The Best iPhone Games
The huge number of games available in the iTunes App Store can make delving into the games scene for the iPhone and iPod Touch pretty intimidating at first. Although there's only really a year's worth of content, the volume is already far in excess of what's available for either the Nintendo DS or the PSP. So where do you start? Are the recognizable big name franchises from giants like Electronic Arts a safe bet? Or should you explore more of the indie scene? The truth is that there's a lot of great quality stuff available, but you have to know where to look.
To help you out, we've pulled together what we feel are 36 of the best games currently available. Some of them have been available for a while, some of them are updates to previously well-received ideas, and some of them are spectacular new releases that hit the store in the past few weeks. We've played them all though, and we have them on our iPhones. One thing to note though, this is not a ranked list. We've simply provided descriptions of our 36 favorites in alphabetical order.
Craneballs Studios, $0.99
Line-drawing pathfinding games (like Flight Control, which popularized the genre) are probably second only to Tower Defense games in terms of their number in the App store. Whereas most are variations on the "get this kind of vehicle into its appropriate hole" Craneballs' 33rd Division is noticeably different as players control soldiers on a battlefield. The objective is still to direct them to a specific position, but instead of avoiding other objects that must be routed accordingly, here they have to avoid enemy guards patrolling the scene. In a nod to Metal Gear Solid and its ilk, each guard's field of view is shown, and the goal is to get past them without being seen.
Gameloft's Asphalt series of racing titles has been steadily improving with each subsequent release and the latest iteration, launched on November 2, brings the franchise closer than ever to the quality of the console-based racers that it so clearly aspires to be. Clearly a big-budget product, Asphalt 5 includes 30 desirable licensed cars, 12 beautiful looking tracks with a variety of different surfaces, and eight different game modes including cop chases, duels, and drift contests. There's also six-player multiplayer modes that support local play over Bluetooth and online play using a Wi-Fi connection. As with previous Asphalt racers you tilt the iPhone to steer the car, and the throttle and brake are on-screen touch controls.
Beneath a Steel Sky: Remastered
The classic PC point-and-click adventure from 1994 has been tweaked and modified for the iPhone and emerges as a glorious example of great game design and narrative. Produced by Revolution Software (Broken Sword) in partnership with Watchmen co-creator Dave Gibbons, Beneath a Steel Sky: Remastered explores a dystopian future through a tragic hero unraveling a sinister plot involving a totalitarian regime. It's gripping stuff, told beautifully through motion comic style cut scenes, and wonderfully written dialog.
Joel Rosenberg, $0.99
Blocked is a perfect example of how the simplest games can be some of the most effective. Featuring 100 different hand-drawn levels that require you to slide blocks around a grid in order to remove a specific piece from the puzzle. It's an old concept, but it's a good one, and it's infuriatingly addictive. Definitely a good "quick fix" game.
The goal of Bookworm? Make words by connecting letters on a board. It's an oldie, but a goodie and the iPhone version has plenty of extra features (like bonus words to collect) that make things even more interesting. For just $2.99 you'll get an awful lot of gameplay time out of it.
Semi Secret Software, $2.99
Canabalt is a simple scrolling platform game with a twist; the main character can never stop running, or he dies. Using beautifully rendered black and white 8-bit style graphics, the hero must escape from danger by timing jumps at key moments to ensure that he makes it away from collapsing buildings and toppling towers. If you want to try it out, there's a free Flash version online that you can try here. The real beauty? It's just a one button game that's perfect for when you're on the go.
2K Games, $6.99
Unlike a lot of mobile variants of big name games, 2K's Civilization: Revolution is not a stripped down version of the popular resource management strategy game. Though it doesn't share the 3D graphics of its PC and Xbox 360 brothers, it does pack all 16 civilizations from those versions, and the opportunity to beat the game using military, cultural, economic or scientific tactics. If that doesn't make you want to spend $6.99 on it, there's also a "lite" version that you can try out for free.
Command & Conquer: Red Alert
Electronic Arts, $9.99
Electronic Arts' beloved real time strategy game franchise arrived on the iPhone on November 2, and is a full-featured reinterpretation of the franchise, customized for the platform's touchscreen interface. Like Rock Band, EA's previous premium release for the iPhone and iPod Touch, Command & Conquer: Red Alert arrives in a competently-featured state, but it also serves as a platform for expanded content that EA will sell to you through an in-app purchase system.
For your $10 you get 12 levels, and two different game modes ("campaign" and "skirmish") that can be played as either the Soviets or the Allies, but supplemental features are promised through both paid and free expansion packs. Already, EA is offering a six-pack of skirmish maps for $0.99 and is promising a free multiplayer update that will support both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connections. There's no word of Internet play yet, but given the game's extensive "add-on manager" screen, it seems likely that the game has been designed with any number of enhancements in mind.
