July 12, 2013, 10:39 AM —
Although the platformer has all but vanished from home consoles in favor of games where you shoot people in the face, it has recently made a resurgence on mobile. What these games lack in high-end graphics, they more than make up for in smart and addictive gameplay--you'll need fast reflexes and more than a little brain power to conquer these mobile titles.
Mutant Mudds essentially combines the classic Super Nintendo Entertainment System shooter, Zombies Ate My Neighbors, and the iconic Mega Man series. Alien "mudds" have invaded earth and you're the only thing standing between them and world domination. But you don't go into this fight empty-handed: You have a small Super Soaker--like gun, a jetpack that lets you float for a few seconds, and some of the most distinctively pixelated glasses this side of 1985.
Mutant Mudds gets accolades not only for offering shooter elements, but also for emphasizing the platforming mechanics. In addition to avoiding bizarre "mudd" enemies of all shapes and sizes, you have to contend with huge pits and other classic obstacles. Mutant Mudds also tweaks the 2D side-scrolling platform formula, letting you hop between the foreground and background planes at numerous points in the level. Surprisingly, this clever gimmick doesn't get old: It makes the maps feel more expansive, and the labyrinths that much more complex.
Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 2
Sonic, Sega's iconic blue mascot, has had a rough few years. Once a rival to Mario, Sonic hasn't starred in an acclaimed game in quite a while. But the mobile platform has breathed new life into the Chaos-Emerald-seeking hero, prompting the re-release of some of his classic titles (Sonic 2, Sonic CD) to a new audience, and witnessing the first true sequel to the series in almost 20 years. Sonic the Hedgehog 4 is now in its second episode, and the series is only getting better. This return to Sonic's glory days features frenetic 2D action, exceptionally beautiful environments, and a bustling soundtrack.
Oh, and Tails has returned as well, bringing Sonic a couple neat new moves and the ability to play co-op. The controls feel sharper this time around, and Tails provides an ability to fly short distances that comes in handy several times. Still, Sonic 4: Episode 2 doesn't hit every element out of the ballpark--the flow of stages is sometimes stilted, there's an over reliance on Tails to solve puzzles, and some real moments feel gimmicky, but fans who have been desperate for a classic 2-D Sonic game built for the mobile platform should seriously give this new blue hedgehog model a spin.
A wind spirit has been trapped in a stone, and a little boy in a funny hat must help save the world. That's the premise of LostWinds, more or less. The game's conceit is that you control not the little boy, but the wind around him. Guide him by tapping in one direction or another, and then throw a gesture in there to get him to float, fly, or leap.
It's an interesting concept, and though it isn't as executed as delicately as you might wish, the overall package is fairly impressive. Blessed with rich lore and great, 3D art, LostWinds is a rare mobile platformer that looks like a console game but offers gameplay mechanics best suited to a touchscreen. And unlike most mobile games, it offers a concerted story in which you feel that every step of your journey is a distinctive accomplishment, recalling epic games like Zelda and Earthbound.
What would it feel like to be alone in the universe? I imagine it would be like playing Incoboto, a planet-sprawling adventure in space. In Incoboto, you play a lonesome boy who wonders where everyone has gone in the universe and why stars keep disappearing. You're befriended by a sun creature that helps you solve puzzles and (hopefully) restore the universe.
The game's sad, lonely atmosphere and beautiful art design engender a great deal of sympathy for the hero, who is such a small speck in the vast, cruel galaxy. Some great moments of gallows humor occur as you discover various signs located throughout the game, detailing the exploits of a nefarious (but legally unassailable) corporation. At times, Incoboto achieves the atmospheric platforming heights of Limbo while also offering the wit of Portal or World of Goo. That winning combination puts Incoboto among the elite platformers on the iOS.
The League of Evil series
There are now three League of Evil games in the series, and each installment sees a slight uptick in graphics and a refinement of the formula. You play as a commando sent to stop (read: kill) a league of evil scientists who are engaged in malevolent intrigues. You hop, run, and wall-jump through numerous platforming levels, confronting gun-toting soldiers and (ultimately) the lab-coated scientists.
The series started off as a retro pixelated platfomer, but it has evolved into a sharper, Super Meat Boy--esque torture chamber. Sure, you can punch and spin-jump like a special ops ninja, but the core of the gameplay involves avoiding the game's many obstacles, which include lava, spike-filled pits, and numerous, ridiculous enemies. Success requires strategy, reflexes, and cunning--marks of a good platformer.
With a minimalist art style that relies on shadows and silhouettes to suggest your worst nightmares, Limbo keeps you in a constant state of unease through its 3 hours of gameplay. Without menus, text, or dialogue, the player must figure out the game's numerous puzzle mechanics. This translates into lots of trial-and-error exploration--and numerous sudden-death experiences involving a gigantic spider, brain-eating worms, and spike-laden traps scattered across the macabre landscape. There's no other game quite like Limbo--and judging from the sweat on the back of your neck, that's probably a good thing.
Few platformers are as original and visually distinctive as Contre Jour. Instead of manipulating a character across an array of obstacles, you manipulate the ground itself in order to guide your alien eyeball to its destination. Contre Jour is the first platformer I've played in which the platform--not the character--is the malleable element. This inversion, along with unique use of contrasting color and lighting, makes Contre Jour an unusually interesting interesting mobile games.
The art is distinctive, and the only significant use of color involves the eerie blue light that the character must gather to complete each level. The puzzle elements of the stages are introduced slowly, but even then take time to master. While reflexes and timing are the keys to success in most platformers, Contre Jour is more thoughtful and quiet, letting its puzzle mechanics shine. And in such a dark setting (the game literally means "against day"), those mechanics shine all the more brightly.