This month’s rundown of the best smartphone games includes Harry Potter: Wizards Unite and two separate Auto Chess: Origin games.
The initial fever for Pokémon GO may be over but it’s still one of the most popular, and profitable, mobile apps around and that means only one thing: everyone wants to copy it. There have been attempts before but this month’s Harry Potter: Wizards Unite is the most concerted effort yet. But if fresh air and microtransactions aren’t your thing, there are other clones to consider this month, in the shape of Auto Chess: Origins and its twin Dota Underlords.
Harry Potter: Wizards Unite for iOS & Android, £Free (Niantic)
In all but name, Harry Potter: Wizards Unite is Pokémon GO. Pokémon are replaced by ‘foundables’, pokéstops become inns and greenhouses, and spells stand in for pokéballs, but the sat nav-style map with 3D icons remains instantly recognisable.
Encounters have you using AR to line up an image on your screen with one superimposed onto the real world, before casting spells by tracing lines on the screen. Naturally, with a combination of GPS and AR, it’s a battery apocalypse, your phone heating up like a £1,000 hand warmer.
More depressing is its constant desire to shake you down for cash, with microtransactional extras popping up for practically everything you need to progress. It’s an exhausting begging simulator, with a wafer-thin veneer of Harry Potter that in no way recaptures the initial allure of Pokémon GO.
BiuBiu Jungle Puzzle for iOS, £1.99 (FredBear Games)
With high production values and a charming, cube-infused world of puzzles, BiuBiu Jungle has you pushing blocks to clear a path to three stars, a key, and the exit.
Things aren’t quite as simple as they sound, with immoveable objects, infinitely sliding ice blocks, areas that can only be traversed by pushing a block into them to use as a bridge, and the perennial problem of which order to make moves, most of which can’t be undone.
Grabbing all three stars is challenging right from the start, providing a worthy extra level of difficulty, and while your hero’s movement is sluggish, it suits puzzles that require careful thought and planning rather than speed.
Auto Chess: Origin for iOS & Android, £Free (Drodo)
From the hugely popular Dota 2 mod, the mobile version of Auto Chess brings a new generic set of characters, that doesn’t infringe on Valve’s intellectual property, and its own unique set of pros and cons.
Like the original, it’s played on a chess-like board, where you drag and drop fighters who then go about their combat with no further input from you. The process of setting up and moving pieces is significantly easier and slicker than it was via Dota.
Getting matches is also a lot quicker, but actually playing them is another matter. Even with experience of the original, differentiating between characters on the board is extremely difficult, and with only the flakiest of tutorials, figuring out how all the combinations and buffs work is a Sisyphean task. Rounds also still last 40 minutes, which is an eternity on mobile.
Dota Underlords for iOS & Android, £Free (Valve)
Ironically, given that Auto Chess is based on a Valve product, Valve have themselves produced an Auto Chess-alike, which also emerged on mobile this month.
As in the game that inspired it, battles happen automatically, making your job to buy and position the right combination of units to overcome your opponent’s selection. This time though, the tutorial offers a little more useful guidance, and buying units from the shop gives a clearer indication of the synergies that exist with your current deck.
It occasionally crashes, and the full round robin against all opponents still takes well over half an hour but a growing understanding of what’s going on helps ease the sense of futility. It’s a more compelling game than Auto Chess, but can still feel pretty random, especially when the finer details of its mechanics take so long to discover.
Gunslugs: Rogue Tactics for iOS, £4.99 (OrangePixel)
Gunslugs is a rogue-lite, in which you control a series of pixel art heroes on a semi-stealthy mission to infiltrate and blow up buildings. On your way you’ll be crawling through air ducts, killing henchmen, freeing prisoners, hacking computer terminals, and generally spoiling the operations of comedy-villainous organisation the Black Duck Army.
Every time you die, you restart with a new procedurally-generated side-scrolling 2D city waiting for your destructive ministrations, and you’ll do a lot of dying. Unfortunately it won’t always be your fault.
A common problem with twitch games on a touchscreen is their control interface, and Gunslugs has a particular problem: its inventory button sits just above the one that makes you run left. The continual accidental inventory opening remains infuriating throughout and using the option to make the buttons smaller does little to alleviate it.
Olimdal for iOS & Android, £1.99 (Clocknest Games)
In Olimdal, your wizard hat-wearing protagonist walks around each of its beautifully drawn rooms with every movement paralleled by a group of tables or blocks. Move up, down, left or right and your clutch of mobile desks follows along. Puzzles revolve around manoeuvring your man to an exit portal, using other furniture and walls to catch the tables so you can make your way there.
While Olimdal’s puzzles are solid enough, they lack a sense of progression – the difficulty level vacillating wildly. It also never quite lives up to the atmospheric beauty of its art style and room design, making you wish there was a role-playing game with this exact look, feel and hero.
Graveyard Keeper for iOS & Android, £9.99 (TinyBuild LLC)
With pixel art styling and a darkly surreal sense of humour, Graveyard Keeper is like a death-obsessed Stardew Valley, where rather than being a free-wheeling farmer, you’re the freshly deceased and monumentally confused new caretaker of a celestial cemetery.
There are interesting characters to meet, from the Marxist talking donkey that pulls the corpse wagon, to the gibbering skull that acts as your early guide in the game. In order to complete their quests you’ll need to unlock blueprints for tools, skills, and useful items.
It’s a huge game with a lot to do, but tasks are often cursorily explained, and usually only once. You’ll also find many of them require a litany of layered unlocks and crafting, which can leave your interactions feeling sprawling and shapeless. Toss in a succession of crash bugs that effectively reset the day’s progress and you have a recipe for frustration.
It’s nice to have this un-patronising degree of scale and complexity in a mobile game, but you’ll be left pining for the clarity, elegance, and rapid progression of the bug-free Stardew Valley.
By Nick Gillett
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