Best new mobile games on iOS and Android – July 2018 round-up | Gaming
GameCentral checks out this month’s releases for iOS and Android, with hidden gems like One Deck Dungeon and Golf Club: Wasteland.
Last month’s E3 provided some intriguing announcements for mobile gaming, most prominent of which was The Elder Scrolls: Blades, a small screen reinvention of Bethesda’s most enduring franchise. Although an exciting time for mobile gamers, it’s also a moment to reflect, because Blades (like the much-derided Command & Conquer: Rivals, EA’s latest foray into monetising its back catalogue) is a free to play game with all the advantages and baggage that brings with it.
On one hand it means large numbers of players, well-populated servers, and plenty of opportunities for co-op and competitive play. On the other, it means being ruthlessly shaken down for spare change at every turn, a process that can distort the very mechanics that make games entertaining.
Golf Club: Wasteland for iOS, £2.99 (Demagog Studio)
Earth is in ruins and the rich live on Mars, popping back for golf weekends in the mutant-infested ruins of civilisation. Golf Club: Wasteland is a 2D golf game set against the silhouetted rubble of Earth’s cities and landmarks, and appropriately enough for something set after the apocalypse, it’s shot through with a sense of melancholy.
Your lone, space-suited golfer seems to slump in his jetpack as he flies between holes, and the music that alternates with monologues from Martian settlers is definitely on the wistful side. It’s also not in any way a conventional golf game, with no record kept of the number of strokes you take on each hole, even if your golfer does emit an audible groan if you mess up the putt after a particularly arduous round.
It gives the whole thing a pleasurable and unruffled sense of serenity, leaving you to listen to the music and splendidly acted voiceovers while absorbing the broken but elegantly rendered scenery. Beautiful and elegiac are not normally adjectives you’d use to describe a golf simulation, but that’s what this is, and a highly unusual and peaceful experience.
Might & Magic: Elemental Guardians for iOS & Android, £Free (Ubisoft)
A turn-based combat game with an emphasis on elemental attacks, which means matching your troops’ strengths with the enemies’ weaknesses; this maximises damage as your mage and his or her band of monsters battles similar teams in search of upgrades and stronger fighters. It’s okay as far as it goes, but winning fights is almost entirely a case of improving your creatures’ stats to the point where you can overcome the opposition.
This environment makes Elemental Guardians an unadulterated Skinner Box-fest, with loot boxes and ‘soulstones’ providing a non-stop parade of randomised rewards and inducements to spend money, a process that’s made even more bare-faced with scratch card-based mechanics, countdown timers for the energy that lets you actually fight, and an endless series of special offers, deploying every tawdry trick in the book to push you in the direction of its microtransactions.
There are no bugs and the art department has clearly been working overtime creating a huge library of colourful creatures to unlock and upgrade, but this is not so much a game as digital pan-handling, whose sole aim is separating you from your cash. As the movie WarGames taught us, the only winning move is not to play.
The Ancients AR for iOS, £6.99 (Immersion VR)
There aren’t many naval real-time strategy games, and The Ancients AR points to a few reasons why that’s the case, most notably that ships move so appallingly slowly that you can easily nip out and make a cup of tea while they close the gap on enemies. Not that the glacial pace is always unwelcome. When you do finally manage to engage the opposing fleet – after getting past the inherent glitchiness of the interface and the fact that you continually need to rotate and zoom the board to see past obstructions and get a decent angle on the unfolding conflict – it’s often a wrestling match of its own before you’ve even started on the naval tactics.
Viewing the game in augmented reality compounds these difficulties by forcing you to find a nearby flat surface to ‘project’ onto and requiring constant realignment, a process that also drains your battery at an alarming rate. The Ancients AR is an interesting concept, and the range of ships on offer, each with its own special move and strategic value give battles a range of useful options. Especially once you add in the upgrade-able, Godzilla-sized Ancients you can call in to smite foes, but the lack of decent tutorial and crummy interface takes the shine off.
Tales Of Thorn for iOS, £Free (Wanda Cinema Games)
Like most of the new wave of Chinese mobile games, Tales Of Thorn borrows Final Fantasy’s manga-style aesthetic, which is to say heroes with huge eyes, pointy Michael Jackson-style noses, and unlikely hair, wielding outrageously large swords at a procession of boring cannon fodder interspersed with the odd plus-sized boss monster.
