Look, gaming is a big thing, right? You can’t swing a dead cat in an ugly holiday sweater without hitting someone who’s busily involved in some kind of gaming screen these days, and iOS has the clear advantage with the hundreds of thousands of games on offer, all of which are fairly inexpensive or free to play.
We’ve taken some of the effort out of finding the best games of the past year, with this mega-list of over 20 iOS games (in no particular order) that you really should check out right away. Except where noted, all these games will work on your iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad. Because, really, there’s no excuse for not making a game work universally these days.
Ridiculous Fishing – A Tale of Redemption is maybe the most appropriately titled release this past year, garnering the Game of the Year nod from Apple in the App Store after a harrowing couple of years battling clone Ninja Fishing. It’s the sequel to Vlambeer’s original Flash game, Radical Fishing, and it’s similar in vibe. Getting help from Spelltower’s Zach Gage, the two indie developers in Vlambeer have turned in a stellar, addictive game. Get it now in the App Store for $2.99.
If you haven’t taken some time to play through Simogo’s Device 6 yet, you’re one sad panda. This is the bleeding, artsy edge of interactive fiction design, and a breath of fresh, paranoid air in the gaming scene on any platform. You’ll play through the finely-tuned second person narrative as Anna, who wakes up in a castle on an island with no idea who–or what–has placed her there. You’ll follow along as she works her way through test after test, solving ingenious puzzles and clever meta-fiction allusions alike. Grab it on the App Store right now for $3.99.
Plants Vs Zombies 2 takes the incredibly fun and successful formula from the original PvZ and goes even bigger. You’ll play through three separate eras–Pirates, Ancient Egypt, and the Wild West–each with its own charm and Mario-style map overworld. Each separate level gets you defending your house or rooftop from the massing hordes of wacky zombie designs, each appropriately themed to the specific world and time you’re in. Sure, it’s free to play, but you’ll never feel overly burdened by the energy or timers; there’s always plenty to do. Download Plants vs Zombies 2 for free in the App Store now; you can thank us later.
Developer Martin Jonasson is a super nice guy, extremely approachable, very smart, and (apparently) an amazing game creator. His nigh-unpronounceable game, rymdkapsel (“space capsule” in Swedish), is a perfectly-tuned minimalist resource management space simulator. It tasks you with building the best space ship you can to eventually survive the onslaught of wave after wave of kite-shaped enemies. You’ll need to direct and feed your crew of white dots as they man the torpedoes and frickin’ laser guns on your own Tetris-style layout of a space ship. Get it in the App Store now for a measly $3.99 and spend the rest of your holiday telling abstract shapes what to do.
Tower defense games are some of the most fun you can have on an iOS device. They’re perfect for non-twitch gamers and armchair strategists alike, letting you place upgradeable towers along the path of creeps who all seem hell-bent on making your base belong to them. Kingdom Rush: Frontiers is the second game in a fantastic series from developer Ironhide Game Studio, and the iteration finds the sweet spot between difficult and rewarding from the get-go. Give this sequel your $0.99 and keep those baddies away from your kingdom.
At $4.99, Limbo is one of the more expensive games on our list, but it’s still incredibly cheap compared to most games of this quality on any platform. Originally out for consoles, Limbo is the quintessential monochromatic platformer game, asking you to help a young boy travel through dark and foreboding environments in search of his missing sister. It’s a drop-dead gorgeous game, and the puzzles and platforming are the best you’re going to find out there. Spend five bucks on the App Store for Limbo and you won’t regret it.
Quell Memento may seem like a basic brain-bending puzzle game on paper, but the attention to detail and beautiful look and feel seriously take it to another level. Published by BulkyPix, Quell Memento is set within an abandoned house, and it’s up to you to solve the over 150 puzzles that range from the satisfyingly difficult to the fiendishly clever. If you have a spare three bucks, you could do much, much worse than picking this one up in the App Store.
“How is this even possible?” was the first question I asked when I dropped into 2K Games’ XCom: Enemy Unknown on my iPad 3. I still don’t quite know how they did it, but the team there at one of the bigger console game developers out there has certainly done the game and the franchise justice on Apple’s mobile platform. Take control of Earth’s final defense against the evil alien menace in the best modern example of turn-based strategy around. Sure, it’s ten bucks on the App Store, but the Mac version is an easy $50, so be thankful you can grab this stunningly entertaining game on your mobile device of choice.
Dead Trigger 2 takes you out across the globe to fight the zombie menace, and it’s drop-dead beautiful. The first-person shooter action is hot and heavy, there are more guns and weapons than you can possible imaging, and it’s free-to-play to boot. Madfinger Games has improved on the original Dead Trigger in every way possible, bringing a much larger, global scope to the proceedings with some amazing location-based and friend-connected features to add to the gameplay. Join the globla zombie warfare now for the low cost of nothing in the App Store right now.
Currently on sale for $0.99 on the App Store, Square Enix’s Deus Ex: The Fall is another “holy crap” moment in mobile gaming. That Eidos Montreal has managed to create a full-length, stunningly visual, console-level video game and put it on iOS devices is a miracle in itself. The controls are fantastic, letting you easily and intuitively control the main character through the stealth and shooter portions of the game. It’s just like playing the big-brother console games, except you can do it on the go, or wherever your iOS device takes you. Be sure to grab this one now and see the future of mobile gaming.
