Weekend Mobile roundup: Hit Jim Sterling in the face!

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This weekend offers a batch of great, amazing, and ho-hum games that are littering Apple’s app store of late. Even though I didn’t buy my iPod Touch until February this year, I’m already finding myself get tired of match-3 puzzlers, games with doodle graphics, and clones of the usual Top 10 games found on iOS — and I doubt I’m the only one.

Luckily, some devs still have some creativity left to give us that handful of excellent new games every month. Thanks!

Unrelated but entertaining enough, Smash A Foe (iPhone, free) lets you hit people in the face by importing photos. In a nutshell, you can insert Jim Sterling’s face and then whack it with a hammer whenever he dares to give a videogame a score that you don’t agree with.

Contre Jour
(iPhone, $0.99; iPhone & iPad, $2.99 — universal app)

I was planning to give Contre Jour a separate review because I was initially impressed with it, but that was until I got further into the game and realized I would be the worst person on the planet to review it. It’s still an interesting game worth writing about, so here we are.

Contre Jour is positioned as an art-game kind of thing, and it shows. It looks like Limbo, has a piano-heavy soundtrack that is novel and calming enough until you hear the same thing repeat itself over and over again during each level of one of three worlds (I left my iPod on while doing the dishes and it drove me mad within 3 minutes), and it mixes gameplay from various other games in a synergetic fashion.

For the most part, the physics puzzle gameplay is a mix of manipulating the ground to move a creature around (think Bumpy Road in a single-screen platformer format) and a sort of inverse Cut The Rope mechanic that involves dragging tentacles to your creature and swinging it around. You can tie two tentacles to your creature and control its swing, or sometimes even use a slingshot for some Angry Birds gameplay.

All of this is a lot of fun to mess around with, at least early on in the game when the puzzles are fun to explore and solve. But as you progress, you’ll encounter more and more puzzles of the type that requires a lot of skill and patience on the player’s side; make a wrong move, and you swing your creature into spikes and sudden death. Quite frankly, I don’t understand the reasoning behind most of these puzzles at all. Mobile puzzle games excel when they offer a challenge that never punishes the player, but instead encourages the player to do better through self-improvement, and Contre Jour does a lot of punishing.

It is an easy game to laud and hype because it looks and sounds oh so arty, but I found myself slowly getting more and more annoyed with it once I got over the initial “wow this looks great” factor. Particularly annoying is the requirement to collect enough “lights” throughout the levels to unlock the third world. I initially skipped the harder levels that made me go “Haha, no thanks I’d rather have fun instead!” but alas, that just forces you to retry levels you know you’ll hate over and over until you’ve finally scavenged enough lights to proceed to new types of puzzle gameplay.

Still, I’m sure it will have a wide audience of players who are more patient than I am, or more willing to forgive its sometimes punishing design in favor of the skill-based gameplay it offers. But if you are the type of player that would rather focus on mind-bending yet relaxing puzzles, rather than one that likes to make split-second touch control moves to “solve” a level, I can’t recommend it at all.

Also, from its YouTube description: “Blurring the lines between games and interactive art, Contre Jour welcomes you to a hauntingly beautiful world shaped by the interplay of light and darkness.” Excuse me while I throw up my plebeian foodstuffs in my bedpan; it’s a damn puzzle game that is more likely to frustrate than elicit emotions of positive valence. If okay games masked under a layer of “omg indie art-game!” is your Viagra, you’ll probably love it though.

Battle for Wesnoth (Android, €2.89, iPhone, $3.99, iPad (HD), $3.99)

“The official port of the turn-based strategy-RPG Battle for Wesnoth,” the description on the Android Market tells us. I had never heard of Battle for Wesnoth before (hey now, it’s no Dwarf Fortress), but Dtoider Simon Julian pointed me in its direction this week. Luckily for all of us, he will accept full responsibility if you think it’s a terrible game!

Battle for Wesnoth is a strategy RPG with hexes and hours upon hours of gameplay, apparently, and I know how much you all like SRPGs so why not give it a try? There are iOS version as well, although they are a bit older and haven’t been updated in a while, plus the original is free on a million platforms to boot. It looks worth a shot if you ask me, not because there’s a lack of strategy games on the mobile platforms but there’s always room for one more hex-based SRPG.

(The best video of this I could find was this Czech review of the Android version; learn some Czech!)

Rogue Sky (iPhone, $0.99; iPad, $1.99)

Playing Rogue Sky is an interesting experience. As a balloon, you have to float your way up through a maze of harmless coulds and dangerous traps by tapping a left buton to go left, a right button to go right, and both to float upwards. Double tapping either button lets you shoot a cannon in either direction to destroy enemies. That sounds relatively standard so far, right?

The interesting thing about it is that for some reason it just doesn’t invite you to ever play the next level. It’s not bad or terrible in any way, but it’s just not much fun. Perhaps we’re simply used to faster-paced and tighter-designed games like Jetpack Joyride by now, or perhaps not. Either way, Rogue Sky is not a bad game but just a bit tedious and lacking in fun or wow factors that a mobile game always requires.

Dragon Fantasy (iPhone & iPad, $2.99 — universal app)

This is exactly what you think it is… but better! Dragon Fantasy brings the old school dungeon crawling experience to iOS for fans of those ancient PC RPGs for games like Final Fantasy I — or for the younger crowd: it’s like Game Boy Pokémon without Pokémon. Everything down to the menus and load screens is 8-bit and retro styled, so if you never grew up during or after the ’90s you’ll feel right at home!

