What I'm Playing: Wish upon a Star (Command)
Robot Unicorn Attack 2
The game-making gurus over at Cartoon Network's Adult Swim have a knack for crafting entertaining, competitive experiences out of whole cloth; Robot Unicorn Attack 2 is their latest endeavor. It's an endless runner in the vein of games like Canabalt or Temple Run. There are only two buttons: jump to leap over chasms, and dash to bash through obstacles. You'll accumulate points as you run, and can also collect fairies to boost your score, and tears, which serve as the in game currency.
It's all a bit simple, but that's part of the fun: you'll get three "wishes," or attempts to earn a high score.There are also challenges to complete, in the vein of dashing through a set number of obstacles or accumulate enough points over the course of your wishes. Complete challenges to increase your unicorn rank, which unlocks new abilities, community missions, and the neverending battle between Team Inferno (yay!) and Team Rainbow (boo!).
It's free, but there are in-app purchases—standard fare for the endless runner genre. Nothing too egregious: I collected plenty of tears over the course of many runs but I never felt inclined to spend them on anything but the occasional boost or upgrade. More importantly, you're a Robot Unicorn. I mean really, this stuff should sell itself.
I'm trying to remember the last time I felt this level of abject terror whilst ostensibly "enjoying myself." Probably while playing Faster Than Light actually. Much like that indie darling, Star Command was borne of a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign and sees you as captain of a starship, having wild adventures while traversing the vast reaches of space. It's also just as unforgiving, if such a thing is even possible.
The game revolves around tokens: you'll earn them by winning space battles, and can spend them on adding weapons and equipment upgrades for your starship, or new crew members. Combat requires juggling timers, stationing crew members alongside weapons to fill progress bars, and then playing mini-games that rely on precision to successfully attack foes. You'll also need to send crew members into the fray to fight off enemies who manage to board your ship, which happened more often than I'd like —to be fair, I've been woefully inept at managing my shields. The game ends when your captain dies, and while you can save your game between missions I've lost more bouts than I'd care to admit when a lucky missile strike punches a hole through my bridge and sucks my captain out to the void of space.
Buy this: you won't be disappointed. Dejected possibly, and maybe even a little frustrated, but certainly not disappointed.
House of the Dead Overkill: The Lost Reels
And now for something completely different: House of the Dead Overkill: The Lost Reels. The original House of the Dead: Overkill game singlehandedly vindicated my decision to hook my Nintendo Wii up to my television, years after Mario Kart and Smash Brothers had lost their luster. The homage to light-gun arcade shooters was violent, foul-mouthed, and ludicrously funny, and it's iOS incarnation is actually pretty good. Like traditional arcade shooters, levels are divided into a rapid succession of shooting galleries. Zombies—wait, sorry, mutants—filter in from offscreen and need to be dispatched before they get too close and swat you down.
I'm actually rather smitten with the control scheme; I usually loathe first-person shooters on touchscreen devices, but your character doesn't actually move, which eliminates the issues involved with trying to aim and shoot and move on a tablet or phone. Your left hand controls the crosshair, while the reload, fire, and weapon-swap buttons sit on the right side of the screen. The shooting gallery atmosphere couple with kitschy B-movie aesthetics and a comfortable difficulty curve just lends itself to a good time. The price is a bit on the steep side, and there are in-app purchases—including a third level which will set you back $2, which is a bit obnoxious. But I certainly got five bucks worth of entertainment out of this—if you're a fan of classic arcade shooters (or the House of the Dead series), this is a safe bet.