Think of playing a game of chess against a friend (or AI). Then imagine that the pieces and rules are arbitrary, and you just sort of have to figure it out as you go along.
That's Chesh, a randomly generated two-player chess-like. You select the board size and game mode, and the pieces are then randomly generated. You know the basics. You have to move your pieces around the board to capture your opponent's pieces (but be warned, you can eliminate your own pieces too).
But half the game is figuring out, then remembering, how all the pieces move. Once you've selected a piece, you can't deselect it, so you're committed to moving it. The game has 533 different pieces, so it is possible to get good... if you play an awful lot of it.
Simply tooling about in Minecraft is very much its own kind of fun. But if you've ever wished Minecraft had a narrative adventure through its voxellated Overland, you're in luck. Minecraft: Story Mode is from Telltale Games, so it's not exactly a free-roaming action adventure. Instead, it blends Telltale's characteristic episodic interactive narrative and quick-time event gameplay with the Minecraft universe. It's an odd choice for a property that's known for its absolute in-game freedom, but if you're a fan of Minecraft and/or Telltale, the game is a treat.
Cloud Chasers tells a story of immigration. In a not-too-distant future, Francisco and Amelia are forced to leave their dangerous home, seeking safety and a new life to try and reach the city above the clouds, populated by humanity's elite. However, the world is a desert and water is scarce, so Francisco and Amelia have to carefully decide how to use their resources.
As they roam through the desert, gameplay takes the form of choice-guided narrative based on events, such as running into other travellers. This is Amelia's job, and you have to guide her small glider as she swoops through the clouds, trying to gather enough water to make it to the other side of the desert. This is complicated by the UAV water harvesters, your competition in harvesting the clouds. It's a sweet, heart-warming experience as you grow emotionally invested in the pair and their efforts to find a better life.
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.
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 actual 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.
Technically, Fossil Forensics is an educational game for children, but if you're a grown-up who likes dinosaurs, you might have a bit of fun with it too.
It puts you in the role of a museum curator, analysing and comparing dinosaur fossils, and compiling exhibitions based on similarities between the skeletons. It's designed to educate players about evolution and diversity. Supplementary curriculum materials are available, which are necessary in a teaching environment.
However, the game works very well as a standalone for those who know a little about palaeontology. It doesn't offer too many clues. As you play, the game will teach you what to look for and how to logically connect the fossils.
You've played tower defence, but have you ever played psychedelic sleeping cat defence? That's Lumo's Cat, in which you must enter the snoozing kitty's dreams and control a cast of wacky characters to keep marauding mice from attacking.
It's a glorious riot of colour and movement, with characters that call to mind the utterly weird animations of the 1930s. The food you feed the cat has an affect on its dreams, and sets the difficulty level. When you enter the dream you are given a cast of yellow characters, each with their own abilities, such as healing and exploding, to fight the mice mice. However, it's not the structured format you might expect from tower defence. The mice attack from any direction, and you simply send your dudes over there to take them out. It's sheer pandemonium, but very much in a fun and silly sort of way.
Moto RKD Dash is one stylish little racing game, the first title by solo developer Kalin Krastev. Heavily inspired by racing games of the early 80s like Tomy Racing Turbo, Moto RKD Dash is a motorcycle game with arcade racing built into its DNA.
The track is curved up ahead of you. Your job is to accelerate to turbo speed and stay there, rounding corners without running into the track edges, other racers or obstacles, all of which breaks your turbo streak. A slider control lets you steer, or you can tap and hold either side of the screen. It takes a few goes to get the hang of, but once you do, you're in for a slick racing experience.
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. 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 accomplished, with quite a lovely story to boot.
If you're after an emotional wrench, 2013's Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons tracks younger brother Naiee and elder brother Naia. Their father lies dying, and the only hope for a cure is water from the Tree of Life. This sets in motion the hero's journey, but there are two heroes.
Naiee and Naia must work together in concert to try to reach the tree and collect the water. This means that the two brothers must work together. The brothers are controlled with two floating virtual thumbsticks, one for each brother, and you must learn to operate them in tandem. It's a bittersweet tale about grief, loss and moving on.
It's normal for developers to be inspired by other developers, to see an idea and think of ways to work with that idea, with a new twist or spin. Ghosts of Memories is clearly inspired (as quite a few games were) by Monument Valley visually, but you shouldn't expect the same sort of gameplay. The isometric puzzle platformer only experiments a little with perspective. Instead, you have to locate portals to other dimensions, collecting energy to unlock gates and bring fragmented blocks together to build a path to the next level.
