Platforms: iPhone, iPad, Android, Mac, Windows
Price: iPhone: 69p / $0.99 iPad/Android: £1.99 / $2.99
Many laughed when Angry Birds Star Wars was announced, but the game is very much the real deal. As it happens, the game actually (loosely) follows the plot of Star Wars: Episode IV, as players start with Luke on Tatooine and meet Obi-Wan, Han and Chewbacca as they make their way to the Death Star. Levels come in both traditional Angry Birds and Angry Birds Space forms, both of which fit so well with the Star Wars theme that you might swear Rovio has been planning this cross-over since the very first game.
The unique gimmicks added in Angry Birds Star Wars are the character abilities. These, amusingly, are introduced as they would be in the film's story. For example, Luke gains his lightsaber, which slices through any blocks, after meeting Obi Wan and his rebel pilot version, which splits into three projectiles in mid-air, is introduced before assaulting the Death Star. Obi Wan has his force powers to push blocks with a simple tap, Han fires lasers where you tap, and Chewbacca can break through any material. Each level will give you a specific allotment of birds, and the puzzle comes from trying to use them properly to destroy all of the stormtrooper pigs and their shakily-built fortresses.
Earning stars unlocks bonus levels where R2D2 and C-3PO can be used, and an in-app purchase can unlock Yoda's Dagobah training. There is also an advertisement for a free Hoth update "coming soon", which will hopefully introduce the Princess Leia bird that is currently not available in any levels. While the new character abilities add to the traditional formula, the game still relies on the same questionable physics as its predecessors. Devout Angry Birds fans are perhaps accustomed to it by now, but it bears mentioning that the physics are as inconsistent as ever, leading to more than a fair share of frustrated level restarts. Overall, Angry Birds Star Wars is like a "best of" album for the series, combining terrestrial and space levels with fun character abilities all wrapped in a delightful Star Wars shell.
> Download 'Angry Birds Star Wars' from the App Store
Platforms: iPhone, iPad
Price: £1.99 / $2.99
Wraithborne is a gorgeous but shallow mobile hack-and-slash game. There are two control options available, but the touch controls are laughably bad as you tap anywhere to move and use inaccurate swipes to attack enemies. That leaves the virtual joystick option, which fares better but is never an optimal experience on iOS. On the right of the screen are attack, block and spell buttons, the first two of which are fairly self-explanatory. Spells are one of the game's more interesting features, as you must trace an on-screen rune in order to successfully cast them. There are seven upgradable spell runes in total, three of which can be equipped at any time.
While tracing runes is a neat way to cast spells, ultimately Wraithborne quickly boils down to mindless attacking against an absolute ton of enemies at once. The game's saving grace is how it looks, which is quite stunning for a mobile game. The art style and environments are gorgeous, making Wraithborne a joy to see in motion. Sadly, that that isn't enough to counteract for the otherwise monotonous hacking and slashing that makes up the rest of the game. Wraithborne's beauty is only skin deep, leaving a repetitive action game with sluggish controls once the shiny coating is peeled away.
> Download 'Wraithborne' from the App Store
Platforms: iPhone, iPad
Price: 69p / $0.99
From the creators of the hardcore Trials stunt bike series comes Nutty Fluffies, a game about adorable animals and roller coasters. Players swipe to the right to speed up the amusement park rides, or to the left to go slower, as the carts fly across the track and through loops. The goal is to collect as many hearts as possible in each level, which often means building up speed to launch your roller coaster into the air. This also means the roller coaster cars can go careening out of control and crash against the track.
At the end of each level, you are also awarded bonus hearts for the animals that survived the ride. Each animal has its own speciality to reward bonus hearts. For example, the cat will give more hearts for going downhill. It adds a nice additional element to consider when picking animals to start each level. You'll have plenty of opportunity to replay levels too, since those hearts translate to coins, which can be used to unlock levels at an excruciatingly slow pace. Level missions can be completed to earn extra coins, such as finishing a level with a certain number of cars intact. The difficulty curve is pretty high, so replaying levels for practice is recommended, but even then the unlock pricing still seems to favour paying real money for coins. While the slow level advancement hampers the game's pace, Nutty Fluffies is still a fun, if occasionally frustrating, ride on iOS.
> Download 'Nutty Fluffies' from the App Store
Platforms: iPhone, iPad
Curiosity: What's Inside the Cube? is one of those rare experiences that very narrowly teeters between being utterly brilliant and utterly terrible. The game presents players with an enormous cube, and allows all players around the world to tap at their screen to gradually chip away layer after layer. In terms of game design, it is almost a parody of free-to-play mechanics. Tapping away at the cube earns coins, which can be spent on improved pickaxes or explosive items to clear away more blocks with each tap. The prices for each item are ridiculously high, so most players will not earn enough coins for even the cheapest pickaxe without throwing some real money into the equation. But it isn't just items that cost coins, as even something as simple as checking your own stats or the in-game friends list costs a small coin donation.
In terms of balanced game design, Curiosity: What's Inside the Cube? is a mess. But then, that's also what makes it so intriguing. As it turns out, the game's obtrusive and actively inhibitive structure is the perfect catalyst for natural human curiosity. Sure, there is no actual reason to check your in-game stats, but you will inevitably pay the coins just to see how many blocks have been cleared. Why? Pure curiosity. And then while tapping at the cube, you'll notice that other players have written messages and created elaborate pictures in the six cube faces. Again, there is no actual reason to do so - in fact preserving the messages and pictures ultimately impedes progress in clearing the cube - and yet it continues to happen in large part out of curiosity for how other players will react.
There is so much genuine wonder surrounding the game - right down to the question of why it even exists - that it really doesn't matter what's inside at the end. As layer upon layer is slowly tapped away, the real challenge is whether human curiosity will prevail and motivate people to continue tapping until the cube is done. Everything about the game is obtuse in just the right way to test the limits and patience of a person's natural sense of curiosity. Is Curiosity a good game? No, not by a long shot, even if it could function properly without the constant server problems. But that's really the point, it seems, to experiment on how long people will continue to play even while knowing that it isn't good.
> Download 'Curiosity: What's Inside the Cube?' from the App Store
What mobile releases have you been playing recently? Add a comment in the space below!