Indie games have had a good last few years. The reach of Steam is far and wide, and both Sony and Microsoft have opened their arms to embrace the creators of the occasionally niche, but often well-written and socially aware titles that are cropping up more and more frequently. Despite having multiple opportunities to play these gems on their journey through the formats, it’s always heartening to see the best of them find their way to mobile and tablet devices, where they might find new fans in a wider audience. Here are some of the better ones to make that transition this year.
Upon its initial release, Faster Than Light’s surprise scenarios and punishing difficulty appeared a tough pill to swallow for those unfamiliar with the subset of games known as roguelikes. For those prepared to stick at it, refining and improving their technique and methods every cycle through, an uncompromising but immensely thrilling space strategy experience was waiting. Perpetually fleeing from the rebel fleet, your tiny cruiser must jump into unknown situations, recruit new crew members, defuse difficult encounters with aliens, and generally take everything the game can throw at you in an effort to reach Federation HQ in one piece.
Although slightly compressed, the iPad’s touchscreen proves an adept and comfortable method of issuing commands to the various sections of your ship. This release also contains the bonus content from the Advanced version released as a free update for PC users, but this material can be disabled if you prefer the vanilla experience. Soundtracked by a suitably spacey synth score by Ben Prunty, this is definitely one to pick up if you’ve ever fancied yourself in the captain’s chair.
The kind of game that a triple-A studio would never even think of making, Papers, Please sprang from the mind of former Naughty Dog developer Lucas Pope, heavily informed by his experiences with immigration as an American living in Japan. Perhaps the world’s first ‘dystopian document thriller’ (Lucas’s preferred description), Papers, Please has you assuming the role of a nondescript border official in the fictional communist state of Arstotzka. The country has only recently opened its borders but travel is still massively restricted. It is your job to ensure all the mandatory t’s are crossed and i’s dotted, but make sure you keep up the pace; you’re paid per person processed, and you have a family to feed and keep warm.
Not so much on a mission to entertain as one to make you contemplate the moral outcomes of some tough decisions, Pope’s drab tale of corruption and the banality of evil is emotionally draining but completely engrossing, and despite winning several industry awards deserves the wider recognition that a mobile release can bring.
Another puzzle game steeped in conflict, this time back to the senseless tragedy of the first World War. Created using Ubisoft’s own UbiArt platform used for Rayman Origins and its sequel Rayman Legends, the game is a charming puzzle / action hybrid which charts the journey of French farmer Emile and his German son-in-law Karl as their lives are ripped apart upon the onset of war. The narrative swaps between them as they fight to survive on opposing fronts.
Although it can occasionally descend into goofy territory when depicting the cartoonish villainy of the German commander, for the most part this is a very stylistic, heartfelt rendering of ordinary lives eclipsed by a devastating conflict that history regards as a mostly senseless tragedy. As you play, a scrapbook of relevant information about the real wartime events that inform the game builds for you to reference later. The haunting piano-based score provides the emotional centre the game’s key moments hang on. A strong, moving, yet also educational effort from Ubisoft Montpellier.
My full thoughts on this highly personable puzzler from Mike Bithell have already been published, but needless to say if you haven’t made time for this wonderful quirky platformer, then the mobile version affords you yet another chance to do so. In terms of mechanics and appearance it couldn't be simpler, but this vanilla presentation is lent surprising depth by the story of little AI quadrilaterals brought into existence, narrated admirably by Danny Wallace.
It’s been out for a good couple of years now on PC, but Mike seems on a mission to bring this charming, singular title to every platform imaginable, with the Wii-U version only just released.
Big things are expected of his follow-up Volume, but you owe it to yourself to let this touching debut win you over.
A masterful execution showing even the biggest triple-A titles can find an unwitting natural home on the tablet. Firaxis staged a majorly successful reboot of their XCOM franchise, last year’s XCOM: Enemy Unknown, which introduced a whole new generation to their particular blend of tactical turn-based combat. Having received a bunch of Game of the Year awards and successfully porting the game to iOS and Android last year, the busy bees at Firaxis started work on this expand-alone title containing all the great alien-sniping fun of the original but with brand new features, like the Meld resource with allows you to equip your soldiers with transhuman abilities.
This new enhanced version was equally well received, and has now been likewise ported to the mobile platform. The turn-based nature of the game makes it ideally suited for mobile devices, and with more weapons, more enemy types and more ways to play, your gateway to hardcore strategic planning need never be more than an arm’s reach away.