer.com
- Price: 59p
Few game titles can tell you how much the App Store has helped to change the face of the industry quite as concisely as Parking Mania. That's right: Parking Mania. It's an unlikely-sounding malady, perhaps, but it translates into a likeable game, with reasonable tilt-controlled steering and a decent range of different vehicles for you to manoeuvre into tricky spots.
With a sprinkling of hidden tokens to collect en route, Clickgamer's homage to the fender bender feels a little bit like one of Burnout's Crash Junctions played at half speed and with no pyrotechnics. So, although it's fairly short and the art is hideous, taken as a whole, Parking Mania can be quietly satisfying. Rather worrying, really.
- Developer: Mountain Sheep
- Price: 59p
At the moment, Minigore is an extremely basic - but still pretty stylish - twin-stick shooter, in which a box-headed beardy fends off endless waves of weird bitey things until the 187 to Camberwell arrives, your iPhone runs out of battery, or the existential horror of it all sweeps over you like a frosty tidal wave and you hurl yourself in the whirling cogs of some nearby machinery.
There's a single power-up at the moment, and one or two different weapons to use as the game grinds on, but the reason this is so playable is that, for me at least, it's the first offering on the App Store to really nail the controls for this kind of game. The virtual thumbsticks manage to be precise yet forgiving and your fingers never cover the most vital parts of the screen, while the promise of regular content updates (following the Pocket God model), taken alongside the quirky vinyl toy art, could see Minigore gradually transformed into something really special.
A solid basis for Mountain Sheep to build on, them, and an ideal framework for other developers to start ripping off.
- Developer: Critical Thought
- Price: 59p
The original geoDefense was the best fixed-path Tower Defence game on the iPhone: a series of devious maps and a smart drag and drop control system that blended brilliantly with fizzing neon graphics stolen wholesale from Geometry Wars. geoDefense Swarm is Critical Thought's attempt at sewing up the free-path Tower Defence market too, and the results are equally addictive.
Some may prefer the military chic of Subatomic's Fieldrunners, but Swarm has more content, better maps, slightly more satisfying units, and special effects which will make you feel like you're having just the right kind of grand mal seizure at an eighties disco. Prepare yourself for some wonky difficulty spikes early on, and be warned that the game literally insults you whenever you lose, but such casual brutality only serves to make your eventual victories all the sweeter.
- Developer: Pompom Games
- Price: 59p
There's no nice way of putting this: Pompom specialises in making games that look like they might be taking place inside some gigantic deep-space uterus. Shooters such as Mutant Storm and Space Tripper are wriggly, bacterial, and distinctly gynaecological, peopled by deadly clusters of sperm and nasty little many-toothed viruses (according to the internet, this is the correct plural for virus, incidentally, even though it looks weird to me).
Poppi, then, the tiny team's first iPhone game, is something of an aesthetic departure: the backgrounds might exude a slick shimmer as they shift uneasily, and the soundtrack still features the rumbling white noise that suggests that, somewhere near the game's playing area, stomachs are churning and blood vessels are flinging their gooey cargo about, but the puzzle pieces themselves are clean, brightly coloured, and distinctly non-disgusting.
Despite that, Poppi still displays Pompom's sharp focus on mechanics. Building a little on the Bliss Island format (the developer's only real disappointment so far), players prod a variety of falling disks around the screen, with the aim of connecting them with identical pieces before they hit the bottom.
While it initially seems simplistic, a handful of smart variations heat things up, and the resulting game, while not as wetly charismatic as much of the studio's output, will still draw you in for far longer than you might expect.
- Developer: NaturalMotion/Ideaworks Games Studio
- Price: 59p
According to Backbreaker, American Football is a game about hugging - or, more accurately, a game about avoiding being hugged. Reducing the complex stop-start rules of the sport to a simple race up the field towards the goal area, dodging the vicious lunges of a handful of opponents, Ideaworks' game benefits from controls that boast the same stripped-down immediacy as the premise.
A series of tilts steer your footballer, while on-screen buttons allow you to juke left and right, spin your way out of trouble, and even show-boat across the finish-line, and, with your score rocketing upwards with every encounter, it all works fantastically well - every touchdown transformed into a barnstorming victory, while excellent visuals and sound turn each wipe-out into a hilarious tragedy.
A prelude to NaturalMotion's forthcoming console game, Backbreaker has a leaderboard-chasing appeal that transcends its subject matter. Simple, certainly, but brilliant with it.