GameCentral reviews the month’s biggest smartphone games, from a new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to the appropriately named Rip Them Off.
With another lockdown looming, and this time without the delicious distraction of summer barbecues, it’s time once again to look to our phones for diversions from the crater pocked hellscape that is 2020. The excellent Company Of Heroes is now available for iPhone and Android, having only previously worked on iPad, and there are some cheering new releases from sprawling pixel art role-player Songbringer and entertaining freebie Galaxy Invaders: Alien Shooter.
Impossible Space Adventure
iOS and Android, £Free (X3M Games)
Impossible Space Adventure’s pitch is both simple and alluring: it’s Archero in space, with guns. As in its inspiration all you have to do is move, your hero aiming and firing automatically during the moments you’re standing still.
Featuring enemies with a variety of weapons and attack patterns, as well as an assortment of objects to duck behind and obstacles to avoid, you also need to keep an eye on the meta game of equipment unlocks and upgrades.
It’s good looking, and you’re not forced to watch as many ads as you are in Archero, but on the minus side it’s also not nearly as much fun.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Madness
iOS & Android, £Free (Kongregate)
Not really a game in the conventional sense, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Madness is probably closer to an idle tapper in terms of its interactions. In it, you’ll be gradually expanding your base in the sewers by taking part in battles in which your only input is to trigger each hero’s skill when an energy bar fills.
Even that can be set to auto, reducing your role to that of spectator. Naturally the pace of unlocking new heroes and rooms for your base, and levelling them up, eventually slows leaving you either to a seemingly endless grind or spending money on in-app purchases.
Dull, exploitative, and devoid of challenge, Mutant Madness does at least look reasonably nice, its small cartoon characters gamely beating each other to a pulp while you consider the grim futility of existence.
iOS, full game unlock £3.99 (Wizard Fu)
You wake in a stranger’s body on the Stormbringer, a spaceship populated by intergalactic party people and bound for an alien planet, where it crashes and maroons you and your cute robot buddy. Despite its sci-fi setting, what ensues is heavily inspired by early Zelda games.
The pixel art graphics, the sword-combat, the bombs you use to open cracked walls, and the puzzle-infused dungeons are all pure Zelda, but in space and with a zany, fourth wall-breaking sense of humour.
Originally released on PC and consoles, the touch controls work absolutely fine, and while it lacks the ingenuity of Nintendo’s masterpieces, it’s a diverting and amusing role-playing game to have on your phone.
iOS, Apple Arcade (WayForward Technologies)
From WayForward, makers of the Shantae series of platform games, Marble Knights is a simpler affair, in which you roll your chosen fighter around levels beset by precipitous drops and spindly bridges, hacking away at enemies and trying not to fall off the edge – even if its ultra-frequent checkpoints mean there’s no punishment when you do.
Smash chests and vases, punch or slash enemies into oblivion and pick up the treasure they leave behind, amassing thousands in gold that you can’t spend on anything and which serves no obvious purpose. Boss fights are similarly lacklustre.
There’s a nice weight and momentum to the rolling characters, you can play in four-player co-op if you have three Apple Arcade subscribing friends, and it has high production values, but its ideas never seem to go anywhere, as though the game had bigger plans that it ended up not getting around to.
Galaxy Invaders: Alien Shooter
iOS & Android, £Free (Onesoft)
As its name implies, Galaxy Invaders plays like a remix of Galaxians and Space Invaders, with your ship able to fly around the bottom third of the portrait mode screen, while waves of invaders, meteors, and space bugs arrive from above.
Some aliens swoop down in formation, while others crawl towards you, and many drop power-ups when they explode, rapidly turning your measly single laser bolts into sheets of all consuming fire, the difficulty and frequency of enemy attacks slowly ratcheting up as you complete levels.
There are plenty of inducements to watch ads, and it’s riddled with loot crates, lucky spins, and slowly recharging energy needed to start levels, but the brevity of its ads and the addictive quality of its gameplay carry you through the maelstrom of commercial interests.
Tusker’s Number Adventure
iOS & Android, £1.99 (PHB Media)
Presenting itself as an innocent children’s edutainment title, Tusker’s cute elephant and his simple maths challenges are actually a front for something darker, with malevolent unseen forces entreating you to steal data files and then cover your tracks. You soon learn to trust no-one.
Although similar in concept to Pony Island, it’s nowhere near as good, lacking that title’s emotional complexity and giddy sense of blending fiction and reality.
It’s entertaining enough while it lasts, but with puzzles that predominantly rely on trial and error or simple pattern recognition, there’s little to really get your teeth into.
Rip Them Off
Your job in Rip Them Off is to build shops on high streets to lure in as many shoppers, or ‘dupes’, as you can, thereby maximising profits. You do that in a Tower Defense style, with each shop able to manage a specific number of shoppers at a time before turning customers away.
You soon learn that shoppers won’t visit the same type of store twice, and that over-supply of capacity results in too little profit, forcing you to balance a diversity of shops with their cost and ability to handle the right size of crowd for that level.
With a minimalist 1960s art style, a capitalist-sceptic theme, and jazzy soundtrack it’s got style but continually having to restart levels because you made a wrong choice on the first day gets tired fast.
The Unfinished Swan
iOS, £4.99 (Giant Sparrow)
You play Monroe, an orphan who decides to follow a swan that’s escaped from one of his dead mother’s half completed paintings. The Unfinished Swan was originally released for PlayStation 3, and made rather unconvincing use of the Move controllers to aim black paintballs that you use to splatter scenery that’s otherwise invisible.
It’s even clunkier on a touchscreen, although seeing the paintballs arc away and explode, gradually revealing the geometry of a hidden 3D world is as magical as ever. Unfortunately, that mechanic is short-lived, with the game introducing and quickly abandoning a selection of other puzzle varieties as it sketches in its whimsical story of a flighty king and his magical paintbrush.
There’s no indication when you pass a checkpoint, so it’s easy to lose chunks of progress if you’re interrupted by a call or life, and the touch controls occasionally get in the way of solving puzzles, but it’s still a unique experience, albeit one marred by its own butterfly attention span.