They might have peaked in about 2009, but there’s still a healthy market for games with the word ‘brain’ in the title – certainly on mobile. But rather than playing another clone of Nintendo and Dr Kawashima’s 2006 effort, why not contribute to medical science?
Well, there’s an app for that: The Great Brain Experiment, from the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging at University College London, launched to coincide with Brain Awareness Week. Which was last week. My brain, clearly, was not aware.
The point is to harness all sorts of buzz words – ‘big data’, ‘the crowd’, ‘citizen science’, ‘gamification’ – to research a number of brain questions on an unprecedented scale. So rather than collecting data from a subject in an fMRI scanner, scores and basic demographic data are harvested from the willing smartphone population.
There are a lot of ‘angles’ on Ridiculous Fishing: the tortured development; the indie supergroup that eventually finished it; the chart success since last week’s launch, despite having been preceded by a blatant clone; the active eschewing of IAPs in favour of a £1.99 upfront price tag. And 45 degrees: the angle that the graphics rigidly stick to.
But only one thing really matters: it’s bloody good fun.
The mechanic is simple: drop your lure into the ocean, guiding it into the depths by avoiding the fish on the way down, using tilt controls of rare quality; when a fish is finally snagged, guide it back up, this time grabbing all the fish you can; when they the hit surface they’re launched into the air, which is your cue to shoot the heck out of them by tapping the screen. Simple, slick, ridiculous.
It’s everything that surrounds this that elevates it from simple fun, to alarmingly addictive.
There are two video game characters obviously ripe for an endless running revival. Sonic Dash ticks one off the list, but someone needs to get Naughty Dog to stop wasting their time on PlayStation 4 and give the public what they really want: mobile Crash Bandicoot. And hey, Jason Rubin might have some time on his hands after the unfortunate events at THQ – ideal!
But it’s Sega who got their fingers out first, and realised that the only difference between an auto-runner and a Sonic game is the imprint in your thumb from pushing forwards. And the in-app purchases, of course. But more of those later.
With swipes left and right to move between the three lanes you run in, up to jump and down to spin, there’s little lost in the translation to touch screen. It’s reliable enough, except when obstacles come at you unexpectedly – from behind other obstacles, for example, which is more a flaw in level design than control method.
Freemium gaming has no shortage of critics. It’s understandable, given that such games have earned a reputation for nickle and diming their players. EA have taken the concept further than ever with Real Racing 3, their attempt at combining the freemium model with AAA production values. The result? Possibly the most depressing thing to happen in modern gaming.
This article started life as a review, but seeing as Real Racing 3 is less a game and more an attempt at flagrant money grabbing, providing a score would be tricky. Ethically it doesn’t feel right writing a typical review.
“Gameplay not included. Fun may cost extra.”
On the surface, Real Racing 3 is an impressive game, bringing almost console-quality graphics to mobile devices – although the sparse trackside visuals don’t quite match the pretty cars. The racing experience itself is adequate, but with the vague tilt controls, auto-acceleration and feeble opponents, it’s not remotely near the same league as anything on a console. That’s probably because EA haven’t really made a racing game, but a car-themed credit-grinding simulator, in an effort to part you from your cash at every turn.
A thread of darkness is part of the appeal – and indeed function – of folklore and fairy tales. Simogo’s Year Walk – based on the Swedish tradition of year walking, a ‘vision quest’ meant to offer a glimpse of the future – puts the darkness firmly front and centre.
It’s a puzzle-adventure, where the aim is as much to mentally stitch together the underlying narrative as it is to ‘complete’ the game. That’ll take a couple of play-throughs and some time with the Year Walk Companion app – a very clever idea, which places the story is a strangely believable reality. All this is best experienced in one session of a few hours – ideally with a good pair of headphones.
The audio is sparse, heightening the isolation and matching the barren pop-up papercraft landscape, your feet crunching in the snow as you traverse the game’s layers with swipes of the screen. The delivery is restrained, curious scenes and eerie creatures arriving without fanfare, making the occasional full-on stab of horror that much more effective. Make no mistake: this is a tense, at times outright scary game. It achieves a wonderful conflict: intrigue drawing you in, but not wanting to look because you don’t know what’s in there.
