Cultist Simulator – one of the month’s best mobile gamesThis month’s batch of new smartphone apps includes the devilish Cultist Simulator and a bevy of new clicker games desperate for your attention.
This month Sony released PS4 Remote Play, designed to turn your tablet or phone into a remote screen on which to play games on your PlayStation 4. Although thanks to the PlayStation’s legendarily poor Wi-Fi connectivity, and a mystifying absence of controller support, it’s more a hint at a streaming future rather than a full-bodied realisation.
Arriving within weeks of Google’s announcement of Stadia, another plan to turn any old device into an effective gaming PC, mobile gaming could soon be very different from the current indie-strewn landscape. Still, with games like the wonderfully esoteric Cultist Simulator and Photograph’s fascinating puzzles-and-Polaroids gameplay available now, there’s no particular rush.
Block Droppin’ Blitz, £2.99 (Rocketship Park)
In an unusual blend of match-three and Tetris, Block Droppin’ Blitz has you sliding tiles to connect groups of four squares of the same colour, which you can then drop into a grid below, where you score points by forming lines that then disappear. It’s simple stuff once you’ve mastered the classic Tetris strategy of leaving an empty column into which you drop an I-shaped tetromino to complete four rows at once.
It has a nice interface, with bonuses that pop up in pleasingly arcade style, and digital fireworks behind every level’s success screen. It also adds tiles that can’t be slid until they’ve been used in a dropped shape, or others that crack and eventually fall on their own.
The problem is there’s no sense of progression. The stars you earn for completing each level are never applied in any context, nor is it ever explained why you’re collecting them. There’s also no level structure or numbering system, just an endless parade of near-identical puzzles. Without the impetus of a meta game it all feels oddly hollow.
Photographs, £3.99 (EightyEight Games)
Despite labouring under the misapprehension that its main protagonist, an alchemist, spends his time ‘making cures for folk’ rather than attempting to transmute base metals into gold, Photographs is a fascinating and unusual set of five parables about unintended consequences.
It explores the innocent motives that lead people to take action, and the disasters that can ensue even from pure intentions. Better than that, it weaves its themes into the fabric of the game as you alternate between fun, occasionally challenging mini-games and taking photographs of its likeable pixel-art scenery and characters.
Emotive, melancholy, and thought provoking, Photographs creates a striking balance between game and story that will leave you considering its themes long after you’ve put away your phone.
Card Crusade, £3.99 (Pollywog Games)
Card Crusade has you plumbing the depths of a 10-storey dungeon in search of treasure, XP and a final boss lurking on the deepest level. On the way you’ll encounter numerous enemies to dispatch in turn-based combat, using a deck of cards that you add to over the course of your quest with the random contents of chests.
It’s fun while it lasts, but we very comfortably finished the game on our first run, which took about half an hour, and while you can just keep going round and beating it again and again, there’s very little inducement to do so; the procedurally generated maps varying so little as to make them effectively identical.
Weather Farmer, £Free (Swiftroot)
Incremental games are the Marmite of mobile entertainment. You either love them or find them so abjectly pointless that it’s baffling that people keep making the things. This one has you idly tapping the screen to make electricity, which initially arrives in milli-watts, before heading way up past ranges normally only discussed by Back to the Future fans.
The twist is that passive energy generation is affected by local weather, with an in-game tool to check the coming few days’ forecast for likely sun, wind and average temperatures. There are floating loot crates that dole out extra energy, and a few microtransactional boosts, although anyone wanting to pay to speed up clicker games should probably seek urgent psychiatric help.
The trouble is that there just isn’t enough to do. Lacking the charm of Egg, Inc and the awesome complexity of Realm Grinder, Weather Farmer’s honeymoon period is all too short before the futility of its mechanics threatens to undermine your sanity.
Cultist Simulator, £4.99 – 30% off launch offer (Playdigious)
From some of the minds behind the peerless Sunless Sea comes another Victoriana-laced Lovecraftian horror, this time putting you in the shoes of a smart but aimless drifter looking for gainful employment.
With no tutorial or instructions of any kind, the game’s high level of complexity takes a while, and many confusing dead ends, even to begin to unravel. It involves playing cards on top of others that act as verbs, so adding a job role to the Work card gives you a day’s occupation and whatever spoils come with it. But your real mission is to live your life in whatever way you can.
It’s played in real-time, a countdown appearing on each move you make, with new cards to collect when it’s finished. It also has a branching narrative with the powerful and evocative prose you’d expect from former Failbetter staff. If you like being flung headlong into deep and esoteric mysteries there are few games that do a better job of it, or reward you as much when you figure them out.
Powernode, £1.99 (Opal Games)
Powernode’s core mechanic is simple. Numbers in circles pop up and to make them disappear you connect numbers in diamonds to equal the one in the circle. Energy is then slowly piped to the circle until it fills up and vanishes.
Over time more numbers in circles and diamonds appear, encouraging you to build increasingly complex power distribution networks as the game progresses. Take too long to get power to a circle and after a countdown it ends the game. Mellow yet taxing, it starts simply before ratcheting up the difficulty as power nodes proliferate.
It crashes quite a bit, there are frequent moments when you can’t connect to a node because it appears too close to interface buttons, and the achievements list pops up after most games no matter how poorly you’ve performed. With any luck the legion of glitches will be fixed in an update, but even with all that Powernode manages to be engrossing and addictive.
Pirates Outlaws, 99p (Fabled Game)
In case you felt the enormous number of card-based roguelikes on mobile needed bolstering, the curiously entitled Pirates Outlaws is here to help. In it you will once again be taking stock of the cards you’re dealt each round to land hits on a variety of scurvy antagonists. There are buffs and poisons, and that good old pirate staple of drunkenness, which is a bit of both. You’ll also find the usual randomised events, which can turn out to be helpful or extremely harmful.
As far as it goes, this is a reasonable game of cards, but like last month’s Knights Of The Card Table its lack of depth makes it instantly accessible but less interesting in the medium to long term. It also has very long grinds and a lurch in difficulty, which may or may not be designed to tilt you in the direction of its in-app purchases, something that feels beyond cheeky in a paid-for game. There are much better card battlers available, the best of which is still the brilliant Card Thief.
Sprout Idle Garden, £Free (Shallot Games)
Another idle tapper, but this one at least requires a hint of tactical thinking as you lay out your gradually expanding garden for maximum harvest-ability, either by tapping individual blooms or via autonomous miniature gardeners that follow paths you lay for them.
Naturally, everything you do, from expanding the terrain to laying decking and setting out flower pots, costs an increasing amount of in-game currency, so it pays not to overdo planting of low-yielding starter flowers.
Relaxing, aesthetically pleasing, and giving you just enough room to feel creative with your flower arrangements, this suffers from the usual idle game problems – no threat, zero difficulty, mostly a waiting game – but makes up for it with charm and good looks.
By Nick Gillett
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