Michelle Starr is the tiger force at the core of all things. She also writes about cool stuff and apps as CNET Australia's Crave editor. But mostly the tiger force thing.
Looking for a new game to play on your mobile device? Here's our pick of the best released in July 2013.
(Credit: Stirfire Studios)
The local indie game dev scene is getting richer every day, and Freedom Fall — from Perth-based artist Lisa Rye — is an excellent instalment. The kingdom's princess is just a little bit unstable, so her dad (the king, possibly equally unstable) has had her dragged off to the prison tower. When Marsh finds himself accused of theft and thrown in there with her, it comes to light that the princess has installed a few modifications to the tower — in the form of deadly traps. Impressed, the king declares that anyone who escapes can go free — and thus Marsh sets about his escape. As the name suggests, you start at the top and have to make your way down, leaping and sliding from wall to wall, avoiding the traps the princess has set. It's fun to play, but our favourite part is the narrative — scrawled on the walls by the mad princess herself, in between wickedly humorous taunts and rather poignant declarations of loneliness.
Swarm-based RTS is one of our favourite kinds, where the aim is to win through sheer force of numbers. Gelluloid sees you playing an intelligent green gel in a microscopic environment, taking control of a series of cells. Where it differs is the constraints placed on where you can send your units — the cells are laid out in an isometric grid, and you can only send the gel into a cell that is connected to another cell currently under your control. This is where the strategy comes in; some cells are strategically stronger, so when your resources are low, you have to choose carefully where to send them. And, of course, there are plenty of power-ups to keep the game interesting across all 100 levels.
I never would have thought to combine match-three with turn-based combat — yet that's exactly what Pixel Defenders has done. The gameplay involves placing coloured "pixels" on the board; matching three creates a unit that can be used to attack waves of foes that are attempting to destroy a VIP who you are charged to protect. It sounds basic, but it gets more interesting: matching three of the same kind of unit creates a more powerful unit, so it helps to plan carefully where you're placing your pixels — especially given that each unit only has a set number of actions before they turn into a rock or a tree stump, blocking that piece of board. Meanwhile, the foes are on a turn counter; each pixel placed counts as a turn, so you have to work efficiently if you want to destroy them before they can act. It reminds us a little of Battle Chess, in a very good way.
Confession time: I am terrible at this game. It's based on a simple premise: your spaceship is running low on energy, and you have to shoot all the blue energy cubes on each level before you run out. Sliding your thumb on the left side of the screen steers the ship, tapping inside the box on the right shoots your guns and tapping outside of the box on the right flips your ship over. These controls are as fiddly as they sound, but the game itself is stunning: bright, blocky, tripped-out graphics and an equally awesome soundtrack. Even if you're terrible at it, you'll have fun being so.
There's really not a lot to Asterix MegaSlap. It's about what Asterix does best: punching Romans. What you have to do is draw rapid circles on the screen to wind up Asterix's punch, gathering momentum (shown on a gauge) and letting go at just the right physical point to hit the Roman soldier as far as he can possibly go. Purchasable power-ups and outfits can add height and length to your punches, and you can hook it up to Facebook to play against your friends. It's simple and silly, but one could argue the same of Angry Birds.
Racing games start to all look a bit samey after a while, but add water to the mix and suddenly you have all these fabulous wave effects as you whoosh and turn, and Riptide GP2, sequel to mobile game Riptid GP, has some really amazing water physics. It's worth it for the attention to detail alone — excellent tracks, brilliant graphics and water physics and some really pumping music — but the game plays splendidly into the bargain, with different modes and race types, nine different jet skis to collect and a new stunt system that lets you boost your speed and score. It's a must-have for any racing fans; you can see our full review here.
