GameCentral sifts through this months new iOS and Android games from Old School RuneScape to mobile game of the year Grimvalor.
Apples new iPad Pro claims to have about the same processing power as an Xbox One. That alone gives some credence to the claim of console quality thats occasionally made on behalf of mobile games. While normally not true, for titles like Grimvalor its completely accurate, right down to the fact that it plays way better with an MFi controller.
Is that what we want though? With a fundamentally different interface and far briefer play time, mobile may be better off becoming its own medium rather than trying to ape console games. Whichever way the market goes though, the upside is that well all get to play with the experiments along the way…
Graveyard Smash for iOS & Android, 99p (Samuel Strick)
In Graveyard Smash, youre an unpaid intern at a cartoon graveyard, whose job it is to shoo away ghosts. You do that by pulling back and firing a flipper at the bottom of the screen to bat ghosts into a set of spiralling portals, which neatly disposes of them. After hitting each ghost you can swipe the screen once to redirect it into the nearest portal, and then everything else is up to momentum and gravity.
Ghosts appear increasingly rapidly and if there are ever more than three onscreen its game over. From that extremely simple premise, springs an involving and witty game. Your overseer and the performance evaluators you encounter are never less than highly amusing, weaving a little story around the surreal goings-on.
The board also changes day to day, adding extra flippers, different configurations of portals and new obstacles to avoid, or indeed knock into for extra points. The daily high score table adds an addictive extra quality, and at least at time of review its relatively easy to get yourself onto it – in this polished and engaging little timewaster.
The Tower Of Egbert for iOS, £2.99 (Andreas Gegendorfer)
With an offbeat art style and unusual gameplay, The Tower Of Egbert is a physics-based puzzle game about building very tall towers. You do that by adding blocks of different shapes and sizes to your tower base in an effort to make it as tall and stable as possible, whilst hitting preset height milestones, and collecting extra currency picked up by intersecting with it using your increasingly precarious structure.
When you hit a height marker you simply press the play button, and provided your tower can last through a brief countdown, youre on to the next one. The twist is that even if your building is in mid-collapse it freezes in place, giving you an extra challenge when adding the next few storeys onto the leaning, partially-disintegrated building.
There are plenty of other things to worry about, from compulsory pointed turrets that you cant build on top of, to obstacles that you either avoid or pay in-game currency to remove. You can also decorate your tower with a range of pennants and banners, but your teetering constructions and the learning process that goes into making them stupidly tall are what make this engrossing.
Dead Paradise for iOS & Android, £Free (Smokoko)
Set in a dystopian Mad Max-style future, youre a road warrior with a gun. Each level has you driving from left to right using accelerator, brake, and occasional nitrous oxide boosts to get to the finish line, whilst dispatching as many enemies as possible. Your vehicle shoots automatically, so all you need to do is tap a button to point your gun forwards or backwards, with another button to shoot missiles.
Naturally, getting to the end swiftly becomes impossible, so you need to upgrade armour, fuel tank, missiles, and engine – all of which install with a long countdown timer – to give yourself a better shout at making the distance. Along with gold and coins to buy upgrades, youll also use fuel each race, which recharges gradually or can be purchased for real money.
Although initially a bit of knockabout fun, the realisation quickly sets in that this is not in any way governed by skill, but is wholly based on your cars stats. Which makes the long, tedious grind necessary but not interesting.
Grimvalor for iOS, £6.99 (Direlight)
Grimvalor channels Dark Souls for its look and feel, complete with an enemy soul-harvesting mechanic and bonfires-in-all-but-name at which you rest, recharge, and repopulate local mobs. However, even though there are several challenging boss fights – the final two proving particularly memorable – its actually more Metroidvania, your gradually expanding strength and skill set encouraging you to backtrack to areas that were previously either too difficult or entirely off limits.
Played in 2D, fights rely on fast movement and the brief period of invulnerability when your character rolls or dashes. They also vary considerably depending on which weapon you have equipped, with swords, axes, and metal gauntlets all necessitating quite distinct fighting styles.
