Best games for iOS
We round up the top games for your entertainment
Looking for the best games for the iPad, iPhone and iPod touch? You’ve come to the right place. With games reviews, gameplay videos and links to let you view, buy and download the games from the App Store, this round-up lists the 115 best games ever released for the iPad and iPhone. From strategy and action games to puzzles and roleplaying games, these are the finest iOS games you can buy.
We’ve divided our list into 15 genres or themes – click the area that interests you to see the brilliant games we recommend in that genre.
Best adventure, point-and-click games Broken Age Price: £7.99
Opinions differ on this nostalgic ode to the point-and-click adventure games of yore, created by one of that genre’s most revered luminaries.
Hardcore adventure gamers – many of whom backed the project on Kickstarter – were disappointed by how much it seems to woo the mainstream market. The puzzles are mostly easy (although trickier fare is promised in the second act) and you can play through in a few hours. There’s also no ‘look at’ command or indeed anything beyond an all-purpose ‘interact with’: the interface is far simpler than those in Monkey Island and its 90s ilk. The suspicion was raised in PC gaming circles that these decisions had been made with touchscreens and mobile gamers in mind.
But I, and others, adore its heart-stopping visual loveliness, its gentle but subtle story (which allows you to switch at will between two parallel comingof-age tales), its humour – including a gloriously immature raft of jokes about the word ‘stool’ – its
high-calibre voice acting and music, and the fact that you probably won’t have to resort to online walkthroughs in order to solve any of the puzzles.
Shame it was split in two, as many have said, but the quality and old-fashioned charm displayed in act one mean we’re eagerly awaiting the follow-up (update: this has now arrived; update your app to add the second half of the story).
Device 6 Price: £2.99
A head-scratcher par excellence, this one. While some have complained that it’s a brief experience – and brainiacs will no doubt buzz through in a couple of hours – we’ve only just finished the second of Device 6’s five chapters, and can confirm that the puzzles in this primarily text-based adventure are hard if you’re not keenly observant and willing to note down everything you see. Use of a pen and paper comes highly recommended.
The look is unique: antiquarian and weirdly restrained, with judicious use of black-and-white photos and illustrations to supplement the words. The audio is richly atmospheric (not to mention key to solving the puzzles). And clever use of touchscreen controls and unconventional layouts – the sentences snaking round the screen – helps make this an experience like no other.
Grim Fandango Remastered Price: £7.99
I’m one of those poor souls (forgive the pun) who never played the original Grim Fandango on PC, but I was always intrigued by the premise. After playing the remastered version for iPad, I’m happy to report that the game’s hype is fully deserved.
Grim Fandango is a neo-noir mystery set in the Land of the Dead. Fans of classic black-and-white films will appreciate the witty dialogue, art deco style and slithering jazz soundtrack, but it’s also a love
letter to Mexican folklore: the characters’ design, including protagonist Manny Calavera, are heavily influenced by calaca figures.
It’s a point-and-click adventure that involves talking, thinking and problem solving; this isn’t a game that features a lot of gunplay or action sequences. But the cut-scenes and puzzles help move along the plot, which centres around Manny uncovering corruption in the Department of Death, and then starting a journey through the underworld that is both bizarre and hilarious.
The four-chapter story takes hours to explore and the artistic aesthetic is as central to the game as the writing (which is continually amusing). Immerse yourself in this strange, funny and enthralling world, and pray that Tim Schafer makes another.
Machinarium Price: £3.99
This classic robotic point-and-click adventure offers a unique experience with more heart than the
average tin man. Each room has a puzzle for you to solve, moving you forward as you try to find your lady friend and thwart a dastardly plot by some robobullies. You’ll scan environments for items to interact with, combine objects in your inventory and solve a variety of brain-teasers.
Machinarium manages to feel both electronic and organic. The hand-painted visuals feel both cartoonlike and believable, and the soundtrack blends ambient electronica, jazz and dubstep. Rarely has a game felt so thematically and aesthetically unified.
Papers, Please Price: £5.99
Who’s in the mood for fun? Let’s get the party started with a game about oppression and bureaucracy.
You’re a border guard in a fictional state, vetting the people trying to get into the country. You do this by asking questions, combing through their paperwork and looking for inconsistencies, but ultimately the decision to allow them in or not is up
to you. Big red stamp or big green stamp? Approve or deny? Be warned, though, that choice is an illusion: every decision you make is double-checked. Wave through someone with a hooky passport because their story moved you, and the little printer in your booth will curl out an official reprimand and (for repeat offences) a fine. A fine which may mean you can’t afford to heat your home, or give a member of your family the medicine they need.
You get paid (very badly) by the number of applicants processed in the time allowed, and the increasingly complex immigration rules (which change, capriciously, every day) are a huge source of anxiety. Before long, obvious discrepancies become a source of relief: this bloke’s passport’s expired, brilliant, red stamp, get out of here, where’s the next one. The human stories start off as a factor in your verdicts, then become a distraction, then are tuned out entirely.
For a game about petty inhumanity, Papers, Please is surprisingly enjoyable – and it’s also wonderfully subtle and insightful. If you want to know what games are capable of as a medium, you need to give this a try.
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies Price: Free
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies is a text-adventure game that Capcom originally published for the Nintendo 3DS, but has now made its way on to iOS devices. Its brilliantly animated and totally ridiculous world provides an uncommon iOS experience.
You play as lawyers Athena Cykes and Phoenix Wright as they seek to defend Juniper Woods, a shy sunflower-hat-wearing girl who has been accused of bombing a courtroom. But bear in mind that the Ace Attorney games have as much to do with actual lawyering as the WWE has to do with actual wrestling. Rather, you get a mixture of text-heavy exposition (dominating the early stages of the game, but thankfully reduced later on) and a series of minipuzzles. In order to approximate things like cross examining witnesses and forming arguments, Dual Destinies lets you present evidence (through careful interpretation of the witness’s statements) to prove that they’re lying.
It’s cool to think how Ace Attorney has translated some of the finer points of courtroom lawyering – interrogations, pointing out inconsistencies, making it known when someone has perjured themselves – and made them fun. The game offers hours upon
hours of cases to solve, with plenty of weird twists and challenging puzzles.
The Silent Age Price: Free
The Silent Age is a point-and-tap adventure game that takes place in two different eras: your character’s present-day 1972, and a 40-year leap to the eerie, post-apocalyptic 2012. You play as an unassuming janitor at a large corporation who stumbles upon a time-traveller from the future; the time-traveller asks you to warn him about this meeting, and then dies, leaving you with a pocketsized time-travel machine and a mystery to solve.
While many point-and-tap adventure games can feel overly relaxed, The Silent Age expertly weaves an intriguing story line around its puzzles – room-escape-type puzzles, quite often, which you solve using a combination of your time machine and various objects you find in the environment – to give
you a sense of urgency. It’s also visually gorgeous. The bright, vibrant colours of the game’s 1972 contrast perfectly with the dystopian, muted greys and greens of 2012.
Finally, the writing is excellent, from the witty comments made by the main character to the rapport with the characters you meet. The writers do a great job of keeping you interested and on your toes throughout the entire story line.
Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP Price: £3.99
iOS games are supposed to be time-wasters: digital trinkets to distract and amuse for a few commutes. Not Sword & Sworcery EP, an ambitious, gorgeous and sonically impressive action title.
The game feels like 1990s-era Zelda re-imagined as a point-and-click adventure, but it’s so much more. The cryptic, foreboding dialogue and the fact that the game world is affected by the real world’s lunar phases make the puzzles a real challenge,
but tight social networking integration allows you to offer and receive guidance; and every step forward feels like a genuine accomplishment. An utterly unique experience.
The Walking Dead Price: Free, Episode 1; £3.99, episodes 2 to 5
Telltale’s point-and-click adventure series, based as much on the original Kirkman comic as on the AMC TV show, pretty much single-handedly brought the genre back to the mainstream. Multiple short episodes mean that it won’t take four hours to play through one sitting, and the ‘moral choice’ gameplay mechanic lets characters remember the actions you took in previous episodes, and treat you accordingly.
It also features one of the greatest child characters in the history of, well, anything. Clementine is brave, resourceful, and heartbreakingly sweet, and is about as far away from the whiny, matricidal Carl as it’s possible to be. Both seasons are available on the App Store.
Best board games Agricola Price: £4.99
A ‘Euro’ design from its head to its toes, Agricola is light on conflict (although not entirely devoid of it) and heavy on strategy. It’s a board game about farming. Wake up at the back. In fact, despite that description, Agricola is a bulletproof modern classic: a finely-tuned killer of a game that will drag you in and never let go.
It’s a worker placement: each member of your family gets to perform one action each turn, whether that is collecting a resource (wood, stone, livestock), building or renovating a room, putting up fences, ploughing or sowing the fields or (look away, grandma) ‘family growth’.
But the various actions can each be performed only once per turn – hence the worry that an opponent will jump in ahead of you and grab whatever you need.
You can’t die, but you’ll be amazed by how much it hurts if you fail to collect enough food for your family on one of the designated feeding phases (knowing when you can afford to expand the family is key to success) and shamefacedly pick up one or more point-docking begging cards. And getting your farm running smoothly, with the crops ripening and animated baby animals appearing at the proper time, is hugely satisfying.
I always feel that the games end too soon: just one more turn, I think, I’m starting to get the hang of this. But that’s probably a good sign.
Carcassonne Price: £7.99
Turn-based tile-placing game Carcassonne divides opinion among serious board-gamers; many of the hardcore find it twee or dull, but others swear by its simple, engrossing mechanics. We think it’s an acquired taste, but a winner if you give it a chance.
Each lavishly illustrated game tile features a bit of territory: buildings, roads, meadows and so on. Each turn, a player draws a tile and has to play it next to a compatible tile that’s already on the board – for example, a city piece next to another city piece, or a road connected to another road.
As the game progresses, you and your opponents take turns placing tiles, as well as scoring points by dropping little game pieces known as ‘meeple’ on those tiles. The longer the road, bigger the building, or broader the meadow your meeple occupy, the more points you score.
It starts to make sense once you get the hang of it. Give it half an hour and you’ll be counting meeple in your sleeple, too.
Catan Price: £3.99, plus £3.99 for each expansion
Graphically, this is a faithful rendition of Klaus Teuber’s superb and deservedly idolised tile-based
island conquest game. Having the iPad handle those tiresome banking duties and victory point calculations makes things far more fast-paced than the board game, and you can view statistical tables at the end of the bout.
The computer players can be absolute swines – they’ll merrily gang up on you in a way that most human players would consider beyond the pale – but hardcore gamers may even consider this a plus. And the original game is such a work of genius that this couldn’t help being great fun, even if it’s not the perfect iOS port.
D&D Lords of Waterdeep Price: £4.99
Some gamers (this one included) may be tempted into this digital board game adaptation because it carries the Dungeons & Dragons name. But the truth is that the cosmetic trappings of high fantasy conceal a relatively dry ‘worker placement’ game
that rewards careful play and long-term strategy rather than derring-do. It’s a terrific game, but don’t expect fast-moving action.
