Local Games for Your Mobile Devices

Lowlander II and Flipping Legend keep your phones busy

The Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles, the showcase for the biggest and most expensive wares the video game industry has to offer, has come and gone. While fans were transfixed by visions of shiny new experiences set to grace their monitors, two noteworthy mobile games from local developers were released onto digital stores.

Lowlander II: Lowerlander

Flat Black Films
Available on iOS and Android

Bob Sabiston is best known for developing the rotoscoping animation techniques seen in films such as Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly, but he does occasionally create games, computer graphics, and other types of programs. His newest project, Lowlander II: Lowerlander, contains none of the visual flair and cutting-edge animation that Sabiston is associated with. In fact, the game contains very little animation.

Like its predecessor, Lowlander II is a deliberate throwback to the computer role-playing games of the Eighties, most directly riffing on the visuals and tone of the all-time classic Ultima series. You control a little player character drawn in a countable number of pixels, exploring an overworld, towns, and dungeons rendered in eight glorious colors. Talk to non-player characters to accept quests, buy armor, engage in turn-based combat with monsters – you know the drill.

The simple mechanics lend themselves well to the mobile format. In a trope carried over from Ultima, monsters and NPCs don’t move until the player character moves (probably due to hardware limitations back in the day), so you don’t have to worry too much about moving your character around quickly and precisely using the touchscreen arrow controls. Frequent autosaves and cloud save backups ensure no progress is lost in an oft-interrupted phone-gaming session.

Lowerlander leans hard into its old-school RPG influences despite some anachronistic touches like villagers quoting rap lyrics, and as such, is not for everyone. But if you’re keen to have a little window to the past you carry in your pocket, give it a spin.

Flipping Legend

Hiding Spot Games
Available on iOS and Android
Free, with optional in-app purchases

From Matt Meyer, one of the developers behind the award-winning Ephemerid comes Flipping Legend, a less lush, but still compelling experience. To put it into two words, Meyer’s latest is “action checkers” – tapping the left or right sides of the screen moves a blocky 3-D protagonist diagonally on a grid of tiles populated by monsters, coins, traps, and power-ups. A meter at the top of the screen continuously drains over time, and the only way to refill it is to defeat enemies by bumping into them. If the meter empties out completely or if you succumb to a trap, it’s game over.

At first, everything seems too simple to hold much interest, but as new traps, enemies, and other elements are introduced, the push and pull between speed and avoiding danger becomes increasingly treacherous, demanding a surprising amount of concentration and thinking ahead on the part of the player.

Coins and experience points gained from killing enemies can be spent on new characters, such as a nimble ninja or a projectile-shooting archer, as well as character upgrades. The pace at which new stuff can be unlocked slows down considerably after just a handful of runs, making experiencing all that the game has to offer a long journey … unless you fork over actual American dollars to purchase treasure chests from the in-game store. A game developer’s got to eat, after all!

Missing out on super moves and character skins and the like is trivial in the end, since the real draw of Flipping Legend is just how great the game can feel once you get a good rhythm going. Understanding an area’s patterns well enough to be able to quickly plan the optimal path as stage elements appear at the top of the screen feels fantastic and strangely badass. Meyer has managed to coax something pretty special out of a few simple mechanics. Just make sure you keep track of your playtime, or else you’ll end up with a hot phone in desperate need of a recharge.

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