Initially, I was loathe to include Infinity Blade III in this roundup since it’s so repetitively similar to the first two games in Chair Entertainment Group’s epic mobile series. It does, however, act as the visual pinnacle of iOS gaming and as such really should be on your iOS device to show all those haters out there how amazing iOS gaming can look. The gameplay isn’t horrible, either, and though it’s not much different than the first couple of Infinity Blade games, the storyline definitely stretches its legs at times, providing you with a decent reason to keep swiping to slash and tapping to block. Get this one for $2.99 on the App Store and get your monster-slashing, reincarnating, battling groove on.
Kevin Ng’s indie darling, Impossible Road, is the first game I know of that encourages you to cheat in the title. Look, if the road’s impossible, why not ignore it altogether? The blue-on-white chromatic marble-rolling platform-puzzler is by turns extremely addictive and “throw your iPhone across the room” frustrating. $1.99 in the App Store now says that you’ll enjoy it, though, as you guide the “vessel” down road after road, learning that sometimes cheating is the only way to pass that high score your buddy has been crowing about for months.
At first, Knightmare Tower might seem like any other of a dozen endless games out there, but on repeated play, you’ll find a delightfully addictive and strangely compelling jumping game that adds enough to the endless genre to make it worth your time and money. Coming in at a decent $2.99 on the App Store, Knightmare Tower gets you jumping up through level after level of a princess-imprisoning (ugh) tower, bouncing on monsters to maintain your altitude. You earn coins with every run, whcih you can then upgrade your pre-jump rocket booster, armor, and weaponry with ease.
Our reviewer loved Australian-based developer Mu and Heyo’s Boson X, calling out its simple genius as the main strength of the game. All you control in this fine endless runner is the jumping. You’ll run down the center corridor of endlessly shifting 3D maze with your salaryman figure, jumping to avoid falling out of this bizarre, never-ending trap, like the elementary particle with the same name does through matter. For $1.99 in the App Store, Boson X packs a lot of entertainment into its minimalist graphics and gameplay mechanics.
Developer About Fun Games has created what our reviewer called, “the most unforgiving free-to-play game I’ve ever seen, but I respect it for that.” With graphics and a soundtrack that’s so retro it hurts, this Chillingo-published endless faller may bring to mind classics like Space Invaders, but the gameplay is fairly modern. You’ll need to fall through the air as a white dead pixel, avoiding other pixels the same size or larger, while gathering points and power ups by sliding as close to obstacles as possible without ever hitting them. As you fall, you eat pixels smaller than you to grow in size, like an 8-bit version of Flow or Spore. It’s a clever concept that will continue to punish you until you give up and start to like it. Mega Dead Pixel can be had for a free trip to the App Store, so get on it now.
The Blockheads, by one-man studio “MajicDave” Frampton, is one of the most memorable Minecraft-inspired games on the small screen, including Mojang’s own port of their runaway hit to the iOS platform. There’s plenty of mining and crafting in this 2D, massive, procedurally generated sandbox game world, but it expands and enriches the genre while bringing several innovations of its own to the fore. Better yet, you can play with a couple of buddies right on your iOS devices, or even run a Mac-based server to gather up to 32 of your friends in a Blockheads world. It’s free to download and play in the App Store, so be sure to give this one a try.
If I didn’t include The Room & The Room 2 in this list, I think our reviewer, Evan Killham, would fly to my house and thrash me endlessly. The fact is, though, that we’re both huge fans of developer Fireproof Games’ take on the locked room genre that there was no way I’d omit it from a end of year round up. That the team made two of these games within months of each other is a spectacular feat of programming, or a deal with the devil, I’m not sure which. Be sure to grab both of these iPad-only games (you can get The Room Pocket for your iPhone, too) as soon as you possibly can in the App Store.
Speaking of interactive fiction, Neven Mrgan and James Moore’s Blackbar tells its story through a series of redacted documents, bringing a fine political edge to what could have been just another iOS gameplay mechanic. It’s a text-based sci-fi story about a dystopian future that uses our innate need to fill in the blank as its main device. You’ll spend your time figuring out the perfect words to complete the story, and you’ll like it. I find myself running around the house, asking all and sundry what they think the word should be, and then waxing rhapsodic about the game to whoever will listen. That’s just how I roll. Grab it now in the App Store for the wallet-friendly price of $2.99.
Every so often, you might feel bad about your life. Developer Damp Gnat has the answer to your first-world problems in the form of Icycle, a “cinematic fever dream” about a man named Dennis who must ride the icy roads on his bicycle. Without any pants. Brrrr! The animation reminds me of an independent French animated short and the gameplay involves ever-more dangerous jumps aver increasingly frightening obstacles and cracks in the ice. What’s worse is that every time you miss, poor Dennis loses all his clothing. It’s just not fair, but you can try your hand at keeping the chilly hero in pants for $0.99 on the App Store.
Solstice Arena is Zynga’s free-to-play entry into the League Of Legends and Defense of the Ancients (DotA) style massively online battle arena (MOBA) genre, and aside from all the acronyms, the team has created an experience that is at once familiar and memorable. Guide your hero down various lanes to the far enemy base, fighting player-controlled enemy heroes and destroying your opponent’s towers on your way. The ebb and flow of the genre is here, but Solstice Arena is definitely a much quicker affair than the computer-based games that inspired it, allowing you to jump in, play a couple of rounds, and then jump out (assuming you’re not like me, blinking at the iPad screen well into the night). Grab it for free on the App Store and see what everyone’s been raving about.