You’re a lord: precisely which lord is determined by random chance, and kept secret from the other players. (The different lords gets bonus points for fulfilling different objectives.) And you’re a lord who doesn’t do anything he can get someone else to do for him. What you’ll be doing is recruiting adventurers – fighters, wizards, clerics and thieves, just like the characters in a game of D&D – and sending them on quests. But within the game, these recruits are just coloured cubes, and their adventures appear as static images on cards. This isn’t about the glory of adventures so much as the logistics of organising them. “Why yes, I would love to clear out the temple of the spider queen. I just need one more white cube – I mean cleric – and two more gold coins.”
But it’s still gripping, because you’re all competing to send your agents to a limited number of buildings where recruits can be found, and desperately trying to get your hands on the resources you need. At the start there’s one building that spits out fighters, one that spits out wizards and so on, and once a building has a player’s agent inside, it can’t be used by anyone else for the rest of the turn: so every move counts. (You can also buy new buildings of your own, expanding the range of options.
Lords of Waterdeep is a fine, mentally taxing, intensely competitive game. It’s just that, for all its D&D branding, at times it can feel a bit abstract. And if you’re okay with that, you’ll love it.
Galaxy Trucker Price: £3.99, iPhone; £5.99, iPad
One of those physical board games that many people thought would be impossible to recreate on iOS. But they’ve done it – and it works great.
Galaxy Trucker is divided into two phases. In the first, the players compete – with one another and with a timer – to snatch cards (which when flipped reveal guns, storage tanks, engines and other spacecraft components) from a central pile and add them to the growing, ramshackle vessel in front of them. It’s a bit like Carcassonne with a gun to your head.
There are optimal positions for the various types of card and you need to make their connectors line up as neatly as possible (because bare connectors make your vehicle more prone to damage). But the limited pool of cards – and the shortage of time as your opponents constantly take the items you need – force you into compromises. Generally everyone ends up with a massive bodge job.
In the second phase, which is much more sedate, all the players put their spaceships to the test. You line up on a stylised progress track and turn over further cards that trigger various ‘adventures’ (usually being attacked by space pirates or meteors, but occasionally getting the chance to collect valuable cargo) and trying to get to the finish line without disintegrating completely. The winner is determined by points, allocated for finishing position, attractiveness of spaceship, cargo collected, and so on.
The contrast between frantic tile-grabbing and turn-based relaxation is fun, as is the moment when you all finish your ships and look around to see exactly how badly the first phase went for everyone else. (Although one amusing element has been lost, according to fans of the cardboard version: in that game, sections of your ship that in the heat of the moment had been attached by the wrong type of connector would simply drop off and float away, whereas the digital game won’t let you form illegal connections.)
But it’s a beautifully designed game throughout: a simple concept executed perfectly. The dialogue options in the campaign mode are genuinely funny; the look is cartoonish but lovely; and this most characterful and physical of board games has made the transition to the iPad with its soul intact.
Le Havre (The Harbor) Price: £3.99
If you’re anything like us, you’ll need three or four games of Le Havre before it clicks, and that’s a long
learning curve for a board game. But if conflict-light, strategy-heavy resource management games are your thing, it’s well worth the effort.
Le Havre is another Euro game, like Agricola, and is if anything even drier and more analytical. It’s based around the economic activities at a bustling harbour; each turn you can collect one resource from the docks (fish, iron, grain or whatever), build a mill, brickworks or other facility, or use one of the buildings (paying a fee, if the building belongs to one of your opponents) to process one resource into another or perform some other function. If you can do all that while feeding your workers and amassing enough wealth to win the game, you’re doing alright.
It’s a good ‘un, this, with tremendous depth and highly rewarding gameplay once you get the hang of it, but make no mistake: it’s hard. And as we said, it’s quite dry – the conflict with other players is all done indirectly, and there are no militaristic options.
New World Colony Price: £2.99
Most well-designed board games take pains to avoid the death-by-a-thousand-cuts feeling of impending, inevitable defeat that hangs over the final 16 hours of the average game of Risk. In Catan, above, losing players almost always have something to aim for even if victory is unlikely, and Small World (below) invigoratingly flushes out the board every turn or two, giving it a feeling of constant possibility. New World Colony is not like that, but it’s still a great game, somehow.
Like Catan, it takes place across the hexagonal tiles of a newly discovered landscape, with rival settlers competing to establish a thriving base. But unlike Catan, it’s quite happy to pitch player against player in bloody head-to-head battles – you can invade and dismantle any of your rivals’ tiles if you have sufficient resources. This makes for a thrilling and almost chess-like middle game, but once you
establish a substantial advantage, things tend to revert to a process of mopping up. For this reason we recommend NWC as a solo game: computer players don’t mind being slowly crushed, but your real-life friends might.
Pandemic: The Board Game Price: £4.99
Pandemic is a popular co-operative board game in which up to four friends work together to defeat four diseases sweeping the globe. Each turn you’ll travel from city to city, treat the sick and research cures, hoping that the random new infections don’t strike in that worst possible place and snowball into multiple outbreaks. It’s unbelievably tense, and winning feels amazing. And everyone is involved, since you’re each allocated a role with special powers that will prove crucial in particular situations.
The iPad version works far better as a solo experience, but it still induces a massive (but
pleasurable) panic at its key moments. And presumably the euphoria of victory is also sweet. But it also seems, oddly, to be much harder than the cardboard version; on the easy difficulty level my own group wins more often than not, but I’ve yet to do so on iOS. Perhaps this is a clue that I’m not the brains of my gaming group.
Puerto Rico HD Price: £3.99
Probably the most middle-class game ever created, Puerto Rico invites up to five players (human or computer-controlled) to compete in an entirely nonviolent way to establish the most thriving plantation colony. You have to pick one of the iconic figures from Puerto Rico’s history to play as – one of whom is a female playwright – and grow corn and coffee, build universities and haciendas, and gain in prestige by shipping resources back to Spain.
All of which makes it sound like the bible board game that Ned Flanders makes his kids play, but
it’s actually brilliant. One gimmick we’ve not seen elsewhere, for instance, is a mechanism whereby the various phases of the game (building, trading, and so on) only happen if someone picks the related ‘role’. Picking the role that will benefit you and offer little to your foes is one of the ways you can twist the knife.
Small World 2 Price: £4.99
The mechanic at the heart of Small World involves two decks of cards: one featuring races of fantastical, Tolkienesque creatures (trolls, elves, ogres, and so on) and the other featuring adjectives (heroic, peace-loving, wealthy). In each game these two decks are matched up at random, and on your first turn, and whenever you elect to dump your current lot and try something new, you get to pick a combination. The two cards you get will dictate the special rules that apply to your armies.
Beyond that, Small World is basically fantasy Risk with jokes: you conquer territories with armies and
get points for the area you control (and a few other things, depending on your race and attribute). It’s fun, and surprisingly deep (particularly if you buy one of the expansions – Grand Dames is great). But the best thing is the way that every game is different, thanks to the random card-matching.
Space Hulk Price: £3.99
Space Hulk is a decent digital recreation of a wonderfully tense board game beloved of spotty teenage boys in the early 1990s. You control a squad or two of genetically modified super-soldiers in immense suits of armour, and trudge around an abandoned space ship stuffed to the gills with evil aliens. (The AI player always plays as aliens, but in the two-player mode you can take a turn as the baddie.) It’s turn-based, keeping the slow-burn fear of the original, but with added kill animations and atmospheric first-person camera views.
It’s not perfect, and we’d recommend playing the cardboard game itself if you can find a second-hand copy, but this is still a good effort and a lot of fun.
Ticket To Ride Price: £1.49, iPhone; £4.99, iPad
One for the trainspotters, you might think, although experience suggests that this simple but engrossing game will appeal to everyone.
You collect coloured cards (seen on the right and along the bottom in the screenshot below), which you then use to build railway infrastructure across the map, attempting to connect up the cities named in your (randomly allocated) objectives. Tactically we believe it’s relatively straightforward, but the competition for critical stretches can get fierce. And in the end there’s not much in life more satisfying than building a railway.
On the iPad version, the default map covers the US, and there are European expansions available as in-app purchases; on the iPhone there are separate Pocket apps for the US and Europe maps.
Best card games Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer Price: Free
A deck-building card game in the vein of the more famous Magic: The Gathering, Ascension differs principally in that you build your deck while playing the game itself, rather than in your spare time beforehand – thus making the game far more immediately accessible, while perhaps compromising a little on strategic depth.
You and your opponent(s) start with 10 cards, each of which give you a single white ‘rune’ point (to spend on buying new cards) or red ‘power’ point (to spend on killing monsters). Each turn you are dealt five of these, and you play them, then spend the points acquiring or killing the various cards that sit in the middle of the board.
There are tons of special cards, all of which demonstrate the unusual (but we think rather wonderful) art style this game offers. And best of
all, Ascension is free, although if you love the game as much as we do, you may find yourself coughing up £3 to unlock (almost) all the expansion and promo cards too.
Dream Quest Price: £2.29
I’ve put a lot (a lot) of hours into this game, one of 2014’s most critically acclaimed, and finally feel able to give it a strong recommendation. But there are a couple of reservations. Graphics-wise, this game… well, just look at the screenshot below. The graphics are frankly terrible, a mixture of The Saint- esque stick figures and hand-drawn garish cartoons. If this is a deal breaker, look elsewhere (at least for now – the maker has said that a total graphical overhaul could be in the works in a future update, after a fan offered to do artwork at mate’s rates).
The difficulty is pretty off-putting, too: I finished Dream Quest once with the thief character fairly
early on, but then died more than 100 times before I could repeat the trick with the monk. (You can offset this by playing on the easy difficulty level, but that doesn’t unlock achievements or new characters and therefore feels a little pointless.) If you get discouraged by repeated failure, seeming unfairness and death-by-random-event, you may find Dream Quest painful.
But there is so much to love here. In terms of gameplay mechanics it’s right at the cutting edge of current trends: a hybrid deck-building card game and rogue-like RPG. The dungeons you explore on each brief, 30-minute go are randomly generated and filled with monsters (which you fight in cardbased combat) and shops and unique events that offer the opportunity to add cards to your deck or remove ones that aren’t pulling their weight. Levelling up gives you more hit points and mana for casting spells, but more interestingly gives you access to more exciting and effective cards.
Card play seems basic at first but has surprising depth. Cards are split into colour-coded types (red for attack, purple for spell and so on) and clever deck-builders can construct powerful synergies: chains of cards that each let you draw more cards, multiplication buffs that lead to insane amounts of damage, fight-duration effects that stack and stack until you are causing more damage than your opponent on his own turn.
By the end, if things have gone right, you should be wielding a thrilling, streamlined killer of a deck, and you’ll still probably die because the last-level bosses are brutal.
