Commute Week: If you’re tired of scrolling through your bleak Facebook feed or your even bleaker Twitter roll, Adam Goodall has a few ideas to distract you from the mindless grind that is your commute.
Look, I know. It’s hard to play Pokémon Go on public transport. You’re sitting on your Link bus going 50 kilometres an hour or on your train going however fast a train goes and you bring up the app to catch ‘em all but before you know it you’ve missed three Pokéstops, a Growlithe and a Cubone and the app says that there’s a Relicanth nearby but you can’t go after it because your stop is ten minutes away and it sucks! I get that.
And you don’t want to have to go back to Candy Crush Saga or Bejeweled or Clash of Clans because it’s insubstantial and you feel bad for wasting 20 minutes of every morning on it and you also spent money on it for the first time the other day, just to replenish your lives because you were so sure you knew how to beat this level, and you did! But you automatically regretted handing over that five dollars when you could’ve waited half an hour, I mean the game gives you a push notification when you’ve got lives again.
But that’s okay. There are better ways to fill your half-hour carpool into the city. There are better, less stressful things to play. Things that don’t suck up your mobile data and shut you off after you exhaust all your action points.
Developed by Wellington studio Dinosaur Polo Club, Mini Metro asks you to build an efficient, responsive subway network in your choice of real-world cities – and then asks you to keep that subway efficient and responsive as the network becomes more and more complicated. Mini Metro slowly heaps the pressure on, with more and more stations popping up on the map and the procedural score rising with them. The escalating bloops and synth drones push you to tear down, rebuild and hope against hope that the diamond-shaped station out in Devonport will hold out until you get a new tunnel. But if you didn’t, hey! You built a subway network in Auckland! And it worked for 69 days! That’s more than the last National government even tried to manage.
Time per game: One multi-zone bus trip, until you get very good at it. Then you may want to pick up…
Much like Mini Metro lets you build a hypothetical Auckland subway system while lamenting how Auckland’s actual public transport network has been systematically neglected by successive governments, Justin Smith’s Freeways lets you build wish-fulfilment highway networks from the back seat of your carpool while you’re stuck in traffic on the Southern motorway. You’re given a screen with a series of motorway entrances and exits on the sides. It’s your job to connect the lanes up by drawing the motorways with your finger. Its clumsiness is your clumsiness; most of the fun comes from finger-painting yourself into corners and trying to finger-paint yourself out, drawing roads that get more convoluted and obviously impractical with every new on-ramp and off-ramp.
Time per game: Depending on how much brain power you put into it, you can do two or three puzzles while waiting for the bus.
Don’t fancy the train or the bus? How about a jog? Santa Ragione’s endless runner is an undersung mobile gem. More Mirror’s Edge than Temple Run, FOTONICA cues up a glitchy electronic beat and drops you on a wireframe line of platforms that stretches off into the horizon, each one hovering in endless black. You press your finger to your phone screen to run, release your finger to release the runner into the sky as though gravity has disappeared, and bring your finger back down on the screen to have gravity pull the runner right back to the track. It’s breathlessly fast; the bouncing first-person camera and the blue-and-grey streaks that rip past you communicate your sheer speed and momentum in a beautiful and exciting way.
Time per game: One morning train ride, depending on how far down the line you are.
You’ll probably get the most out of Inkle’s 80 Days if you’re familiar with Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days or the steampunk subculture, given that 80 Days is a thorough and unsentimental critique of both Verne’s globetrotting colonialist Phileas Fogg and of the Victorian-era fetishism of the steampunk aesthetic. But even if you’re not familiar with either, 80 Days is still a rollicking adventure story in which you play Passepartout, Fogg’s put-upon manservant, as the duo race to win a wager by circumnavigating the world in eighty days. An interactive novella in which you decide where to go and who to see, 80 Days offers up grand and dramatic adventures across land, air and sea, all from the discomfort of (let’s say) Dunedin’s shambolic bus service.
Time per game: You can finish one story in two days worth of train trips.
REIGNS: HER MAJESTY
Drawing on everyone’s instant familiarity with the mechanics of Tinder, you play a queen who’s trying to advance their own agenda at court in this swipe-left swipe-right management game. With the binary choices available – Do I let my army build this tower or do I refuse them? Do I out this friendly witch or keep her secret quiet? Do I dress modestly or give a middle finger to the bishop? – you ultimately decide how your queen lives or dies (because they will die, horribly, before you’re reincarnated as a new queen by the folk goddess All-Mother). Your queen must look strong and independent, but not too strong or independent; she must be prudent, but also lavish; she must be on-side with both the church and her subjects, but neither can love her too much. Woven through all that is an eerie gothic fantasy-horror story, reminiscent of The Witch, about your queens navigating the sexism, prudishness and fickle will of the medieval patriarchy.
Time per game: You can get a few queens murdered on a one-zone bus trip.
Six walls; a screen shaped like a hexagon. A smaller hexagon in the middle, with one tiny triangle on its edge. Move your triangle around the edge of the hexagon, making sure it doesn’t hit any of the thick, heavy lines that are pulsing, cascading down these walls. It’s fast and gets faster, it’s hard and gets harder, it’s got a pounding electronic panic-attack of a score. It’s just the best mobile game ever made.
Time per game: Unless you’re an absolute legend with Olympic-level reflexes, you can manage a couple of runs on the escalator out of Britomart Station.
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