We continue our list of the best games for Mac. The next category is:
Virtual Programming is best known for bringing a long list of PC games over on to the Mac, including A-list titles such as Bioshock: Infinite, and the popular Dirt series of racing games. They've recently started to branch out with some original titles of their own, and while Atom Splitter is a fairly modest start it still manages to provide some enjoyably retro arcade action.
The game puts you inside a tiny (very, very tiny) ship that has to blast its way past a series of atomic particles. You start off with a simple particle such as Hydrogen - with just one electron and one proton - and work up to more complex elements like Lithium or Nitrogen, which are packed with additional neutrons and quarks that all have to be zapped in order to clear the screen before your atomic clock counts down to zero.
Initially, your ship is only equipped with a basic laser, and limited shields that can protect you from collisions, but as the game progresses you can unlock more powerful weapons to help you out. There's a Sentry ship that provides faster firing rates, and an Attractor weapon that sucks in and destroys nearby Quarks.
It's a simple enough idea, but it's good mindless fun, and the pace keeps increasing until you need really fast thumbs to survive the sub-atomic bombardment. It's cheap too, costing only £3.99 for the Mac version (and £1.99 on iPhone and iPad), and the 2D graphics should run well even on older Mac models. Cliff Joseph
Electronics Arts has had the city-building genre pretty much sewn up for years, with the popular SimCity games going back decades. However, Finnish outfit Colossal Order, has managed to carve its own niche in this popular genre with Cities: Skylines.
Like its Sim rival, Cities: Skylines starts you off with a blank slate, allowing you to choose various plots of land, each with differing resources and geographical features, such as rivers, lakes and forests. Then you create some simple roads to connect you to the outside world and wait for people to come flocking to your little homestead. As people arrive you'll need to start 'zoning' the town, allocating areas for housing and businesses, and also providing essential services such as water and power.
Admittedly, the format of the game isn't drastically different to that of SimCity, but Cities: Skylines puts a lot of detail into systems such as transport as you're building things up. Larger roads can cause pollution, and lower property values, so you have to think carefully about where you build them. You can even put roads underground to avoid spoiling an area of natural beauty - although you'll need to make sure your underground roads don't collide with metro trains down there as well.
Our only real complaint is that the game could use a more thorough tutorial to help complete beginners. But if you're already a fan of city-sim games then you'll find that the sheer detail and control provided by Cities: Skylines will provide a real challenge. There are also some good expansion packs available, such as the After Dark pack that lets you develop your town's night-life, and the recent Natural Disasters, which will see how you manage to cope when the town is hit by a tidal wave or even a meteor strike from the sky. The game's system requirements are pretty high, though, so check before you buy. Cliff Joseph
Website: Dear Esther
Where to buy: Steam
System requirements: Mac OS X 10.6.7 or higher; Intel Core Duo processor (2GHz or better); 2GB RAM; 2GB storage space; ATI Radeon 2400 or higher/nVidia 8600M or higher/Intel HD Graphics 3000 video card
Dear Esther is a game unlike any you've played before. It offers beautiful graphics and glitch-free gameplay, although the word "gameplay" doesn't seem quite right.
There are no weapons in Dear Esther. No crowbar or shotgun. The first-person environment you explore feels like open terrain with barren moorland and rocky cliff tops. It's a billion miles away from the test chambers of Portal. While other games reward the completion of puzzles or the destruction of zombie hordes, Dear Esther unravels in its own sweet time. Exploration brings its own reward.
This is a collaborative work of art; a blueprint for future creators of interactive fiction.
Gone Home is a casual game in almost every sense of the word. There are no puzzles to solve, there are no enemies to fight - you simply explore, and experience. (The game even bills itself as an "interactive exploration simulator".) However, the core themes at the heart of this game are anything but casual, for Gone Home tells the greatest video-game love story we have ever found.
It is 1995. After a year abroad, you arrive home, expecting a family welcome, but the house is empty. Where did everyone go? What happened to everyone? This mystery slowly unravels as you navigate your way throughout the house. The themes at play here - uncertainty, fear, romance - can be found in many games, but such things feel often feel tacked on or not wholly believable. In Gone Home they come off as organic and relatable.
