Version tested: PlayStation 3
After a sluggish start, the European PSN Store finally seems to be picking up speed with more and more original games added. With Xbox Live Arcade's regular Wednesday updates, and the Wii guffing out retro releases every Friday, does November's batch of bite-sized PS3 downloadery have what it takes to compete?
Remember Snake, that classic green-and-black mobile phone timewaster? Well it's back! In HD! And colour! And it's got balls! Scoff all you like, but Snake works - it's a classic arcade concept, and the fact that your mum probably has a go on her brick-like Nokia while she's waiting for the bus is testament to its lo-fi genius.
Such delicate concepts often fly to pieces when updated and weighed down with modern clutter, but Snakeball holds itself together surprisingly well.
The main change is, as the title suggests, the addition of colour-coded balls - instead of just chomping them to make your snake bigger (wahey etc) you now earn points by dumping them in a goal, or gobbing them out as projectiles. You're also much more nimble than ever before, steering your robotic serpent with analogue accuracy, a shift which suits the new score-based gameplay but rather undermines the frantic forward planning that was required when you could only turn at right angles. Still, there are loads of gameplay modes for your money - including online multiplayer for up to eight players, specific puzzle-style challenges, and a classic survival mode where you have to nosh as many balls (wahey etc) as you can before you gobble your own tail (wahey etc).
Pitching itself somewhere between Micro Machines and Katamari Damacy, Toy Home looks like a racing game but will only disappoint those who approach it as such. You drive a little clockwork car around oversized domestic environments, with pathways and bridges formed from household objects. Coins hover and rotate, ripe for the collecting, while swirling checkpoints are scattered all around. The game funnels you towards these checkpoints with its rough track layouts, although it doesn't really matter what order you hit them in. Once you figure this out, and realise the game is more like an open arena than a strict race course, it's actually a lot of fun, pelting around these cleverly designed playgrounds. In fact, stray off the prescribed routes and you tend to find all sorts of fun little secrets and bonuses that can be earned by generally smashing and toppling the scenery.
However...the game only uses the SIXAXIS motion sensing for steering. This alone will see it crossed off many people's lists. It's certainly not the worst motion sensing game, but nor does the act of twisting and turning the joypad really suit a game where precision control is so important. Lining yourself up for a tricky bonus item, or staying on top of wobbly raised pathways, can become a real niggle. The wooliness of the steering is compounded by the destructible environments. Pretty much any item in the game can be knocked over if you hit it hard enough, and while such mayhem is part of the fun, it can also leave you ping-ponging off debris or even demolishing a ramp that was vital for completing the level. Still, it's got charm to spare and - if you don't mind wrestling with controls that occasionally leave you gritting your teeth - this is a groovy little romp.