We’re finishing up 2015, and now that you’re all good and tired of your families, we’ve checked out some great December iOS games to help you decompress in solitude.
This month’s offerings should cover all of your needs, whether you like to relax with a simple match-three title or need something more strategic. We have high-def graphics, pixel art, orchestrated music, chiptunes, straight-up fighting, and strategizing. December had something for everyone.
In no particular order, here were our favorite diversions from the December rush.
Magic: The Gathering – Puzzle Quest
Sure, I get that match-3 is probably the most overrepresented type of game in any App Store, but the addition of already addictive digital deck building card game Magic: The Gathering really makes this title sing. You’ll match variously colored gems to power up the cards you draw on each turn. You’ll want to pay attention to the color gems as the character you’re using has an affinity for specific colors, which replicates the card game’s mechanics.
As you power up creature and spell cards, they’ll come out to the field of play and attack your opponent, who is doing the same thing. It’s a lovely blend of digital card game strategy with lighter, less brain-intensive match-three mechanics. Magic: The Gathering – Puzzle Quest will probably become your new favorite standing-in-line pastime. — Rob LeFebvre
Download Magic: The Gathering – Puzzle Quest for free.
Cut the Rope: Magic
The Cut the Rope series has always been pretty magical, but the latest entry to the super-popular puzzle franchise takes that to new and literal lengths.
This time, adorable, sugar-chomping Om Nom faces his most fearsome adversary yet: a wizard with a sweet tooth. The evil(?) warlock pulls our hero and his stash into a magic book, and that’s where you come in. Your job, as always, is to return each level’s candy piece to its rightful home — Om Nom’s belly — and pick up the stars along the way.
The variety and difficulty this time, however, come through the magic spells you can cast to transform your little green friend into a different thing in each “chapter” of the book. These include a bird, which lets Om Nom fly and hover until you change him back; a miniaturization charm that manages to make the guy even cuter and allows him to fit through small spaces; and a fish, which makes water no problem at all.
The new forms add considerably to the already-solid formula, which has survived four games (not counting the free, standalone holiday add-on, Holiday Gift) without getting stale. Cut the Rope: Magic is an easy recommendation for fans of physics and unbearable cuteness. —Evan Killham
Download Cut the Rope: Magic for $0.99.
Tap tap tap goes your finger, in time to the groovy planetary beat. Another one of those endless clicker games that I seem to love more than they might warrant, Groove Planet adds a new mechanic — rhythm — that keeps me coming back for more. Each tap you make with the provided trip-hop, beat-heavy tracks earns you musical note points which can then be redeemed for buildings that will increase your earnings automatically and power ups that will make your taps and buildings more effective.
Since it’s also a rhythm game, you’ll get score multipliers for consecutive on-beat taps. You can even tap double time if you’re up for it to rack up the score even that much faster. Fans of Tap Titans looking for a musical version of the endless clicker will love every measure of Groove Planet. — Rob LeFebvre
Download Groove Planet for free.
Rust Bucket is a fantastic, turn-based strategy title with retro-style graphics and music. And, true to its retro vibe, it’s hard as hell.
It’s a play on the dungeon-crawling format of classics like The Legend of Zelda in both look and feel, but the twist is that you have to plan each move carefully to avoid dying. And you will die, whether it comes from an enemy, a fire trap, or any of a variety of other ways.
Your character, which is basically a bouncing helmet, has to make its way through a bunch of dungeons, defeating enemies and rescuing other people lost in the depths before monsters get them. I say “dungeons,” but it may actually be a tower, because every time you make it to the set of stairs that ends an area, your helmet sprouts a parachute and Fultons itself up to the next level like that scene in The Dark Knight. But that’s pretty beside the point.
Regardless of whether you’re making your way up or down, the difficulty ramps way up as you go. But the developers were fully aware and provided a reasonable number of checkpoints to save you from having to replay too much. Rust Bucket takes a few basic ideas and then jumbles them up to create something as charming as it is ridiculously tough. And if you’re up to the challenge, you’ll have a great time. —Evan Killham
Download Rust Bucket for Free ($3.99 to remove ads).
Tilt: Quill’s Quandary
I’ve got to be totally honest here and say that I’m not a puzzle game fan. I don’t mind the odd puzzler here and there, but I rarely get excited about a pitch for a game that will challenge my brain — I’ve got enough brain-challenge in real life, thank you very much. After watching my girlfriend play QUill’s Quandary for the last ten days straight, almost exclusively, I had to re-evaluate my avoidance and give it a spin. My verdict? Tilt: Quill’s Quandary is the best puzzle game I’ve played in a while.
It’s cute as all heck (you’re a little pirate-y hedgehog who has lost his hat) and the puzzles are just tough enough to push you, but not so hard that you throw your iPhone down in frustration. You tilt the game in any direction to roll the titular Quill, and then tilt a little harder to move his blocky environment around as well, all to get Quill to the end hole. You’ll win hats along the way – just never the exact right one you’re searching for – and thrill to the fact that you don’t have to deal with any in-app purchases or other free-to-play tomfoolery. Two bucks gets you an adorable, challenging puzzler that’ll have you engrossed for a long time. — Rob LeFebvre
Download Tilt: Quill’s Quandary for $1.99