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 providing mental challenge and satisfaction. 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.
Oddworld Inhabitants seems to be working backwards with its ports to mobile, first with Stranger's Wrath, now with Munch's Oddysee. It might be a long time before we see the original Abe's Oddysee hit iOS, which is a shame, but Munch's Oddysee is nothing to sniff at. The first 3D game in the series, it follows the tribulations of the eponymous Munch, the last of his kind, fighting to save the last clutch of his species' eggs from consumption.
The original game, which was rushed, has been given a massive overhaul for its mobile launch, including much-needed sound and graphics upgrades.
When I caught up with Tin Man Games' Neil Rennison at PAX Australia, he told me briefly about Choices, calling it Tin Man's "answer to Lifeline". Inspired by the 3 Minute Games interactive fiction adventure that could be played on the Apple Watch, Choices is a sci-fi mystery you have to unravel with the help of Moti, a little AI companion who can also live on your Apple Watch.
The story starts after a strange occurrence: one day the sun vanished, returning just as strangely a few hours later. Now scientists are being murdered and you are travelling the world, unravelling the mystery piece by piece. Unlike Lifeline, which took place over three days or so, Choices is ongoing. Tin Man has a dedicated team of writers working on the story. It will update every week for subscribers who would like to continue the story.
If you like strategic planning, resource management and board games, well, Brass is kind of a complex mix of all three. The digital port of a real board game, it definitely takes time to learn all the rules, which is sort of board game geek heaven. It takes place during the Industrial Revolution in the English county of Lancashire, and you compete against other players (or AI) to build the most resources and trade routes, totting it all up for points at the end of the round.
Getting the balance right on a procedural death labyrinth can be a tricky thing. You need to feel like you are progressing in some way, yet keep the stakes high with permadeath. Runestone Keeper, for me at least, manages to hit that balance beautifully. A turn-based dungeon crawler set in a series of increasingly difficult levels, it sees you exploring dungeons by uncovering the tiles as you go. Some tiles conceal traps, others conceal monsters, and yet others conceal treasures and items that give you a helping hand, such as health items, or items that reveal where traps and enemies are hidden.
There's still very much an element of randomness, which won't appeal to every player, but upgrades purchasable for in-game gold create a sense of reward, making the progress last longer. At the same time, unlockable characters and other upgrades give you something to aim for. It makes the whole experience undeniably habit-forming.
It's pretty much guaranteed that if you put cute monsters in a thing, my interest in that thing will increase exponentially. Sometimes that works out, sometimes it doesn't. With Monster Hotel, it worked out. As the name suggests, it's a horror-themed hotel simulator. You need to build a hotel, then make your monstrous guests happy by accommodating their specific needs. This sometimes involves putting them in a room that, say, has a window or hasn't been cleaned. But it always involves the monsters in the adjacent rooms.
Each monster has an attribute, such as noisy or smelly, and wants to be roomed next to a particular attribute. You increase the amount the monsters pay for the room by fulfilling these requests. This puzzle element makes the gameplay a lot more tricky than you might expect.
Lifeline might have kicked off a whole new era of interactive fiction, it seems. Interactive novel One Button Travel has also borrowed a technique from 3 Minute Games. Just as Lifeline played out in real time, so too does One Button Travel. When your mysterious correspondent tells you it's going to take them a few hours to do something, it really does take that long. It's an effective technique, using that sense of reality to ratchet up both the tension of the story and your emotional investment.
It takes more than a clever gameplay technique to make a game, though, and luckily One Button Travel comes through. The 55,000-word adventure takes you time traveling into the future (unicorns!), and it's sassy, sarcastic, sweet and fun. It's also beautifully designed, with lovely ambient music and, as you'd expect from the developer of Rules, a clean and visually pleasing experience.
How do you make an endless runner stand out? It's pretty tough, but Asgard Run has a sense of style matched by few. It's standard runner fare: keep going for as long as you can, while jumping over, sliding under and dodging hazards, and slashing enemies. You'll also be collecting power ups and currency to unlock characters and weapons. It takes place on a cylindrical track, though, which gives the format a fresh look and feel. And if you like fictional cartoonish Vikings, the setting is great fun.
