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While there is no shortage of puzzle and arcade games on the Android platform, it can be easy to get drawn into the mainstream hits like Angry Birds and Cut The Rope. The first time I stumbled onto a "darker" game, I had downloaded World Of Goo as part of a Humble Bundle, and was instantly mesmerized by its graphics and sounds. There was something hauntingly beautiful about it, and I ended up on the Play Store looking at the "Similar Apps" and "Users also installed" sections. Fast forward hours of going down that rabbit hole, jumping from one listing to another, I emerged with a collection of games that seemed to fit into that same category of atmospheric puzzles and adventures. Following are fifteen of them, though I am sure there are many more to be discovered and enjoyed.
World Of Goo
The game that started it all for me is a puzzler where the everyday icky becomes endearing. Dark goo balls bounce around the screen, waiting for you to drag and join them into complex structures. As you build your goo monument, the additional balls start gliding along the connecting lines. Your goal is to reach a pipe that will suck those unused balls.
The game would be simple if the only difficulty was reaching the pipe with a minimum number of goos. As you progress, you have friendly green goo balls that are reusable but don't count toward your total, and red balls that inflate into balloons. You also get windmills that divert your structure, various elements that destroy the balls, and obstacles you have to surpass.
World of Goo is innocent yet twisted, and that balance is attained with art and mastery. It's a testament to the game's graphics and soundtrack that you often find yourself transfixed and focused in almost equal amounts while playing it.
Android Police review: Badland Review: More Than A Pretty Face
In layman's terms, Badland is a more original and enjoyable Flappy Bird. The game's mechanics are similar: it's a side-scroller adventure where you have to tap to fly a creature through obstacles in a dark forest. However, unlike Flappy Bird, Badland is a lot more intricate than a series of pipes with openings at varying heights.
Your creature can tumble and fly again, push an obstacle by hitting it, multiply to give you more options for advancing, grow to apply its weight to structures, or shrink to fit through various sized conduits. On the other hand, the forest is merciless. Spikes are out to kill your creature, rocks fall from the sky, branches block your way, and most difficult of all is the fact that the scene moves at a specific speed. Stand still for a second, and it catches up with you, forcing you to start over from the last checkpoint.
Badland is unforgiving at times, challenging but manageable at others. But it remains enjoyable through this rise and fall of difficulties, never crossing the threshold into the frustrating territory of Flappy Bird. You can play this one without fear of addiction or an impulse to throw your poor phone across the room.
Grey background, black graphics, a labyrinth. It's amazing what Miseria achieves with such simple basics. Lurk, the hero, has been torn apart from his love and imprisoned by an ogre, Grunzel. He has to find and fight his way through her many mazes and traps, avoid being eaten by her monsters, killed by her saws, or thrown out into her claws. The inevitability of those scenarios seems to be the driving force behind the game's soundtrack, as it plunges you into its mystic and twisted world.
Miseria uses incredibly easy controls: a tap on the right side of the screen tilts the maze clockwise, on the left, counter-clockwise. Gravity controls Lurk, and he will fall until there's ground beneath him, or slide until he hits an obstacle.
The game starts easy, with a few turns of the maze required to get Lurk to the end point. Level by level, the difficulty rises, with traps, portals, and breakable walls. Accurate timing of every flip of the maze becomes a requirement, not a commodity, and that is if you just want to finish the level. If you plan on getting three stars, you will have to master a balance of haste and precision to reach your target at breakneck speeds.
Nightmares are the main theme of Past Memories, with a heroine trying to escape from various monsters. As she runs, the game's only control is a tap that lets the character jump above obstacles, traps, or enemies. Her salvation is in reaching the end of the level, where the monsters disappear and she is engulfed in a mystic cloud.
The sinister side of Past Memories is very inventive. Sharks glide across the floor, octopuses and dinosaur-like birds fly after you, hands reach out of television sets to grab you, a clock slows you down, monsters throw teeth at you, and a blue potion changes the world's color between black and white. It's weirdly uncanny to the point where you smile while playing, without even noticing.
Although there is a cartoon-like feel to the nightmare's scene, Past Memories never feels juvenile. Its world is eerie and oddly beautiful, captivating with its many creatures. The game's soundtrack is as mystic as those graphics, fluid like the heroine's jumps, flowing effortlessly like her hair.
Naught 2 should come with a glowing warning: "Not for the faint of heart. Side effects include dizziness and high blood pressure." And that wouldn't even begin to describe the game's difficulty and mind-bending gymnastics.
Through his dark silhouette world, Naught runs, only directed by gravity. You use the accelerometer or on-screen controls to spin the world, turning it around to get Naught to go where you want him to. Naught is fast, very much so, and unstoppable. As you progress through the levels, you start doubting whether finishing the game is feasible with one set of human eyes and hands.