Unlike Final Fantasy, this eschews turn-based combat in favour of hack and slash, which is delivered with the medium’s standard sub-par onscreen joystick and buttons. Find loot, update your armour, and equip new weapons, each of which comes with its own special move, in the usual ultra-slow burn progression of free-to-download role-playing games.
The action is a bit basic, but it’s the way it’s framed that destroys the atmosphere. The messy, cluttered interface proving to be a constant assault on the senses. It’s not helped by the banality of the characters and stories, with the patchy translation making that problem even worse – the turgid dialogue adding to a sense of not trying very hard. Although not a dead loss it would be hard to recommend this even to die-hard role-playing fans.
Sir Questionnaire for iOS, £2.99 (OrangePixel)
Told in mock 16-bit style, this roguelike dungeon explorer’s primary point of difference is that you’ve only ever got two context-sensitive options to choose from. Each turn you’ll find yourself in a room with objects or beasts, and it’s up to you to attack/search/talk/grab an item or jog on.
There are monsters, shopkeepers, mysterious altars, and patches of debris that when searched yield either treasure or another fight. Each room you complete pushes you a step closer to finishing that floor and to an encounter with the elusive Dungeon Master.
You can also photograph monsters to populate a codex of stuff you encounter and unravel mini-mysteries like the crowns you sometimes find and the empty thrones you can elect to sit on. Or you can take on quests that reward you with a bag of useful goodies at the start of your next play through.
Although the central conceit of continual binary choices sits well on mobile, it eventually proves a shade too simplistic, making your ongoing adventures feel repetitive and as though you’re too much at the mercy of RNG-esus.
Death Coming for iOS, £1.99 (Sixjoy)
In Death Coming you’re the Grim Reaper, plying your life-ending trade in a series of charming, cartoon-style environments that are also handily lethal death traps. Drop heavy items on crowds, electrocute, crush, lacerate, and irradiate the population of each level; preferably in groups or in rapid succession, triggering combo bonuses for multiple fatalities.
It’s not all fun and frolics for Death though, with angels popping up as you work, patrolling levels and costing you a life if they catch you offing humans. Although that secondary challenge sounds interesting on paper, the angels regularly interrupt your Hellish combos and prevent you from finishing hard-won series of micro-catastrophes, a process that interferes with the game’s core gameplay so fundamentally that it makes it all a bit less fun.
At its best it’s like being in control of a pixellated Final Destination, the deaths coming thick and fast with amusingly inventive variety. At its worst it’s a fiddly load of trial and error, where you can still be tripped up by pesky police angels even once you’ve figured out what to do.
One Deck Dungeon for iOS (also available on PC), £7.99 (Handelabra)
Choose one or two heroes from a list that includes mage, archer, paladin, rogue, and warrior then set off to explore a dungeon in this superb digital board game conversion. The object is to survive long enough to kill the large monster that’s been harming villagers, and you have a limited number of turns to achieve that aim. That means building up your character sufficiently to take on the beast you’ll meet at the end, whilst surviving all the rooms you unlock on the way.
Draw an encounter card, roll dice, match their colours with those in a set of numbered boxes, pocket the loot and move on. Fail to cover all the boxes and you’ll either take damage or lose time, a system that forces you to decide when to use potions, skills, and heroic feats for maximum effect.
It looks like a board game, with the animated dice rolling and bouncing around the screen while your iPad takes care of all the boring admin, shuffling cards, and setting things up – letting you get on with the business of fighting monsters and avoiding traps. It’s complex but thrilling once you get the hang of it.
Space Pioneer for iOS & Android, £Free (Vivid Games)
Space Pioneer is a twin-stick shooter with grafted on role-playing elements. You’re dropped onto an alien planet with a robot sidekick, where you need to complete a shortlist of tasks, like killing a certain number of mobs or refuelling a downed spaceship, after which you beam out.
Earn coins from dead monsters, which you spend along with a loot box-driven card collection mechanic to upgrade your weapons and skills. There’s a second currency in the form of crystals, which you can farm to upgrade your armour and helper droid, but the planets and bosses vary little and never really increase in difficulty.
As a result it won’t be long before you’ve upgraded everything you actually use and have no more content to explore. There’s the core of an interesting game here, but it feels like an idea that’s been only partially fleshed out.
By Nick Gillett