In all seriousness, Dragon Fantasy is a fantastic little RPG with a lot of humor. It takes stabs at the genre with its writing, while offering a solid RPG experience in the process. In the first few minutes you may encounter a Mr. Rock Monster for instance, who will attack you with a depressing look or with “…tries to explain the lipstick on his collar.” A few steps later, a random encounter will confront you with a Mrs. Rock Monster who damages you with an “…asks if you think she’s fat” attack.

If things like that make you go “heh” and if you like stats, leveling, loot, and something meaty for your iThing, make sure to give this one a try. It can be a bit on the hard side if you take your current-gen console RPG mentalities into it, though, so be warned of its difficulty.

Fruit Roll (iPhone, $0.99; iPad, $1.99)

Fruit Roll is probably as basic as $1 iPhone games come these days. You’re a fruit, and you roll while you dodge enemies and grab points. Complex gameplay, right? There’s a bit more to it, thankfully.

As you roll, you can pick up different color fruits that each have a strength versus a type of enemy. One kind will roll over a type of enemy, another kind will let you jump through another type of enemy, and so on. Collecting fruits puts them in three sockets where you can either tap to change to that kind of fruit, or to clear fruits out of the sockets so you can collect three of the same color. Doing the latter will change you into a super fruit that makes it a lot easier to pick up points, while it rolls over any enemy in the process.

It’s not a bad game, but there’s not a whole lot to it either. Unless you are a huge fan of these kind of games, or need to fill up your list of apps for some reason, you can probably pass on it.

Mathical Vol. 1
(iPhone, $0.99)

This one is for those of you with toddlers that need to be occupied, but preferably in a way that teaches them something. It’s a collection of math-based minigames that are simple enough to grasp, yet fun enough to play without feeling obliged to learn something.

Divider Slider makes you slide to the correct number — the answer to a division — to fit in the open space of a falling platform that will otherwise crush you. Orderly Birds is a simple value rearranging game where you have to move birds around to create the correct order, and Missing Number Skydiving makes you move to the missing number in an addition or subtraction. These are all pretty simple and fun games, for children at least.

Fraction Reaction, however, is a bit of a nightmare. Fraction orbs bounce around the screen and you have to move sliding walls around to keep them all in the section of the screen that matches their fraction. This minigame is just way too hard to control, especially for younger children. On the upside, Multiple Slime Climb is great. It’s one of those “hop from wall to wall” games (e.g., Mechanic Panic, Ninjatown: Trees of Doom!), but the twist is that you can only touch numbers that are multiples of a value you select at the start. It’s the hardest game by far, but also the most fun for both parents and their children alike.

For a buck, you get three ok games, one great game, and a meh one. That’s well worth keeping that screaming kid occupied, I’d say.

Spy Mouse (iPhone, $0.99)

When Spy Mouse was released, I didn’t pay much attention to it. It looks like one of those Top iPhone games that a lot of people love for a week or two and promptly forget about, usually making me spend money on things I only ever end up playing for 15 minutes tops. In this case it was stupid of me to ignore it.

Firemint’s (of Flight Control fame) latest iPhone hit brings back the familiar path-drawing gameplay from their aircraft managing game, but this time it’s more puzzle-adventure oriented. You have to draw a path for your protagonist Agent Squeak to pick up cheese and then escape with it. Easier said than done, because different types of cats will stalk along their indicated paths and storm towards you if they see you.

Cats can be evaded, lured, distracted, or stunned by using the level’s design and your skill at drawing paths to your advantage. There’s even boss encounters! It’s all pretty easy stuff, especially early on in the game, and every type of player can solve the levels without too much of a headache.

Each level does have three challenges, though. Solve a level without being spotted, by making two cats run into a wall, by completing it under a par time, only dragging one path in total, by collecting all bonus cheese bits, etcetera. It’s these challenges that provide the meat of the game to the more hardcore audience, and there are plenty of levels to “three star” to last you a long time.

Moreover, the presentation, humor, graphics, and the little animation touches for Agent Squeak and his feline opponents are all top notch. Spy Mouse is truly an excellent game for all types of players, and at $1 it’s ridiculously underpriced. 

Notable updates:

Just Survive XP (iPhone & iPad, free — universal app) 

This survival-oriented shooter is free for a limited time, and contains a bunch of upgrades over the original Just Survive. There are now weapon upgrades, score multipliers, and a range or other temporary upgrades you can pick up in-game. It makes game a bit more fun and varied, at the risk of getting too much things on the screen to want to pick up. But if you do, you’re likely to die and… not survive.

If you’ve been aching for a shmup for your iPad, give it a try while it’s free.

QuBIT (iPhone & iPad, free — universal app)

This was an excellent and beautiful arcade racing game that defied the racing genre conventions, and you can now grab it for free. Retina support has been added, as well as some performance enhancements.

Also new is a $0.99 in-app purchase that unlocks a new mode and a bunch of new characters to play with. The core game itself is definitely worth checking out, especially now that it is free, so if you’re feeling guilty about not paying for it there’s that IAP to spend money on.

Mobile news of the week:

That’s it for this weekend. If you know of a ridiculous or cool new Android or iOS game, hit up Jim Sterling or myself on Twitter. Or post it in the comments!

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Maurice Tan
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