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Between work, parenting, attempting to integrate into society and hoarding sherbet, I’ve found less and less “free time” for games. These days, all of my free time is synonymous with waiting: waiting for an appointment, killing time on lunch breaks or a few minutes here and there when I should be busy with something else. When you know the time is short, a handheld game is too much commitment, and a console is either too much effort or unavailable. So, you’re left with the dregs of gaming, also known as “apps.” Or, are you? There are so many games available on whatever device you happen to have with you that statistics indicate that at least a few of them have to be worth playing. Here is a short list of paid and free games that made my “worth the RSI” checklist.
 

MONUMENT VALLEY


 
This luscious puzzler from ustwo was brought to my attention by three separate people before I finally downloaded it. I have since paid for the full version as my way of saying to the developers that I actually love the app. Soft colours and simple designs give the impression of an easy play, with little to challenge the eye or grey matter. What it delivers instead, is a 2D game with art that is too good to waste on such a small screen, and an Escher-based world that works like a dream. 3D thinking and trial and error will lead you through this enchanting tale; it might not last hours and hours, but it’s a beautiful journey that shouldn’t be missed.
 
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FIRST TIMES


 
It’s been years since I played a MUD (Multi-user Dungeon, or dimension or domain) but this horror text-based game sounded like fun. I love horror but hate gore, so a text game sounded like a wuss’s way to enjoy a decent scary story. Text can’t be scary, unless of course you throw in a few insanely well-timed sound effects that left me nudging my phone away with a pen, scared I might provoke another jump scare. There are several endings all of which I eventually found after wading through the story repeatedly. It was different, and aside from two small hurdles it played pretty well. For a free MUD that brings back early nerd memories, it’s worth giving it a chance.
 
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YESTERDAY


 
My phone was so full of point and click adventures after my download spree that I’d give each of them a very fair 30 seconds to interest me or delete it. Yesterday loaded and was played for three hours straight from a hunched position reaching my charging port. Its design, gameplay and story had me hooked and impressed from the outset. The narrative cleverly caught me off guard with its complex characters and left me explaining a 35-minute bathroom break to my boss at the time. I powered through the game with several points creating a welcome challenge, but never to the point of being unenjoyable. After finishing this app that was consistently more refined than many console games out now, I had to see more from the Numeric Pipeline. FYI, it’s also on Steam, and I’ll be buying the entire package.
 
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DARK MEADOW: THE PACT


 
Phosphor Games’ free game is dark and mysterious, full of mutants, upgradable weapons and a slowly decaying asylum. Yes, asylum, more like ho-hum, but for a free app I was expecting a jump scare and predictable story. Dark Meadows kept their narrative convoluted and intriguing with only the smallest reveals when necessary. Progress was slow as I had to grind away to get my weapons and items to a decent level for each new threat, but I wanted to make it without in-app purchases. It took a while but was achievable. Normally I give up if a real grind is imminent, but Dark Meadows came from the Unreal 3 engine and is beautiful to explore. The best part has to be heard; some of the best dialogue ever with the most outlandish, hilarious and slightly damaging lines ever uttered by an old man making this a must-play.
 
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THE SILENT AGE


 
I saved this gem from House on Fire for last because I had to wait months for it and am so glad I did. I first met Joe, the hairy maintenance man from the 70’s many months ago. Silent Age looked different and had a Butterfly Effect sounding story that I had to explore in full. It’s a basic tap adventure but requires back and forth time-hops to aid the jumpsuit-wearing hero to save the entire future. The developers crafted a smooth story that utilized logical puzzle-solving and creative thinking. The script was excellent and brought the 2D world to life, which is why I was crushed after finishing part one before part two existed. This one I paid full price for, mostly because after driving off into an uncertain sunset I had to have closure. It’s worth a paced play through, and I promise it doesn’t have any of those saw-it-coming time travel story reveals.
 
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HONOURABLE MENTIONS


 
I download and discard more apps than Hungry Jack’s free Wi-Fi can handle, so I have a few more honourable mentions. An iPhone only game I felt compelled to spend too much on a while ago was Year Walk. It’s a 2D journey based on a folk tale that I’ve always found spooky, but the game was so hit and miss. It had tonnes of style and atmosphere, but it was a struggle to get it working and required a $5 payment to finish the last 15-20% of the game without telling you it was almost over. It could have been a brilliant gothic adventure but needed fine tuning before I’d say fork out for it again. The next mention is The Room Two, the sequel to the well-known The Room. After glitches made the first game disappear from my phone almost immediately, the follow-up is brilliant. It’s clever, gorgeous, eerie and satisfying to complete. It only gets an honourable mention though, because it’s far too short and left what was shaping up to be a deeper story without any real ending.

The final entry on the list is one of the most basic apps I’ve played, with no real discernable story and a fine luck/skill balance; Pixel Dungeon. It’s deceptively easy, with a pixelated hero setting forth from a randomly generated dungeon maze, with only the items and powers you find to help you. It’s frustrating, often Nintendo-hard and utterly unforgiving. Yes, it’s loads of fun, a lot depends on making blind choices but tell me if you’re not trying to beat your last level an hour later. So, these are just some small reminders that apps are not all money-grabbing, knock offs of other apps that offer nothing substantial to a gamer. And if you enjoy a game then encourage the good developers by buying it, and hopefully the games worth playing will keep forcing their way through the brightly-coloured masses of crud.

Bernadette Russell
Bernadette is living her childhood dream as a freelance writer in Geraldton, WA. With a life-long console habit and a self-imposed MMO ban, she fantasizes about the day when all she'll have to do is game and write. Oh, and also about meeting Link. HYAH!
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