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Tiny Robot: Some Sneaky Android Game Reviews

Robots in disguise

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Shhhhh, don’t tell the others! The thing is, I think I spend as much of my time playing games on Android devices as I do on PC these days, partly because family responsibilities mean being out of my office chair more often, and partly because my phone and tablet afford me opportunities to play games where my PC doesn’t reach. And heck, if we can have a column about board games, I think we can sneak this in, especially behind-the-scenes at first. So, experimentally, here are some short reviews of the Android games that are currently occupying my coffee shop/watching TV/before I fall asleep time.

Lara Croft GO

As the Tomb Raider series collapses through the roof into a fire-filled room of spikes before falling off a mountain, titles containing “Lara Croft” persist in being lovely and intriguing. Although not from Crystal Dynamics, Square Enix Montreal’s Lara Croft GO captures that same spirit, while being an entirely new sort of game for the woman who kills Cecil the Lions in her sleep. A turn-based puzzle game somehow seems to embrace the spirit of the series, despite being something entirely other. Lara is moved from tile to tile with a swoosh of your finger, the world taking its turns around her accordingly. That might be angry snakes that want to bite her head off, giant ‘rolling’ boulders that advance another step, or creepy lizards following you about, as you push pillars, flip switches, and avoid traps.

In many ways, it’s a familiar puzzle game – turn-based tile movement isn’t anything original (Road Not Taken was perhaps the most recent notable example), and if you’re au fait with the genre, you’ll likely have your instincts kick in for darting about in the early stages. But most importantly, it’s exquisitely good at being a turn-based tile game. Its combinations of gradually introduced new elements create unique challenges, as you’re throwing spears at snakes in order to use your flaming torch to scare another onto a pressure plate. And of course, all these things are so inherently Tomb Raider too – pressure plates, endangered species to slaughter, spears to chuck, switches to yank, and indeed, puzzles to solve.

The isometric presentation is glorious, a crisp, clean and almost Monument Valley-esque aesthetic, the creature design equally splendid. Sound is used carefully to great effect, creaks and dull winds giving a sense of enclosure despite the design presenting floating platforms. And most of all, it’s very, very smart. Puzzles can become real brain-scratchers as you get deeper in, but solutions are always fair.

Rather wonderfully, the game is all yours for the novel method of paying for it. A rare treat on the Play store, it has a sensible price-tag for a full-length puzzle game of 75 puzzles – £3.99. The only in-app purchase (IAP) is for hints, which again you just buy in one go, for another £3.99. This is unheard of! Hints are supposed to come in blocks of 5 for 79p a go, or whatever. But here your £4 buys you step-by-step solutions for the entire thing. And of course, why pay at all, since such solutions are all over YouTube should you want them. (Oh, and you might be able to buy outfits, but whatevs.)

It’s a tremendous game, sensibly priced, and a fitting entry in the canon. Roll on the first DLC.

Alphabear

Best known for Triple Town, Spry Fox have a rather lovely habit of maintaining an art style between their games. Alphabear’s titular beasts bear a striking resemblance to Triple Town’s mascot, and indeed to the gorgeous creatures in Road Not Taken. But the games themselves are all wildly different. Alphabear is, rather nonchalantly, the best word-based puzzle game on Android.

At first it’s very familiar. A grid of letter tiles, from which you must spell words – the mobile world is replete with such things. But in Alphabear, the first twist is that tiles only reveal their letters once an adjacent letter has been used. This immediately pours in a whole pile of new tactics, as you work out how to spread across to clear as much of the screen as you can, tiles removed to make way for ever-growing bears when you use them. On top of that, each tile once revealed has a countdown, ticking down with every word you play – fail to use them before they reach 0 and they’ll turn to stone, preventing the growth of your collection of bears. And the larger the bears at the end of each game, the greater your bonus score.

This becomes far more elaborate as you start adding new bears to your sleuth. In Chapter 1 there’s Fore Bear, Easy Bear, Stretch Bear, Doggy Bear, Skinny Bear, Panda Bear and Golfing Bear. They’re the first of 85. I’ve been playing in most of my spare time for weeks now, and have 51 of them and have reached Chapter 7. This game has legs.

