Bit Reviews is a space for the review of pint sized games, the mobile cousins to our beloved sedentary blockbusters. Many of these have free or cheap versions, but are they worth your time? Is that a classic game in your pocket or are you just happy to see me? All games were played on Android phones.
Android, released 2013
Basically a 4 button, 8-bit Metal Slug, Gunslugs aims to capture the destruction of the mayhem based sidescroller on your phone. Things blow up, powerups are obtained, and new pallet swap characters are unlocked. Sticking to side-side-jump-shoot-turns out to be a pretty good idea for the phone, as the gameplay stays reasonably precise unlike many platformers on Android. There’s a lot of strange diversions and a surprising number of enemy types, although the low res nature can make some of the later levels frustrating when gotcha traps can instakill. On the whole, the game is not very forgiving, but thats the life of a secret agent I suppose. Fun until it wears down your patience.
Android, Released 2013
A stunning visual accomplishment, Color Sheep finds you protecting a color stream spewing sheep from the ever encroaching wolves that walk in from the right side of the screen. The catch is the wolves can only be killed by a laser that matches their incandescent fur color, so you must premix the lamb blasts from primary colors with light and dark modifiers. The result is a simple mechanic that quickly becomes overwhelming as nine different types of wolves creep towards you at once. Several stage backgrounds and some single use items add a little variety, but Color Sheep sticks to its sole mechanic as is appropriate for a phone game. What elevates the lamblasting of wolves though is the incredible crisp design, in both the UI and thick outlined animals, which combine with the rainbow color pallet to create a very profession whole. Like most of these single system games you can’t beat it, or really even get much better at it after awhile, but Color Sheep remains a high water mark for its stunning aesthetics.
Android, Released 2012
One positive about the mobile boom is the opening up of the market has paved the way for games that aren’t just about murder. Waking Mars is a competent sidescroller exploration game set in the caverns under the surface of Mars. Your role is to enhance the local flora (yes, Mars plant life) by planting seeds as you jetpack around like some kind of interstellar honeybee. Though this may be a mockery of God’s master plan, it’s satisfying to bring the flora flourishing back to life after carefully balancing the interactions of exploding plants and venus fly traps. After you get used to the ten or so plant types though, there’s not much to enhance the experience anymore, and the overarching story is leaf thin. Still, it leaves before it outstays its welcome, so it’s worth a spin as an intergalactic horticulturalist for a change instead of the normal intergalactic race purifier.
Android, Released 2014
Duet a two button obstacle course which tasks the player with guiding a set of spheres through steadily approaching monochromatic rectangles. The catch is that the spheres are in locked in 180 degree orbit with each other and cannot be on the same sides of the screen at the same. This turns the simple task of avoiding a rectangle into a two part act of rotating one sphere past the rectangle then counter-rotating to save the other. Failure to time this correctly will result in the sphere turning into a splotch of paint on the white rectangle and an instant restart. From the title on down to level names and interstitials, the core mechanic is interpreted through the lense of interpersonal relationships. Simple problems become much more complex when you have two people involved with their own needs, who due to the ego-exclusion principle simply cannot act as one. However, the accomplishment of guiding the duo through the minefield is certainly greater than would be found getting a single spot through. As Duet progresses the obstacles become quite sophisticated, with fading and spinning squares becoming common place as the red and blue sphere dance in and out of danger. There is a certain elegance to the rhythmic rotation that emerges as your skill improves.
Android, Released 2012
McPixel is a fantastic point and click adventure inspired by McGruber. You’re tasked with sussing out and disarming a bomb in a variety of single room scenarios, using only your clicks to guide the titular ardent savior. What makes McPixel comedy gold is the way it constantly subverts your expectations, starting foremost with the general assholeness of the hero. Clicking on people will generally result in an inefficous kick to the nards. Finding the incendiary device (which is often lying out in the open) is only half the battle as McPixel will usually make it explode if you click on it. Often his misanthropy is key to saving the day, as public urination and beatings can sometimes be the perfect solution to a ticking time bomb. The game is absurd, yet it adheres to its own twisted logic, and failure is often more entertaining than success. With a great soundtrack and comedy perfectly fit for the phone form, McPixel is a touch screen classic.
Originally published on Synthetic Error May 3, 2015