by Kirk Douglas
This week, I decided to do something a little bit different from my usual streak of tech insights and industry commentary. I thought about my past relationship with gaming and how I’ve unintentionally moved from consoles over the last few years into becoming more of a casual gamer on my smartphone and tablet.
There have been a number of games over the last five years or so that have been a pleasure to play on the devices I carry with me on a day to day basis. Some have had some serious staying power as I find myself playing them over and over again and I think it is time to take a look back on some of the games that have shaped my perception of gameplay on our modern smartphones and tablets.
Many of the games I’ll mention weren’t birthed on the platforms where I’ve enjoyed them. In fact, you’ll find a lot of these games were ports from other platforms. Still they were new to me and therefore worth mentioning as they represent a level of quality and fun that I think many could enjoy. I encourage you to download them all.
This game is an instant classic. If you yearn for the days of old 8 or 16-bit graphics and you like the platforming genre, I can’t say enough about how much fun you might have playing this title. You play as the young protagonist “Max” who is tasked with using water to blow away the awful space mutants carried to earth by a crashing meteor. The “Mutant Mudds” as they are called, can only be destroyed (or washed away really) by the squirt-gun toting Max who is also equipped with a jetpack to hover over land and pitfalls. The controls are tight, the graphics are nostalgic and endearing and the gameplay increases difficulty on a ramp that makes the game easy to start for just about anyone who likes the genre, eventually increasing difficulty. It’s a joy to play and a title I’ve revisited time and time again.
I never thought that ‘rolling’ a cube from point A to point B could be so much fun. Edge, and the later released Edge Extended, prove that one-handed gameplay on a mobile device can be almost perfect given good gameplay mechanics, unique level design and a soundtrack chock full of wide-stereo midi music and SFX. Your goal is just that simple, you play as a cube, dropped from space(?) who has only one goal and that is to get to the exit point, marked by a multicolor pulsing floor tile at the end of each level. You travel across static surfaces, conveyor belts and the like, even scaling up other blocks to achieve your trek to the exit and it’s all done with simple swipes across an invisible X/Y axis. I’ve spent countless hours casually playing this title and eventually moved onto its sequel, Edge Extended. Both titles are a blast and easy recommendations.
Released in 2010, this game is one that I downloaded and immediately felt a connection to in the way that only playing a wildly destructive alien killing machine can make you feel. You play as a hostile ‘cell’ obtained by scientists from a crashing meteorite and harbored in an underwater submarine laboratory. Perfect Cell’s controls are simple as you swipe and slay your way through laboratory and military personnel as a mutant alien life form on a mission to annihilate anything that stands in your way. You have an ability to cloak yourself and even split into multiple cells to help you in your hostile takeover. The game has great level design and thoughtful (but achievable) puzzles that require using your every capability. Though the game is rather old, I was pleased to see that the iOS version was updated in 2015 to take advantage of the new screen sizes of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. It’s not a perfect beast, and some design elements haven’t aged with the grace that I might have hoped, but the gameplay itself is enough to keep me coming back for more. This is a fun action-puzzler of sorts that beautifully incorporates the feeling of a platforming game from the perspective of the antagonist.
World of Goo
I couldn’t possibly write about my favorite mobile games without mentioning this title. Originally released on PC by 2D Boy, World of Goo is an exciting and engaging whimsical sort of puzzler that is worlds apart from most other games I have played in its genre. The tone is very much like what I would imagine a Tim Burton game to be like if he ever decided to produce one. There’s a dark story around a company called Tomorrow Corporation and you’re tasked with getting balls of “goo” to a safe exit pipe located in a different area of each level. It’s not a puzzler in the sense that you have to necessarily solve anything, though there is certainly strategy involved in how you use and manipulate your limited balls of goo. Occasionally, an exit or a path will be hidden and require you to think outside of your normal behaviors to solve it. The game is fun and engaging, the music is spot-on indicative of impending doom and there’s a sense of urgency to get your poor little goo balls to safety. This game is worth mentioning because it is unique in many ways, particularly in its design aesthetic and atmosphere. It’s a title easy to pick up and play and return to time and time again.
Frogmind released this gem in 2014 as a multi-platform release where you play as a strange black ink-blot looking creature who flies (or more like floats and bounces) with the tap of a finger. Levels are broken up into Days and time of day, with each having a unique look and offering different obstacles as you travel from the beginning of each level to the end. Machines, both static and moving, swing and rotate at times with cogs and saws capable of chopping your character, “Clony” into bits. The game offers variance in difficulty and speed as the levels generally have uniform design commonalities, but each with their own spin on the color scheme and obstacles therein. It’s a bit whimsy, dark in the best of ways, and a lot of fun to play. There has since been a sequel, which I have yet to play but plan on picking up soon.
Of the countless car racing games and driving simulators being released every year across platforms I was surprised that this one even got my attention to begin with. Something about its 90’s arcade style artwork and presentation caught my gaze the moment I saw the first trailer drop early on in 2015. Horizon Chase isn’t all that unique in the grand scheme of gaming but in today’s world I found it to be a welcome throwback to my early teen years at Chuck-e-Cheese. With a diverse set of racing circuits, brightly-colored design and a techno-driven soundtrack it’s really hard not to fall in love with this on some level when many of its traits seem to have been ditched in favor of photo-realism in many modern games. The car you race seems to glide with a sense that you’re almost on rails – perhaps showing the most resemblance to early racing games I played growing up. Add to that the hi-tec/lo-tech techno beats and engaging color palette and this game is a must for casual racing fun. If you haven’t tried it yet, I encourage you to do so. Its an enjoyable bit of fast fun on the go.
Lara Croft Go
When I heard that Square-Enix was planning a new Lara Croft (Tomb Raider) game last year I was a bit hesitant with my excitement. After all, not every release since their acquisition has been a hit among long time fans. That said, Lara Croft Go, which finds Lara in a generally slow-moving 3D puzzler has proven to offer great graphics and surprisingly good gameplay. In typical Lara Croft fashion, you help her advance across a map of various puzzle-laden levels in turn-based gameplay avoiding various pitfalls and enemies. The level and puzzle design lends itself to the nostalgia of the original Tomb Raider games, albeit with a new set of controls and a different 3rd person perspective. I have yet to beat this one but I find myself continually revisiting it, making for a fun ‘time killer’ as I say. If you haven’t played this one yet, I think it’s worth a shot as you may find yourself pleasantly surprised to help Lara on yet another mission of survival and problem solving.
These games are some of my personal favorites, both old and new. I could easily go on detailing more great titles but I think I’ll save some of my other picks for a surprise future installment. Until then, I encourage you to try any of these titles if you haven’t already.