At first it seemed this week would be a little barren of great games. The App Store doesn’t seem to have fully recovered from its holiday break (too much eggnog and champagne, surely), and there don’t seem to be all that many new titles popping up. However, the App Store is alive and well, if a little groggy, and we found some great casual games this week, including one that will really test your hearing abilities, and probably spook you a little bit too.
Papa Sangre ($6.99)
One of the more innovative uses of the iPhone’s hardware yet released is Papa Sangre, a game without a visual component. If it sounds strange, it is: the game requires you to “see with your ears,” and uses iOS 4’s binaural audio capabilities, along with a pair of headphones, to put you into a darkened world where your only reliable sense is what you hear. Movement is handled with touchscreen controls, but they’re very simple -- a swipe turns your head so you can zero-in on a sound, and two touch buttons handle walking, one for each foot. Once Papa Sangre stops holding your hand to teach you how to play, the action really picks up, forcing you to avoid monsters in the darkness and really concentrate on what you’re hearing, and where it’s coming from. Papa Sangre is a very interesting, well-executed idea, best played in the dark to capitalize on its excellent, creepy sound design.
I Must Run! (Free)
I’ve got to admit, I’m getting a little tired of the rooftop runner genre: the games where your character endlessly runs and it’s your job to tap the screen at the right time to cause him or her to jump, avoiding obstacles, monsters and gaps that would lead to death. They’re a dime a dozen right now in the App Store (or actually, more like $0.99 each), and it’s hard to come by one that has much in the way of inspiration. I Must Run! (which is still free thanks to FreeAppADay) is refreshing because it does have some inspiration, as well as a story and an ending. All the running your character does has a purpose, and time is of the essence: his wife is in danger, and that means escaping from prison, punching through all manner of obstacles, and running full-bore through five different levels. I Must Run! can get pretty tough, which is nice, and it changes up the formula by giving you the option to jump, punch obstacles with a well-timed hit, and slide under objects. A little variety in controls, high production values, and a goal in mind (plus a great comic-like opening cutscene for atmosphere) really help elevate this one.
Monkey Labour ($1.99)
It might be a bit of a novelty, but Monkey Labour nails its intended target in terms of nostalgia. The game pretty accurately recreates an old Game & Watch device -- you know, one of those old hand-held video games that makes a lot of beeps and uses static black images moved around the screen by the player. If you’ve ever seen a Tiger Electronics game from the early 1990s, you know the graphical style. Monkey Labour is simple and addictive the same way those games were. As a robot, you have to move bricks from a pile to a furnace in order to stoke the fire, hoping to burn the monkey boss on the floor above. The monkey, for his part, hates you and is throwing bricks in your path the whole time. It’s a simple concept, with simple controls, but things get hectic in a hurry and Monkey Labour can be a lot of time-killing fun. It also supports leaderboards through Game Center, so your arcade skills can be shared with everyone.
I Love Strawberries ($0.99)
Everything about I Love Strawberries is surprising, because outwardly, it looks like yet another cartoony casual game meant to appeal to children -- of which there are many. And then you accidentally impale your limbless gray cube of a character on some spikes, and realize Atari has worked in at least a little wry humor with its addictive gameplay. Since your cube has no limbs, but still wants to collect strawberries scattered around each puzzle level (hence the name!), you have to help it jump around. Holding one thumb against the screen preps the jump, and the cube will turn red from bottom to top to signify how strong the jump will be. You aim where you’ll end up by tilting your phone -- and that’s it. But the key is proper planning; you’re scored by how many strawberries you nab and how few jumps you use, so seeing where you’ll land and where you have to go next before your first move is key to mastering this one, but that’ll take a while.
Save Toshi ($1.99)
I enjoyed casual puzzler Save Toshi almost immediately upon firing it up, but I was really sold the first time I accidentally killed my little digital Japanese pop star. You see, Toshi is standing atop different objects, and while she loves to dance, she’s unable to walk. So you’ve got to break, slide, and knock over the objects she’s standing on in order to drop or catapult her onto a nearby dance floor to complete each level. Trouble is, your only means of helping out is with a gun, so you can’t shoot Toshi -- she’ll die. And you can’t botch the puzzles or knock Toshi into the surrounding water, or she’ll die. It seems Toshi dies a lot, which is itself funny because of the 3D game’s cute anime-style graphics and the whole “get Toshi to the dance floor” premise. The puzzles are innovative in a sort of amped-up Angry Birds-type way, and rotating the camera around each puzzle level and addressing obstacles from different angles is a must. Save Toshi is a clever game and a new take on this sort of one-off casual puzzler, and it’ll definitely keep you busy.