As you might have guessed from the name, Chillaxian is based on Namco's 1979 arcade space shooter Galaxian — only more "chillaxed". You have three lives with which to take on waves of aliens. Controls are easy: touching the left side of the screen moves your ship left, touching the right side moves it right. Firing happens automatically. The aliens swarm at the top of the screen; normal waves expand, contract and move side to side, with one breaking off to fire at you. As you deplete the wave, this one becomes two, and you have to dodge both their fire and the aliens themselves as they zigzag down the screen. Boss levels are different again; as you reach the end of the boss' life, you'll have to dodge an increasing barrage of attacks, while debris field levels let you collect an extra life while dodging meteors and asteroids. There's a reason so many remember Galaxian fondly. This will remind you why.
1987's side-scrolling, space-themed shoot-em-up R-Type is another of those games of which we have fond memories; killingly difficult, it was an exercise in frustration and accomplishment. It's been lovingly and faithfully ported to iPhone and Android, with two difficulty settings, two different control options and eight levels, with upgradeable weapons, power-ups and attachments. It was actually released to the iTunes App Store some time ago, but when developer DotEmu's contract with publisher Electronic Arts expired early this year, the game was pulled. It's nice to see it back.
Tiny Thief — released by Rovio's publishing program — is possibly the most adorable game about stealing ever. You're, well, a tiny thief, using your powers of sneakery and thievery to right the world's wrongs, feeding the poor and helping the needy. Each level is a puzzle: you have to perform actions in sequence in order to win the prize. This involves hiding from guards, setting off chain reactions and making sure your timing is just right. In one level, for instance, you hide in a basement while a waiter walks back and forth; when his back is turned, you have to go upstairs, fetch a drink, hide from the waiter again, place the drink on the table, then sneak up behind a pirate in another room and ring the bell so the waiter brings the drink in, zipping back into the basement before he enters. It's tremendous, tricky, heart-stealing fun.
One of the hallmarks of danmaku — bullet hell games — is that they look spectacular. Then you get Sine Mora, a side-scrolling danmaku made for Xbox 360, PS3 and Vita — and now iOS, and coming soon to Android. It's taken the genre and pushed it to a new graphical level, with the 2D action taking place over gorgeously painted 3D backgrounds, with a diesel punk feel and anthropomorphic characters. It also has a somewhat loopy story involving two different plots in different time periods, which gives rise to two interesting mechanics. The first is time travel, allowing you to come and go between the two stories; the second is the abolition of the health meter. Instead, you're running on a timer; once your time runs out, that's it. Getting hit by enemies depletes your time faster, and destroying enemies and collecting power-ups restores it. And it has some absolutely killer bosses.
We love a game that looks a lot less tricky than it is. Expander is bright, clean and blocky, in a red-white-blue colour palette. You are moving a block through a space that expands and contracts, with red obstacles on the ground and blue floating above it. You have to dodge the obstacles by tapping on the right of the screen, becoming blue by holding to dodge the red obstacles and becoming red to dodge the blue by releasing. But your score is boosted by collecting the star blocks lining the track: you can expand your block by sliding a finger up on the left side of the screen and contract by sliding down. With the track reorienting itself as you play, not crashing into walls and obstacles becomes quite a feat.
OK. This game doesn't look the best graphically, we know. The gameplay, however, is fantastic. It's sort of a mix of two of our favourite dungeon-based match puzzlers: 10000000 and Dungeon Raid. You progress through the dungeon by matching items by drawing a line through them; different items provide different boosts. Swords, for example, allow you to attack, while scrolls give you "brain" points with which you can purchase spells for killing foes. And we found the rather odd graphics growing on us after a while.
Prince of Persia Classic on mobile isn't a bad little game, but it can't be denied that the on-screen buttons are a touch (har har) clunky. It seems that Ubisoft has learned better with this HD remake of 1993's Prince of Persia 2: The Shadow and the Flame, replacing the combat with intuitive swipe controls. It retains the original game's story, along with classic Prince of Persia platforming action and environmental puzzles. It's an excellent remake, and well worth your time.
