Beautifully combining the casual solitaire CCG mechanic with the dungeon crawler, Card Crawl pits you against a nefarious dealer whose deck is trying to end you. Each game consists of 54 cards, and each hand can contain four cards. In the case of the player, that's their hero card, one item in each hand, and one item in a backpack, which can only be played when a hand is empty. The dealer will deal four cards on to the table, which the player then plays, using shields, weapons and special cards against the dungeon's monsters, and collecting gold and using potions strategically to heal.
The art is gorgeous, and each game only takes a few minutes, giving you a fun and challenging card game experience in a more casual, bite-sized fashion.
Price: Free (Android; full game is paid to unlock); $2.99 | AU$4.49 | £2.29 (iOS)
Tin Man Games
Ryan North's To Be or Not To Be
This gamebook adventure is a bit of a departure from Tin Man Games' usual nostalgic sword-and-sorcery or sci-fi fare -- taking on the work of the Bard by way of Dinosaur Comics' Ryan North.
The result is an utterly hilarious, rollicking adventure which puts you in the shoes of either Hamlet, Ophelia or the recently deceased King Hamlet (investigating his own murder as a ghost, because of course), and you can either follow the plot of Hamlet as we know it today or create an entirely new adventure where the evil King Claudius gets his just desserts.
Lifeline is a text adventure, but one with a serious difference and much higher stakes than you might be used to. You're not the protagonist of the story... and your decisions could get the protagonist killed.
Taylor is the sole survivor of the crash of the Varia, on a barren moon somewhere in the vicinity of Tau Ceti. Reaching out on comms, Taylor is able to find a single person, a single lifeline. You. As Taylor sets about exploring the inhospitable environment, you'll help make decisions on what to do next. The troubling part is that none of the decisions are good ones and one wrong move could land Taylor in serious trouble.
The mechanics are starting to inspire a new generation of interactive fiction. It plays out in real-time, notifying you via your phone's alerts, through which you can also respond to and interact with Taylor, making this the first mobile game that I know of that can be played via the lock screen. It's also compatible with the Apple Watch, where you can receive notifications when Taylor is ready to talk.
And it's surprisingly heart-wrenching as you start to develop a connection with Taylor, knowing that hope for survival is, at best, slim.
Hipster Whale of Crossy Road fame teamed up with Bandai Namco for a sort of "endless runner" take on Pac-Man, based on the famous Map 256 glitch. How does it work? Really well, actually. It takes place in an endless Pac-Man map populated with ghosts and power-ups. You can go at your own pace, and even backtrack, but hard on your little Pac-heels is The Glitch, gradually swallowing up the screen. If you're too slow, you'll get all eaten up.
In all honesty, it's not as compelling to play as Crossy Road, but that leaves it in the "still pretty compelling" category. Of all the Pac-Man titles that have been tried over the years, it's the freshest and most interesting take on the little Pac that we've seen in some time.
It's not easy to to make an interactive movie that works. That fact alone makes Her Story something of a curiosity as it borrows from, but doesn't ape, ideas from the interactive movie.
It takes place at a console. You are a police officer (presumably), going through police interview videos of a particular person, trying to piece together a murder. All the videos are available, but you have to find them by using keywords, which you need to carefully listen to what the interviewee is saying to find.
Some tapes contain no clues, but some tapes are vital, and all help you piece together who she is, and what happened the night Simon was killed.
Subterfuge kicks real-time strategy up a notch, since it actually takes place in real-time. A bunch of players compete on a board game-like map, trying to be the first to obtain 200 units of Neptunium.
You can fight, sneak or collaborate your way to the top, and your fighting skills and diplomacy skills are equally likely to pay off as you try to claim more territory. Each game plays out over the course of a week, and each move takes real time (hours, rather than seconds or minutes). It's an odd (but good!) mixture of casual as you check in and issue orders once in a while, and in-depth with quite complex strategy.
If you're the kind of person who likes to keep a notepad on hand while you're gaming, The Guides will be for you. It consists of a series of cryptic puzzles, a rabbit hole of maths and translations and conversions, with a set of clues that, in some cases, serve only to make the experience more confusing before you hit upon an answer.
If you like the experience of diving into an ARG, The Guides is a brilliant way to experience the sort of problem solving involved without ending up smeared across the web. It also comes with a separate companion app, The Guides Compendium (Android | iOS), which offers a separate narrative and its own mystery to unravel while providing clues and background about what's going on in the main game.
Galactic Keep is the deepest iOS game from developer Gilded Skull to date, and it's an utter delight, combining those luridly coloured, hand-drawn visuals with a pretty magnificent old-school tabletop RPG experience.
You roll the dice on a sci-fi adventure to complete missions, moving across the board and engaging in combat with a variety alien and robot foes. As is appropriate for a good RPG, it's not entirely dependent on the luck of the throw: You also have to be able to use the numbers you get strategically to put yourself in the best position to win.
In 2000, a side-scrolling Tomb Raider game was released for the Game Boy Color. Lara Croft ran around collecting keys and artefacts, killing snakes and monsters, and solving puzzles. I spent hours and hours playing and replaying. Whether or not Square Enix Montreal intended to channel that experience with Lara Croft Go, it's exactly where I go in my head as I play, and I loved every minute of it.
The game is similar in style to the runaway hit Hitman Go, a strategy game where you move Agent 47 around a board to take out targets without them seeing you. In Lara Croft Go, the experience gets more complex: Not only do you have to take out enemies from behind or the side, you have to navigate crumbling ruins and solve obstacle mazes. Luckily the move counter has been removed so you can take your time, and each level is short enough that you don't lose massive amounts of time if you have to start again. It's a fresh new take that manages to capture the old-school spirit of Tomb Raider, and I suspect it will end up being played again and again.
