In what has been a great year for iOS gaming, Monument Valley stands head and shoulders above most of its competition. Part M.C. Escher and part Fez, the game lets you journey through a surrealist world full of optical illusions and hidden paths — all the while avoiding and outsmarting the sinister Crow people.
It’s great, compelling fun — and apparently we’re far from the only people to think that, since developers Ustwo announced late last week that their game has now been downloaded in excess of 1 million times.
As you can see from the exclusive “making of” feature I wrote a few months back, I’m a massive fan of Monument Valley, the surrealistic M.C. Escher-inspired iOS puzzle game that rocked the App Store earlier this year.
A recent winner of Apple’s Design Awards at WWDC, Monument Valley is a triumph of isometric design, in which you guide a white-clad princess through a series of impossible structures in a game Apple describes as “akin to a walk through a museum or listening to a music album.”
While the game was already a bargain at $3.99, it’s just been the recipient of a slashed pricetag — meaning that you can now pick it up for the bargain price of $1.99.
Inventive titles like Leo’s Fortune are putting a new face on iOS gaming. Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac
A simple glance at the stunning games perched atop the App Store game lists reveals we are experiencing a golden age for mobile gaming.
From the surreal, mind-bending Monument Valley to the Pixar movie brought to life that is Leo’s Fortune, 2014 has seen some of the most startlingly original gaming experiences in years arrive on iOS.
“I do feel like we are in a boom period,” says John Comes, design director at Uber Entertainment, the company behind games like the newly released Toy Rush.
Although Apple has been a hub of gaming going back to the glory days of the Apple II, today’s crop of hot titles are reshaping the landscape like never before. The present explosion of innovative iOS games results from several fortuitous factors coming together. Here’s why there’s never been a better time to be a gamer.
Thousands upon thousands of apps get submitted to the App Store each year, but only a select few end up being honored with an Apple Design Award. The most beautiful, well-designed apps get crowned by Apple annually at WWDC.
“The developers of these exceptional apps combined design and technology in creative, compelling and powerful ways,” according to Apple. 2014’s winners include games we’ve featured on Cult of Mac like Leo’s Fortune and Monument Valley. If you’re looking to try some new apps, these 12 are the ones to get.
Bouncing, huffing and puffing through a beautifully-rendered cartoon world, avoiding jagged rolling wheels and collecting coins, Leo’s Fortune may just be the year’s most lovable iPhone game. But which games did its creators fall in love with?
Following our exclusive look inside behind the scenes of Apple’s iPhone “game of the month,” we asked Leo’s Fortune designer Anders Hejdenberg to name his current top five iOS games. He said he’s most impressed by titles that pair intriguing artwork with novel gameplay mechanics.
The highly imaginative Monument Valley, for instance, won him over quickly. “It didn’t take long to finish,” says Hejdenberg of his experience playing the game, “but during that time I experienced quite a few moments where I thought to myself, ‘Wow, this is really cool!’ That rarely happens when I play games, so it was definitely worth the price of admission.”
Here are the other iOS games currently taking his breath away. (You’ll find download links available below the gallery.)
All the game and math nerds love Threes, and it's easy to see why. This sudoku-meets-sliding-puzzle game requires just the right combination of zenlike concentration and sharp addition skills to keep you playing long into the night.
If you're looking for classic gaming nirvana, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City has it all: an open world full of social parody and a style that's straight outta the '80s. You can't get a better glimpse into the early potential of video games than this.
Like exploring a more colorful version of an M.C. Escher illustration, Monument Valley proves that mind-bending spatial puzzles can go hand in hand with minimalist story telling quite easily. It's another iPad game that begs to be explored and treasured long after all the levels have been beaten.
Sonic The Hedgehog 2 is the cult classic 16-bit speed-platforming game that most fans point to as the ultimate Sonic experience. With lovingly recreated graphics, sounds and controls, this remastered version hits all the right notes to make it the best Sonic game on the iOS platform.
Tetris is the old-school Game Boy craze from Alexey Pajitnov brought to the modern era of touchscreen devices. It's every bit as addictive and delightful as the original with a few new modes and flashy graphical updates to interest non-purists.
Device 6 is quite easily the most innovative game we've seen on the mobile platform, making you tilt and turn your device around to follow the text and audio clues that pull you through a pretty fantastic dystopian sci-fi tale.
Smooth pop-up book animated storytelling at its finest, Temgami will turn your iPad into a lush world ripe for exploration and environmental puzzle-solving. The delicious, soothing soundtrack is a fine addition to the gorgeous Eastern-influenced level design.
The Room 2 pulls creepy and puzzle-y off with equal abandon, letting you dig deep into a horror story without any actual jump-scares. Spend some time with this one in a darkened room, headphones on and iPad in lap. You can thank us later.
Mobile gaming is an ephemeral thing.
The unending stream of iOS games runs too fast and too fat for any individual to figure out which ones are worthy of your time and/or money. Freemium games? Check. Casual games? Sure. Hardcore games ported to your iOS device of choice? Plenty.
But which ones should you sit down and play right now? Our crack team of reviewers took a moment to call up the games they return to, day after day, when they feel like experiencing the finest the mobile gaming world has to offer. Above are the eight best iOS games you should download at this very moment.
Have you played Monument Valley yet? Our previous choice for ‘Game of the Week,’ this surreal, M.C. Escher-inspired puzzle game has proved an absolute phenomenon since its launch in the App Store.
But what if you’ve already finished ustwo’s masterpiece, and are now on the lookout for more of the same?
Never fear, gentle reader — we can help. Although there are precious few games which be described as similar to Monument Valley (some people aren’t even convinced it’s a game to begin with), Cult of Mac spoke with lead designer Ken Wong for his picks of the top games currently available on iOS.
Designer Ken Wong’s sketchbooks show how Monument Valley evolved into the finished product.
Monument Valley is one of the most original iOS games ever. A triumph of isometric design, it’s a trippy puzzle game in which you guide a white-clad princess through a series of twisting, turning structures, inspired by the mind-bending art of M.C. Escher.
Creating a world of this complexity might sound like a nightmare project, but for the UK-based game developers at ustwo, coming up with such an audacious creation was something of a dream.
“One of the first things we did when designing Monument Valley were to try and come up with images that seemed impossible,” says lead designer Ken Wong.
Still reeling from the success of the game — priced at $3.99, it was the top paid iPad app in its first week of release — Wong cracked open his sketchbooks to give Cult of Mac readers a glimpse at how Monument Valley‘s breathtaking designs came to be.
You’ll need to tap on the screen to get Ida moving to her end goal, swiping and rotating dozens of different mechanical gadgets to make sure she can continue on her way. The puzzles aren’t super difficult, but they do require a bit of thought, and plenty of them are downright ingenious. You’ll feel pretty darn intelligent when you finally get that “aha!” moment.
Check out our play-through video below to get a sense of how lush and calming Monument Valley really is.