3 indie mobile games with artsy ambitions
The recipe for a successful mobile game is an essentially unknowable thing. Developers have been chasing the answer for more than a decade now, and with good reason. Recent market research concludes that games generate approximately 85 percent of all mobile app revenue. In 2015, that added up to $34.8 billion worldwide. That’s billion with a “b.”
With thousands of developers chasing a piece of that ginormous pie, the app stores are continually swamped with new games. It’s a healthy ecosystem, creatively speaking. For every massive hit like “Candy Crush” or “Clash of Clans” there are thousands of smaller titles that find modest success by coming up with an innovative game idea – or at least finding a cool variation on an established theme. If you’re in the market for a new time-killer on your phone, here are three recommended indie games with artsy ambitions.
$3.99 / iOS; simogo.com
Moody and atmospheric, this little gem from the small Swedish developer Simogo has won a loyal cult following. It’s a puzzle/adventure game based on some rather grim Swedish mythology and the tradition of the “Arsgang” or Year Walk – a kind of pilgrimage ritual that supposedly grants aspirants a glimpse of the future.
The game’s eerie plot line gets genuinely scary toward the end – the story actually evolved from an unproduced screenplay. But the really cool part is how you navigate the game’s cold, dark world. Each frame is a carefully composed 2-D tableau and you move around by swiping left or right on your touchscreen, then tapping designated objects to move forward or back along a virtual z-axis.
It’s a great example of how clever design can leverage the inherent limitations of a tiny phone screen. Proceed further in the game and you’ll find the developers have a real knack for lateral thinking. Certain puzzles may require rotating the phone itself or otherwise manipulating your device’s inputs and accelerometer.
Be forewarned that some of the puzzles and obstacles are difficult. You might want to take notes as you go along. You can download a companion app (for free) that fills in background and origin details on the spooky events and apparitions you encounter. “Year Walk” ultimately plays out like a superior specimen of supernatural horror fiction. Pretty neat. The game is also now available on PC, Mac and Wii U.
$2.99 /Android, iOS; badlandgame.com
“Badland” is one of my personal all-time favorites in the mobile indie game realm. It’s a darkly funny riff on the so-called “flappy game” template, in which you pilot a bird or similar flying object by continually tapping on the screen to gain elevation as you side-scroll through obstacles.
In the world of “Badland,” obstacles means a steadily intensifying series of lethal machines designed to shred your cute little birdy-thing as it flies through a hallucinogenic forest of weirdness. Why do these woods have spinning buzzsaw blades, shooting spikes and hulking industrial machines spewing toxic oil? Because the universe is a cruel place, that’s why. The relentless hostility of the game is the primary running joke.
“Badland 2” introduces a new control system in which you can now flap in both directions, instead of constantly moving to the right. This opens up new spatial options – alternate left and right taps and you can ascend vertical shafts, for instance. The gleefully mean level designers have also added new twists for bending physics, reversing gravity and otherwise messing with the time-space continuum.
$2.99 / iOS; agentagame.com
If you happen to be on a spy novel kick, as I currently am, consider augmenting your book binge with “Agent A,” a stylish and goofy pastiche of 1960s espionage movies.
“Agent A” – subtitled “A Puzzle in Disguise” – is a relatively straightforward point-and-click adventure game. You look for clues, find hidden items, scan your environment, then figure out what to do next. The setup: You’re a secret agent on the trail of Ruby La Rouge, a lovely but lethal femme fatale at odds with your employer, a vaguely British intelligence agency.
You spend the bulk of the game inside Ruby’s modernist mansion, searching for clues and navigating various puzzles incorporating hidden keys, ugly ’60s furniture, a security system and a cat. What helps “Agent A” stand out is the superior production design. The animation is as cool as several dozen cucumbers, with weird angles and pastel colors that evoke Friz Freleng’s classic Pink Panther cartoons. The music is great, too.