Freshly updated, and thus providing me the perfect opportunity to give it my highest recommendation, is Etienne Perin’s Gauge, a game hasn’t seemed to receive the attention it richly deserves, even after some six months on the market.
Like Terry Cavanagh’s Super Hexagon, it’s a game that knows exactly what it is and does that one thing with fantastic style. In this case, that thing is a single-input interaction that asks players to press the screen to widen a loading-bar style ‘gauge’, coming as close to the outer edge without touching it as possible for the highest score, and never allowing it to fully drop back to its center walls.
Touching either edge will cause you to lose a life, an obstacle that would seem to be easily avoided, were it not for the fact that, over time, the game taunts you with bonus point lines that emerge from the center, tempting you to drop back just pixels away from death, before going on to distract your laser focus with epileptic and ‘psychédélic’ effects.
Though its new update has refreshed its difficulty curve, as well as added “new jokes”, a new ending for players that reach 35 billion points, and a “newborn baby mode” (“for the babiiiiiizzzz!!! LOL”), what’s good about Gauge now is the same thing that was always good about Gauge: it’s risk and reward stripped bare and self-aware, as compulsive and (through Game Center leaderboards) fiercely competitive as all the iPhone’s finest.
Better still, the bulk of Gauge is available as a free download, with an in-game upgrade to unlock all the extra modes that play off the basic formula with limited tap and limited time runs, making it a true iOS essential. [Gauge, App Store; Etienne Perin's homepage]
“Didn’t the original come together in like four hours one morning?”, I ask. “Sometimes it just works like that,” Terry Cavanagh demures.
Having launched just days before this site opened its doors, a super-strong recommendation of Cavanagh’s updated and fantastically feature-complete Super Hexagon for iPhone & iPad is long overdue, and in the intervening time, the game’s gone on to be as well received as it richly deserves.
Sometimes it just happens that a game pops into the universe and makes you wonder how it’s possible that something so simple hadn’t materialized yet in all of videogaming’s past, at the same time as you wonder how it’s possible it’s not a time-travelling relic from videogaming’s future.
I’ve described the game probably ad nauseum as a “27th century space-disco teen-laser-punk arcade hit”, but it’s still how I see the game, and having run it at a few live events over the past few months, it’s amazing at how perfect a portable party it is. Providing its own ultra-hypnotic visuals and blasting its own fantastically forward-focused beats courtesy Chipzel (grab her soundtrack EP here), it’d nearly be danceable were it not stop/starting every 15 seconds in unskilled hands.
If you haven’t played it yet, do not hesitate a moment longer: your hands will initially be even exponentially more unskilled, but patience and zen-training (borrow my mantra & embrace the negative space) will pay off, and you may find yourself in as much an ultra zone as the nearly unbelievable player above. [Super Hexagon (App Store), coming to PC/Mac soon]
There’s a certain segment of the population that’ll will need no introduction to Daniel Johnston — whether they came to him via the recently released Devil And… documentary, or (more likely) through the Kurt Cobain-sported T-shirt that broke Johnston further into the public consciousness, or — for the true-blood Texans — simply the local lore and hometown pride Austin still holds for its long-troubled and simple-souled singer/songwriter.
And if you don’t need that introduction1, then you probably will have by now had the same reaction I had several months back when I heard whisperings that Peter ‘Dr. Fun Fun’ Franco and Steve ‘Smashing Studios’ Broumley — former art and technical director, respectively, at the now-defunct Austin branch of Midway — were working on a game featuring Johnston’s art and music: I’ve more or less been waiting for this day since the early 90s.
Hi How Are You [App Store] isn’t the game I imagined it would be. There’s no Punching Joe boxing, there’s no tilt-to-Walk-the-Cow, there isn’t a single speeding motorcycle to be found. Instead, the game lands somewhere between a Mario 64 challenge level and Q-bert, where you tilt one of four characters across free-floating platforms to flip all floor tiles green.
Meanwhile, you’ll be working against the clock (to gain higher level trophies and achievements), dodging any number of Johnston’s demons (like his floating devil’s eyeballs) and platforming your way through the alternately whimsically-innocent and hellishly-dark landscapes trying to rescue Laurie, the real-life love and muse of Johnston’s early adulthood.
On reflection, these abstractions are probably for the best: what Smashing/Fun have given us is Johnston’s lore injected into a game, rather than basing a game directly on one of his icons. It’s probably a more tactful solution, and one that starts to work as a (very light) metaphor for his own life-long struggles.
Best of all, what it does is serve as an accessible entry point to discovering his art: Johnston’s music has been licensed for use throughout the game, and each earned achievement unlocks a scale- and pan-able version of one of his illustration from throughout the years.
While it won’t quite reach (and was obviously never meant to) the cultural-rocking level of the playable documentary that is The Beatles: Rock Band, it’s exactly the kind of cross-media crossovers we need more of, is as loving a tribute to an artist as I’ve seen from a game, and if it helps introduce just one more person to Daniel, couldn’t rightfully be called anything but a success.