It's not fair to compare every graphically sumptuous game to Monument Valley, but Adventures of Poco Eco is definitely reminiscent -- not just for its rich colour palette, but for the feeling of meditative calm the exploration gameplay produces.
In Poco Eco, you play a little guy travelling different landscapes across 12 levels, seeking to find and restore the lost sounds of his tribe. The game is gentle and forgiving as you locate switches to transform the environment, albeit in a much more straightforward manner than Monument Valley's Escher-like perspective puzzles.
Mediocre's breakout title, Smash Hit, really lived up to its name. I was peachy keen to see what the Sweden-based studio came up with next, and was utterly delighted to find that it's every bit as fantastic.
The premise of the game is driving little dudes to their destination. However, on each level, you have multiple cars to drive, plotting routes one by one that play out simultaneously, challenging you to keep your cars from colliding. The physics system, which has made the cars quite heavy, adds an extra layer of challenge, as does the timer for each vehicle.
It's wrapped in a very stylish package: 1970s style towns, with a groovin' soundtrack to match. A one-off payment unlocks the ability to load the game from checkpoints.
AZZL is quite literally a puzzle game. The screen is split into pieces, and you have to rearrange them to make a picture. Sounds easy, right? Not so fast! The scenes are animated, and you have to watch carefully how they move in order to figure out where they go, and how they are oriented.
Don't be fooled by its cutesy, colourful monsters (a similar aesthetic to Dumb Ways to Die). As the game progresses, putting the animated scenes together becomes increasingly difficult. It's a fabulously diabolical puzzle-genre twist.
I'm a little bit of a sucker for pretty zen puzzle games. In Prune, you need to grow a tree so that its branches can reach the light and flower. Your little seedling, however, is hindered by a series of obstacles. You need to trim the branches so that the plant doesn't break, and so that it can channel its energy into creating longer branches where you need them, producing a beautiful profusion of flowers. It's peaceful and sweet.
Downwell is an '80s arcade throwback about falling down a well. On purpose. The well, as it turns out, is full of monsters, which you have to kill with your awesome weaponised boots.
It's pretty straightforward. Jump in, use the digital d-pad to move, and the one-touch button to both jump and fire guns. As you fall, you collect gems that can be used in shops to buy power-ups (which only last for the duration of that particular game), while your points can be used to unlock abilities to help you fall farther down the well. It's a simple concept translated into ludicrous fun.
Like its predecessor 10000000, You Must Build a Boat isn't what I'd call pretty. But otherwise it's pretty danged close to a perfect mobile game experience. It mixes a tile-matching casual game with a dungeon crawler to excellent effect.
The premise is that you need to, well, build a boat, by collecting supplies and monsters to serve as crew. Each run, you have to try and last as long as you can by sliding rows and columns to match attacks, shields, keys and other items to help you face the perils.
The gameplay is kept keen with quests to upgrade your gear and boat, maintaining a constant sense of satisfying progression, with the end goal to complete your boat and get out -- just as the goal in 10000000 was to reach the 10,000,000 points needed for freedom.
Dark Echo is an utterly genius concept. The gameplay is based on echolocation, which doesn't mean you need the sound on, although a pair of headphones will enhance the experience. You direct a character in the middle of a dark space, indicated by a pair of foot prints. Walking or clapping creates noise, which is represented by lines expanding from the source of that noise; these bounce off any nearby structures, which allows you to move through the space to find the exit.
You are not alone and making noise will alert whatever else is out there to your presence. What is it? Why is it hunting you? And why are you here, in this place, surrounded by the dead?
Fireproof's The Room series is, everyone can agree, one of the most spectacular puzzle series ever produced on any platform. Now that the third game is out, I can confidently say that they have been growing in both scope and complexity as the series progresses. The basic format is the same: Solve a series of puzzle objects to progress onto the next puzzle and the next small piece of the story. But this time you're also exploring a series of rooms containing the puzzles and following clues left by the mysterious Craftsman.
It still hits that brilliant, elusive spot between mentally challenging and satisfying. And it's still a gorgeously tactile game, beautifully designed down to the finest detail. I recommend full immersion: a dark room, a pair of headphones and no other distractions. It deserves it.
Recalling Frontier Developments' 2008 puzzle platformer LostWinds is The Beggar's Ride, first game from fledgling US and Italian studio Bad Seed.
Players take control of a beggar who happens upon an old mask which gives him the elemental powers of a fallen god. This begins a strange journey through strange lands, collecting the mask's lost powers, based on the elements. These allow you to solve puzzles. The rain power, for instance, lets you solve water-based puzzles, while the earthquake power lets you shake things loose. It's familiar territory, but beautifully executed, and with quite a lovely story to tell.
SPL-T is another winner from Simogo, and it's unlike anything I've played before. It's a game about splitting your screen up into smaller parts. Basically, you tap the screen to divide it up, placing horizontal and vertical splits alternately. After a play or two, the complex countdown mechanic clicks into place, and you find yourself starting to experiment with strategies.
And, because it's a Simogo game... yes, there is more to it than that. Interacting with the device and the interface throws up some interesting Easter eggs.
Shadowmatic is like a strange combinations of Lost Toys, in which you restore toys to their proper shapes by twisting their parts, and Echochrome II, where you had to move a light source to create shadow pathways for a character to follow.
The concept of Shadowmatic is one that seems so natural that it's a wonder no one else has done it before. You take a strangely shaped object hanging in space, and have to twist and turn it in three dimensions until the shadow it casts resolves into something recognisable. It can be quite devilishly tricky, particularly when you have more than one object in the same level, yet at the same time, it's soothingly satisfying. The objects have a pleasant tactility, given the medium, and you can take as long on each level as you need.