Another Aussie title, TownCraft is the kind of game we'd like all town management sims to be: free from timers and IAP. Basically, it's about building a new village from the ground up from a wilderness. A rather civilised wilderness, with lots of berries, eggs, trees and stones, yet a wilderness all the same. You start with nothing, and have to build basic tools such as a hatchet and a pickaxe to gather resources, experimenting with your supplies to see what you can make. The aim is to create a successful town, and it's some seriously addictive stuff; think Doodle God meets Don't Starve — without the whole "starving" part.
If you like getting together with your mates and pretending that you're the crew of a spaceship, Spaceteam is brilliant. Well, it's brilliant anyway. It's a multiplayer game and can't be played alone. Commands will appear on someone's screen for controls on someone else's. The commands need to be spoken aloud, and the person with the right buttons has to execute them within a very tight time frame, or the ship will explode.
Japanese-style RPGs (JRPGs) are tremendously addicting. Think early Final Fantasy, the Secret of Mana, early Legend of Zelda and Golden Sun. Doom & Destiny follows in their footsteps, and its gameplay is compelling — but what we really love about it is that it's based on a Dungeons & Dragons campaign.
Square Enix rarely makes a terrible game. Action RPG Bloodmasque, with its crazily overdramatic storyline and gorgeous art doesn't disappoint. Emulating the best, it borrows its combat system from Infinity Blade, with slashes and swipes across the screen racking up the combos as you hunt vampires across what looks like a very decadent Paris-style city. In true Squenix style, it's deep and rich, but our favourite trick is that you can snap your own mug with your phone's camera, and stick it onto your avatar, creating something at once extraordinarily silly and completely irresistible.
Developer Whitaker Trebella, who created puzzle game Polymer, has called Pivvot "a thrilling game of strategic avoidance", and that description is very apt. A dot is travelling along a rail, with a larger dot sticking out. As it skates along, obstacles will appear on the track, and you have to pivot it using left and right controls to keep it from hitting anything. It's stylish, smooth and surprisingly hard.
What if you could play an endless runner with a mate on one screen? Lub vs Dub is all about that business. Two little guys are running along a track with spikes like an ECG readout (their names, Lub and Dub, are the common onomatopoeic words used to describe a heartbeat). The two controls are Jump and Flip; jump to avoid obstacles and collect hearts, which boost your score, and flip to change which side of the line you're running on. If you don't want to play with a friend, but like the sound of the game, don't worry; the game has a single-player mode, too.
We don't really know what's happening in Knightmare Tower, a port of the popular Flash game. Yeah, you're rescuing princess from a crazy tower, but how and why is it filling up with lava? And how did you get a rocket? That's not really important, but it gives you some idea of what the game is. You fly up a tower on a rocket, and jump off and beat up monsters. Tapping the screen will send you plunging down to attack, so you need to make sure there's a monster below before you do that, and tilting your device steers you. It's fast, it's frenzied, it's hack-n-slash madness, with plenty of equipment upgrades to make your dude the most powerful princess rescuer in the realm.
If you ever played Harmonix's very first game, Frequency, you'll find Double Fine's Dropchord's trippy electro-visuals familiar. That, and its music basis, are pretty much where the similarities end. Dropchord is a two-finger (or thumb) game. Holding two points outside of the game's central circle, you manipulate a line inside, between the points where your fingers touch the screen. You have to move it around at a frantic pace, collecting "notes" (dots) while avoiding scratches. The controls need a little work — the line feels really sluggish — but it's a nice take on the music-based action genre.
We don't think we've ever seen an RTS as pared down as rymdkapsel. It's not so much about battles as it is about building and exploration. In deep space, you have to build a base, using colour-coded, tetronimo-shaped tiles, laying them down in a tight configuration. Different colours are different rooms; a green room, for instance, is a garden, while living quarters are orange and kitchens are yellow. Meanwhile, you have to explore and mine the surrounding monoliths for resources, and occasionally, enemies will attack. Aside from its visual simplicity, it has also cut a lot of elements from the gameplay: there's only one type of unit to build, for example, and three resource types. Instead, you have to focus on planning out the best possible base to get everything done as efficiently as possible. You are also forced to think minimally about the best decisions you can make in order to win the game.