Drop7 is one of those games that are more difficult to explain than it is to play. The basic premise is that you drop blocks into a 7x7 grid. Every block has a number on it. When the number on the block matches the number of blocks in a row or a column, it disappears. When people try it, they tend to want to liken it to a blend of Tetris and Sudoku, but it's really not that complicated. Aside from being hellishly addictive, it's also aesthetically exquisite. The elegant, minimalist graphic design is perfectly matched with a spacious soundscape and beautifully appropriate sound effects. It really is a complete aesthetic experience, as well as a real brain workout.
A classic fantasy-style dungeon crawl that owes a lot to games like Diablo, Dungeon Siege, and Baldur's Gate. Gameloft's Dungeon Hunter is an impressively large action RPG with plenty of variety to the combat, and a satisfying amount of loot to collect. The game was designed with two different control schemes in mind; a PC style point and tap, or a console-like virtual d-pad. Both work admirably, and keep the pace moving along at a comfortable pace.
Eliminate is an arena-based multiplayer first person shooter set in an advanced weapons development facility where players are "testing" guns, armor, and gizmos by dashing around and blasting at each other. Unlike many other titles in the app store, Eliminate borrows as much from titles like Mafia Wars on Facebook as it does from other shooters like Quake. Though the initial download is completely free, real progress through the game's online ranking system can only be made if the player has sufficient energy which is gained from power cells that must be purchased from the app store using a mechanism built into the game. Packs of power cells can be bought for as little as $0.99, with bulk discounts applied for more dedicated players. Unusually, Eliminate supports online multiplayer over both 3G and Wi-Fi based networks (you can practice against bots, but the real meat is online) and the matchmaking system is global, meaning you can be fighting alongside players from anywhere in the world. Like ngmoco's other titles, Eliminate is tightly integrated with the publisher's Plus+ social networking platform, and the system now makes more sense than ever before as it allows you to control friends-lists and challenges using push notifications on the device.
Epic Pet Wars
Miraphonic, Free/Add-on packs ranging from $2.99 to $19.99
You may already have played Epic Pet Wars on Facebook (which this version can link to through Facebook Connect) but if you haven't; beware! It's unusually addictive for something so simple. Fundamentally it shares a lot in common with Pokemon. It doesn't share the exploration-focused overworld of Nintendo's game, but the basic turn based battle system is very similar. You sent your pets into battle, boost their stats and then see them level up and take on more powerful opponents. Don't be spooked by the fact that there are eight different games in the App store called Epic Pet Wars, or that one of them is a staggering $19.99. To start with, ignore all of them except the free one. If you want to get crazy, download the free "Lazer Shark" app as well. This will give you an extra pet, plus 20 free "respect" points, which allow you to unlock special items. While in-game cash is earned through winning battles, "respect" can only be bought with real money, as can additional pets.
Subatomic Studios, $2.99
Despite the enormous number of Tower Defense games on the iPhone, we've managed to keep the number on this list to a bare minimum. Honestly though, in any roundup of great iPhone games, you can't ignore the significance of Fieldrunners. While not the original TD game by any stretch of the imagination, it influenced many that came after. Like Geo-Defense Swarm, which we also feature here, Fieldrunners is of the "open field" discipline where players steer the bad guys by creating a maze with (six different kinds of) gun emplacements. It looks fabulous, and is already considered by many to be a true classic on the platform.
Flight of the Amazon Queen
Thanks to the Nintendo DS and the iPhone we're experiencing a true point and click adventure renaissance right now. Their touchscreen interfaces help retain the intimacy of the original games from the early 90s, and the somewhat blocky-looking graphics actually look quite beautiful on the small screen. Flight of the Amazon Queen was originally made for the Commodore Amiga and PC back in 1995, and is very similar in terms of style and structure to The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition and Beneath a Steel Sky: Remastered, both also featured on this list. Set in 1949, it tells a Romancing The Stone style story of a roguish hero paired with a high maintenance heroine. It's witty, it's well-written, and plays as well today as it did 14 years ago.
Guide planes onto a runway by drawing the flight path they need to take with Flight Control. As time goes on, there are more and more planes that travel at different speeds. If two planes collide, it's game over. Another classic on the platform, and it has since been imitated in many different ways with many different subjects. The original is still the best though, plus it's very cheap.