The excellent writing is engaging, but so is the atmosphere of the house. It just begs to be explored, and it is a joy to do so. Since you are a family member, it doesn't seem odd or creepy to paw through drawers, shelves and books. Everything can be picked up and examined at your own pace.
While it is a tad pricey for the short length, the superb atmosphere and story at play here make it hard not to recommend. Children are likely to find the game boring, but anyone who has gone through growing up, or has fallen in love before, will find a thoroughly engaging title to play. Jon Carr
Not surprisingly, the world-conquering success of Minecraft has spawned a number of imitators. The latest addition to the voxel-based world-building genre is The Kindred, which combines Minecraft's do-it-yourself sandbox approach with elements from games such as SimCity, where you have to develop a little civilisation and guide its people to happiness and prosperity.
Your little people are known as The Kin, and their society starts at the basic hunter-gatherer stage, raising animals and crops for food, and creating simple homes and buildings to protect them from the elements. It's your task to guide their civilization through a kind of industrial revolution by creating new types of buildings, such as windmills and turbines, or go mining for minerals and other resources.
Some people will like having more story-focused elements within the world, rather than just being left with a blank digital canvas, and the developers have got plenty of additional features that they're planning to introduce in coming months. These will include changing seasons and climate, as well as coal and other forms of power that may have both good and bad effects on your digital environment. You can even develop medicines to combat seasonal ailments and illnesses. The game is currently just focused on its single-player mode, but the developers are also planning a multiplayer option so that you can build your world with friends.
Our only complaint is that, at £10.99, The Kindred is a bit pricey compared to other voxel games - especially as it's still very much a work in progress - and that might put off the younger players who are clearly the game's target audience. Cliff Joseph
Lego Jurassic World
A Lego game based on Jurassic World was pretty inevitable, given the unending stream of Lego movie adaptations in recent years. And, to be honest, the format will seem very familiar to anyone that has played any of those other games, consisting mainly of running around and solving puzzles and switching from one character to another as you explore the various areas within Jurassic Park.
The game recreates scenes from all four dino-movies, going right back to the original Jurassic Park. Many people will remember the 'raptor raid' scene from Jurassic Park, and that scene works well here as your little Lego characters sneak around and try to hide from the raptors that have invaded the science lab on Isla Nublar.
Unfortunately, the later films weren't anywhere near as good, so being able to play some of the uninteresting characters from those films doesn't seem like much of a reward as you try to progress through the game. But, as with the new Jurassic World film, it's actually the dinosaurs that deliver the goods, and this latest Lego game adds a new twist by allowing you to play as a dinosaur as well. In fact, it's a shame that the dinosaur scenes are relatively limited, as stomping around and crushing the scenery is one of the best parts of the game. There are also plenty of good visual gags to keep the fun going, as well as some tricky puzzles to get you thinking as well. Cliff Joseph
Lego Minifigures Online
The Lego games released in recent years have primarily been single-player games that were based on popular films like Star Wars or Lord Of The Rings. However, Lego Minifigures Online is the first massively multiplayer online game from Lego, and it's based on the company's own range of Minifigures toys, rather than any cinematic superheroes.
The game is spread across a number of 'worlds' that follow the adventures of the various Minifigures toys. These include the futuristic Space World, sea-faring Pirate World, and the dungeons-and-dragons Medieval World. You start with a choice of just three characters - the Roman Commander, Bumblebee Girl, and the Plumber - but you can unlock additional Minifigures characters by exploring each world and completing tasks and quests that you find along the way.
To be honest, some of the quests are a bit repetitive, but that's the case with many other MMO games as well, and the different characters and worlds that you can explore should be interesting enough to keep younger players amused on a rainy Sunday afternoon. And, most importantly, the game is monitored by Lego to ensure a safe and private environment for kids.
The game costs £24.99, but there's no monthly subscription fee required, as is the case with MMO games like World Of Warcraft. The sting in the tail is that you can short-cut some of the quests by buying the Minifigures toys, which include a code to unlock the toy character within the game. There's also an iOS version of the game available for £3.99. The iOS version only includes one world at first, with additional worlds available as in-app purchases for £2.29 each.
