A place for the kings of the casual mobile game

We surely have enough timers and endless runners

Last week has been an interesting break from the usual release day, usually packed with freemium titles and random franchises using Temple Run's endless runner fame to try to make a quick buck on the App Store. These are not going anywhere, but iOS gamers can be relieved seeing how some of their favourite studios are still bidding on the more traditional paid formula: $.99, cheap, quick and fun casual games.

cuttheropetoys1.jpg

Anyone playing on an iPhone would be thrilled to try just one of the latest games from studios like Halfbrick, ZeptoLab, Crescent Moon or Illusion Labs. Still with the hangover from GDC, we get to play the new releases from each of them. A lot of pedigree on the same week. Brilliant.

So what's special about it? Well, that these guys continue to offer short bursts of fun paying a minimum upfront and allowing you to enjoy the game without any waiting or timer involved. That for me is already a celebration. You know, the kind of thing you like to launch on a short 3-minute break, waiting in line or during your commute. The kind of setting where mobile games excel.

Cut the Rope: Time Travel

After the underwhelming Pudding Monsters, Zepto Labs returns to its most successful IP to put a spin on the adventures of the cute Om Nom in Cut the Rope: Time Travel. A little more original than Experiments, this is the typical example of a sequel that introduces new concepts but keeps most things very very similar to avoid alienating its legions of fans.

I haven't found much reason to invest in the superpower items available as in-app purchases — possibly because you can fly through the game in less than two hours. Hoping to see more levels added over time to keep the momentum going. And you get a lot of On Noms wearing hats.

Fish out of Water!

No less popular are Halfbrick, the creators of hits like Fruit Ninja and Jetpack Joyride. In their latest game Fish out of Water! the drag-and-swipe mechanics of Angry Birds are used in the context of a game of skipping stones. This wouldn't be much fun without charismatic characters ready to be churned as plush toys: a series of fish, whale and crabs with their own sort of personalities and humour.

After a couple of rounds of Fish out of Water! you will feel like there's not much to it, however, there is some underlying 'one more try' element hidden somewhere to chase a high score. The unusual real-time weather element affect the gameplay every time you launch, making you check the app several times a day to check for the perfect conditions that match your fish-throwing strategy. And that's not to mention that Halfbrick have outdone themselves ditching the pixel art style in benefit of a glossy and shiny style that oozes high production values.

Mr. Crab

One developer in particular that also favours pastel colour palettes and gloss finish on smooth 3D models is Illusion Labs. Their relatively slow release cycle seems to be the reason for the incredible amount of — I hate to use the word — polish. Seen Blast Away released last summer? That is a cocky visual feast that showcases what Retina devices are capable of.

mrcrabsc1.jpg

Their latest Mr. Crab is something much more dynamic and perfectly tailored to one-hand gaming on portrait mode. It's something like an automatic runner where you jump to climb to higher platforms, collect goodies and defeat enemies before reaching the top of an ever twisting platform. In fact, Mr. Crab is a modern homage of platformers like Mario, using a lot of the rules and language you would expect and presenting it in a unique way. You cannot die, but there is a lot of trial and error in the more difficult levels for sure.

Monkey Boxing

Continuing the effort to publish and support developers of less hardcore RPG-ish games, Crescent Moon Games presents Monkey Boxing. You know with that name it's not going to be your typical fighting game. Really simplified to basic attack and defence buttons, it's mixed with some rhythmic tapping on quick-time special events during the fight. But that's the single player option.

The good surprise in here is the local multiplayer, which allows you to play against a friend on the same device. Now the game comes alive. Expect the same level of laughs and crazy tapping as Ice Rage, if not more.

I'm really pleased to see such as selection of simple games from quality developers all coming at the same time. It's like a reminder that a video game must have a game to begin with. And these four represent what you would expect from a puzzler, a strategy, a platformer and a fighting game simplified for a mobile platform. You see, a little time waster on your phone doesn't necessarily need to ask you to wait to play, or worse, pay to skip playing. And that's why I'm happy to see these four coming out together, as if they're reclaiming the throne of the casual mobile game.