Resident Evil 4 – now available on iPhone (Picture: Capcom)
Although the season of goodwill and grotesque over-indulgence has ended for another year, there’s still plenty of interesting mobile games to gorge yourself on. This month’s line-up includes a sci-fi take on Vampire Survivor, an excellent new entry in the Puzzle & Dragons franchise, and The Longing – a game about hanging around in an underground cave for 400 days, which turns out to be way more interesting than it sounds.
iOS, included with Apple Arcade subscription (Apple)
Starting with a virgin piece of land, your job in Turmoil+ is to find and bore into oil and gas reserves hidden beneath the surface.
Doing that involves using a variety of hit and miss surveying methods, before drilling test shafts in search of black gold. In later levels you’ll also find rock formations to circumvent and pockets of gas, which when used properly can briefly turbo charge oil prices.
There are daily tasks and an over-arching goal of buying 50% of the town’s shares, so you can declare yourself mayor, but once you succeed in doing that the game encourages you to keep pumping oil anyway, with no further goal offered.
It’s brilliant while it lasts, but feels like approximately 70% of an excellent game, and one that seems to run out of steam before reaching its full potential.
Little Piggy Defence – somewhat defensible (Picture: Gameduo)
Little Piggy Defence
iOS & Android, Free (Gameduo)
Little Piggy’s brand of tower defence is of the maze building variety, where you’re responsible for constructing meandering paths for incoming mobs to follow as your turrets whittle away their HP. You also have a porcine hero who can walk to wherever his firepower is needed.
Levels start with preset structures that you add to using Archero-style unlocks, with each new turret or upgrade selected from a list of three options.
Both turrets and heroes seem fairly unpredictable in terms of which mobs they elect to target and the game’s utterly infused with microtransactions, from daily login bonuses to gacha loot crates to battle passes. It plays a passable game of tower defence, but it’s drowning in needy monetisation.
Puzzle & Dragons Story
iOS, included with Apple Arcade subscription (GungHo Online)
There’s a reasonably well developed field of match-three dungeon crawlers, where your battles against monsters are conducted bloodlessly on a grid of brightly coloured blocks.
Puzzle & Dragons Story differentiates itself with a battle system that lets you move a tile anywhere you like until a timer runs out. That means you can displace numerous blocks each turn, opening up considerably more complexity and opportunities for combos.
With no in-app purchases, what might have been a gacha system is replaced with crafting, letting you use resources to build new beasts, that unleash damage on your behalf. It’s just as polished as you’d expect from such a venerable franchise, and stripped of its monetisation is at least as compelling.
Resident Evil 4
iOS, Free – full game £24.90 (Capcom)
Once you’ve tested your Wi-Fi speed and phone storage with its 30GB download, Resident Evil 4’s mobile outing has a few other problems for you to unpick, only one of which involves saving the president’s daughter.
The first is its controls, which use a touchscreen overlay that takes up around a third of the screen and proves to be completely impractical once the action heats up. You’ll find none of the subtle design choices of Feral Interactive’s mobile ports, making the only viable option a physical controller, which even then feels less responsive than the game did on consoles.
Graphically, it’s not bad on a small screen, although frame rates suffer as, bizarrely, do characters’ oddly pixellated haircuts, and perhaps unsurprisingly it demolishes phone batteries even on new-ish handsets. At £25 for the full game, it does represent reasonable value, but when that goes up to its full price of £50 on 17 January, it’ll be considerably harder to stomach.
In the past, similarly priced premium titles have only been supported for a few years before becoming unplayable forever, adding to any nagging doubts you may already be experiencing given its litany of problems. There’s still a solid game in there, but you’d be better off playing it on literally any other format.
iOS & Android, included with Netflix subscription (Netflix)
Netlix’s latest, Word Trails, has you spelling out words from a circle of letters, with levels representing different countries on a virtual world tour, although your in-game location makes no difference whatsoever to the game.
In fact, progressing through its stages, you realise that absolutely nothing changes. Difficulty remains steady, and you’ll be making the same lists of nit, tin, not, ton in level 200 as you were in the introduction.
The dictionary has some peculiar omissions (zed, mod, and cad, for example) and it steadfastly refuses to recognise common swear words, but its real problem is that its challenge starts off puny and remain that way no matter how long you play, for the most part relying on the same tiny subset of vocabulary throughout.
Star Survivor: Premium
iOS, £2.99 (Erabit Studios)
Star Survivor has a nice simple pitch: it’s Vampire Survivor in space. Your miniature spaceship is assailed from all angles by enemies, which you repel by deploying a stream of auto-fire weapons and upgrades.
Mounting each gun or missile assembly on your ship’s front, sides or rear, each quadrant of which has a limited number of available slots, you’ll also discover that some weapons synergise with others, giving extra oomph to your firepower.
There’s plenty to do, it has a nice feel to it that works just fine with touch controls, and even though it can sometimes be tough to work out which small, fast-moving blobs on screen are incoming ordnance and which are collectibles, you do gradually get better at it.
The Longing Mobile
iOS & Android, £4.99 (Application Systems Heidelberg)
Set deep underground, in the presence of a giant, ancient king who decides to sleep for exactly 400 days, The Longing Mobile gives you one job to do: wait. Once those 13 months are up, you’ll need to awaken the king, as he says, ‘to end all fear and longing’.
As he falls asleep a timer appears at the top of the screen that counts down from 400 days in real-time, day and night, whether or not you’re playing the game, bringing with it a dawning realisation that the game does in fact want you to wait for over a year. You could of course close it, ignore it completely, and ‘win’ by coming back in just over a year, but doing that would be missing out on a singular gaming experience.
While you wait, your tiny monochromatic character has a small, cosy cave to live in, where you can peruse literary classics, from Moby Dick to Thus Spoke Zaratustra. You can read alongside him if you want, the books’ pages appearing like a Kindle onscreen, and he keeps reading while you’re not there, the process almost imperceptibly speeding up the passage of time.
Soon enough you find that his cave is connected to an unfathomable labyrinth of subterranean caves and passages, linked by a maze of unmarked stairs, corridors, and doorways. Your avatar reminds you that you’d better remember your way back, but before long you’re hopelessly lost in its warren.
To complicate matters, the walking pace is glacially and deliberately slow. When you’ve got literal years to wait, nobody’s hurrying anywhere, and rather surprisingly that sense of calm is infectious, your time in The Longing feeling weirdly peaceful. It’s a place where time has meaning, but only in the very, very long term.
There are puzzles, most of whose solutions involve some form of waiting, and multiple wonders to discover, from the bright white Halls of Eternity, where time stands still (making it a place you won’t want to hang around for too long), to all sorts of collectible items, many of which can be combined to do new things in your locked-down world.
With so little happening, and what does occurring at an exceptionally stately pace, discoveries bring moments of exhilaration that can sometimes be matched by fear and claustrophobia as you wind your little character further away from his little hobbit hole.
As you might imagine, we’re still quite some way away from completing The Longing, but the experience so far has been deeply unusual, and sublime in every way. It’s a game experience unlike any other – although one that certainly won’t appeal to everyone – and the mobile version is every bit as unexpected and occasionally joyous as the PC-based original.
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