It’s clever how it portions out play. Each weekday has unique challenges in each chapter, and each challenge has targets for silver and gold scores. The better you score, the better quality of bear you might unlock or upgrade. And you take three of these bears into each level. Rare Bears come with greater advantages, but all add something. Right now my most played bears are Tardy Bear with his 2265% final score bonus and Ts lasting longer, Goldilocks Bear and her 2290% and extra 239 points for three-letter words, and Questy Bear at 2156% and 3X points for using QU. Each bear has a rest period, some as short as 20 minutes, others as long as a day, before they can be played again. So my Legendary Box Bear gets a daily outing as he tacks on another 750% but more importantly, allows me a fourth bear. Very helpful for trying to beat that day’s gold score on a newer, tougher level.

Every day you have a regular level, and a timed level, usually giving you 60 or 90 seconds to play a panicked frantic version of the same. Some levels have a Challenge Event that puts up an even tougher top score but with guaranteed rare bears for scoring gold. And then each of the levels also comes with a super-difficult Boss to unlock the following level once enough golds have been achieved, and a Treasure Event that gives an easier challenge for a better award, but at the cost of 400 of the game’s in-game currency.

Ah yes, that. So, the game’s “free”, but to play it sensibly you’ll need to spend around £3 to unlock infinite “honey”. That’s yet another sort-of currency that limits how much you can play a day. Coins are the more nefarious aspect, costing £3.22 for 600, while a Treasure Event costs 400 to play. (Unlocking resting bears costs anything from 5 to a few hundred, depending on how long they have left to sleep). Thing is, I’ve been playing the game every day for about four weeks now, and have never needed to pay a penny for this. You earn coins as you play games anyway, and this has generally proved to be enough for me to play a Treasure Event every now and then, and unlock 5 coin bears when I can’t be doing with waiting ten minutes to play again. There are always games to play no matter what, so while some may be tempted to pay £32.13 for 7600 coins (ha ha, only joking, surely no one would ever do that?), there really isn’t any need.

It’s just wonderful. Each bear is lovely to look at, fun to watch subtly animate as you’re playing, and then hilarious in the game’s amazing pay-off in which randomised madlibs-style phrases are uttered using words you’d spelt during that go. These are, of course, tweetable, which is a rather brilliant way of encouraging plays to promote the game without feeling dirty – in fact, actively wanting to. One of the best games ever to grace my electric telephone.

∞ Loop

Winner of the stupidest game name in SEO history (how is anyone supposed to type that in on their phone?!), ∞ Loop’s only possible direct link to the concept of infinity is the number of prescribed levels. I’m on #721, and it’s showing no signs of stopping.

It’s such a simple concept, so neatly delivered by creator Balys Valentukevicius. A screen of curved lines that can be rotated 90 degrees with a tap of the finger. Rotate them all until all the wiggles line up to form a pattern with no loose ends. The trick is discerning which permutation will lead to the single correct pattern. And that’s it.

The minimalist presentation is throughout. There’s not even a title screen, instead opening with level 1. Hit the options button, and you get the choice to switch sound on or off, and go back and forth. That’s it. 722 levels in, the idea of tapping the button 721 times to see an earlier level is obviously very silly. Although since there doesn’t appear to be a discernible difficulty progression after the first few. And yet, despite that, I find it compelling. I think, of the 723 I’ve played, I’ve found three tricky, and none difficult. There was a level, maybe 301, where it took me a bit longer than usual. Sometimes they’re enormous, sometimes they’re teeny, and there appears to be no pattern to it. But that hasn’t slowed me down over the 724 puzzles I’ve completed.

And most of all, it’s free! Not “free”, but FREE, with no IAPs, nothing. With 725 puzzles completed, that’s been a pretty good deal for me.

This feature was originally published as part of, and thanks to, the RPS supporter program.

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John Walker

Senior Editor

One of the original co-founders of Rock, Paper, Shotgun, I'm now a senior editor and hero of humanity. Old and special.

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