The ability to grind previously explored areas to improve skills and equipment is essential for all but the most dextrous players, and those with an MFi joypad will find it preferable to the onscreen controls, which while competent do sometimes let you down in the heat of battle. Its game of the year material for fans of twitch action.
Element for iOS, £4.99 (Flightless)
Despite the genres strong suitability for touchscreen play, there remain very few decent real-time strategy games for mobile. Element is a promising new entry, having already appeared on PC and Nintendo Switch. Taking place on a series of increasingly chunky planetoids, your job on each world is to mine more of its essential mineral than your computer opponent, before going on to destroy its base.
You do that using a mixture of attack towers and moving offensive units, which you need to balance with defending your own base and mines. Its a beautiful looking game, with elegant fonts and screen layouts that are clearly a labour of love, but its problem is that despite noble intentions and designer-ly gorgeousness, the battles themselves feel formless and a bit dull.
Slapping down a couple of mines and energy structures, then sending a massive volley of missiles to destroy the enemy base will get you through the first few levels, until suddenly it becomes overwhelmingly tough. The lurch in difficulty isnt insurmountable, but also isnt much fun, which is particularly disappointing given how perfect everything else is in Element.
Castle Crush: Siege Master, £Free (Armor Games)
When the original Castle Crush appeared in 2009, Angry Birds was all the rage. Castle Crush and its sequel are effectively Angry Birds, but with a trebuchet instead of a catapult and no irate poultry. That means you need to destroy a building that appears on the right side of the screen, using a siege engine on the left, by tapping the screen to start its swing, and tapping again to release your projectile.
As you work your way through its 100 levels, buildings get more complex, and projectiles upgrade from boulders to flaming rocks, handfuls of smaller stones, and a variety of other cartoon ordnance – which you can of course bolster by dropping actual money on in-app purchases.
The reality is that the best way to explore Siege Master is to tough it out and use skill and multiple repeated attempts to overcome its kinetic destruction puzzles, rather than springing for overpowered ammunition. Youll need to watch the occasional soul-sappingly dreary video ad, but its relatively inoffensive given the quality of free entertainment on offer. Although if youre already bored to tears with Angry Birds this will do nothing to change your mind.
See/Saw for iOS, £2.99 (Philipp Stollenmayer)
See/Saw places your stickman character in the midst of a Portal-style scientific experiment, complete with a heartless professor figure to deliver dryly comic tips and instructions. In each level you have to collect three circles, and if you can grab them all quickly enough, theres a fourth award available for a perfect performance. Thats the least of your concern on most levels though, which take planning and considerable dexterity to beat.
The only control youve got is to tilt the level left or right, which causes your stick figure to walk or run in that direction. There are jump pads, spinning blades, lethal spikes, and guided missiles to negotiate, although dying isnt always a bad thing, provided you die in the right place, letting you collect the final token with your lifeless cadaver.
Although frequently frustrating – this is a game you will find yourself loudly shouting at – its also fabulously clever and addictive, with one more go an almost foregone conclusion as you once again impale/lacerate your stickman in pursuit of that final collectible.
Old School RuneScape for iOS & Android, £Free + £6.99 per month (Jagex)
The soubriquet old school gets bandied about a lot, but RuneScapes original release in 2001 gives it more licence than most to claim that title. Amongst the first wave of MMOs, along with forgotten relics like Ultima Online, the major difference with RuneScape is that its been played ever since, and has been steadily growing and evolving for the best part of 20 years.
You wouldnt know to look at it though, its graphics looking hilariously ropey by todays standards, but playing it reveals a game that is still in a class of its own. Without a central story or campaign to anchor you, once youve completed the grossly insufficient tutorial youre left to do practically anything you like in a world that contains well over a decades worth of gameplay for newcomers.
That will either sound like nirvana or induce mild feelings of panic, depending on your disposition. There is a free-to-play area, albeit small and without all that much to do, but for the right sort of adventurer this remains a hugely alluring prospect, well worth the asking price of £7 per month (or £63 a year).
By Nick Gillet