I recommend this game, then, if you can get past the graphics. It’s a strong pick for fans of deckbuilders, and the rogue-like setting adds a powerful sense of theme to that often-dry genre. Just don’t come running to me when the Lich plays Dark Mending and you smash your iPhone.
Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft Price: Free (in-app purchases)
Basically Magic: The Gathering with Warcraft characters, Hearthstone is a card battle game. Build decks and strategies, summon minions and cast spells. The different classes and their specific cards and abilities add a nice level of variety, and the single-player ‘Curse of Naxxramas’ update means you don’t have to take your game online unless you want to.
As with all trading card games, Hearthstone hinges to some degree on microtransactions for new card packs, but the quest rewards for fulfilling
various criteria (such as number of monsters summoned or points healed) minimise the necessity of paying for anything.
The turn-based setup makes it a perfect game to play while waiting for the kettle to boil, and seeing a long-term strategy pay off is surprisingly satisfying. Now they just need to add some decent character taunts.
Magic 2015 Price: Free (in-app purchases)
A time sink, a mental workout, an addiction and at its best a sheer unadulterated joy: the Magic: The Gathering collectible card game is a cultural phenomenon with vast influence over the various branches of the gaming industry. This digital adaptation isn’t perfect, but it’s slick and attractive enough to do what it needs to – which is get out of the way and let the card game soar.
Before the start of a duel you spend a little time (okay, a lot of time) building and honing a deck of cards from your collection. These are made up of spells (which summon creatures or create magical effects, and which cost mana) and lands (which generate mana, and can under normal circumstances only be played at the rate of one per turn). As the duel progresses, each of you will get more and more land cards out, and therefore gain access to more and more mana, and to more and more powerful spells; which leads to a pleasing built-in escalation in the way the game plays out.
But it’s much more subtle than just collecting fantasy monsters and playing them. There are
professional Magic players; there are leagues around the world and millions of people who devote their time to fine-tuning Magic strategy. And all of this is because the balance and interplay of the cards has been tweaked and honed, tweaked and honed to create a game that some say rivals chess in its strategic depth.
So why are we playing Magic on the iPad instead of in the flesh? Two reasons. Firstly, while this app is pretty affordable, the secondary market that’s grown up around the rarer (real-world) cards can be financially crippling. And let’s face it, having boxes of Magic cards around the house doesn’t go down well with wives. In both respects the iOS adaptation wins out, although there are down sides; one of which is the loss of the human, social element (the multiplayer mode is decent, but it can’t rival face-toface competition).
We said this is affordable: in fact, the app itself is free, but be warned that this provides only the bare
minimum of functionality – for multiplayer games, the single-player campaign after the first world and most deck-building options you’ll need to pay for IAPs.
Best casual games Angry Birds series Price: Angry Birds, 79p Angry Birds HD, £2.29 Angry Birds Space, free Angry Birds Space HD, free Angry Birds Star Wars, 79p Angry Birds Star Wars HD, £2.29 Angry Birds Star Wars II, free
They had to be on the list somewhere, didn’t they? Yes, Rovio’s world-conquering vexed avians are about as mainstream a pick as you can imagine, but there’s a reason for their success: a strong idea backed up by solid level design and physics. We wouldn’t recommend an Angry Birds game as your first download, but they’re decent games.
We have a soft spot for Angry Birds Space, but Angry Birds Star Wars (and its free sequel) are probably the best. Star Wars fans will love their quirky mix of characters, and Rovio deserves a lot of credit for thinking of ways to include Star Wars-style effects into the Angry Birds game mechanics. It’s a great way to while away a few hours.
Bejeweled Blitz Price: Free
So moreish that they might as well plug it directly into your addiction centre, Bejeweled Blitz takes the ‘match three’ mechanic of a billion App Store puzzles and squashes it into minute-long blasts of dazzling colours and crazy point tallies.
You have to swap coloured jewels within a grid (swiping intuitively with a finger) so that three or more line up; the matched jewels will disappear and more will drop down to replace them. But the tense gameplay, constant drip-feed of rewards (rare gems, boosts, coins and level-ups) and competitiveness-provoking Facebook integration combine to make a game that will expand to fill any time period you let it near.
Drop7 Price: Free
Every so often a casual game comes along that’s entirely simple, entirely original and entirely
addictive. In Drop7 you need to deal with ever-rising rows of balls, each numbered from one to seven. In order to make a ball disappear, you have to use it in a row of exactly that number; if you’re lucky this may spark a chain reaction, clearing the board in dramatic bursts and multiplying your score. Each new row of balls that appears, however, comes up grey and numberless, and has to be cracked open by eliminating others around it. Like Tetris or Bejeweled, it’s easy to learn, difficult to master and even harder to put down.
Eliss Infinity Price: £2.29
Feeling a little too calm? Then why not amp up your stress levels with this slice of frantic puzzle action.
Harnessing the iPad and iPhone’s multitouch screens brilliantly, each level of Eliss Infinity challenges you to organise and destroy a series of planetoids, rendered in jarring retro colours. You can push them around the screen to keep out of trouble, push two of the same colour together to create a single larger body, or split planets by unpinching. The key thing is
to keep different colours apart, because when they touch they drain your energy.
Before long you’re juggling multiple sets, the iPad is complaining that it can only handle five fingers at once, and your brain is melting.
Eufloria Price £3.99, iPhone; £5.99, iPad
Eufloria pairs simple strategy with mood and style, offsetting tense gameplay with calming visuals and an ambient soundtrack.
Your job is to conquer a pastel-hued pocket of space by directing armies of ‘seedlings’ from colony to colony, wiping out any enemies that lurk there and establishing your own trees to generate new seedlings. You’ll face tough decisions about how many seedlings you need to defend your own holdings and how many should be sent out to battle.
The push ‘n’ pull strategy is compelling enough, but it’s the hand-drawn graphics and pretty soundtrack that really make Eufloria stand out as something special.
Flight Control Price: 79p
In Flight Control, you assume the role of an air traffic controller. As an ever-increasing number of planes approach the runways, your job is to guide them all in for safe landings. Planes travel at different speeds, and each is colour-coded to match the runway it must land on. You tap approaching planes and drag a flight path for them to follow for landing.
As you progress, this process gets increasingly manic, and not surprisingly, it’s loads of fun too. The game takes seconds to learn and mere minutes to play. What makes it even more impressive is that we’ve spent hours guiding planes in and can’t wait to go and play again.
Fruit Ninja Price: 79p
This funny, quick game combines two ideal qualities: it’s easy to learn and fun to master. Fruit (and the occasional bomb) appears on the screen, and you’re
tasked with slicing and slashing it up, ninja-style. If you let three pieces of fruit escape unscathed, or hit one of the bombs, your game is over. You slice by swiping your fingers across the falling fruit, and the game supports slashing with up to eight fingers at a time. Adding to the fun are great visuals, including lots of fruit juice flying with every slice, and a great, Eastern-infused soundtrack. The iPad version adds local multiplayer, which is hectic, fun and highly replayable.
Helix Price: £2.29
Endless action games are a perfect fit for mobile devices, offering short sessions but a strong urge to keep playing until you dominate your friends on the leaderboards.
Helix follows in the footsteps of classics of this genre such as Super Hexagon, with strange low-fi graphics and a simple yet quickly punishing approach to score-chasing design. You build a
tally of enemy kills not by firing a weapon but by simply encircling them on the screen by moving your character in a 360-degree arc. The resulting experience is tense and challenging, not to mention unpredictable.
Helix may not look like much at a glance, but by putting the onus on fluid, constant movement rather than attacks and direct interactions, this lo-fi wonder manages to feel wholly unique. It grabs your attention and never lets go: each session may only last a minute or two, but good luck resisting the urge to play for hours.
Only One Price: Free
And here’s an appealing free offering. Only One is a cliff top brawler in which you fight off waves of enemies armed with only your sword, an increasingly powerful range of special abilities and the glorious power of gravity.
The look is charmingly retro and the combat simple but faintly tactical (among other considerations, shepherding enemies away from
the edge makes for harder kills but better loot). It’s also rather funny.
Osmos Price: £2.29, iPhone; £3.99, iPad
Osmos was originally a highly regarded ‘ambient gaming’ PC title, but the touchscreen suits it perfectly. It’s a tranquillising experience, with trippy visuals and music.
You play a pulsating ball of light. The aim is to work your way up the food chain by moving around and absorbing smaller balls of light (making you expand) and avoiding bigger ones. Yet this simple concept produces an engaging experience like no other. Despite remaining utterly serene, some levels can get fiendishly complicated, with different balls of light acting in dramatically different ways. A classic that deserves a place in every iOS gamer’s collection.
Peggle Classic Price: 79p
At first glance, Peggle looks like a pretty straightforward combination of pinball and Puzzle Bobble. But while the object is simple – clear the stage of orange pegs – the methods require clever strategies, knowledge of geometry and some lucky bounces.
You launch a pinball at the screen below using a rotating cannon; the ball will clear any block or peg it bounces against. Green pegs unlock potent powers,
purple pegs increase your score, ball catchers can award you additional balls to use, while obstacles constantly stand in your way. Peggle is an instant classic and one of the most addictive puzzle games to come out in the past decade.
Super Hexagon Price: £2.29
This one is simplicity itself. The eponymous Super Hexagon is always at the centre of the screen, and other geometric wire frame shapes are constantly being sucked into it. You play a tiny arrow on the edge of the hexagon, and it’s your role to rotate around the centre to ensure that you’re never crushed by the incoming shapes. It sounds easy, and perhaps a little thin when I point out that you only need to stay alive for a minute to unlock the 3 extra levels. That’s misleading – the twitchy gameplay is so difficult that staying alive for those 60 seconds becomes your own personal Everest.
You’ll simultaneously love and hate the game, but it’s brilliant: simple and fiendishly moreish.
Surgeon Simulator Price: £3.99
Those with a strong stomach and a cruel sense of humour will get a lot out of this clumsy medical sim, which tasks you with a series of life-or-death operations and then deliberately makes the controls as difficult as possible, just so you make lots of amusing mistakes. Tools end up lost inside rib cages, intestines are wrapped around the patient’s neck like a scarf, teeth go everywhere, and the surgeon frequently injects himself with anaesthetic by accident. It’s a catalogue of errors: Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em set in an ER. Lots of fun, and great for showing off to friends.
Best racing games Does Not Commute Price: Free (in-app purchases)
What a brilliant concept this is. Does Not Commute starts you off with a simple driving challenge: get a car from point A to point B before the time runs out. (The car runs automatically: you just tap the left
or right side of the screen to steer.) But as soon as you achieve this, the game rewinds time and asks you to repeat the trick with a second vehicle on the same course. Only this time you need to contend with another driver on the road: yourself, screaming recklessly across the map in the first car. This repeats until the screen is full of with high-speed illustrations of your own inability to drive.
