Confused demonyms notwithstanding, Romans from Mars is a fairly straightforward iOS offering from Sidekick Games: waves of green-skinned centurions are attacking your ramparts and you, a lone ballista operator, are tasked with holding them off. The Roman deity Jupiter supplies intermittent spells — an earthquake here, a lightning bolt there — but the bulk of Romans from Mars consists of launching huge arrows as quickly and accurately as possible against increasingly complex hordes of aliens. Unfortunately, it devolves into mindless tapping, while the free-to-play approach makes upgrades prohibitively expensive before long.
Fist of Awesome is a game with time-traveling bears, a talking fist, and bears being uppercut by said fist. Suffice it to say, it's all a bit absurd; when your character is told not to think too much about what's going on in the story, it's advice that you would be wise to follow yourself. Underneath all of the silliness and some less-than-enjoyable attempts at humor, though, is a surprisingly fun action game when played in short bursts.
Me vs. You captures much of the competitiveness and fun of air hockey in an abstract, single-screen two-player game, though you should be wary of who you play it with. It’s actually three games in one, each with a distinct set of rules and interactions that could make or break a relationship, and all unified by an elegant minimalist aesthetic and a beautiful soundtrack. With both tactical and physical components to all three games, it's definitely one for competitive types.
Survival and dependence take on new meaning in Duet, an abstract minimalist game of two tethered dots navigating a perilous world of unforgiving white shapes. It’s full of contradictions — the game is both brutally hard and beautifully meditative — and will leave you tearing your hair out, but Duet offers up something special beyond its intense challenge.
If you search for endless runners on the App Store, you’ll find a slew of games in all sorts of settings, using a variety of people or animals as subjects. Buddy & Me is another one of those games, but rather than emphasize challenge and dynamic action, what sets it apart from the pack are its gorgeous art, less intense gameplay, and charming, light-hearted feel. You play as a boy who dreams about running through the forest with a large, flying dog-like creature helping him.
It’s hard to say whether or not Boson X is truly inspired by the April discovery of the Higgs-Boson particle, which physicists believe explains why matter has mass. There’s theoretically some common ground. Whereas Higgs, which can supposedly explain the Big Bang, remained elusive to physicists for the past 50-plus years, Boson X is also about the discovery of new experimental subatomics, presumably for a greater understanding – or at least the self-serving satisfaction of winning. But the similarities between the so-called God particle and this ostensibly geeky behind-the-back runner unsurprisingly end there.
Angry Birds Star Wars II is once again a colorful, pull-and-fling interpretation of the films, this time focusing on the events and characters of the prequel trilogy. But while it's another amusing, well-produced nod to the Star Wars franchise, the quality of the core game experience lacks that inspired edge of its predecessor. In fact, it lacks nearly any edge at all, as the expected puzzle-solving aspect that typically defines Angry Birds is rarely seen throughout. More stages than ever can be cleared with a single and typically obvious opening shot, and while it's entertaining to watch the destruction, such an approach fails to tax the brain to any real extent.
By the eighth entry across nine years, you usually know what to expect from a game franchise – and in the case of Gameloft's Asphalt, that typically meant solid but inconsistent production values, and decent arcade-style racing action that never quite matched the flashy console games it emulated. It was "pretty good – for a mobile racer," but Asphalt 8: Airborne finally sheds that qualifier, and essentially feels like a reboot in terms of quality. It's actually rather amazing, especially for a mere dollar.
If imitation really is the sincerest form of flattery, it’s almost impossible not to see Pivvot as a response to the abstract dodge-or-die arcade design of Terry Cavanagh’s indie hit Super Hexagon. Both games require you to rotate a small on-screen point around randomized geometric shapes flying at you from changing directions. Both also use increasing speeds and nervy, thrumming soundtracks designed as much to distract as thrill. But where Hexagon’s tension and fear came from the panic of trying to guess (and keep pace with) its breakneck shape changes, the linear track Pivvot runs on changes its feel a bit.
Double Fine is a studio known (and beloved) for incredibly eccentric affairs, like Psychonauts, Costume Quest, and Stacking, but by contrast, Dropchord seems remarkably straightforward. It's an arcade-style high-score game released under the guise of a music game – which makes sense given its fantastic electronic dance soundtrack and visualizer-inspired look – but the beats and gameplay feel disconnected. So it's not a rhythm game; that's not a problem. However, the game approach itself never provides as strong of a hook as the presentation, feeling more like something to occupy you while you watch and listen rather than a central pull of the experience.