GameCentral’s monthly round-up of the most interesting smartphone games covers everything from Dr. Mario World to goat-on-stilts simulator Walk Master.
It’s not always easy for Nintendo, whose pressure to maintain profit margins in uncertain times occasionally conflicts with the company’s usual instinct to make the best games it possibly can. This month’s microtransaction-infested Dr. Mario World is in many ways the antithesis of Nintendo’s traditions, even if its production values and levels of polish are more familiar. Not all free-to-play games are as odious though, with Walk Master and Total Party Kill well worth a look.
Total Party Kill for iOS & Android, £Free (Adventure Islands)
Total Party Kill takes the core of 16-bit classic The Lost Vikings and gives it a twist. This time rather than getting your team of three uniquely skilled protagonists to the exit, you have to sacrifice one or more so that at least one survivor makes it.
The knight whacks heroes with his sword, chipping them across the screen; the wizard freezes them into a handy ice block; and the archer pinions them to a wall to act as a step. All those actions prove fatal to the unfortunate target, but as long as there’s one hero left to make it through the door, it’s job done.
Its mixture of inventive, challenging puzzle-solving and pixel perfect platform hopping works fine using touchscreen controls because interactions are generally undertaken with no time pressure. And if you don’t fancy watching an ad every three continues, removing them will cost you £3.99.
Walk Master for iOS & Android, £Free (Two Men and a Dog)
As the very first video game to feature a goat on stilts, Walk Master is just as silly and throwaway as its teetering hero would have you believe. It’s also peculiarly compelling.
Using carefully metered swipes of the screen, you place one wobbly wooden stilt in front of the other, helping your goat friend traverse increasingly devious assault courses, whilst maintaining sufficient forward momentum to stop him toppling over.
The comedy-grade physics and the way the cartoon goat steals little sideways glances at you when you complete a tricky section never lose their charm, even if having to watch an ad after messing up a few times does. True goat lovers have the option of removing ads for for £2.99, and while you can unlock amusing new skins and hats for your character, the starter goat is pretty hard to beat.
Mighty Quest For Epic Loot for iOS & Android, £Free (Ubisoft)
Mighty Quest for Epic Loot is a one finger or thumb game. Slide to direct your knight towards treasure and enemies, then tap repeatedly to slash everything and everyone to pieces. There’s a dodge, and special moves, but it’s so near to being an idle game that you actually unlock auto-play very early on.
Gear up to increase your might, which makes you harder to kill and enemies easier, but it’s a never-ending arms race as mobs continually scale to match your level. The progress initially feels fast and rewarding, but things get way more grindy in the middle and end game, throwing up an endless parade of barriers that either stop you playing or force you to cough up for premium currency.
If you can live with only playing a few minutes a day, its lightweight thrills might just be enough to hold your attention, but with so little in the way of skill involved and such slow progression, it’s hard to imagine.
Meridian 157: Prologue for iOS & Android, £Free (NovaSoft Interactive)
Waking up at 2.30am with your head resting on your computer keyboard and in the midst of a power cut, your first order of business is to restore the electrical supply. You do that in time-honoured point ‘n’ click adventure style, by tapping all over each screen to find out what you can pick up and what’s just scenery.
With no animation or voice-acting, there’s a touch of atmospheric music to keep you company, but otherwise it’s a bare-bones mystery solving experience. There are a couple of interactions that make reasonable use of the touchscreen, but otherwise it settles into hoary old video game standards: one puzzle involving picking up a crank shaft, and another flagged with the classic, ‘Looks like something could be placed in these slots’.
It ends on a mini-cliffhanger, at no time feels too taxing, and is completely and honestly free, but the forthcoming game to which this is a prologue may need to try a bit harder.
Tharsis for iOS, £7.99 (Choice Provisions)
The Iktomi is a disaster-prone research ship on its way to examine an anomaly on Mars. The trip there takes 10 turns, and during each one you’ll have two catastrophic systems failures to deal with by sending crew members to the affected modules. You then roll a set of dice and patch the problem by feeding in die that add up to the number posted beside the calamity.
Fail a few rolls and things rapidly escalate out of control, from a bit of light cannibalism to total destruction of your ship, something that will happen dozens of times before you even manage to reach the Red Planet, let alone complete your mission.
The game’s abject brutality is offset by the awesome sense of triumph in the moments when you do finally prevail, all driven by the game’s realistic and oddly satisfying dice physics. If you can handle the continual randomised bouts of tragedy, even minor victories feel wonderful.
Minit for iOS & Android, £4.99 (Devolver Digital)
As throwbacks go, this one throws way back, taking its chiptune soundtrack and graphical cues from the ZX81 era, something only more elderly members of the gaming community will even remember. Minit’s other oddity is that each game lasts just 600 seconds, so you’ve got to fit in all your adventuring, exploration, monster-killing and treasure hunting into that time before your duck-like character keels over and it’s time to start again.
Fortunately collected items, solved puzzles and slain bosses persist between playthroughs, and you’ll discover secret paths and new home bases to start from next time you respawn.
It’s highly addictive, and even though it only takes a couple of hours to see everything, there’s a more demanding New Game+ that chops each life down to 40 seconds, and your energy bar down to a single heart.
Serial Cleaner for iOS, £6.99 (East2West)
Set in the 1970s with a washed out colour scheme and music to match, Serial Cleaner casts you in a role similar to Pulp Fiction’s Mr Wolf. You get a phone call summoning you to a crime scene and need to remove the corpses and any compromising evidence without anyone seeing you.
That last part is where things get tricky, because each level is guarded by security personnel and police, their red vision cones a constant source of threat. If they spot you, they’ll chase you, and if they catch you you’re sent right back to the beginning of the level.
It’s an interesting idea let down by one-note gameplay, finicky onscreen joystick controls, and its habit of forcing you to replay levels after each mistake. It’s also significantly overpriced at £6.99.
Dr. Mario World for iOS & Android, £Free (Nintendo)
Taking place on a map that looks and sounds like 16-bit era Super Mario World, with its jaunty tunes and bouncing terrain, the meat of Dr. Mario World is actually not quite like its similarly named 1990s predecessor.
In this version you kill viruses by releasing capsules that rise towards the top of the screen. When they stop, any matching lines of three or more cause those viruses to disappear. In addition, there are rainbow capsules, shells that sweep away entire rows, skills that do the same, and power-ups you can buy at the start of each level.
The random order in which capsules appear means sometimes you can beat levels and other times not, introducing the twin temptations of buying extras and continues. Both start free, before costing real money. You also need hearts to initiate levels, which you can either buy for cash or via Facebook friend invitations. Players of Candy Crush Saga may be inured to this variety of blackmail, but it feels horrible.
And therein lies the problem. Conventional Nintendo games want to make you happy, whereas Dr. Mario wants to take your money by providing an experience that’s just a touch sub-par. It’s oddly nauseating seeing Nintendo’s much-loved characters cynically shaking you down for spare change.
By Nick Gillett
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