Almost half way through the year, here are the best iOS, Android and WP7 titles so far, handpicked with help from the team at PocketGamer.
Last year was all about Angry Birds. The unlikely catapult-based physics puzzler saw 100 million downloads (now 200 million!) as well as translations to all the smartphone formats – and a movie tie-in deal. Yes, the mind really does boggle.
So what have been the smartphone gaming highlights of 2011 so far? has there been a contender to Rovio’s bird-flinging masterpiece? Today and tomorrow, we’ll be listing what we think are the 25 best titles of the year so far, covering the three key platforms. To help me decide, I asked for contributions from the writers of mobile gaming news site, Pocket Gamer, and they’ve helpfully provided a few words on their favourite releases.
So, if you have a longhaul plane flight to prepare for this summer, or just expect to be stuck on a variety of broken down trains, you might want to check this out…
It’s about time someone took the monster-on-the-loose brilliance of classic arcade game Rampage, and brought it to smartphones. Big Boss does that – and much more. Here, players build their own monsters then roam a fantasy kingdom mauling teeny knights and smashing their castles. “At its core it’s a simple iPad beat-‘em-up,” says Pocket Gamer’s Will Wilson, “But it’s in the execution that Big Boss really shines, combining a moreish RPG-lite upgrade system and a fantastic array of customisation options. The difficulty curve is just right, with the apparently very easy task (you’re much bigger than the enemy) becoming a lot harder as you progress thanks to the wide range of defenders and their various anti-big boss contraptions.”
Namco Bandai, iOS (link here), 59p
This fast-paced take on the standard ‘match three’ puzzler presents you with an array of different birds wandering along a series of power cables – your role (as a squirrel seeking vengeance on the avine community – don’t ask) is to draw lines on the screen to connect targets with the same coloured plumage, thereby electrifying them. Naturally, you score more highly the more birds you connect with one swipe, while collectable power-ups give you extra abilities, like freezing the conveyor belt of feathered victims. There are three modes to try out, offering you timed or freeplay experiences, but essentially, it’s just a well-constructed, nicely drawn take on an extremely familiar smartphone genre.
It is difficult to understand exactly how Swedish indie duo Simogo has turned a score-based scrolling puzzler into a quietly moving meditation on the nature of love, but that is what they have beautifully achieved with Bumpy Road. Your job is to control a couple’s car journey by prodding the road around them, creating hills that their vehicles zooms up and down. On the way, you need to avoid obstacles as well as collect objects which provide you with bonus sections. The visuals are exquisitely loveable, mirroring the cooly cute design of Bob Staake, but it is a title with its own style and its own message. A game to fall in love with.
Continuity 2: The Continuation
The original Continuity was an award-winner at the annual Independant Games Festival and this sequel builds on its predecessor’s mix of platforming and puzzler elements. You must get your little stickman through a variety of minimalist levels, sliding platforms around the screen to create a navigable route and solve puzzles. As Pocket Gamer writer, Mark Brown, points out, “The game introduces new concepts slowly over the 50 levels, so you never feel flummoxed or out of your depth. It’s either a highly cerebral platformer or a clever twist on the sliding puzzler, depending on how you look at it.”
Utilising the Unity3D engine to quite spectacular effect, Cordy is a whimsical platformer, filled with fiendish physics puzzles. The idea is to help a cute little robot switch the power on in each of the levels, all of which are rendered in the 2.5d-style familiar to fans of the old Crash Bandicoot and Spyro games on PlayStation. Each stage has a selection of objects to discover amid the block-pushing, wall-smashing and ball-rolling fun, and players are rewarded for finishing within a time limit. It’s not a game of profound originality, but the landscapes and backdrops are gorgeous, and the design compelling enough to make it a great showcase for the Android platform.
Those expecting a horribly watered-down mini-Dead Space 2D platformer will be pleasantly surprised by this bloody 3D hack-em-up, which packs some of the best polygonal visuals on iOS devices. Taking place just before the events of Dead Space 2, the game follows an engineer on a mysterious set of missions deep down in the mines of Titan. Naturally, it’s all about exploring in the dark and splattering necromorph body bits all over the place using an array of familiar weapons (the plasma cutter) and some newbies (a handy electro saw). It’s a properly meaty challenge, serviced with a proper touchscreen control interface that uses swipes and touches to control the character and bring up in-game menus rather than an awkward virtual joypad. And somehow, even on a small screen, it manages to give you the odd jump.
Fable Coin Golf
Of, course, this could have been a tawdry tie-in: take an enormous free-roaming RPG and turn it into a pub game. But Fable Coin Golf is a miniature triumph, brilliantly mixing the dynamics of pinball and shove ha’penny with cunningly compelling results. On each stage you simply have to slide your puck around the cluttered 3D course, attempting to pick up as many gold coins as possible en route. The Angry Birds-like control system (pull back then release to send your disc flying) is finely implemented, which is a good job as the array of obstacles on each stage, from water hazards to patrolling monsters, demands accuracy and forethought. It looks lovely, it’s challenging, and all the gold that you amass can actually be spent in the Xbox 360 version of Fable III: a fascinating hint at cross-platform connectivity to come.