There are so many neat touches: the funny little snapshots of each commuter’s life and why they’re in a hurry; the dangerous ramps, jumps and shortcuts that you’re encouraged to use in order to avoid traffic, but which nearly always end in disaster; the desperate rush to beat the clock and pick up the extra-time powerups; and, best of all, the challenge of adapting to a vehicle that handles completely differently within a space of seconds.
It’s free, too, but on the same terms as Smash Hit: in other words, you can play for free but you can’t save at any of the checkpoints until you upgrade to the Premium version, which costs £1.49. We think it’s worth it, but have a try and see for yourself.
Hill Climb Racing Price: Free (in-app purchases)
Hill Climb Racing is an excellent time filler which you can pick up and put down at a moment’s notice.
The basic game is free and involves driving your 4x4 up hills, across bridges, down hills and then up more hills. Along the way you collect coins and fuel. Drive too slowly and you’ll run out of petrol; drive too quick and you’ll inevitably flip the Jeep over and snap the poor hillbilly’s neck.
Using your coins (plus bonus cash from jumps and flips) you can upgrade your engine, tyres, suspension and 4x4 system. There are also 14 vehicles, 13 of which must be unlocked. You can earn a fair amount of coins by playing the game, but you’ll quickly realise that to unlock most of the levels and vehicles you’ll have to use the in-app purchases to buy coins. It’s perfectly possible to play Hill Climb Racing without spending money, though. The real joy comes in mastering the controls
since, once you do, you can get up the steep hills that you previously thought impossible and cover ground quickly enough (without crashing) to collect fuel cans. There’s just a brake and accelerator, and you must carefully use both to avoid forward or backward rolls.
Joe Danger Touch Price: 69p
Joe Danger was originally a downloadable indie gem for PlayStation 3, but this iOS port is anything but a lazy conversion. A lot of thought has been put into making the transition to the small screen on the move as smooth as possible, with stunts, wheelies, ducking, lane changes, hops and everything else handled by simple swipes of the screen. All of which leads to a game that possibly surpasses the original, while managing to maintain the impressive colourful 3D cartoon style on a tiny screen. Moreish, and a genuine labour of love.
Real Racing series (but mainly Real Racing 2) Price: £2.99, iPhone; £4.99, iPad
The original Real Racing set the standard for racing games on the iPhone and iPod touch, but the sequel (above) is even better. The most obvious addition is licensed cars, including BMW, Ford and Nissan models. You can race among 16 cars (up from six) across 15 locations in career, quick race, time trial, and local and online multiplayer modes. Fortunately, frame rates don’t suffer from the detailed tracks, gorgeous environments and extra cars, which translate into more action and close calls. The action is buttery smooth; steering is precise when using accelerometer controls, and there are six other control methods to choose from. This is a winner.
Real Racing 3, meanwhile (below), is another beautiful and accomplished racing game but it offers itself for free while touting for income via in-app purchases. It’s gorgeous, even though there is quite a lot of pressure to spend real-world money.
Best horror games Dead Space Price: £4.99, iPhone; £5.99, iPad
With Dead Space’s pins-and-needles soundtrack and thrilling atmosphere, you’re always on edge. Your weapons are nothing more than modified mining equipment, and you’re always scrambling to find ammo: every shot counts. If the beasties reach you, there are touch-activated quick-time events you can initiate to push the enemy back a few feet, and you can gradually upgrade your armour and weapons. Aiming, shooting and initiating quick-time events by tapping is easy.
This isn’t just a great extension of the Dead Space franchise; it’s a fine game in its own right, both technically solid and evocatively executed.
Five Nights at Freddy’s Price: £1.99
An indie title that has been taking the horror game world by storm, this started out scaring the
pants off the PC community before moving to iOS. You play a night watchman in a Chuck-E Cheesestyle kids’ restaurant with animatronic characters. Except at night, these characters tend to get a little bit… murder-y.
Stuck in your little office, the only thing you can do is use the various cameras throughout the restaurant to keep an eye on your furry friends, and activate your office’s security doors if they get too close. Watch your power levels, though – run out of juice and you’re toast.
The tense, claustrophobic atmosphere and plentiful jump-scares make FNAF a nerve-shredding recipe for PTSD. Don’t play this on the bus unless you enjoy your fellow commuters hearing your girlish screams.
Forever Lost Price: £1.49 per episode; £1.99 in HD
One of our favourite point-and-click room escape games ever, Forever Lost is set in a spooky, deserted building that seems to be an old hospital.
You’ll need to find items and solve puzzles to escape. It’s challenging but hugely satisfying.
Lost Within Price: £4.99
Lost Within probably isn’t going to wow you with its novel take on horror. It’s what you’d expect: a pointand-tap survival horror game set in an appropriately terrifying insane asylum. (You play as Deputy Pearson, tasked with checking the abandoned Weatherby Asylum for junkies and random kids before the place gets demolished.) But despite Lost Within’s conventional setting and story line, it will scare the pants off you.
The interior of the building is creepy in all the right ways – there are old gurneys and wheelchairs strewn about, eerie graffiti lines the walls, and everything is stained and rusted – and the attention to detail is excellent. You can read the graffiti, see the screws on the wheelchairs, and tell the difference between rust, dirt, and bloodstains on the floor. You can go up to anything and examine it,
opening drawers and cabinets and crawling under desks and into sturdy old lockers.
As you progress through the asylum, you’ll start to interact with objects that give you flashbacks to the time when the asylum was in use. What’s cool about these flashbacks is that they’re also detailed; so detailed, in fact, that you can move through them while you’re in the flashback.
Gameplay is an excellent mix of storytelling and skill. You’ll feel challenged, but not frustrated, as you hide from monsters and try to escape the asylum. Highly recommended.
Year Walk Price: £2.49
Year Walk is a difficult game to describe, because much of its power comes from its twisting, sinister narrative and it’s arguably more about the experience than the puzzles: this is a multimedia experiment in the form of a game, but it’s effective and affecting rather than arch.
Essentially all you need to do is control the movement of an unseen character through a wintry,
papercraft-styled forest, chaining together particular sequences to further progress. Some of this is perfectly intuitive, some of it requires throwing conventional logic to the winds to some degree, but the overall intent of the game is to make you feel lost and confused.
Best multiplayer games Draw Something Price: £1.99
Draw Something might be flawed, but for a while this Pictionarystyle social puzzler threatened to take over the world. After setting up a game with a friend or stranger (you can have several on the go at once), you are presented with three objects. You pick one, and then draw it. Later, your friend will see your drawing process as a video, and try to guess what it is. They’ll then draw a picture, and you try to keep the
game going as long as possible: it’s collaborative, not competitive. The drawing interface can be a bit clumsy (we advise using a stylus), but the basic idea is economy-threateningly fun.
King of Opera Price: £1.49
We can safely say that King of Opera is the most fun you can have with four people and an iPad.
Like all great party games, it has an amazingly simple concept: there are four opera tenors, and only one spotlight to hog. When someone else has the spotlight, everyone else tries to shove them off the stage to take it for themselves. (Just like in real life.) For its admittedly short life span this is a purely joyful experience that anyone can pick up and play.
Space Team Price: Free
Space Team is perhaps the ultimate iOS party game. It’s certainly the best iOS game if you enjoy
shouting nonsensical phrases at your friends. Each player’s screen shows a spaceship’s dashboard, peppered with absurd dials and controls, and shows the ship itself at the top. The monitor periodically demands that you adjust one of the controls or dials to a specified setting, and the speed with which you respond dictates how successfully the ship escapes the fiery explosion on its tail.
Except that quite often, the setting you’re supposed to adjust isn’t on your screen at all – it’s on one of your friends’. Which means you have tell them to ‘set bat and ball to three’ or something like that. While the other players are trying to be heard with their own commands.
All of which adds up to an utterly stupid and totally wonderful experience.
Vainglory Price: Free
Vainglory is staggeringly well presented, with some of the best visuals seen on the App Store: colourful and lushly detailed environments and well-animated fantasy characters. But this isn’t a case of form over function.
The game spotlights three-on-three teambased action with (and against) fellow online players, and each squad must destroy the crystal at their opponents’ base. It’s not just a matter of overpowering your foes in head-to-head battle
– instead, you must work together to take down enemy turrets, use minion creatures as living shields and generally make smart decisions in every phase of the game. The free-to-play design thankfully puts no limits on gameplay: you can play as much as you want, but only with the certain free characters offered at any given time. If you want to use a non-free warrior, you’ll have to pay a one-time fee with in-game currency.
Vainglory has the heart of a full-bodied multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) experience. And like the top PC genre entries, it’s a remarkably fair and fun free game that doesn’t penalise players who opt not to shell out.
Best multiplayer games Doodle Jump Price: £1.99
Doodle Jump offers addictive, simple, addictive, mindless, addictive fun. And did we mention ‘addictive’? You control a hand-drawn creature whose only goal is to get higher. As you tilt your
iPhone or iPad from side to side, the creature jumps towards various bouncy platforms. Most of these are stationary, but you’ll also encounter brown platforms that break if you land on them, blue ones that move and springs that provide a boost. As you get higher you’ll encounter monsters, UFOs and black holes that you can shoot (by tapping) or just avoid. This is the perfect micro-game: insanely addictive and deliciously replayable.
Gunbrick Price: £2.29
Gunbrick is a hybrid platformer/puzzler that tasks you with “shooting and rolling your way to victory,” to paraphrase developer Nitrome’s description. This challenging title features stylised pixellated art, unlockable adventures, boss fights, and of course, a gunbrick.
One side of the brick is a shield; on the other, a gun. You can use the gun to move around (you can
only go up by shooting the ground, for example) or just roll around. These two techniques – shooting and rolling – provide the backbone of the puzzles.
Understanding how to calibrate your gunbrick in the world around you is essential to progression, and the initial levels do a great job of holding your hand before the puzzles get more elaborate. You go from navigating the world and destroying enemies to attempting to solve complex tile and movement puzzles. Nitrome also boasts that Gunbrick doesn’t have any in-app purchases, and is safe for kids. While I feel like a lot of the subtle satire and difficulty may be better suited for adults, it’s not a bad game for precocious youngsters. Just be prepared to answer questions about the game’s nonsensical plot and why the big-nosed duck-like pilot is fighting the police. I have the same ones myself.
Leo’s Fortune Price: £2.99
A visually dazzling, fast-paced and Apple Design Award-winning platform game that’s frequently
a treat – if sometimes a bit too tough for its own good – Leo’s Fortune involves manipulating scenery to solve puzzles, zooming along dizzying loops, and repeatedly getting killed in tight, unforgiving circumstances. Detailed, lush and rather charming.
Limbo Price: £2.99
Sad, cruel and beautiful (this is starting to sound like the lyrics to a Roxy Music track), Limbo is a puzzleplatform game set in a grim and homicidal afterlife. You play as a small boy trying to retrieve his lost sister, solving moving-crate brain-teasers while various hazards – ranging from circular saws and rising flood water to brain worms and the scariest spider you’ve ever seen – try to destroy you. It’s an experience you won’t forget quickly.
