XCOM Enemy Within on an NVIDIA Shield

It's Saturday, which means it's time to warm up your nearest Android device for some great new Google Play Store apps and games. We're taking a look at a few sequels that were released this week and trying to figure out if the changes added enough to keep them exciting, while still retaining the original's appeal. Candy Crush Soda Saga, TwoDots, and XCOM: Enemy Within all have a little something different to offer.

We're still playing around with our weekly app round-up format, so please do leave some feedback and let us know what you think and what you'd like to see.

TwoDots made the leap to Android, but there's still some lasting appeal of its predecessor. Part of the charm of the first game was how simple it was, and the sequel tacked on all sorts of stuff like a path of progressively more difficult puzzles, new dot types with special properties, and cutesy characters playing out some kind of storyline. For most people, those things are all well and good, but a game doesn't need all of that to be well-done.

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For me, less is more when it comes to mobile games. You're playing for short bursts, so the more that's in the way, the less accessible the fun. It's easy to see that in starkly abstract games like the original Dots and Blek, but even titles with fancier graphics like Dumb Ways to Die, Fruit Ninja, and Major Mayhem hinge on super-simple interactions. The first Dots really nailed that idea, but for other players it was surely too pared-down and needed a little more meat on the bones.

The recent sequel to the most dreaded mobile game franchise of all time is tacking on extra features too. Candy Crush Soda Saga brings more of the same to the table: match-3 mechanics, freemium power-ups, and indentured servitude to its bizarre global appeal. Now there's a soda level which rises in the background of each stage after matching up certain candy types. This is a sensible addition for the game type, and I suspect this new Candy Crush will do much better than King's other original properties, like the god-awful Papa Pear Saga.

I can only assume that there is a cadre of labcoated psychoanalysts in a subterranean complex beneath King's gold-plated development studio in Sweden, extracting the secrets of the human mind only to twist them for microtransactional gain. Sure, Bejeweled is over ten years old, but somewhere between smart marketing, the right kind of visual flair, deep social hooks, and a finely balanced challenge curve with perfectly timed purchase cues, Candy Crush Saga has taken an established formula to extreme commercial success. Those aren't particularly palatable reasons for Candy Crush Saga to be as popular as it is, especially when you see games like Puzzle Quest and Puzzle Craft are doing some really interesting things with the match-3 genre. Maybe I haven't allowed myself to slip into the tormented hellscape of Candy Crush fandom enough to find any seriously redeeming qualities in the game, but those that have will find no respite from its shackles in the latest iteration.

XCOM: Enemy Within manages to build on an established formula without suffering feature bloat. New elements like cybernetics and genetic enhancement slide into the existing structure of long-term research seamlessly, while adding more of what people already loved about the original: more aliens, more guns, and more mission types. Of course, Enemy Within has had the luxury of proving itself on other platforms previously. Also, the exceptionally premium pricetag on both it and Enemy Unknown means XCOM can focus on good gameplay rather than being anchored to the freemium sensibilities that frame TwoDots and Candy Crush Soda Saga. For example, XCOM is tailored for longer play sessions, which aren't common on tablets or smartphones. That's a bottleneck for widespread adoption, but so long as there's a hardcore niche to support the game, it'll do just fine.

As a developer, one imagines it's hard to decide "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" when you need to keep releasing new products to stay in business. Sequels in general face an uphill battle, but it's possible to stay fresh without being gimmicky about additions, and still leveraging a well-established name. All three of these games manage to do that in their own way, regardless of what kind of gamer you are.

That's it for this week. Here's some other stuff you should download.

  • The Last Door: Collector's Edition - Free, $2.99 for extra chapters - Download now