Want a retro arcade game, but can’t decide which to go for? Boy, has Nyarlu Labs got the solution for you: Forget-Me-Not is about 15 early eighties coin-ops rolled into one. Essentially, it’s a Pac-Man-style maze game, but the mazes are random, and you can also shoot, so it also feels a bit like Berserk; but then you collect lots of goodies, while tactically working your way through the monsters, so it’s a teeny bit Gauntlet as well. Meanwhile, the audio is all glitches, bleeps and electronic cascades, so it sounds like a whole 1982 arcade has been captured on your phone. The controls are perfect too with simple swipes handling everything, plus, there’s a two player mode. A really clever and enjoyable game.
Hard Lines is a stylised re-invention of Snake (or Tron if your cultural reference points go back even farther) with lots of added depth. Guide the increasingly long line around the neon maze, forcing the other lines to hit yours, thereby killing them. There are bonuses to collect and six modes to play through, and it’s astoundingly compulsive stuff, requiring a controlled, focused gameplay style. “Hard Lines is to Snake what Pac-Man Championship Edition is to Pac-Man,” says Pocket Gamer editor, Rob Hearn. “But instead of making you feel like a gawping addict with its biomechanically engineered gameplay, it makes you smile. Also, the real magic ingredient is the chirpy personality of the lines on the screen, conveyed through hundreds of phrases in multicoloured neon text.”
Hot Springs Story
Last year, Japanese studio Kairosoft had gaming fanatics around the world addicted to its brilliant management title, Game Dev Studio. That neat sim put you in control of a growing development team, hiring artists and coders and attempting to create hit games out of myriad weird themes. For the follow-up, Kairosoft is seeking to do the same thing with, er, health resorts, requiring you to keep your punters happy by providing the right facilities, comfy rooms and exotic treatments. “The appeal is in the pace of progress and the sheer breadth of the game,” says Pocket Gamer editor, Rob Hearn. “You have to deal with everything from plant pot-placement to advertising to structural expansion. As with Game Dev Story and other games of this kind, the drip feed of minor achievements makes it difficult to put down.” It’s an addictive aside until the company releases its promised Game Dev Studio sequel.
SouthEnd Interactive, WP7
Okay, it was out last year on some networks, but what the heck, if you own a Windows 7 handset and haven’t already seen this ridiculously cute puzzler, you’re making a terrible mental error that needs to be immediately rectified. Imagine LittleBigPlanet crossed with Pengo and Jon Ritman’s 8bit classic Head Over Heels and what you have in your head is not a million miles away from ilomilo. The idea is to unite two dinky characters, Ilo and Milo, by switching control between them and navigating the duo through a series of maze-like levels. There are switches to pull and blocks to move and it’s all set in a comfy, fluffy world of handicrafted soft furnishings. Hours of thereaputic fun.
Merging the mechanics of Mario vs Donkey Kong with the visual sensibilities of an 8bit platformer, Kami Retro is a hyper-stylised treat of bleepy tunes and self-consciously blocky graphics. Your aim is to direct a collection of Lemmings-like characters safely to the exit on each of the single-screen levels, avoiding all the usual obstacles that befall platform protagonists. The game smoothly and intuitively supports touchscreen controls so simple swipes of the screen make your little sprite men jump and change direction, and you also need to pick up and move objects like fans (which increase jump distance) to help in navigation. “It’s a cheerful, seizure-inducing temporal mash-up pulsating along to a bouncy chip-tune soundtrack,” says Rob Hearn. “To resort to an overused drug simile, it looks like Lego on acid. And crack.” Crafted by the promising Paw Print Games, this is definitely my favourite iOS game of the year so far.
Originally developed by Dutch coder Jesse Venbrux as a series of Flash puzzlers, Karoshi is now on smartphone, and the excellent conversion retains the central concept: you have to kill your character. Yes, Karoshi is Japanese for ‘death from overwork’ and the idea is to seek out all the platforming elements you’re usually meant to avoid, from rampaging enemies, to deadly spikes and traps. There are also little sequences to work out which will usually end in Mr Karoshi being crushed or electrocuted. “It’s all quite breezy and tongue in cheek,” says Hearn. ” However, the workplace setting and the presence of Mr Karoshi’s boss, whose mood determines how high Mr Karoshi can jump, invite more sinister interpretations if you’re inclined to make them. The occasional appearance of Mrs Karoshi, who frustrates her husband’s suicide attempts by turning spikes into flowers, is a moving touch.”
Prices are a guide only and will vary between platforms and during promotional periods.
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