Note: This article originally appeared in the Cult of Mac Newsstand issue, Game On!. Grab yourself a copy or subscribe today.
The iOS App Store has no shortage of titles that you can just download and play without paying a thing. The actual amount of content you get for your not-money varies, but more often than not, the free version is little more than a demo to entice you into paying for the whole thing.
Some games offer enough content in their lite versions that you’ll be set until you get tired of the thing and cast it into the virtual trash. But others are so good that you can, should, and must throw the developers some money. They’ll thank you, and you’ll thank yourself. Because these games are really good, so pay for them, cheapskate.
1.) Jetpack Joyride
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Developer Halfbrick Studios’ endless jetpacker doesn’t actually have a lite version. When you download it, that’s the game; if you play it long enough, you can earn enough in-game coins to unlock everything it has to offer. And while patience and tenacity are virtues that I personally admire and encourage, you should still toss in a few out-of-game coins to buy a money pack or a new vehicle. And here’s why:
Look at the game’s version history. Seriously, scroll all the way down, start at the bottom, and read all of the things Halfbrick has added since the game launched over two years ago. Jetpack Joyride has had 15 updates since it came out, and only four of them have been bug fixes, graphic updates, or other usability functions.
The rest have provided loads of content, absolutely free. And they’re still at it; the last update was Sept. 16 of this year. So go ahead and buy a virtual T-shirt, jerk. They’ve earned it.
2.) The Room
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I was really enthusiastic about The Room when I reviewed it last month, and my appreciation of its smooth controls and clever puzzles — except for that stupid piano one near the end — has not diminished at all. The Room is a beautiful, intelligent, satisfying game that gives you the first level at no cost to you other than occasionally feeling kind of dumb.
If you pay the $2.99 for the full game, you get three more chapters and an epilogue, which means you get five times the feeling-stupid-and-then-smart.
True story: I just opened the game to see how many chapters it has, and I ended up playing through the entire epilogue again, piano puzzle and all.
3.) Robot Unicorn Attack 2
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The original Robot Unicorn Attack was a surprise hit at the Adult Swim website. So Adult Swim made a bunch of T-shirts and ported the Flash-based endless runner to iOS and Android as a 99-cent premium game. A sequel seemed inevitable, and so last April we received Robot Unicorn Attack 2, which added new enemies, attacks, and the ability to fly.
And it was a dollar cheaper than the first one, but you should pay that dollar, anyway. Why? Because it unlocks “Always” by the synthpop group Erasure, which was the inexplicably perfect music from the first game. And really, a robot unicorn’s attack is just not the same without it.
4.) The Walking Dead
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Developer Telltale Games’ episodic game based on Robert Kirkman’s bleak series of graphic novels won Game of the Year awards galore in 2012. It’s a stressful, grim ordeal of a game that constantly asks players to make impossible decisions. It’s also brilliant.
The iOS version grants access to the first of the five episodes, which is really only a glimpse of the horrible things that will happen throughout the rest of the game. Basically, imagine that every third scene is the Kobayashi Maru scene from Star Trek II, except instead of dying at the end, you’re left alive to limp along to the next no-win scenario.
I know I’m not selling it very well, but trust me: It’s a great game. Buy it, play it, and give yourself over to regret.
5.) Zen Pinball 2
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Developer Zen Studios’ claim to fame is that it created the most realistic pinball physics engine the world has ever seen. At least, that’s what it feels like every time I play one of their tables. It’s really impressive.
If you download Zen Pinball 2 for your iOS device of choice, you receive a single table, “Sorcerer’s Lair,” completely free. And a single pinball table could certainly keep a person busy forever.
But that’s completely ignoring all of the awesome stuff that’s for sale.
See, Zen Pinball 2 isn’t a game so much as it is a platform. You download the framework for free and then fill it with stuff you buy. It has a lot of paid content, and it includes tables based on the Marvel comic-book universe, Star Wars, and Plants vs. Zombies.
So basically, they hook you with the free table, and then they dangle Nerd Bait in front of you. And it works because those tables are amazing.