Mobile Gaming Roundup #3
More ambulatory amusements that are worthy of your tapping finger's attention.
Mutually assured distraction.
It’s not often that good movie tie-in games come along. You certainly wouldn’t expect to find one for the mobile platform, and certainly not for a film that’s nearly thirty years old, but somewhat miraculously, here it is. For those of you too young to remember, WarGames was a rather nifty 1983 film starring Matt Broderick as David Lightman, a typical nerdy teen who mistakenly hacks his way into the US missile defence network and nearly starts World War III after activating the WOPR (War Operation Plan Response), America’s all-new automated defence computer.
The game has you assuming the role of the WOPR as you face off against David and the NORAD personnel in a series of increasingly taxing simulated nuclear exchanges, which have been abstracted into a take on the familiar ‘match three’ mechanic. The icons to be matched - missiles, radar dishes, crosses and dollar signs – have been exquisitely rendered in the same ray-traced style as the ‘big board’ from the film. Nukes cause damage to your opponent, crosses replenish your health, dollars give you cash to spend on special items, and radar dishes fill up a special meter which also provides a bonus when full. Enemy tiles drop from the top with a target and number attached; fail to clear these in the stated number of turns, and you will know the dire consequences.
Outwitting and virtually vanquishing each opponent earns you more RAM, which acts as a kind of currency to purchase upgrades, divided into two categories. ‘Tactics’ are special abilities available for purchase with the dollars you amass in-game; for example, the submarine converts all radar tiles to health ones, and the tank eliminates one row from the board. ‘Mods’ are always-on buffs, like the heart which increases maximum health, or the wings, which adds extra damage when matching eight tiles or more. Only five of each can be applied during any match, and all can be levelled up, so it’s important to focus on which ones you think will be most beneficial. Impatient or desperate armchair generals can get more RAM upfront with an in-app purchase, but this really isn’t necessary.
There are eight rounds to be played against each opponent, ranked from bronze to gold depending on how merciless and deadly you can be. A tutorial from the Professor Falken, the WOPR’s creator, is on hand to outline the basics of play. Every few rounds, a bonus game of ‘poker’ is available, where the tiles are replaced by card suits. Enemy tiles continue to fall, but to render them safe you must drop them off the end of the board. It’s a good inclusion to break up the game a bit.
The music is comprised of a handful of odd but effective tracks I can only describe as some sort of chiptune-dubstep hybrid, well produced and suited to building up the tension. The work gone into replicating the feel of the film is admirable; screenshots and samples of original dialogue have been included, the level structure follows the plot of the film to a large extent, and for that extra burst of nostalgia, there is even the option to turn on scanlines for the screen.
Fans of the film will really dig this, but even if you’ve never seen it, this is an exceedingly competent puzzle game that offers something different to the usual Bejeweled clones.
Look, it's easy, you just... erm...
Back in the halcyon days of the GBA, one of its most inventive and fun titles was Wario Ware Inc, where Mario’s devious doppelganger challenged the player to complete a series of mini-games against the clock. To say it was fast-paced was an understatement; often less than ten seconds were available not only to complete the game, but to correctly identify what the goal was in the first place. The game would speed up and up until it ran faster than your synapses could fire, but it was fun while it lasted. The concept makes a welcome return here, but developer Chris Burt-Browne evidently felt that the format wasn’t oppressive enough.
Place face in palm to bemoan ineptitude.
Mini Mix Mayhem keeps the central theme, but splits the screen into four and invites you to play as many as you can at once. Given that some people find rubbing their stomach while patting their head a challenge, this is something of a tall order! Games range from word searches and keepie-ups to blasting stick men with lasers or navigating a helicopter through a narrow cavern. Ten inevitable mistakes stand between you and the game over screen, but at least if you try you’ll be improving your multitasking. The inclusion of a local two-player mode is welcome, with each player facing the other and battling two quadrants a piece, and the number of mini-games is plentiful enough to keep it interesting. By no means a deep gaming experience, but fine to have a quick go on to see how long you can last before your brain implodes.
The stuff of nightmares.
If you have a penchant for the odd indie bundle, you may have played Terry Cavanagh’s previous release, deviously difficult retro platformer VVVVV. That’s still PC only for now, but his new offering has blasted into the app store, and if anything he’s managed to distil the chaos even further.
Super Hexagon possess a kind of purity of form and function not normally seen in a market where even the smallest character in a game is mandated to have a full backstory, to appease the PR types who think that adding cursory identity is the same as depth. You are a little triangle, which can move around a circular track in the centre of the playing area. Barriers pulse from the outside in towards the centre, converging at the hexagonal core which you surround; impacting one of these results in a dry, passionless intonation of ‘game over’, with the paltry number of seconds you managed to survive for displayed for all to see.
The playing area spirals around hypnotically even as it throbs and undulates in time to the manic chiptune soundtrack provided by Chipzel; every digitally distorted bleep serves to heighten the intensity. Colours fade and swirl, lines glow and fade, spiralling ever inward to the central hexagon, which occasionally transmutes into a pentagon, or a square. With a pair of headphones on it almost feels like being deprogrammed.
Such pretty colours...
This is a game about threading the needle constantly, and it can be as exhilarating as it is frustrating. There is no easy mode. Hell, there isn’t even a normal mode, it goes hard, harder, hardest, and if you choose to venture into the latter before you’re ready, then you bring it on yourself. There are also three hidden modes which unlock when you complete each of the first three; I don’t even want to know what evil lies behind those doors.
It seems somewhat paradoxical that such a mercilessly difficult game can garner such positive attention, but teeth-grindingly troublesome games seem to be making a resurgence of sorts. Games like Dark Souls and Super Meat Boy are being lauded for presenting a serious, bordering-on-unreasonable challenge to players after years of simplified objectives and extended tutorials from developers worried about leaving less skilled gamers behind. Super Hexagon fits right into that mould of old with the assertion that when you get that game over screen, it’s no-one’s fault but yours. You will fail. You will fail a lot. But this relentless punishment can only serve to make your few triumphs glorious and exquisite. If you can take it.