Lego Star Wars Saga
Company: Feral Interactive
Where to buy: Mac App Store, Origin (on sale)
Requirements: Mac OS X 10.5.8; 1.5GHz Intel processor; graphics card with 128MB VRAM
Price: £13.99 (on sale at Origin at time of writing for £6.99)
No home should be without at least one Lego game, and if you pick up the Saga version you get the six games based on the Star Wars films for just £14.99.
The sheer fun of playing with the Lego versions of Luke, Han, Yoda and Darth Vader will appeal to both adults and children. The six games in this pack offer a variety of different scenarios, including space battles, lightsaber duels, and the famous battle on the ice planet of Hoth. If you're a Star Wars fan, Feral has also released a new Lego game based on the Clone Wars cartoon series, and there are other Lego games based on the Batman, Harry Potter and Indiana Jones films as well.
Should this be in the casual section? Possibly not, since most people's definition of casual gaming involves piecemeal play sessions you fit in where convenient. Minecraft, if it gets its hooks into you, will consume your free time to the point where your job is the casual game, squeezed in between marathon Minecraft slogs.
Those in the know call Minecraft a "sandbox" game, part of an emerging class of entertainments that offer users a set of tools and few rules. After that, it's up to you how you play. You can build in this world by collecting materials and assembling blocks, but whether you want to use your building skills to simply create, or to defend yourself from zombies, is up to you.
Minecraft may appear primitive compared to the current generation of first-person shooters, but the gameplay is gloriously cutting edge. You could happily play it forever. And might.
Company: Hemisphere Games
Where to buy: Mac App Store
System Requirements: Mac with OS X 10.4.1 or later
Osmos is a puzzle/action game by Hemisphere Games that is popular on the iPad, although it first appeared on the Mac and PC. You play the part of a lowly Mote, which looks like a single-celled organism. The goal is to become larger than all the other Motes on screen.
Accomplishing this is simple - but not easy. When you collide with another Mote that is smaller than you, you absorb them and become that much larger in mass. Colliding with larger Motes on the other hand has the opposite effect and you quickly get swallowed up by them.
Plants vs Zombies
Tower defence classic Plants vs Zombies puts you in the shoes of a home owner with a zombie problem. The undead want to invade your back garden and get to your delicious brains. Your best defence is to plant peas, mushrooms, squash and other deadly flora and fight back.
The beautiful cartoon artwork is on the right side of zany and the zombies are silly, distinctive enemies that vary in character and battle skills. It's also, at times, very funny indeed.
This is fun for all ages, but don't let the cartoonish art or light-hearted atmosphere throw you off; this is one of the cleverest and most original strategy games out there.
Read our full Plants vs Zombies review
The onslaught of the old-school, side-scrolling games continues with the release of RunGunJumpGun. The game has a nominal storyline about collecting life-saving 'atomiks' from three evil warlords, but that's little more than an excuse to throw you into a series of high-speed scrolling screens that require trigger reflexes in order to avoid the various traps and obstacles that lie before you.
The name of the game encapsulates its simple-yet-hard approach, as you only have two buttons that control your movements and weapons. You're constantly running forward (left-to-right across the screen), and pressing the Left-Shift button fires your gun in front of you, while the Right-Shift button points your gun down at the ground in order to propel you up into the air so that you can jump over obstacles. You can't get any simpler than that, but the sheer pace of the game is so relentless that your fingers will be worn to a frazzle by the time you've sped through the first few levels.
Fortunately, the game understands that too much frustration will simply scare people away, so it's quite forgiving when you die. There's a series of red flags dotted throughout each level that act as save-game points. This means that instead of having to go right back to the start of each level when you die, you only go back to the most recent flag and can get right back to tackling that one obstacle that you need to get past. That helps to reduce your frustration levels a bit – but make no mistake, RunGunJumpGun is a real challenge, and will mainly appeal to serious arcade addicts rather than casual gamers.
The Sims 2 Super Collection
I've never been a huge Sims fan myself, but the never-ending series of Sims games remains hugely popular and there have been a number of Sims updates for the Mac recently that deserve a mention.
The Sims 2 Super Collection is actually an updated version of the original Sims 2, which now includes enhanced graphics and artwork for the latest Macs with 4K and Retina displays, as well as support for zoom and other gesture controls using the latest Apple trackpads.