Mr. Jump Price: Free
iOS has seen its fair share of super hard games, usually of the ‘endless platformer’ variety – think
Flappy Bird and Robot Unicorn Attack. But Mr. Jump isn’t endless. Victory is possible, just very unlikely.
Each of the twelve levels (more are on their way) features pits, pixel-wide platforms to land on and other obstacles, and each level introduces a new game mechanic or obstacle to watch out for. Your only goal is to get to the end of the level. Mr. Jump moves for you, and all you have control over is when and how high he jumps, determined by how firmly you tap the screen.
While levels will take you less than a minute to run through in one successful go, some took me near an hour to beat. I felt tense and scared, hopping from platform to platform. When I finally make it past a spot where I always die, I hold my breath.
Sometimes You Die Price: £1.49
This enormously clever game is short on duration but long on wit and sparkling ideas. Sometimes You Die’s premise is that each time you die (usually by falling on spikes), your stricken corpse is left behind, allowing your future self to use it as a handy prop.
Dying therefore becomes a legitimate strategy. This is all summed up by the amusing instruction/motto ‘1) DIE 2) PROFIT’.
Aside from this innovative gameplay element, SYD is enlivened by a punishingly vigorous soundtrack and the stream of threats, abuse and quasi-philosophical musings written across the screen and read out by a Stephen Hawking-esque narrator. More of this sort of thing, please.
Stealth Inc Price: £2.99
We’ve filed it under platform games, but Stealth Inc also bleeds into the realms of puzzles and stealth action. You control a series of disposable clones, tasked with creeping around traps, cameras and robot sentries and trying to stay alive long enough to hack into various inconveniently located computer terminals.
You need to think hard about the best route through each level, but once you plunge in the game is all about fast-twitch hand-eye co-ordination – not just in order to get a good time, but to make
it through the lethal level furniture, which churns and buzzes around you. Timing and brains alike are needed. The look is perfect, too, and Stealth Inc has a lovely sense of humour. Highly recommended.
Sunburn Price: £2.29
Sunburn’s hook is its charming, grim premise. You play a spaceship captain whose cruiser was just smashed to bits and who, despite having no means of communication or way of surviving a long stretch in space, decides to ensure that no member of the crew will die alone.
Which means gathering everyone up and plunging straight into the nearest sun.
It’s such a comically dire concept, yet quite beautiful considering the circumstances. And Sunburn sells it perfectly with a colourful, retroinspired aesthetic and plenty of humour. The tricky platform challenges feel unique, and require careful timing and navigation: your task is to jet pack around and collect each subordinate, attaching them all to one great big tether behind you.
Trying to float around fireballs with half a dozen humans and pets linked behind you is tricky, and it can be frustrating at moments. But Sunburn’s wit and charm go a long way. And there’s really nothing out there quite like it.
Super Crate Box Price: £1.49
SCB looks like an old 8-bit platform game, but each level is a single-screen affair from the top of which enemies large and small constantly tumble, then stomp their way towards a fiery pit at the bottom of the level. With very limited room to manoeuvre, you’ll
forever be in the way of these monsters’ suicidal march, and should they touch you, you die. Your job, meanwhile, is to collect the crates which randomly spawn across the level. You start with a pistol, which is near useless, but every time you grab a crate you’ll be given a new weapon at random.
The controls get in the way of the action rather than helping, unfortunately, but because death is so regular in Super Crate Box anyway they don’t wind up being quite the problem they first appear to be. This is a frighteningly compulsive game of jumping and shooting: who’d have thought collecting plain brown crates would be so tense and thrilling?
They Need To Be Fed series Price: 69p, Episode 1; £1.49, Episode 2
Who are they, I hear you ask. ‘They’ are gigantic, Little Shop Of Horrors- esque man-eating plants, and you’re on the menu. And, unusually in the realm of games, you are expected to help this happen.
Classic platform action is the order of the day, then, as your silhouette sprite bounces and dodges his way past exploding spheres, missile-launchers
and carnivorous bats, only to throw himself into the jaws of an oversized Venus Fly Trap. Visually appealing and beautifully constructed, it’s exactly as annoying as a good platform game should be – which is to say, quite.
Thomas Was Alone Price: £3.99
Your enjoyment of this one may depend on your positions on two things: high-concept indie gaming, and the comedian Danny Wallace.
Actually, all kidding aside, Thomas Was Alone is a fine piece of work with a lot of heart. It’s been built from the simplest of ingredients (a set of coloured shapes that can each jump and in some cases use special powers), and the gameplay is straightforward too: each level is a puzzle that demands the clever use of the shapes’ skills to get all to the exit. But it ends up being mentally taxing – if in truth never quite as hard as we’d like it to have been – and quite sweet. The shapes all have names and back stories, related in a jaunty voiceover that won Wallace a BAFTA, and the music
shoulders a lot of the emotional heavy lifting too. You end up caring about Thomas, and he’s a red rectangle, and you can’t say fairer than that.
Waking Mars Price: £2.99
We’ve included this in the platform section, but this is a game with significant puzzle elements and just a touch of action. Waking Mars puts you in the boots of a jet packing astronaut/scientist exploring the Red Planet for signs of ancient life. It’s your job to find and plant seeds that spread vegetation around the caves, which in turn opens up new areas.
You have to evade carnivorous plants and acid pits, and occasionally you’ll need to kill off a plant to make room for another. But this is a game about creation rather than destruction. It’s thoughtful and at times intense, not to mention incredibly pretty: your character a tiny spec against dramatic sweeps of red rock and vast open skies.
Best puzzle games 10000000 and You Must Build A Boat Price: £2.29 and £2.29
10000000 (that’s ‘ten million’) and its sequel, You Must Build A Boat, are hybrid games: an effortless blend of match-3 puzzles like Bejewelled and dungeon-running roleplaying games.
As your little pixel-dude wanders through a retro dungeon, he’ll encounter assorted obstacles – monsters of varying challenge, locked chests and traps – and you have to arrange matching blocks in the bottom half of the screen to defeat them. Matching three (or more) swords or staves damages the enemies; keys unlock the chests; shields increase your defensive powers; and so on.
You need to keep matching blocks – any blocks – to keep the board moving and open up new opportunities, but you must also keep an eye on the state of play in the mini-RPG at the top of the screen, and factor this into the matches you make. If you fail to provide a demanded match for long
enough, you’ll be forced off the left-hand side of the screen and your session will end.
10000000 offers this (devastatingly addictive) setup and not a whole lot more – you can level up some of your gear and skills, but to a degree that pales in comparison with the boat-building action that the sequel’s title promises. Your vessel begins as barely a dinghy but has grown to a sprawling galleon by the end of the game, complete with hordes of recruited monsters, each providing a small stat boost, and shopkeepers waiting patiently to upgrade your character. And since both games are currently the same price, it would make sense, until and unless the original hits a sale price, to plump for the later game. But both are wonderful.
Cut The Rope series Price: 69p
There’s a sweet (or a few pieces of a sweet, or even a pair of sweets) dangling or floating somewhere in each level of these hugely popular physics-based puzzlers, and you have to feed it to a monster called Om Nom. And if you can grab the three stars while you’re at it, that’d be great.
Early levels begin with simple ropes and bubbles, and all you need to do is slice the rope with your finger or tap to pop the bubbles. But things get far more complicated later: some ropes only appear when the sweet is near them, and you have to deal with hazards like spikes or hungry spiders.
The Cut The Rope games have a neat concept and cute artwork, but the games’ massive success is down to their level design, which is superb. Physics effects are intuitive, from basic but perfectly executed gravity and floating objects to bungee-action ropes, and the difficulty curve is expertly judged.
After the bestselling original game, Cut The Rope: Time Travel adds historical settings and a second Om Nom (in period costume) on each level. Cut The Rope 2 chucks in helper creatures with special abilities such as helicopter wings or stickout tongues, and medals for completing levels in specified ways.
Of the three, we’d probably go for Time Travel first, since CTR2’s in-app purchases are a bit annoying. But they’re all solid games.
Ending Price: £1.49
Maze-based puzzle adventure Ending is seemingly effortless proof that great game mechanics can achieve far more than even the most striking
graphics ever could. Rendered all in stark, monochrome symbols and lacking even a soundtrack, this is absolute minimalism – which frees you up to focus entirely on the challenge at hand: steering an ‘@’ symbol through a series of arenas filled with roaming glyphs that will kill you instantly on touch. This devious puzzler will either make you feel very smart or very stupid.
Framed Price: £3.99
We’ve seen loads of games based on comic books, but Framed tries a different approach: it builds mechanics from the placement of the panels themselves, which is incredibly clever.
This noir-soaked tale sees you alternately guiding a shadowy man and woman away from police and an unknown pursuer. You’ll never directly control the characters; all you’ll do is reposition or manipulate the colourful panels that appear on the screen, in the hopes of creating a safe path from top to bottom.
It’s sort of mesmerising to see it in action, because it’s incredibly simple – so much so that there isn’t a
spoken or written word throughout, even in the tutorial moments – but also supremely effective as a puzzle mechanic.
Short but super sweet, Framed really is a premium experience deserving of your money. Beyond being a seriously smart concept, the noir art style is swell, the animation is dazzling, and the jazz score is just the cherry on top.
Hundreds Price: £2.99
The concept of Hundreds – so simple, yet open to so many permutations – is this: you make the total number reach 100. This is done by tapping on bubbles, which grows the number inside. If one of the bubbles collides with anything else while you’re touching it, it’s game over. This grows from the intuitive simplicity of a couple of bubbles bouncing lazily around to fiendish contraptions, swarms of ‘enemy’ bubbles and, oh, all sorts. You’ll succeed often, you’ll fail often, you’ll try again every single time, but what you’ll never do is predict what the next level will be like.
Starkly beautiful, oozing cleverness without being smug about it and continually surprising, Hundreds was one of the best games of 2013, and remains well worth your time.
Lyne Price: £1.99
And now for something a little gentler. Each level of this iPhone and iPad puzzle game presents a grid of triangles, diamonds and squares, along with a few octagonal junction boxes. By tracing your finger across the screen you must draw a line connecting all of the yellow triangles, another connecting all the red squares, and so on. You can use each connecting line only once and touch each shape only once.
The experience of Lyne is almost transcendentally calming – partly the result of the timeless, thoughtful mechanics, partly the restful colour scheme, visual design and typography, but mostly the result of the new-age, panpipe-sprinkled soundtrack.
A true wonder: a game so minimalistically elegant that it can get away with pan pipes.
Monument Valley Price: £2.49
Monument Valley is an elegant puzzle game where you guide a young princess, Ida, through a maze of ruined monuments. You manipulate the landscape to let Ida get from place to place, using optical illusions to your advantage. Because in Monument Valley, when walkways appear to line up, Ida can walk along them – even when you know that they really don’t.