1. ^ [If you do, start with Johnston's Wikipedia entry, move on to his homepage, track down the aforementioned documentary sooner than later, and then move on to his Continued Story/Hi, How Are You and Yip/Jump Music CDs, or ease yourself in with the Beck, Tom Waits, Death Cab, TV on the Radio, etc. etc. covers on Discovered Covered -- use Yip Eye Tunes if you just want the MP3s.]
Say what you will about all the advances and unique opportunities iPhone gaming has brought with it — indie dev accessibility, previously unimagined levels of direct touch-control — but one area that’s still essentially untread is story: an engrossing narrative behind all our quick-burst prods, flicks and pokes.
At first glance, Spider: The Secret of Bryce Manor [App Store link] — the debut game from Tiger Style, a collective co-founded by former Thief designer Randy Smith and Midway/Ubisoft/Ion Storm developer David Kalina — follows suit. But just first glance.
At its core, Spider is the game you’d expect from any led by an arachnid star. As you start your micro-epic journey through the titular Manor — one that takes you from its front porch, though its foyer, down into the bowels of its plumbing and up, finally, through its attic and out — you’ll be doing what it is spiders do: ridding the long-since abandoned house of its insect infestation by building cohesive shapes out of your finger-flicked threads.
Three or more interconnected silk strings linked around — or in the path of — the bugs will snap a web into place, where they’ll be caught and ready to be eaten and converted into more silk in your bank to spin further webs.
Taken just on this level, the game’s an absolute success: Tiger Style have managed to make simply moving through and exploring its environment fun in and of itself, and to make a rewarding skill out of building tight, precise shapes from the hooks each room gives (or denies) you.
But it’s in the course of this very simple pleasure that you — if you’re paying attention, anyway — begin to realize that the house was abandoned perhaps more quickly than you’d originally thought, and that its inhabitants left behind the story of a lifetime, literally: clues to who they were through the generations, and why, perhaps, they left. (more…)
This isn’t the iPhone game recommendation I intended to write today. Weeks have gone by and I haven’t even been able to carve out time to adequately write at any considerable length on Rolando 2 or Space Invaders: Infinity Gene (both of which are, indeed, must-buy games), and here I find myself writing about the last thing I expected to overtake my weekend: NewToy’s Words With Friends.
There’s not much explanation you’ll need to understand the Words experience. It’s ultimate-Facebook-time-waster Scrabulous, on your iPhone. And it works. That’s all you really need to know: you can start multiple games with random players, or search for your friends across the network via your contact list (if you’ve ever played their earlier Chess with Friends, you’ll recognize the setup), get dropped into a new room with no more frills than your board, a chatroom, and occasionally the haunting google-eye notifier of your opponent checking in.
Granted, this isn’t the only way to get an iPhone word-fix: EA has its own version of Scrabble, and the Scrabulous devs themselves have their own mobile version of Lexulous, the post-cease-and-desist version of the game they brought back to Facebook. And indeed, both of those games use Facebook Connect to broaden your opponent-base, which Words With Friends does not.
But the key? Words With Friends — both the paid version, and its ad-supported free sibling — is lean, streamlined, and does nothing more than what it’s meant to do: give you a quick-burst next move in the minute and a half you have to fiddle with your iPhone in between life’s everything else. Push notifications are coming in an imminent update to make that compulsion even more inescapable.
And the real reason it’s caught my attention: NewToy are, of course, the former Age of Empires devs who recently announced a partnership with Metal Gear Solid comic artist Ashley Wood, which will see the two collaborate on an iPhone game based on Wood’s soviet-mech series World War Robot.
When they announced the partnership — considering their pedigree — I mentioned that my hopes were high for an online turn-based strategy along the lines of a stylized portable Front Mission. After spending the weekend obsessively checking in with Words with Friends and experiencing just how solid their online infrastructure is, that hope has triple-scored.
[Feel free to start a new game with me there as 'brand0nnn' (with a zero)!]
A mea culpa: I admittedly did a bad job of doing Edge justice when it was first released — apart from giving its free soundtrack a big thumbs up — long before it would go on to be removed from the App Store due to the previously mentioned dubious circumstances under which it was recently removed.
But now I’ve got a chance to reverse course, as Mobigame have just announced that the game’s now available again (App Store link, Lite version still unavailable). So far, there’s been a palpable lack of explanation on its return — whether there was an official or unofficial agreement between the two parties involved that saw any potential trademark issues dropped — but it’s obviously come back under its original name, and that’s good enough to hear for now.
So, let it just be said that (as clearly evident above) its gorgeously economical presentation make it one of the iPhone’s most well-designed games on the platform, and — even given its standard mobile roots — does 3D platforming as well as any other game with touchscreen play, and still has never left my “page” of top tier games since its first release in January.
With a 1.2 update with additional “Earthquake, Sliced and Vertigo” levels now also submitted to Apple and coming in the next few days, there’s no reason it shouldn’t be on the top of your list for your next download.
