As Sony and Nintendo have found to their concern, mobile gaming has completely changed. Gone are the days where you needed a Game Boy, case, stack of tiny cartridges and pack of spare batteries – nowadays, our phones enable us to have a wealth of gaming experiences conveniently nestled in our pockets. With increasingly impressive hardware, the games being produced sometimes rival those of even the home consoles. However, there’s been some serious teething problems in this transition. Modern games, with their multiple inputs and tactile buttons, have struggled to find a home on a touchscreen. Simply put, virtual joypads and floating keys can never, ever give the same kind of feedback and control offered by a traditional joypad.
But, as with all maturing technology, games have started being designed not to just cope with the hardware, but to actually take advantage of it. The last two years have produced a number of games that truly show how relevant the iPhone is as a gaming device. So, in case you have a few hours to kill this weekend, here is my selection of ten absolutely essential iPhone games.
And yes, I’m aware of the existence of Androids and Blackberries and Windows Phones, but I don’t use them, so…there.
Let’s begin with the best. There’s probably not much more I could say about Terry Cavanagh’s psychedelic spinning puzzle game that I haven’t said already, yet I still don’t feel that I’ve captured in words exactly how playing it makes me feel. Even now, I’ll become totally engrossed and be transported to some very Zen areas of my consciousness, yet stopping playing snaps the truth away like waking from a vivid dream. I’ll just summerise by insisting that my favourite game of 2012 – and maybe even all time – is a vital purchase that totally validates a tiny touchscreen device as a hardcore gaming platform. Buy it, now.
Super Hexagon, $2.99
The philosophical idea that we create the world around us – solipsism – is a great basis for a video game. Solipskier, by Mikengreg, places your tiny skier on an endless 2D chase and your job is to create the ground by dragging your finger up and down as the snow scrolls out behind you. Speed increases and jumps are all down to dips and curves, while removing your finger completely sends your avatar into points-friendly tricks and spins. It’s all incredibly compelling, thanks in no part to the amazing metal soundtrack that mournfully turns into Chopin when you eventually crash out. Add some beautiful use of colour to the streamlined design and you’ve got a winning timekiller.
ZooKeeper DX/ZooKeeper Battle
One of the all-time great match-three puzzle games and the only one to ever challenge Nintendo’s classic Tetris Attack/Puzzle League. What makes ZooKeeper so special is the gorgeous design of the animals – whose blocky faces get grumpy when you don’t match enough of them – and the amazing sound effects, full of perfectly guaged blips and buzzes. The DS version was good enough, but the move to a capacative touchscreen makes the action even more intense. You’ve got two flavours to choose from – the original DX, and the multiplayer-focused Battle. However, be aware that the latter version suffers from in-app-purchase cooldown, so the former is better for extended play. Either way, it’s a gem of a game that, at some point, will make you shout “Monkey? Monkey? MONKEY!”
ZooKeeper DX, $0.99, ZooKeeper Battle, Free
True story – Drop7 started life as a flash tie-in to the crime-solving TV show Numbers. As a result, maths is at the very heart of this game, but it also somehow manages to be both approachable and utterly, life-destroyingly compulsive. Easily the most addictive game on this list, Drop 7‘s masterstroke is that there is no arbrotary time limit forcing quick decisions. Your balls drop (f’nar), each numbered 1-7, and you need to decide where they fall. Once the number in the line equals the number on a ball, it disappears, and it’s Game Over if they reach the top. Easy to understand, so very complex to master. This is basically the iPhone’s Tetris – or maybe even better – and is absolutely essential.
The modern gaming obsession with shooting has tried to make the transition to the iPhone with very limited success. Virtual joypads and buttons have done their best, but it’s proven impossible to create any kind of precise aiming or movement. The developers of ZiGGURAT took a different approach, removing all but the central idea of staying alive. Your Contra-like soldier stands firmly on Mankind’s final mountain, shooting at the invading alien robots who have already wiped everyone else out. As you swipe your finger across the bottom of the screen, his weapon powers up and rotates through 180 degrees, with the bullet released when you lift your finger is charged by holding down longer. There is a real inevitability to your death, but this just makes you fight even harder. A great example of simple arcade joys recreated by a swiping touch.
Bit of a cheat here, but it’s difficult to talk about any Endless Runner without mentioning the one that arguably started it all. Canabalt is the perfect example of how design can take a single touch and wrap it into an exciting noir sci-fi epic, as compelling as many AAA console equivilents. Run, tap to jump, and try to last as long – and as far – as possible.
Jetpack Joyride is an evolution of this idea, adding unlockable weapons and tempting in-app-purchases with a crazy cartoon story of escape and revenge. Unfortunately, this new genre has also given rise to the Free-To-Play, money grabbing approach as much loved by big label publishers as it is hated by older gamers. So, as the clones roll out, direct your money to these two games that actually deserve it.
Jetpack Joyride, Free
Gorgeous and dream-like, Tiny Wings gives you a cute flightless bird and enables you to help him soar. As the colourful hills and valleys roll by, you guide your bird with one simple press – hold to dive, release to speed up and off the edge of the land into the azure sky. Even the Game Over state is just bedtime for the bird, further adding to the cuteness. Expanded for free since launch with new modes and stages, Tiny Wings was one of the first examples of perfect design for the touchscreen. Go fly.
Tiny Wings, $0.99
There are a great many excellent word-based iOS games to choose from, from Words With Friends to the scrumptious Spelltower, but in the end Letterpress wins due to its secret weapon – it’s actually a ruthless emulation of aggressive landgrab. Two players have an identical grid of letters that can be chosen to create words of any length, the letters of which change hue to the player’s colour. Points can be gained from unclaimed letters, whereas coloured tiles can be used but yield no reward, leading to a tense game of cat-and-mouse as each player tries to secure more land. It’s vicious, exciting, and brings out the fascist dictator in all of us. Glorious.
Who’d have known that a simple world map with some spreading red dots could be so engrossing? Plague Inc tasks you with the job of creating a bacteria/virus/brain worm, deciding where it will start, then manipulating it enough to spead it to seven billion people. And, once infected, adding disasterous symptoms to kill everyone. Although the idea of a game’s win state being the annaliation of mankind is a little disconcerting at first, you soon find yourself rooting for your little band of bugs and looming over preceedings like a Bond villian in his volcanic lair. Failure (ooh, you only killed FIFTY MILLION PEOPLE) leads to reorganisation of strategy and each game allows you to nudge closer to your deadly conclusion. A slow-burning strategy masterpiece.
Plague Inc, $0.99
Well, there’s no confusion with this title. Tap once to drop your line, tilt to avoid fish on the way down, then tilt to catch as many as you can on the way up, before flinging them into the air and shooting them dead with a flurry of finger presses. Each game lasts about thirty seconds and awards you in-game money to spend on unlockable upgrades. You cannot pay real money, only earn it by playing the game. Remember how that works? Made jointly by the creators of Super Crate Box and Spelltower, the design shows a wealth of expertise and appreciation for how the iPhone is best used, including tilt controls that are perfect. Cool, stylish and utterly deranged, Ridiculous Fishing is an instant iPhone classic.
Ridiculous Fishing, $2.99
Hope you enjoy these as much as I do. Total cost of all these games listed – $16.91. We live in the future. Have a great weekend!