Some reviewers have got the hump with Monument Valley as it takes a relatively short time to complete and it’s not difficult, but neither of those matter. It’s like a film, not a TV show, and while you’re there you’re completely engrossed. Each level is an artwork in itself, and the beauty of the puzzles is such that you’re always delighted when everything clicks into place.
Monument Valley is the antithesis of high-velocity, low-reward freemium games like Candy Crush. It’s an experience to be savoured – and a must-have.
The Room series Price: 69p, The Room 1; £1.49, The Room 2
Blending the old-fashioned narrative technique of a locked box concealing a secret with modern touchscreen technology and beautiful graphics, The Room games are a quiet (if gently sinister) delight.
The Room 1 is a thoughtful, attractive puzzle game entirely set on and within one intricate safe, whose surfaces are adorned by strange mechanisms and logic puzzles behind which smaller, more challenging boxes lurk. Great for ‘Eureka’ moments, and the tactile nature of the whole affair works terrifically well on the iPad format: spinning the screen to rotate the boxes, sliding to remove letters from envelopes or carefully rotating delicate mechanisms.
The Room 2 takes the first game’s formula and broadens its scope, spreading its puzzles across various boxes (and other locked constructions) in multiple rooms. The understated richness of The Room’s visuals are replaced with something more flamboyant, as the player is dragged from jungle temple to Victorian drawing room, and the first game’s hint of scariness is amplified to provide plenty of atmosphere.
Shadowmatic Price: £2.29
You’ll quickly get the hang of Shadowmatic. In each level, one to three objects are suspended in the air and illuminated by a light source, projecting a shadow onto the wall behind. You’re asked to flip, rotate, twist, and move the objects around until you can create a recognisable shadow, which could be anything from animals and fish to tools and athletes in different poses.
Each level is gorgeous and well-made, themed and full of detail. The objects are all rendered in 3D with lots of texture, and the textures change to suit the themes (in the fishing-themed levels, the objects look like they’re made of rusty metal and coral, for instance). There’s also a cool parallax effect: when you move your device around, the background moves to give you a more three-dimensional feel.
It’s gorgeous, innovative, and cleverly designed; if you enjoy perspective puzzles, such as Monument Valley, Shadowmatic is right up your alley.
Threes! Price: £1.49
A beautifully simple – and indeed plain beautiful – puzzle game that seems
likely to live on iPhone home screens for years to come, Threes has all the hallmarks of greatness. It looks terrific, the gameplay mechanics are easy to grasp (manoeuvre numbered tiles around the board to match them, thereby creating new, highernumbered tiles) yet deep enough that lengthy threads have appeared discussing strategy, it has lovely personality.
World of Goo HD Price: £2.99
At time of launch probably the finest puzzle game in the App Store, and still a compelling classic. World of Goo presents you with a pile of small goo balls (usually sitting at the bottom of the screen) and an open pipe (generally up high) and asks you to introduce them to each other. Using your finger, you have to stack the balls up to reach the pipe: once you get your goo structure to reach the pipe, it will suck up all the balls not used to build the structure.
Each level is a challenge and takes a great deal of thought (and structural consideration) to complete. There’s a lot of strategy involved, and graphically, the game soars, its levels littered with canyons, water fountains and volcanoes. Few games are as fun, interesting and enjoyably complicated.
Best roleplaying games 100 rogues Price: £1.99
Like Canabalt, this turn-based dungeon crawler takes sadistic pleasure in the inevitability of death. And, since it’s part of the hardcore genre known as ‘rogue like’, that death is permanent: there are no precautionary saves. (You can leave a game and return later, though.) But don’t let that put you off a fun and entertaining adventure.
Playing as a knight, wizard, robot, skeleton or ‘dinoman’, you head off on a quest to defeat Satan and his minions. The game has strategic depth, and you’ll be amazed how much it draws you into its odd little world – before kicking you out again when you make the smallest error. Lovably brutal.
Baldur’s Gate series Price: £6.99, Baldur’s Gate 1; £10.49, Baldur’s Gate 2
The Baldur’s Gate remakes are serious RPGs for serious RPG fans. Recreating the 90s PC classics
– seemingly in their entirety – for the iPad is a logistical triumph, and we’d argue that the price tags (which are high for iOS games) are more than justified, considering the wealth of story and gameplay you’re getting for your cash.
That’s not to say they’re perfect; the controls aren’t easy to master, often reminding you that they were conceived with keyboards and mice in mind. But for quality, in-depth roleplaying action, these wonderfully rich games are tough to beat.
The Banner Saga Price: £6.99
Compared to the average App Store game, The Banner Saga’s £6.99 asking price is fairly ambitious (although there are more expensive games that we recommend in this list). But this long-lasting and solidly replayable RPG adventure provides more than enough richness and value to justify its premium entry fee.
You command a squad of up to six fighters, each of which can be lightly customised and upgraded over time. The grid-based battles play out like in classics such as Final Fantasy Tactics and Tactics Ogre, with each turn providing the ability to move a hero a certain number of squares and then perform an action, whether it’s a melee or weapon attack or perhaps a magic/support interaction.
But outside combat things are just as dangerous. The Banner Saga frequently empowers you to make decisions about almost everything, but it’ll make you pay for your slip-ups. Even dialogue selections feed into how the story line twists and turns on the road ahead.
If you have a soft spot for nicely realised fantasy worlds, love obsessing over tactical affairs, or simply need something complex and absorbing to play on your iPhone or iPad this holiday season, The Banner Saga’s robust role-playing should be at the top of your App Store wish list.
The Bard’s Tale Price: £1.99
This iOS port of a classic and much-beloved PS2era RPG is memorable not so much for its sparkling graphics or revolutionary gameplay (though both are perfectly serviceable, and even sort of charming) as for its absolutely fantastic writing.
Imagine a mix between The Princess Bride and Robin Hood: Men In Tights; this game sets out to skewer just about every fantasy and RPG trope it can get its hands on. The Princess Bride comparison is helped by the fact that the titular scoundrel is voiced by none other than the inimitable Cary Elwes, who bickers constantly with the snarky, fourth-wall-breaking narrator (points if you can spot which classic Disney villain he voiced).
The gameplay is fairly standard real-time RPG hack-and-slash fare, based primarily on summoning various support characters to provide buffs and aid in combat. However, focusing on gameplay in a title like this would be inconceivable.
Bastion Price: £2.99
Casual description does this painterly action-roleplaying game few favours – games about beating up beasties in exchange for experience points are a dime a dozen on the App Store, after all. Where Bastion differs is in its storytelling. A nearomniscient narrator commentates your progress as you play, picking up on your decisions and mistakes as well as furthering a sombre, opaque tale with a voice that redefines the very concept of gravel. It adds a huge amount of character, as well as lending Bastion the eerie sense that it’s watching you.
A beautiful game both visually and in atmosphere, Bastion is fortunately not so bogged down on its own grandeur that it forgets to be a reliably compulsive stream of action too.
Desktop Dungeons Price: £7.99
This idiosyncratic turn-based rogue like is lots of fun. You’re the administrator of a little hamlet which is
beset on all sides by evil creatures, and resolve to send various fantasy archetypes (wizards, thieves, barbarian warriors and so on) into the villain-riddled swamps, forests and mountains nearby to sort things out. Each time one of your disposable heroes goes on a quest, a dungeon is randomly generated, and it’s up to you to work out the best way of coping.
I say that the game is turn-based, but really it’s completely static; monsters only hurt your character in response to your own attacks and the game offers a statistical prediction of how your and their health bar will look if you choose to engage in another round of blows. Magic, on the other hand, leaves you completely unscathed, but chips away at your mana bar. And both health and mana can be recharged only by exploring new areas of the map, going up in level or burning through your limited supply of potions.
All of which means that Desktop Dungeons is almost chess-like, and more of a puzzle than an RPG in a lot of respects – the trick is to work out which
monsters to attack in which order, so as to gain enough experience, collect enough equipment and conserve enough health and mana to be able to take on the boss at the end. There is indeed an actual – and brutally difficult – puzzle mode, in which a range of pre-prepared scenarios must be navigated in precisely the right way.
As threats are neutralised and loot piles up, you’ll be able to build or upgrade new facilities and thereby unlock new character types, equipment and monsters, all of which has an appeal of its own; and the writing is consistently witty. But it’s the slowpaced, deceptively brain-bruising dungeon crawling which gives Desktop Dungeons its unique charm.
Infinity Blade series Price: £3.99, Infinity Blade 1; £4.99, Infinity Blade 2; £4.99, Infinity Blade 3
They adopt the trappings of the fantasy RPG, but the Infinity Blade games aren’t free-roaming and there’s very little exploration. Yet that isn’t a criticism. The genius of the series is that it captures and distills the essence of roleplaying games into something almost existential: an infinite loop of death and rebirth, fighting, learning, looting and starting all over again. All three Infinity Blade games offer breathtaking graphics – the backdrops are works of art – but Infinity Blade 3 is unsurprisingly the best of the bunch, and given how little previous games have dropped in price, it’s definitely the one to start with.
The Infinity Blade games are essentially a series of epic swashbuckling one-on-one battles with giant monsters, carefully packaged to suit gaming on the
go. You tap to attack, swipe to parry, gesture to cast magic spells and so on. In the end you’ll die, but that’s okay: there’s always another go.
Knights of Pen & Paper Price: £1.99
Opting to recreate the entire Dungeons & Dragons fantasy roleplaying experience rather than just the glamorous bits, KoP&P pulls the camera back to reveal the dork squad sitting there with their 12-sided dice and cans of Vimto, directing the heroic actions playing out on the imaginary stage in front of them. So you control the mages, assassins and barbarians accomplishing heroic feats, but also the pizza delivery boys, school bullies and little sisters playing as them.
It’s a brilliant concept beautifully realised: charmingly retro in look, funny and compulsive.
Legend of Grimrock Price: £3.99
Ah, the sweet taste of old-school RPG action. Legend of Grimrock, a sort of modern remake of Eye Of The Beholder (or, going further back, a game I’m not familiar with called Dungeon Master), is a fantasy dungeon crawler, meaning that it takes place amongst the neatly right-angular grid of an underground catacomb.
The action takes place in the first person: you see through the eyes of your four-character party (made up of wizards, fighters and thieves, with the nicely weird option of having them be giant insects or minotaurs as well as humans), and tap big chunky buttons to make them walk forward or back one tile at a time, turn, swing swords and axes, shoot bows and cast spells.
The graphics are quite lovely (although true again to EOTB in the walls of each section of dungeon being crafted from three or four identikit tiles, adding to the sense of exploratory confusion – particularly if you select the harder mode in which no automap
is created) and the movement and combat are fast, smooth and frantic. It’s pretty tough, too, with some truly mind-bending puzzles and plenty of monsters who can wipe you out in a few swipes, and more than long enough to justify the price tag.