Horror adventure Wardwell House is a creepy experience, magnificently made. The entire game is made up of fully-3D panoramic photographs of locations, with hidden elements that you have to find to move onto the next area. Not quite a hidden object game, not quite a point-and-click, it's a strange beast somewhere between the two. Your aim is to find the clues, but you don't have to do anything with them.
There are no tutorials, so it starts a little frustratingly. Zoom in by holding down on the screen, aim at the hidden object and then release the screen. When you've found everything there is to look at, the next area will open. Once you get the hang of it, the game turns disconcerting. It's all shot in black-and-white, and as you move around, you'll begin to notice the warping around the edges of the panorama. This gives the whole experience a menacingly oneiric feel.
On the other end of the horror spectrum is Dark Fear, a game that references the point-and-click games of the 80s but comes with a spooky-scary twist. You have woken up in a dark cabin, and as you attempt to find out where you are and why, you come across a small settlement plagued by horrors living in nearby locations. Fortunately, the residents of this village are also handy providers of items and equipment.
Most of the game is point-and-click, with some turn-based combat. Battles use a "hit the meter when it moves over the middle" mechanic to decide how hard you hit, so fighting requires an element of skill. The 16-bit graphics also work in the game's favour, making the atmosphere more surreal and abstract. This in turn makes it even creepier when something strange and toothy emerges from the dark.
Starific is clearly what happens when Breakout gets into the disco biscuits. It takes place in a hexagonal ring, and your paddle moves around the edges. The aim is to set off chain reactions by hitting things in the middle, but it's twitchy-tricky. Your ball (or star) moves fast, and it's a challenge just to follow it and catch it when it emerges, let alone try to aim it. Set it to a pumpin' rave soundtrack, add explosions of colour and wacky power-ups, and it's like a dance party in your phone.
If word puzzles are your jam, you're going to have a blast with Jollygrams. Common phrases, proverbs and titles have been spoonerised and spelled phonetically. You have to puzzle out and unscramble the actual phrases and words.
Games Workshop has tried out a few different methods of bringing Warhammer 40K to mobile, with varying degrees of success. Previous efforts include a side-scrolling action shoot-em-up, a turn-based tabletop-style game and even a football game. Freeblade is different again. It's an on-rails destructo-fest that, in all honesty, is an utter glory to play.
You take the role of an Imperial Knight joining forces with the Dark Angels against the forces of Chaos. You have a variety of weapons at your disposal as you make your way through 40 single-player missions, each controlled with intuitive touch gestures. It's jaw-droppingly designed, too. And as an added bonus, you can customise your unit, unlocking more options as the game progresses.
Because Warhammer is a Games workshop property, this game does include microtransactions. But it's perfectly possible to play without them if you're into a more casual experience.
For those who like chess, or would like to learn how to play chess, Board Defenders is an interesting take on the classic board game. Each level sees you using up to four chess pieces (queen, knight, bishop and rook) to tackle a horde of pawns. It won't actually teach you the gameplay rules, to be clear, but each piece can only make its prescribed moves, so you will have to learn to think strategically about how to take out the pawns before they reach the other end of the board.
It's based on a playground, and the pieces are themed accordingly, with cute little animations for when they defeat another piece. It's not quite Battle Chess, which sadly became abandonware, but it's still pretty fun.
Plato mixes endless-style gameplay with colour-matching on a brilliantly coloured disco ball. It's pretty simple: at the top of the screen you'll be given a colour. Two nodes on the ball light up, and you have to tap the node that matches the colour. You have 60 seconds to light up as much of the disco ball as you can, chaining together combos for a higher score. It has clean graphics, simple controls and popping colours, all set to a regenerative electronic soundtrack composed by Jared Underwood, who provided the soundtracks for OTTTD and One More Line.
Sega's annual Football Manager games are an official Big Deal for sports games fans, and the phone version is very nicely done. It's basically the same game, designed for pocket-sized screens. Open up a game and you'll see a top-down view of the field where you, as your team's manager, can direct the gameplay. It's all based on the current football leagues around the world, so you can guide your favourite real-life team to victory.