I often found myself twisting my tablet in all directions while using the accelerometer control, losing track of where Naught was and what I was supposed to do next, only to find him jumping toward a bunch of spikes and getting killed. If Badland was unforgiving at times, Naught 2 is close to impossible most times, with a playful soundtrack that often teases you into defeat and snickers along to your next try. But Naught 2's saving grace is that you do try again, if only because of the nagging voice in the back of your mind telling you that if there is a next level, then the current one must be solvable. Somehow.
Not only is Contre Jour set in a silhouette world where everything is perceived against the light, it is also innovative in its gameplay. Instead of controlling Petit, the game's character, you have to manipulate his environment, and that is what sets him in motion and guides him through each level.
Horizontal lands are grown to create hills that Petit rolls on or stops against, slingshots and tentacles reach out to swing him across, portals grab and throw him around. Contre Jour's puzzle difficulty rises through each of its 100 levels, often forcing you to stop and think before you start playing.
With a playful melody and stunning landscapes, Contre Jour takes you on a bewildering journey where you test your solving skills without ever being overwhelmed by the physics behind the game. However, should you take a minute to think about it, you will understand the intricate and advanced equations that control every element on the screen. It takes skilful art, visually and musically, to make the player forget about them, and Contre Jour wins that dare.
I had one problem with Firefly: I couldn't put the game down to type this description. I started a new round, just to get a feel for the game again before writing about it, and I was instantly captivated by that tiny shiny object.
With one finger, you move the firefly through the labyrinth to reach the exit while avoiding multiple enemies and obstacles. Spikes rise from the ground or drop from the ceiling, PacMan-like monsters try to eat you, flowers block your way, portals transport you from one area to another, and, sometimes, the scene moves so you have to be fast in order to finish the level in time.
Firefly is accompanied by old-school arcade sounds, reminiscent of 8-bit side-scrollers. While that may seem a bit odd considering the game's darker graphics nature, the end result is an enjoyable mix that makes you tap your feet along with Firefly's progress.
Your round fur ball, Fluff, is lost on planet VX7. In each level, you have to guide him inside the cave to the exit by simply flipping the world's gravity upside down. Tap on the screen, and Fluff will start "falling" upward, tap again, and he goes down. You use the various inclined barriers to steer him in a specific direction.
That simplicity is behind the appeal of Gravity Cave. The mechanics are easy to understand, albeit a bit difficult to master. As you progress, you will discover how you can use Fluff's acceleration while sliding down to throw him over an obstacle without losing your momentum.
Gravity Cave's concept is a mix of Miseria and Naught 2, with mazes and gravity thrown in together to create a challenging yet manageable game. Unfortunately, it only has 12 levels, but it is still worth downloading for a short and fun gaming session.
More cultural journey than an actual game, Type:Rider is a historical discovery of the beauty of the written word, starting with hieroglyphs in Egypt, and ending with the modern computer's serif and sans-serif fonts.
You control two black — sometimes white — dots, as they roll, jump, and bounce across letters against a gorgeous backdrop of era-inspired art. The dreamy feel of the music and animations plunges you into a hazy state of surrender, then the game nudges you back with challenging levels where you have to use your control skills to keep your two dots alive.
As you progress, you unlock pages in a typography book by grabbing asterisks from each level. More than a simple collectible bonus, this book is a detailed and riveting tale of each stage in the chronicle of written and typed letters. Type:Rider is a must-have experience for graphic artists, writers, and anyone interested in the origin of Helvetica, Garamond, Comic Sans, and all those fonts we now take for granted.
When I found out about Blindscape, I was intrigued and excited. This game promised to be an auditory experience, with nothing but a black screen and a narrated story mixed with sound effects.
Blindscape is engrossing, and the narrator's voice is both endearing and captivating. Although there is very little to do, in terms of gameplay, you are immediately drawn into his world. You'll want to plug in your earphones, turn off the lights, and completely immerse yourself in darkness. Your contribution to the plot is only required a few times to open doors, walk in certain directions, or lift objects.
I won't spoil the story for you, because that is Blindscape's main appeal, but I will say that it ends too quickly. When those last notes play, you will wish for more exploration and more auditory bliss.
Should you find yourself riveted by this style of games, you can also try the five options listed below:
- Freeze!: reminiscent of Miseria, Freeze! is a puzzle labyrinth game where you tilt the maze to advance the hero, but can also freeze time to avoid dangers.
- Last Fish: a monochromatic adventure where you control a fish, feed it, grow, and avoid goo.
- Furfur and Nublo: instead of controlling one character, Furfur and Nublo puts you in charge of both protagonists. You switch between them, and try to guide Furfur to the end of every puzzle.
- Follow the light: a platformer where darkness isn't just a design style, but an intricate part of the plot. Jump and slide to follow the light and avoid darkness.
- Dark Lands: a silhouette adventure where you run, fight enemies, develop your hero, and avoid traps.
While this is by no means an exhaustive list of the darker and more atmospheric games available on Android, it's a good place to start discovering the genre. Crank up the volume, immerse yourself, and let me know if there are any other alternatives that I haven't yet discovered.