Undercroft Price: Free
An old-school RPG very much in the vein of Eye Of The Beholder, Undercroft harks back to a simpler time when men were men and roleplaying games were turn-based. Hasn’t been updated in a couple of years – how we’d love the excuse to dig out our old party – but its low-fi charms remain undiminished.
Best shooting games 9mm Price: £4.99
This hugely entertaining third-person shooter, starring detective John Kannon, is very much a
case of ‘shoot first, ask questions once the bad guys are dead’. The graphics are superb, the dialogue is hilarious and the optional gyroscopebased controls, while initially tricky, make those first few kills all the more satisfying. The buttons are conveniently placed, with crouch/stand and the virtual joystick on the left, and shoot and run bottom right, next to a cool button that allows you to dive in slow motion. There are numerous firearms to choose from, and a shop for upgrades. 9mm is a funny, great-looking game that’s kept fresh by the gyro controls.
Bioshock Price: £7.99
I hesitate a little to recommend this game wholeheartedly: the controls are a bit of a nightmare, for one thing (I wonder if a fast-paced first-person shooter will ever really work on mobile), and while our experience on an iPad Air 2 has been fine, many users on older hardware have reported crashes
and glitches. It’s not perfect. But it’s also one of the greatest PC games of all time, on mobile, with most of its qualities intact.
You’re a shipwrecked wanderer who discovers a failed undersea utopia: a decaying Objectivist tax haven where genetic modification and drug use are rampant and the walls are starting to leak. This is a shooting game, and you can happily boil things down to ‘bad people need to be shot’ (there’s a pretty standard variety of firearms, as well as some more interesting ‘genetic’ powers that allow you to play with fire, lightning and telekinesis), but there’s more at play than that: it wears it lightly, but this is a game with an ethical as well as a political dimension.
The graphics look good on the iPad’s screen, even though they have been downgraded from the PC original, the story and world-building is exceptionally strong, with a highly original 1940s/1950s-steampunk feel, and the action is exhilarating (even though it’s far more difficult to
strafe using a touchscreen than with a keyboard and mouse). At its core this remains a wonderful, landmark game, even if some significant compromises have been made to deal with the constraints of mobile. And the ‘invert Y axis’ control still doesn’t appear to work, which (if anyone is listening) would be a good one to patch.
We got this for £2.29, but this was evidently a temporary sale price; at time of writing it’s going for £7.99. That’s certainly more palatable than the £11 that was asked at launch and remains a solid deal for a game of this depth and scope.
Death Ray Manta (DRM) Price: £2.29
Don’t try to understand it. Don’t even think about it. You’ll only give yourself a headache. Death Ray Manta, aka DRM, is an arcade shoot ‘em up in the vein of Geometry Wars (or Asteroids, after drinking an awful lot of Red Bull), but where so many of those try to do the reflex-battering
‘bullet hell’ thing, this one is all about sensory overload. A fast, frantic purely single-player game of skill, free from leaderboard posturing or cynical microtransactions. Lovely stuff.
Deus Ex: The Fall Price: £4.99
Stealth, gunplay, silent death moves and some roleplaying elements. Deus Ex: The Fall is the iOS port of a deep, ambitious and critically acclaimed PC game, and loses little in translation, offering thrills and spills in a beautifully realised sci-fi setting.
The story’s all about cybernetic enhancements and post-human ethical conundrums, but it never gets in the way of the important stuff: hacking your way through a computerised security door, crawling down a tunnel and shooting a man in the head. Lots of fun, if comparatively expensive for an iOS game (and quite brief, too).
Grand Theft Auto series Price: £2.99, GTA 3 £2.99, GTA: Chinatown Wars £2.99, GTA: Vice City £4.99, GTA: San Andreas
Apple fans haven’t had much luck with the Grand Theft Auto games, one of the most successful series of our times. The Mac hasn’t even got GTA 4 yet, even as Mac fans clamour for news on whether they will ever see Grand Theft Auto 5 (above).
But if you’re willing to go back a generation or two, there are some terrific GTA games on the App Store for iPad and iPhone owners to enjoy. Fortunately Rockstar have been making terrific games for years, and even their older stuff is great.
GTA 3, for instance (below), is a violent, darkly humorous ode to mafia films that first sparked controversy (and accolades) in 2001 and burst on to iOS 10 years later. Aiming and firing can be tricky, but the touchscreen controls are otherwise surprisingly capable. Controversial subject matter aside, the game is stunning in its scale and brilliance.
Max Payne Mobile Price: £2.29
This iOS instalment of the mighty third-person shooter franchise begins with Max Payne finding his wife and newborn daughter brutally murdered and vowing to track down those responsible.
Navigation is configurable, allowing you to choose onscreen locations for the controls. There are nicely animated intros to take you into key elements of the game, an optional auto aim and a cheat mode allowing quick progression to later levels if you so desire. All of which adds up to one of the best games to hit the App Store: it remains true to the original, and has all the addictive qualities present in the computer and console versions.
Smash Hit Price: Free
A cunning mixture of first-person shooter and endless runner, Smash Hit pushes you ever onwards while you try to shoot obstacles with giant marbles.
The graphics and sound are lovely – the obstacles are satisfying destructible, subsiding noisily into translucent shards – and a clever mechanic means that your ammo count is also your life. Run out of marbles (don’t worry, you can restock them periodically by shooting designated targets) and you’ll perish. Great fun, not to mention free.
Zombie Gunship Price: 69p
From the cockpit of a heavily armed aircraft, circling above a bunker in which the last remnants of humanity have taken refuge from a zombie apocalypse, your job is to gun down zombies and save human survivors. Zombie Gunship some tactics involved in all this – your guns can overheat or be upgraded – but it doesn’t get in the way of the blasting fun.
The grainy, surveillance-camera-style graphics help create an intense atmosphere, and the sound effects are top-notch. The strategy, the graphics and sound, and the undeniable thrill of sending the
undead back to the grave they crawled out of make for a compelling iOS game.
Best side-scrolling games ALONE… Price: £1.49
ALONE... is what some would refer to as a cave flyer: you zip along a procedurally generated landscape at ever-increasing speed, trying your best to avoid the obstacles in your path and using the bare minimum of controls ( just up and down) to preserve your little spaceship.
It’s an incredibly simple, stripped-back game, but things like this live and die by their speed; or rather by the sensation of speed that they are able to produce. And ALONE... is brilliant at this. The hectic soundtrack, the speed lines and space detritus flying past you, the barely controllable speed boost you get whenever you’re winged by a small piece of debris and the gradual acceleration as the game
progresses – all of this contributes to a tightly focused thrill ride of a game.
This isn’t to say that the devs haven’t given any thought to the cosmetics of the thing: there’s some great mysterious background imagery (reminiscent of Canabalt) and the shifting colour schemes are undeniably lovely. You just might not get much of a chance to appreciate them.
Alto’s Adventure Price: £1.49
Alto’s Adventure feels totally Zen. It hones in on a sense of serenity that the vast majority of endless runner-style games completely avoid, and when your time comes and you end up with a face full of powder (or worse, boulder), the conclusion doesn’t feel so devastating. Just get back on the board
Most of the credit for this unique tone goes to the visual design, which eschews realism in favour of building big personality via dazzling animations, a stunning day-night cycle that really changes the play experience, and a rousing bit of music.
It doesn’t have an array of absurd tricks to pull off, but while Alto’s simplicity could rub some the wrong way, it’s worth sticking around and digging deeper. You’ll always have up to three objectives to complete, and while the early ones are easy, the later tasks – a triple back flip, really? – require risking your run on a single move.
Alto’s Adventure might not have the gameplay depth of your average snowboarding game, but spend a few minutes soaking in these slopes and you’ll appreciate its low-key approach to a typically ‘extreme’ sport.
Canabalt Price: £1.99
There’s something nightmarish about this sparsely elegant one-button platformer: you can’t win, you can’t escape, and eventually you’ll miss a jump and die. The aim is simply to get as far across that endless crumbling rooftop as possible. (It’s not even clear what catastrophe you’re fleeing, although the giant figures stalking the landscape behind are probably a clue.) The automatic acceleration
and hyperactive soundtrack ratchet up the energy levels beautifully, the super-retro graphics are gloriously evocative, and it’s hard to imagine a more accessible or mobile-friendly game.
Jetpack Joyride Price: Free
Jetpack Joyride is a delightful and addictive cave flyer that keeps us coming back for more. You play
the role of Barry Steakfries, a disgruntled individual who breaks into a top-secret research lab, steals a machine-gun-powered jet pack, and takes flight through the lab’s never-ending string of long, tunnel-like rooms. As you jet or run along, ever forward, you try to avoid electrified barriers, lasers and missiles while collecting coins.
The mix of responsiveness and acceleration is just about perfect, the comical graphics raise it above most offerings in the genre, and the extras – including a superb array of vehicles – make Jetpack Joyride a true standout.
Mirror’s Edge Price: 60p, iPhone; £2.99, iPad
Sprint, leap and slide as you attempt to escape the Orwellian government that oppresses the world. Swiping left or right will make your character run in that direction, and combinations of upward and downward flicks make her leap over and slide under obstacles. Well-timed taps and swipes allow you to run on walls, disarm trigger-happy baddies
and grind down conveniently placed ziplines. EA somehow manages to retain the acrobatic charm of the console original, while making it minimalist enough to work seamlessly on iOS.
Ski Safari Price: 69p
An avalanche is coming, and it’s up to you to keep skiing mountain dweller Sven one step ahead of icy doom, while navigating hills, dips and other alpine obstacles. Tapping makes Sven jump, while tapping and holding causes him to flip – you get bonuses for successfully completing a back flip (or two). The app takes a page out of the Tiny Wings handbook by adding mini-challenges that you complete to boost yourself to a new level. Ski Safari lacks the sort of graphic embellishments you’ll find in other iOS games, but then again, it really doesn’t need them; this is an App Store offering that flourishes thanks to its outstanding gameplay.
Tiny Wings Price: 69p, iPhone; £1.99, iPad
For those who haven’t played it before, Tiny Wings is a side-scrolling game based on a single control. Touch the screen and your cute little bird furls her stunted wings and speeds downwards at a rapid lick. Raise your finger, and she flaps them and soars briefly, if you’ve gained sufficient momentum. Racing against the sun (when it sets your bird goes to sleep and the game is over) you have to press and release at the right moments to navigate a series of hilly, undulating islands as quickly as possible, achieving ‘flight’ as much as you can.
The basic gameplay mechanics are simple but exquisitely crafted, and the game is an aesthetic delight, from the crayony backdrops to the charming music and effects. But it was the recent update that catapulted an already fine game to the top of our hit parade. Aside from now being available optimised for iPad, the best new feature is a mode called Hill
Party: a split-screen, knee-to-knee local multiplayer mode that’s quite, quite brilliant (but only for iPad).
Brought to iPad with a bang, and now featuring the finest party multiplayer we’ve seen on the device, Tiny Wings is wonderful, charming, inventive, simple, beautiful, fun. Pick an adjective.