A reasonable logic generally lies behind the puzzles, and the need to take notes is welcome. There’s very little in the way of guidance though, which does helps the game maintain a consistent atmosphere, but also risks the player missing a detail or going down the wrong track. And some of the puzzles do require a certain sort of thought.
That’s really the only criticism: that this ‘gamey’ nature of the puzzles might prevent Year Walk from finding the widest possible audience. Which is a shame, because the puzzles are almost secondary: first and foremost it’s a smart piece of original storytelling, that ought to be enjoyed far and wide.
There’s a lot to be said for novelty. This doesn’t sound like a terribly original concept for a mobile game: a cute giant cat roams the streets setting free animals held captive by evil scientists. But when it’s your streets, well, then you’ve got my interest.
The level select screen is an OpenStreetMap of your current location with a grid overlay, but the levels themselves – each square in the grid – are several orders of magnitude cleverer. The transformation into a chunky, colourful world for the massive wonky-eyed cat to stomp around really is quite pleasing.
The streets are plotted accurately enough for more unusual street plans to be instantly recognisable, but inevitably buildings are rather homogeneous – other than certain landmarks which have been catered for specifically. Areas of green space and bodies of water are rather more effective in adding definition to the neighbourhood, and add a welcome splash of colour.
Hundreds is confident: it sees no reason to explain itself, and assumes you’ll figure it out. That’s admirable, but there’s a fine line between confidence and, well, being a prick. Thankfully, Hundreds isn’t a prick – most of the time.
And it’s right, you will figure it out. Touching a circle makes it grow, and the number inside increase correspondingly. When all the circles sum to 100, the level is complete. But if a circle hits something while it’s growing, it’s game over. That’s basically it.
The game riffs on this idea for a while, testing your reflexes with fast moving circles, or your delicate touch with a tightly packed screen. Most of all it tests your patience, failure usually being a result of pushing your bloody luck. Waiting for your moment is crucial. Read More
I’m sure we all remember The Incredibles’ back-story of superheroes giving up their jobs, due to being sued by citizens suffering from whiplash and such after being rescued. Double Fine’s free iOS download Middle Manager of Justice also taps into Pixar’s idea of going behind the scenes in the world of superheroes, giving you the chance to manage a superhero HQ.
With a mild mannered white collar manager under your control, it’s your job to hire superheroes, train them up and then send them out onto the streets to fight crime. The presentation reminds us of Theme Hospital – the run-down HQ that you start off with is viewed from the same perspective and there’s a similar quirky sense of humour throughout.
At the top of the screen there’s a crime map. Tap on this and current crimes can be viewed along with how long there’s left to respond. Before each real-time battle – which are viewed through a CCTV ‘hero cam’ – you can choose which heroes to send and also view chances of their success. During battles special attacks can be chosen, while any items in your inventory – such as cans of ‘liquid donuts’ – are used for health boosts or a temporary strength increase. There are also short action sequences to take part in every now and then, like stopping an out of control school bus from crashing.
These aforementioned items are purchased using coins earned from saving citizens, while recruiting new heroes and improving their training and sleeping areas requires Superium. Superium is gained steadily through progress, but being the freemium game that it is, it can be purchased using real money to speed things along. It’s a really enjoyable little game so chances are you will want to send a little money Double Fine’s way out of good will anyway.
The dialogue in particular made us smile on more than a few occasions, especially when the heroes question why their enemy Skullface has such a generic name. “All the good skull-based names were already trademarked,” he remarks in response.
Like all good sim games there’s always something demanding your attention, be it sending off the heroes for a quick nap or upgrading the HQ. The heroes occasionally need a moral boost too, so it’s a good idea to check on their moods often. Once you have four heroes at your disposal things get very lively – later into the game battles can be fought without supervision, so it’s possible to send them off to do multiple good deeds and then collect the earnings once they’re done and dusted.
Although Middle Manager of Justice does borrow elements from other games, the amount of polish applied makes it feel as fresh as a new born super lamb. When original games are hard to come by – especially on the App Store – it’s worth a look for this reason alone, let alone the fact that it has been lovingly made.