As well as updating The Sims 2, this Super Collection also includes updated versions of several expansion packs, such as Glamour Life, Nightlife and Happy Holidays. The entire collection just costs £22.99 so it's good value for money; you'll be able to spend countless hours developing your Sims characters and seeing what sort of trouble they can get up to in the various expansion packs.
There are also three other Sims titles that have received 4K updates recently - but bear in mind that these are self-contained games, and not just expansion packs, so you'll need to pay £14.99 for each one on its own. The Sims 2 Pet Stories puts the focus on raising and training pets, while The Sims 2: Life Stories follows the stories of two particular Sims called Riley and Vince. Finally, there's The Sims 2: Castaway Stories, which allows you to guide a group of Sims who are washed up on a desert island.
The new Sims graphics do look suitably shiny on a Retina display, but they also need a fair amount of graphics power, so check out the system requirements on the App Store before buying. Cliff Joseph
The Sims 4
There's a lot to take in with the latest addition to The Sims line-up: deeper customisation, more variety with actions, new careers and new places to explore. The Sims 4 had a lot to live up to after the success of The Sims 3, but it fills its predecessors shoes beautifully.
You get a deeper level of character customisation than in previous generations. While you can still browse and select preset eyes, mouth, hair, etc, The Sims 4 allows you to fine-tune your character's looks and build by clicking and dragging the area you want to tweak. Does your Sim's belly protrude a little too much for your liking? Clicking on the troubled area and dragging it in will make your Sim thinner - it's as easy as that.
The build & design mode in The Sims was the basis for the game as a whole - it started off as a simulator that architects could use. And it's fantastic here. It's a great experience being able to design a home exactly how you want it to be and really gets your creative juices flowing. With more design options (like the ability to build "in the air" with no support below), houses in The Sims 4 looks more breathtaking than ever. You can pick up and move whole rooms whenever you fancy a change, and buy whole rooms of same-style furniture. For those of us without an eye for interior design, it allows us to really appreciate the game and the design process.
Day-to-day life in The Sims 4 is more enjoyable, too. If your Sim is hungry, simply click on the hunger bar and the Sim will automatically feed themselves - the same applies to all their other needs too. It takes the effort out of the more mundane tasks and allows you more time to do the fun things with your Sim.
The Sims 4 is a great game with so many options that you'll lose yourself for hours at a time. Lewis Painter
The Sims Medieval
For a slightly cheaper introduction to the Sims, you could try this older instalment - although it has to be said that the Sims Medieval was an unusual addition to the popular series. The game takes the familiar Sims formula, but plonks it down into a setting full of kings, queens and scheming nobles, all plotting to outdo each other.
There are elements of both strategy and RPG games thrown in too. You can create a variety of characters, such as merchants, priests, wizards and knights, and expand your kingdom by building new churches, castles and towers. There's also a Pirates and Nobles expansion pack available that adds a dash of swashbuckling action to the mix.
If your kids are fans of Minecraft then you might want to take a look at Trove, a new massively multiplayer online game (MMO) that's clearly leaping on the Minecraft bandwagon. However, Trove does bring in a few other influences as well, and manages to create an intriguing kind of Minecraft-meets-Lego mash-up.
It has the same blocky, pixellated graphics style as Minecraft, and gives you a 'cornerstone' area where you can create your personal online home, just like in Minecraft. You can create anything you want in your cornerstone - castles, dungeons, a leafy forest to stroll through - and it's also possible to form a club with a group of other players in order to create and develop really large-scale worlds where you can go adventuring with your friends. And, like the recently launched Lego MiniFigures Online, Trove also includes lots of additional content that has been created by the game's developers. There are special locations, called realms, where you can explore and go on quests, including the rolling hills of the Medieval Highlands, the icy Permafrost realm, and the Dragonfire Peaks, which are crawling with monsters out to get you.
There's a role-playing element as well, so you can choose character classes such as the Gunslinger, the Neon Ninja, or Boomeranger, who all have their own special weapons and skills that you can use in your adventures. Like most MMOs nowadays, the game itself is free to download and play, but there are starter-packs that cost £15.49 each, and which provide access to new classes, as well as extra weapons and costumes for your characters. Cliff Joseph