Galcon Labs is technically a sequel to Phil Hassey's excellent original Galcon, only it actually includes everything in the original too, and it's cheaper. Think of it as a fast-paced, sci-fi version of Risk. It's fundamentally a strategy game, only it's paced like an arcade game. You take over planets and have them build ships. Then you send the ships to other planets to take them over. Meanwhile the other guy is doing the same thing, and big space battles ensue. The "Labs" part of the title concerns the experimental nature of some of the extra modes where Hassey has experimented with modifiers to the gameplay. There's an "assassin" mode that has you targeting a specific opponent, a "billiards" mode where all the planets move around, a "crash" mode where your ships battle it out while moving from planet to planet, and even a "stealth" mode where enemy ships are invisible. Also worthy of note is the fact that it has real online multiplayer modes. Not just Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, real Internet play. Still a rarity on the platform.
Bryan Mitchell, $0.99
A very pleasant variation on the logic puzzle genre that's so popular on the iPhone. In Geared you have to place cogs to connect pieces of a larger machine together so that all of the appropriate gears start to turn. Every level features a 'generator' gear, and a gear elsewhere on the page that must be powered. Your job, using a limited toolset is to transfer the power through the gears from one to the other. It's a beautifully designed game, presented with a very distinctive hand-drawn style. There are plenty of levels to keep you busy too - 120 so far, and developer Bryan Mitchell keeps adding new content.
Critical Thought Games, $0.99
If there's a genre for which the iPhone is far from lacking, it's Tower Defense games. That said though, there are a number of exquisite examples to choose from and of those Geo-Defense Swarm is certainly one of the best. From the 'open field' discipline where players define the path that the critters take by using the placement of their weapons, Swarm blends classic TD gameplay conventions with a Geometry Wars-inspired aesthetic and some stunning visual effects.
If you've been playing games since the very early 90s you may remember a beloved action game called Cannon Fodder by Sensible Software. It was originally released on the Amiga in 1993, and was later ported to the Atari Jaguar, Game Boy, Genesis, Atari ST, SNES, and 3DO. Grunts, it has to be said, owes a lot to Cannon Fodder. You control a small squad of soldiers which you direct around the map by pointing and tapping with your finger, RTS-style. You shoot at bad guys, you blow up enemy installations, you pick up loot. It's like Diablo meets Commando and it's all presented with its tongue firmly planted in its cheek.
Though there are many physics-based puzzle games in the app store, iBlast Moki stands above them all with it's elegant level design and charming visuals. The basic idea is to push the titular 'moki' characters toward an exit by setting off bombs that push the critters on a trajectory. You can also experiment with a variety of supplemental items, such as ropes, balloons, and simple structural pieces to assist the moki's progress through more complex stages. The game features 70 pre-built levels, as well as a level editor that allows you to share your own creations with friends online.
Mevo & The Grooveriders
Red Rocket Games, $0.99
The rhythm genre meets the side-scrolling platform game in Mevo & The Grooveriders. Tap out the rhythms of the game's funky custom soundtrack to make Mevo jump from platform to platform and reach the end of the level safely. There are only two virtual "buttons" to think about, but it's a lot more challenging than you'd think. Plus, the music is fantastic and you can download a seven track album from artist Shanghai MFA on iTunes here.
It's Peggle. It's been customized for the touchscreen interface, and it works beautifully. Do you need more of an excuse? C'mon, don't bitch about the price - $4.99 is nothing compared to the hours of fun you'll get out of it, plus it's just a fraction of what the PC or the DS versions cost.
Real Racing was one of the first attempts to bring a Gran Turismo or Forza style racing experience to the iPhone, and prior to the release of Asphalt 5 was arguably the most successful thanks to its gorgeous graphics, and elegant tilt-based control scheme. The game manages acceleration for you - you just brake and steer. If you're wary about dropping $6.99 on the full game, you can check out the promotional version that Firemint produced with Volkswagen for the new Golf GTi, which is currently free on the app store. This surely points to a future for the franchise that will include licensed cars (the Golf's were just dropped into this version too,) just like the titles it aspires to be.
Electronic Arts, $9.99
Your initial $9.99 for Rock Band on the iPhone gets you 20 songs, and a remarkably full-featured representation of the console game experience. You only have four buttons to worry about rather than five, but the game does an admirable job of bringing all four talents onto the mobile platform (yes, singing too.) EA is already supporting the game with downloadable content, and there's more set to come on a regular basis. The first release of the game suffered from an occasional bug in the main career mode that meant the only song you could play was "Ace of Spades" by Motorhead, but not all players experienced this.
The original Rolando was one of the original "premium" games in the app store, and pretty much set expectations for everything that would follow. Control the rolling Rolando characters by tilting the device and direct them to solve environment puzzles and escape from evil bad guys. It shares some qualities with LocoRoco, but it's by no means a copy. Rolando 2 can be bought in full for $4.99, or a free version (Chapter 1) can be bought, and then supplemental levels downloaded for $0.99 a pop.