It's not as polished as Monument Valley, but let's be honest here -- so very few games are. It is, however, a lovely puzzler in its own right, and the atmosphere created by the visuals and music really pull it together into something worth spending time on.
The beginning of Dust: An Elysian Tail is not an auspicious one, buying as it does into several cliches at once. There's the amnesiac chosen one, the magical sword, the journey to discover the past and save the world. It's worth sticking with it though, both for how that story unfolds, and for the actual gameplay. The game is mainly the work of solo developer Dean Dodrill, and it contains a surprising level of depth.
It's a side-scrolling action-RPG, originally released on Xbox in 2013, and ported across to iOS. Virtual buttons on the right side of the screen allow you to control the combat, a well-designed set of upgradeable combo moves that mix physical melee with magic from both the protagonist and his companion. It feels genuinely satisfying and compelling to play as you utilise everything in your arsenal to tackle waves of enemies, becoming stronger and stronger as the game progresses.
Hocus is another game this month that takes a cue or two from Monument Valley, but in a different direction. It has pared the experience right back to a puzzle game based on Escher-style illusions. Each level consists of an impossible shape, with a red block and a red hole; the aim is to move the block around the shape and get it into the hole, working with the odd twists in perspective. There are no penalties and no timers, and the result is a very soothing series of puzzles.
Cthulhu ate Tamagotchi! Sort of. If you're familiar with the whole virtual pet thing, raising this adorable little cosmic entity will be a cinch. You can feed it, and clean it, and put it to sleep when it's tired, and administer first aid when it becomes ill. You can't actually play with it, but it does come with a little procedural death labyrinth minigame that allows you to collect more food items with which to feed it. And a feature I absolutely love -- you can put Cthulhu into a deep sleep (suspended) mode so that if you are unable to check in for a few days, you won't kill it with neglect.
If you do what this game's title asks, it's not going to be a very fun experience. The idea is to touch all of the things, as much as possible (although you can also touch none of the things if you like). You're left at a control terminal overlooking a city while the terminal's regular operator goes for a bathroom break. It may not look like much, but there are cunningly hidden puzzles around the terminal. Touching things in specific sequences unlocks more things to touch. This has various effects on the city (the first thing you can do is blow it up spectacularly), and unlocks a bunch of achievements. It's very challenging, very silly and very funny.
Atypical has done magnificent things in the past with battle games. The move into science fiction with Battle Supremacy: Evolution seems a natural one. In this progression from the original WWII game Battle Supremacy, you can take to the land and sky in a vehicle that can transform between tank, drone and fighter plane. It looks absolutely stunning, although it's a little let down at this point by sluggish controls. Given how clean the controls were in Battle Supremacy, and how polished the developer's other games are, there's hope for a fix at some point. It's still absolutely worth keeping an eye on this one for a software update, even if you aren't willing to invest in it quite yet.
Octodad is quite possibly one of the most ridiculous concepts for a video-game ever. He's, well, an octopus who's pretending to be a human, because why not, and he has to fumble and bumble his ungainly tentacles throughout his day-to-day life while keeping his true nature a secret. As you might expect, the gameplay controls themselves are quite fumbly and bumbly, which in turn leads to some funny moments, but there's some truth to it, too. Octodad's struggles with ordinary tasks are a quite poignant metaphor for the struggles of an outsider just trying to be normal.
Point-and-click detective game Agent A, first in an episodice series, manages to stand out quite wonderfully in a saturated genre, with its Bond-inspired 60s spy Shag aesthetic. As the titular Agent A, you need to hunt down and stop the dastardly Ruby La Rouge in her swanky mansion (she has a shark aquarium!) on a private island.
It's quite a beautifully balanced game, with enough difficulty to keep most players engaged, but not so much that they'll be turning away in frustration. You'll prowl the mansion looking for clues, and can expect to return to previous puzzles with new items and information, but it moves smoothly enough that it never gets arduous doing so.
Melbourne-based studio Yak & Co is only a relatively new venture, but Agent A promises great things for the future.
Lumino City is the follow-up to 2012's Lume, and it has been entirely handmade out of paper and cardboard, tiny lights and motors. The model city the team at State of Play built stands 10 feet high, and the game itself is a marvel of ingenuity.
As little paper person Lumi, you have to explore the paper city solving puzzles to help the city's people and learn more about Grandad's life. The care and hand construction is evident in the game's every scene, creating an intimate and friendly atmosphere that's a delight to explore. It's a wonderful game for all ages.