If you’ve been following Offworld for any amount of time, you’re probably well familiar with Steph Thirion’s iPhone debut, Eliss, one of my first (and, alongside Drop7, still most fervent) recommendations for the platform — especially now in its kinder, gentler state.
As Thirion himself will admit, though, it’s not the easiest game idea to get across in words, images, or even video (above) alone: it’s something that you really have to touch for yourself. And so: he’s just sent on word that a Lite version has just made its debut in the App Store (iTunes link) that’ll give you the first three sectors of the game, so you can see for yourself why it set my heart all a-flutter way back when.
Hopefully, if you’re a regular and iPhone owning reader of Offworld, you will have already downloaded area/code’s phenomenal iPhone puzzle game Drop7, especially with the recent price drop and release of its Facebook-integrating social update.
If you haven’t, and I’m not sure exactly what it is you’re waiting for, a quick recap — the game is the portable version of the studio’s original promotional web game Chain Factor, and works like this:
Numbered discs fall into a 7×7 playfield, and are cleared away if a disc is in a row or column containing that many discs. For instance, in the image above right, the 6s are disappearing because they’re in a row of 6 discs, as well as the 3, as it’s in a 3-high column. The trick? Interspersed with the numbered discs are blank grey discs. In order to clear those, you’ve got to clear adjacent numbered discs twice to “break through” the grey (as is happening under the 3) and reveal the number beneath.
Not fully convinced that it’s seemingly effortlessly one of the most original and addictive puzzle games of the past several years? You’re in luck: a free Lite version of the game has just hit the App Store, and — even better — it’s an essential download even for those that already have the full version.
Rather than simply doing a timed or crippled version of the full game for its demo release, area/code have created a unique ‘Countdown’ mode which has you playing for a high score with a total of 100 discs.
Give the Lite version of the game a go, let us know your high scores via the comments below (my first run’s a tepid 66,574), and soon enough you’ll fully understand the near inescapable and entirely shameful kiss of death represented in that picture to the left (what are you supposed to do in those situations [other than not get yourself into them]?).
It was exactly one week ago last night that I fell in love, and to be quite honest I’m still at a little bit of a loss for words. The new object of my desire? She’s Eliss, an iPhone game, and I say that only slightly facetiously, because I’m not entirely exaggerating when I admit to getting goosebumps every time I even just see her in the video above.
If her name rings half a bell, it’s because Eliss, from Barcelona/NY designer Steph Thirion, is up for this year’s design innovation award in the Independent Games Festival’s mobile division. I’d known that, but, even after posting about the entrants in this year’s awards, didn’t even pay it much mind: its preview shot was so abstract and frankly fairly ugly, stretched and muddied with jpeg compression that it didn’t make a lasting impression, like trying to size up a new Facebook/MySpace crush on poor photos alone.
But as soon as I’d laid hands on the playable code, it clicked. Like I said: I’m still not sure exactly what it is in me that Eliss laser-targets and tweaks, but for as many games as pass my eyes and hands in any given week, it’s a connection that’s rare. Part of it’s the music, surely, the tender electronic loops somewhere in the neighborhood of I am Robot and Proud or E*vax, but it’s also the game’s design itself.
Because there isn’t another game like Eliss — she’s one in a million. Thirion describes it most poetically:
Your job is to keep up harmony in an odd universe made of blendable planets. Touch-control multiple planets at once, join them together into giant orbs or split them up into countless dwarf planets, and match their size with the squeesars. Wipe off the stardust, resist the attraction of the vortex and other space phenomena, and slow down the passage of time. Each of the 20 levels will require creative ways and strategies in using your fingers. Warm up your hands, you’re up for some serious finger gymnastics in the bizarro galaxy.
But you don’t really needs words — and the game actually offers you precious few, just the iconic instructions seen in the video above — because for as abstract as it is, it appeals to exactly that innate sense of order and accomplishment as Tetris. Keep like colors together, join and split shapes to fill the vibrating ‘squeesar’ frames, and at all costs don’t let mis-matched colors touch.
Eliss gets all its vitality out of the economy of those three simple rules, multi-tasking them on a second by second basis, and is only made more difficult over time by overcrowding the field more quickly and introducing elements like those vortexes which slowly draw the objects together.
is currently undergoing the gauntlet of Apple’s approval process, but Thirion expects it to be released by the end of the month, is now available on the App Store [iTunes link] and I’m excited for you all to meet her, because there’s a lot to her that typifies precisely what good gaming should be about.
Late last night, the second chapter of Infinite Interactive’s PuzzleQuest landed on the App Store as a free update to those who bought the original edition, and is now available as a Chapter 1&2 package at the same price. That reminded me that there were a number of games that I’d either recommended earlier or hadn’t written about yet that’d since seen free Lite versions released, or had dropped to free downloads.
Since I don’t normally do straight up “buyer’s guides”, let this be a quick update to catalog all some of the best games you should be trying risk-free. Full descriptions are after the jump, and let us know what Lite/free gems you’ve stumbled upon lately yourself via the comments. (more…)