Evoland is a love letter to the evolution of the RPG, all the way from top-down 8-bit games such as the original Legend of Zelda, through to the sophisticated 3D-sandbox games we have today. As you progress through the game, what you collect isn't crystal shards or gems, but advancements in the technical aspects of the game -- a perspective shift to isometric, for example, or a new kind of combat -- from real-time to turn-based and back again.
The original game, created for the evolution-themed Ludum Dare game jam #24 in 2012, is playable for free on creator Nicolas Cannasse's website, but in the intervening years the game has been given a polish that makes it well worth a few bucks.
Have you ever thought to yourself, "Boy, trading sure sounds exciting!"? Chances are, probably not, but it can be surprisingly intricate going, if Merchants of Kaidan is any indication. You play a nobleman fallen on hard times, who now has to make a living trading goods across the land of Kaidan, starting from selling the only thing you have: your family ring. It's not as simple as buying and selling, though: you have to pay your workers, maintain your cart, occasionally get burgled, pay travel costs, and then deal with fluctuating market prices to boot -- all the while trying to scrape together a profit in order to clear your besmirched name.
While the Real Racing series offers one solution to touchscreen racing, Daytona Rush offers one that seems very suitable for the platform. Rather than trying to replicate the console experience, it places the racing across three lanes. What you have to do is swipe to weave in between the other cars, avoiding collisions and completing objectives, such as travelling a certain distance or overtaking a certain number of cars -- and managing to get across to the far left lane when you need to refuel. It sounds dumbed down, but it takes place at a high enough speed, and there are enough other cars on the road, that it gets quite challenging while providing a novel and intuitive take.
If you've ever played Ski Safari, you're familiar with the core gameplay of Alto's Adventure. It's a fair bit simpler, though: you're chasing escaped llamas on your snowboard, and completing goals allows you to level up and unlock new characters to play. One-touch controls allow you to jump and backflip, which racks up points, but -- unlike Ski Safari -- there are no other creatures to hitch a ride on, an avalanche behind you or the ability to pick yourself up and dust yourself off when you crash.
This streamlined approach -- coupled with some utterly gorgeous graphics and changing environments and lighting conditions -- make Alto's Adventure one of those casual gaming staples you'll keep returning to.
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, however, 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?
Side-scrolling platformer Pursuit of Light sees you take on the role of a little bunny-hooded girl, exploring the land of dreams to find light. It doesn't make a lot of sense, but it does it in style. It has simple two-button controls: the platforms the girl jumps across to free the light are marked with symbols, and you have to tap the button corresponding with the next platform. Hazards, such as spikes, spears and falling traps mean you have to time your jumps carefully, as the platforms also disappear on a timer when you jump on them.
It's tricky, but not impossible, managing to combine the satisfaction of old-school gameplay with a strange and beautiful world.
OK, so if you like Wipeout and F-Zero -- and who doesn't like Wipeout and F-Zero -- you're going to want to check out AG Drive. this gorgeously designed racing game takes you into a futuristic city, where the anti-gravity drive makes racing more intense than it's ever been before. The rest is familiar: as a newbie racer, you have to work your way up through the ranks, upgrading your vehicle with prize money as you go.
The controls -- a choice of accelerometer or virtual buttons -- take a little getting used to, but the jaw-dropping graphics, stunning soundtrack and intense, high-speed gameplay make it a must-play for racing enthusiasts.
Etter Studio -- the team behind Drei and EMC -- tends to create games that are more artistic experiments than traditional games. Plug & Play is no different. The studio calls it an "interactive animation," which is probably more accurate than calling it a game. In it, you follow the adventures of little guys with plugs and sockets instead of heads -- looking for love in a stark world. It's strange, it's sweet, it's silly, and it's oddly mesmerising.
Turn-based Auro is all about strategy. On a hex-based grid, you have to manoeuvre your hero to "bump" monsters off the edge and into the water. The monsters, however, move around too, and each monster has a different ability -- a little like chess, in a way -- which you need to try to avoid, or can try and use to your advantage. And, of course, you have powers of your own that you can deploy. You can't predict where the AI will place foes, or how those foes will move, which makes every game a challenge or trying to think several steps ahead.
The year is 1984. It is the final days of a decades-long war and the Techno-Vikings are in the last stages of a hostile takeover against you, the last of the great Techno-Wizards. From your turret, you have one goal: fend off the Techno-Viking hordes with your gatling-type wizard gun and live to fight another day. This one combines the simplicity of early arcade games, as you fight to take down wave after wave of foes, with the technology of the iPad: the gyroscope gives you 360-degree scope; although the fact that you have to physically move the mobile device makes this one less of a casual bus-stop experience.
Because this is a Square Enix game, you can expect two things: Firstly, that, even though it's a free game, you're going to have a slightly harder time if you don't spend money, particularly in PvP. Secondly, the game's production values are insanely good. It's basically a lane-based, turn-based strategy game, wherein you collect and level up your units (over 200 different kinds in the game), crafting the perfect squad (much like a TCG deck) to take on a series of ever stronger foes. If you're quite happy to plug away at it in a casual fashion in single-player mode before jumping into PvP, there's a game of quite extraordinary depth and beauty here.
The notion that gestures are fundamentally linked with magic is quite a common fantasy trope, so the fact that it's taken until this long for a game like Magic Touch: Wizard for Hire to show up seems just plain wrong. Nevertheless, it's here now, and it's fabulous. As the newly hired wizard, it's your job to defend the castle from invading forces -- enemy knights ballooning in over the battlements. Gameplay is simple: each balloon has a symbol, and you drawing that symbol on the screen drops that knight to his demise. As the game progresses, increasingly difficult knights arrive -- knights with more complex symbols, or knights with more than one balloon -- while racking up gold allows you to unlock powerful spells to aid your duties.
This platformer recalls the style of the original Castlevania, but it's not a brawler. It's an escape game. Your character, Pavel, has been captured and placed in a dungeon and needs to get out. The problem: it's riddled with traps.
Gameplay is ingeniously simple. Pavel runs automatically. All you can control is a jump button. You can use this to avoid traps, but also leap, parkour-style, around the levels, finding alternate routes, changing direction, and, of course, leaping hazards. It's hard, in the way only those old-school arcade games are hard, but it brings proportionate satisfaction along with it. And, because the levels are short, it never turns into banging-your-head-against-the-wall frustrating.
We first saw this puzzle game at PAX Australia, and we loved it then, too. It's a pretty simple puzzler: for each level, you have a limited number of moves to reach the goal. what makes it more interesting is the introduction of time: with each step you take -- you're a castaway on a deserted island -- time visibly passes, so that if you don't make it to the campfire within the move limit, your character expires from old age.
This time factor also induces changes in the environment. Trees grow, which you can use as elevators. Other objects, such as giant turtles, move. And you can use the wheel at the side of the screen to advance time -- say if you're waiting for a tree to grow -- or rewind it if you don't like the move you've made. It makes for an interesting take on a simple concept -- and has encouraged some very creative level design.