Lazrhog Games, Free
A hyperactive "bullet curtain" style 2D shooter, rRootage is very much in the style of classics like Ikaruga. It's a little bit old-school in terms of sensibility, but the retro style graphics are a Geometry Wars-chic, only without the neon-glow that you see in titles like Geo-Defense. It's certainly not for the fainthearted! The action gets unbelievably busy very early on in the game.
Note: Some iPhone 3GS users have noticed a bug in the game that adversely affects the visuals, though we did not experience this when testing the game.
Space Invaders Infinity Gene
Coming from the Space Invaders Extreme school of psychedelic game design, Infinity Gene is a hip, fast-paced variant on the classic shooter that blends traditional retro graphics with more organic, swarming invader behavior. As with Extreme, the game's visuals are tightly integrated with its thumping soundtrack, but Infinity Gene goes a step further by offering a custom level-generating mode that will interpret music from your iTunes playlists as custom firefights.
Spider: The Secret of Bryce Manor
Tiger Style Games. $2.99
Spider is a beautifully hand-drawn platform adventure game in which you play (you guessed it) a spider that has wandered into an abandoned mansion. The ensuing story unfolds as the spider wanders from room to room and discovers what happened to the Bryce family and why they are no longer in the house. Control of the game is all touch based, and players can jump around the distinctive-looking levels with simple gestures on the screen, catching insects to eat and spinning webs by simply "drawing" patterns with their finger. Unlike many of the games listed here, Spider moves at a far more relaxed and civilized pace, and it does so while moving towards a very satisfying conclusion.
The Tower Defense genre goes 3D in ngmoco's ambitious take on the popular style. Rather than simply looking down the playing field and placing guns to stop the bad guys, Star Defense maps everything onto a sphere (or a cube, in some levels) and requires you to spin the map around while you track the alien invasion progress and stop it with a variety of sci-fi themed weaponry.
Illusion Labs, $4.99
The right part of the screen controls your character's right hand, while the left hand side controls her left. By moving your thumbs left and right you swing her back and forth building momentum before flinging her into a series of 25 physics-based environment puzzles to save her friends. It takes a little getting used to at first, but once you're in tune with its rhythm, Sway is incredibly satisfying.
The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition
LucasArts' influential point-and-click adventure game was spruced up and reissued on a variety of platforms earlier this year, and the iPhone version of The Secret of Monkey Island is just as competent as any of these others, only with the added convenience of being cheaper, and portable. The game is still just as witty and as much fun as it was when it was originally released nearly 20 years ago, and the revamp to the graphics and sound make it look and feel like a contemporary game.
Although it looks like an intimidating hex-based strategy game, UniWar is a novel blend of Advance Wars-style turned-based warfare blended with the three-race narrative of StarCraft and its imitators. Far from just offering a competent single-player experience, Xpressed has expanded the game over time to include online multiplayer modes for up to eight players, a worldwide leaderboard, more than 50 different maps, the ability to play up to 20 different multiplayer games at once, and an in-game chat channel. If you're a strategy fan, there are few better games in the app store.
Imagine playing Boggle, but with someone annoying shouting ridiculous-sounding Bruce Lee noises in your ear every time you touch one of the dice. It sounds pretty obnoxious, but the frenetic pace of Word Fu and the modifiers that it introduces into what is ultimately just a simple time-based word game, make it tremendous fun. Especially if you get locked into a competitive run with a friend who's also playing.
Gameblend Studios, $2.99
At it's core, WordJong is just Mah-Jong with letter tiles. You build words by removing tiles from the board, and must think ahead so that you can remove every tile that's there. The beauty of it though is that it's structured in such a way that it issues "daily challenges" so we all get to play the exact same puzzle on the same day. There's a Lite version for you to get hooked on, but you should just go all in and pay the $2.99 right now.
Team 17, $4.99
Worms is a 2D, turn-based, cartoon-style strategic combat game that has a lot in common with the old tank-battle games from years ago where you lobbed shells up into the air and tried to hit guys on the other side of a map. Remember that? No? Here, players take it in terms to move their worm soldiers around the randomly-generated terrain and systematically eliminate the opposing teams with a wide assortment of wacky weaponry. Sure, you can use something boring like a gun, or grenade - but wouldn't you rather blow someone up with an exploding sheep? The game has 50 different challenges, an infinite number of different maps, and multiplayer matches for up to four players.
The folks at Chillingo describe Secret Exit's Zen Bound as a "calm and meditative" puzzle game, and to be honest they're probably right. Designed around the concept of wrapping rope around a 3D shape, the game requires players to really "feel" their way around an object by tilting and twisting the iPhone while manipulating the rope to solve the puzzle. The whole thing has a very relaxing vibe, and this is ably assisted by the very mellow soundtrack that's also available as a free download from within the game.