What I’m Playing: Murder, mystery, and motorsport
$4.99 on iOS
Limbo developer Playdead has two triumphs on its hands here: getting me to purchase the same game for the third time, and making it such a painless, seamless transition. Getting the controls right on a game built for touch-screen devices is really hard—doubly so for platformers. I'm pleased to say they've knocked it out of the park here, with a presentation that's delightfully simple: just swipe and hold anywhere on screen to move, and swipe up to jump. So simple, without any need to rely on kludgy virtual joysticks or on-screen buttons that take up most of the screen real estate. Bravo.
As for the game... it's Limbo. Hauntingly atmospheric, you're on a quest to find your missing sister. Puzzles and grisly deaths abound, and it's nice to hear that satisfying crunch of being caught in a bear trap or mangled by spiders has survived intact. If you haven't played this one yet then you've just about run out of excuses, as it's only five bucks and available on every platform under the sun.
Except Android I guess. And Windows Phone. Sorry about that.
Layton Brothers: Mystery Room
Free on iOS
I’ve always loathed the Professor Layton series. There's always been that nagging sense of... inadequacy, as I throw all of my mental faculties at a fiendish puzzle only to discover the solution was as simple as flipping my Nintendo DS onto it's side or somesuch. Anyhow. Layton Brothers: Mystery Room is a spin-off for iOS devices, though the general premise is the same—an Inspector, aided by his neophyte assistant, must solve crimes.
Where the Professor Layton series is usually chock full of puzzles, Mystery Room is akin to Capcom's Ace Attorney series. It plays out like an adventure game: a "reconstruction device" recreates the scene of a murder and you'll pore over the evidence, interview witnesses, and eventually amass enough clues to wrangle a confession out of the guilty party. There are no puzzles (which will probably disappoint diehard Layton fans) but the awesome soundtrack, quirky cast and clever cases rally set this one apart. The game's narrative can be a bit labored, which is frustrating when you just know exactly who the killer is and want to get right down to grilling them for a confession. But the wheels of justice grind slowly, and seeing a case unravel and watching the animated banter between accuser and accused is genuinely entertaining.
The game offers two cases for free—they took me about twenty minutes apiece—and more episodes can be purchased through a pair of episode packs; $5 gets you all seven. That's a really good deal, but don't take my word for it—head on over to the app store and check it out for yourself.
Colin McRae Rally
$4.99 on iOS
And now for something completely different, Codemasters' Colin McRae Rally. There's a good chance that name isn't very familiar, but it's the series that spawned the legendary rally-racing franchise we all know as Dirt. I'll be blunt: this game is unapologetically ugly, with sad, low-resolution landscapes, comically copy-pasted "crowds" that would make convincing cardboard props, and rather plain car models—of which there are only four to choose from. It's as if the entire budget were spent on crafting the miles and miles of track, perfecting the physics, and generally making the controls and handling as pristine as possible.
I can't stress how much of a good thing this is. The game might not look like much, but if you're here to rally race then you're in luck. Everything feels solid, from the chassis' wobble as you land a precarious jump at speed to the precarious slide as you ease into hairpin turns. Vehicle damage will affect your car's performance, and as a rally race is divided into a number of stages, bad turns and the like add up. Every few stages you're given a chance to make a limited number of cursory repairs, so if you're as terrible as I am you'll find yourself with near permanent handicaps. All part of the fun, I say.
Even at five bucks, it feels on the pricey side. You're getting lots of tracks to race through and the gameplay is reliably fun. But with only four cars (and no options for modifications), no multiplayer (your best times are posted to leaderboards), and visuals that harken back to the Dreamcast era, it may be a tough sell. At least there are no microtransactions—yet. If you're a race fan and willing to risk a fiver, I don't think you'll be disappointed—grab it from the app store.