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What I'm Playing: On magic, mechanics, and musical hotel management

Hotels with a beat, mafiosos to beat, and wizards who can't help beating each other.

The Other Brothers (iOS; $0.99)

The Other Brothers is a tongue-in-cheek homage to many of the platformers of yesteryear. The eponymous brothers (one short and squat, the other tall and lanky) are auto mechanics who must rescue the requisite distressed damsel from the mob, fighting through hordes of mafia goons, belligerent animals, ninjas, the occasional robotic menace...

I haven't sunk my teeth too deeply yet as it was only released today, but I must admit I'm smitten. The soundtrack is fun and lively, and the six massive levels are full of dangers to avoid and secret paths to explore.  The controls felt a bit odd, at first; there's a directional pad, but you really only need to swipe the direction you'd like to send your mechanic. Attack enemies by jumping on them with the A button (double tap it to double jump), and throw wrenches you find in toolboxes with the B button. Standard stuff, really.

Ditto for the rest of the game's mechanics: collectable pigeons scattered around the levels serve as your health, using a similar mechanic to Sonic the Hedgehog's golden rings--take damage and they'll flutter away and leave you defenseless, but you can attempt to grab them before they escape.  Collect cans of oil (mechanics can never have enough oil) for points, and search the non-linear levels for three golden pigeons to boost your high score.

The game is currently only available on iOS, but developer 3D Attack has plans to bring it to the upcoming Ouya console, Mac and PC. If you own an iOS device, it's definitely worth a buck--check it out.

Bad Hotel (iOS; $0.99)

I'm a little late to the party here, but I saw Lucky Frame's Bad Hotel at last week's Game Developer's Conference and its quite good. It's ostensibly a tower defense game: you've got to build a large, profitable hotel while keeping ne'er-do-wells at bay. You'll start with a single defenseless tower--the goal is to keep it safe from waves of enemies by placing offensive and defensive hotel rooms around it. You'll get points for keeping your rooms intact, netting a lot of profit, and building impressively tall structures in the face of all those bad guys.

But hey, it's also a rhythm game! Or a music creation game, rather: the rooms you place double as sound generators, with tones flowing from the base of your structures and varying depending on room-type and placement. The game-within-a-game can get a bit distracting, but in the best way: I've lost count of the number of levels I've botched because I was trying to maintain a pleasing melody while waves of belligerent storm clouds and bomb-toting attack birds raged around me.  Room selection is limited at the start; a tutorial eases you in to the game by limiting the variety of hotel rooms you'll have at your disposal, but you'll unlock new, stronger (and more expensive) rooms as you complete levels throughout the game's five worlds.

And what fabulous worlds they are: the game's art deco style is charming and colorful, belying an occasionally merciless difficulty curve that encourages quick thinking and a bit of strategery, particularly for the occasional boss fight.  Play this one with headphones to get the most of the on-the-fly music generation, and you won't be disappointed.

Magicka: Wizards of the Square Tablet (iOS, Android; $1.99)

Remember Magicka? Released back in 2011 for Windows, teams of up to four wizards first took on a sorcerer's evil minions through a hilarious campaign bolstered by an intuitive and chaotic combat system. Wizards of the Square Tablet is a brilliant return to form, in spite of the sacrifices made to fit a finger-friendly format.

Magicka's gameplay has been simplified, but mostly intact: you play as a wizard, taking on the forces of evil with up to three friends or strangers online--the game offers cross-platform play across Android and iOS devices. There is no "mana" to charge your spells, and not much in the way of equipment to juggle. Tap on up to four of the game's seven elements to create spells with distinct effects. Here are some examples: select the fire and shield elements and tap yourself to defend against fire attacks, or tap the ground to create a wall a flame to thwart enemies. You can heal yourself by tapping the Life element a few times and then tapping your character, or shoot a beam of healing life energy by tapping anywhere on the screen--useful for healing friends, or attacking the undead.

The rabbit hole gets deeper: use the water element to soak enemies, and then follow up with a blast of ice to freeze them into place. Or follow up with a lightning bolt, only to realize there was a bit of splash back when you cast water so now you've gone and electrocuted yourself, or your friends. Enemies flock onto the side-scrolling stages in waves but are nonetheless relentless, and you'll quickly find yourself overwhelmed as you juggle protecting yourself from enemy spells, constructing and casting spells to exploit weakness, and generally trying to keep yourself and your allies alive.

In short, it's all rather fun. Give it a shot, and get some friends (or enemies) to tag along.

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