Best sports games Desert Golfing Price: £1.49
This one is killing productivity in the Macworld office right now. Which says a lot for its quality (and perhaps for the flimsiness of our work ethic).
On each hole, naturally, you start with the ball on the tee and the pin a short distance away; as one would expect, your objective is to get the former to the latter by using as few strokes as possible. Where it differs from golf as it is commonly understood (and commonly represented in computer games), however, is that the round never ends. There is no reset button, and each one of the potentially thousands of holes, once played, is
logged in your scorecard forever. This is strangely freeing. The past cannot be changed, so you might as well focus on the future.
Desert Golfing is Angry Birds-like in its control method: you tap and drag (anywhere on the screen, not just on the ball) to set how hard you want to swing, and in what direction. The level difficulty is all over the shop, but consciously so, since they were procedurally generated. The maker admits that there is a level somewhere in the high 2000s that he at first believed to be impossible, although some hardcore players have since conquered it.
The game’s retro look is as barebones as you could imagine, but pleasingly so. And it’s hopelessly, dangerously addictive: you will soon feel the urge to get your hole average below a certain point, and then another, and then another. Get out now while you have the chance.
Football Manager Handheld Price: £6.99
Seven years after the Championship Manager team left to make Football
Manager and ruin social lives all over again, this handheld version offers a streamlined management experience: in the iOS edition of the game, seasons fly by in a night and Aldershot can be Premiership champions in a week. That’s not to say it isn’t deep, serious and (of course) completely addictive. While only football stats fans need apply, that special breed will be enthralled. Don’t forget to eat.
New Star Soccer Price: Free
You’re a striker starting out in nonleague football and aiming for the big time. On the pitch, this means setting up chances and scoring wonder goals. Off the pitch, it means training, dressing for success and decking your house in so much tat that MTV Cribs would stage a tackiness intervention. Pull back on the ball to set power and direction, then tap at the right angle to set the curve, deftly placing the ball where you want.
It’s a testament to the brilliant gameplay that even football haters will get something out of this. While others strive for realism, New Star Soccer aims for the perfect mobile experience, and hits the back of the net.
Ridiculous Fishing Price: £1.99
It is ridiculous. It is indeed about fishing. Ridiculous Fishing is also one of the finest games on the App
Store, ever. Fishing because you play as a guy sitting on a boat with a fishing rod, ridiculous because said rod can drop its line about a kilometre deep and return to the surface with dozens of fish attached. At which point they’re thrown into the air, and you catch them by firing a pistol, shotgun, machine gun, mini gun or worse at them.
A small, simple idea realised with remarkable aplomb and high humour, Ridiculous Fishing is a wonderfully compulsive game.
Super Stickman Golf Price: £1.99
As a single-player game, Super Stickman Golf is great. The controls are easy to learn – adjust
trajectory using large virtual buttons, tap the Go circle and tap a second time to choose power – and the physics feel just right.
What pushes the game into stratospheric levels of excellence, however, is its multiplayer. You can challenge up to three opponents locally over Bluetooth or through Game Center, racing in real time and scoring points when you complete a hole first – adding a speed element to golf is a no-brainer that makes it laugh-out-loud funny. The retro look isn’t as cute as Angry Birds, but the game is even more fun.
Best strategy and tower defence games Fieldrunners 2 Price: £1.99, iPhone; £2.99, iPad
Like the best tower-defence titles, Fieldrunners 2 keeps your mind constantly occupied. There are always problems to address, threats to deal with, towers to upgrade or weak spots that need filling. It’s a brilliantly frenetic game.
As the enemy assaults you with waves of troops, your job is to prevent them from getting to the other side of the screen by building gun towers in strategic combinations. Funnel the bad guys into bottlenecks and then shoot them to pieces. You have to last a given number of waves to finish a level, but it will then give you the option of playing ‘Endless’ mode, and carrying on for a laugh. It’s a lot of fun, although surprisingly difficult when played on any but the easiest of settings.
The range of weapon towers has expanded enormously. There are radiation, plague and
poison gas towers (lovely), towers that generate a vicious laser ribbon between them and a tower that lobs beehives. And the fieldrunners now have medics who heal troops around them and hazmat specialists who are immune to your chemical warfare. The graphics are vastly improved, too.
Subatomic has taken an addictive little iPhone game and sharpened everything up. Fieldrunners 2 is about as polished, well-crafted and enjoyable to play as the humble tower defence genre gets.
FTL: Faster Than Light Price: £6.99
A wonderfully tense strategy game set in space, Faster Than Light also incorporates many of the crueller elements of rogue like roleplaying games.
You direct the small crew of a Federation messenger craft fleeing from the advancing rebel fleet, and at each point on the map a randomly generated encounter may result in new equipment, additional crew members, or a dangerous fight with
another vessel. Any crew members who fall in battle are gone for good, and losing a fight is permanent, too – hence the unbearable tension, and the glorious satisfaction when things work out.
It’s a tough game, but well worth the tears it will make you shed. One of the best games on iOS.
Jelly Defense Price: £1.99
Instead of making you resist a horde of soldiers, this tower-defence game opts for something quirkier:
Jelly creatures. But this game offers more than just cute critters, and the result is a refreshing take on the genre. Your job on each level is to defend a set of crystals from jelly invaders travelling predetermined paths. You defend yourself by placing battle towers (yes, jelly towers) along the path; each one has a specific weapon and attack range, and can only attack invaders of matching colours.
What makes Jelly Defense enjoyable is that it successfully combines challenging gameplay, attractive graphics and a playful soundtrack.
Plants vs. Zombies series Price: 69p, Plants vs. Zombies 1; free, PvZ 2
Finally: a game that combines gardening and undead slaughter. We’re more inclined to recommend the first Plants vs Zombies game (above), but there are certainly good points to the sequel too. In these unusual and charming tower defence games, you’re a home owner facing a
zombie invasion. Your best defence is to plant mushrooms, squash and other deadly veg to fight back. The beautiful cartoon graphics are on the right side of zany and set a light-hearted tone: the zombies are silly-looking and distinctive. (Each type has a specific skill, as do the plants.) The game is addictive and surprisingly deep, with a terrific sense of humour: the zombies send you poorly spelled notes that will raise a chuckle.
Plants vs Zombies 2 is saddled with an intrusive in-app payments system (stuff like this is the payoff for games being free, guys) but is otherwise superb. It’s free, so you might as well give it a go and see if you can stomach the IAP element.
Tiny Heroes Price: Free
Fantasy gaming isn’t just about heroes braving dungeons and slaying dragons. Equally important is the mad architect who bludgeons, shreds and perforates any would-be adventurer who dares to loot that dungeon’s precious treasures.
That’s the premise of this appealing tower defence game: as waves of cartoonish heroes wander into your dungeon, you protect your treasure with spinning blades of death, concealed spikes and caged monsters. You’ll have to plan for several kinds of heroes, from tough knights to trap-dismantling thieves, and balance between planning ahead and dropping explosives in the thick of a fight.
Warhammer 40,000: Armageddon Price: £14.99
Let’s tackle the elephant in the room first: yes, by iOS standards this is a very expensive game (although do bear in mind that a £14.99 game would be considered perfectly reasonable on PC and an absolute bargain on PS4).
There are a few reasons for this, but the most important one is the type of game we’re talking about here. Despite appearances – despite the fantastical sci-fi setting, despite the giant walking
robots and green-skinned aliens that sit among the wide variety of troop and vehicle types – this is in essence a Proper War Game, and Proper War Games are simply understood to cost quite a lot of money. (Getting the Warhammer licence must have cost a bit, too.)
Perhaps it would be worth waiting for a sale, although we’re advised that this particular publisher rarely drops its prices; check the older, mechanically similar and historically themed Panzer Corps’ price tag for confirmation of that.
In any case, if serious (or relatively serious) wargaming is your bag, and if you’ve got the money to spare, Armageddon is a strong pick: one of the deepest and most rewarding turn-based strategy games we’ve encountered on the iPad, yet one that’s leavened by a gentler and more welcoming theme and story than you’d get in other war games.
There are tonnes of single-player campaign levels, offering a variety of challenges (rewarding both macro-strategic innovation and adroit small-scale manoeuvring – exploiting disparities in shooting range, for instance), and a robust multiplayer mode; in terms of sheer size and longevity, you’ll be sure to get your money’s worth.
X-COM: Enemy Unknown Price: £13.99
XCOM is a remake of an early 90s PC game called X-COM, which fuses turn-based ground missions with real-time base building, squad recruitment and research of hi-tech ways to combat an escalating alien invasion of Earth. XCOM is a more fluid,
high-speed take on the same concept, but retains the dual disciplines of tense, terrifying battles between your squad of all-too-mortal soldiers and an implacable alien foe, and trying to construct a stronger line of defence and offence between these.
Sometimes it’s hard not to scoff at ‘tablets are the consoles of the future’ claims, but this adaption of the hit turn-based, alien-hunting strategy game is very much the real deal. While it might take a bit of a hit on the graphical front, it otherwise includes everything its rapturously-received console/ PC predecessor did. The price will take some swallowing, but it’s totally worth it: this tense, slick strategy game is one to keep you busy for weeks, not mere days.
Best word games Blackbar Price: £1.99
Part word-based puzzle game, part political statement, Blackbar is all about censorship. You
need to decode the increasingly redacted messages you receive from a close friend, piecing together as you do so the story of the oppressive dystopia you live in, and your rebellion against it. Powerful, funny, and never the least bit preachy.
Letterpress Price: Free
Because Letterpress’s approach is unique – sort of a clever mashup of Boggle and Strategery – it takes some time to explain the rules. Once you get them down, though, this word game (with a healthy serving of strategy) is alarmingly addictive.
On your turn, you can use any of the letters in a five-by-five grid to build a word. After you submit your word, the tiles you used turn blue. Then it’s your opponent’s turn to make a word. The tiles he or she uses to spell a word turn pink. As you play, then, some tiles will go from blue to pink to blue again, if you and your opponent keep spelling words with the same letters, but if you box in a blue tile with other blue tiles, it turns a darker shade of blue and stays that way. Once all the tiles have been used (or after both players skip a turn), the game ends. Whichever player turned more tiles to his or her colour emerges the victor.
Fans of word games won’t be disappointed. Letterpress is seriously fun.
W.E.L.D.E.R. Price: £1.99
At its core, W.E.L.D.E.R. is a word search. You create words of four or more letters by swapping nearby tiles. If, for example, you’ve got the letters PUSN lined up, tap S and then N and the two letters change positions, forming PUNS. When this happens, the letters disappear, earning you points, and any letters above drop down.
The steampunk interface looks very cool, and just as unnecessary-yet-lovely are the ambient sounds that whoosh and tick along in the background. Taken altogether, W.E.L.D.E.R. is addictive, instructive and a pleasure for the senses.
Words With Friends Price: Free, iPhone; £6.99, iPad
(free version is also available)
Words With Friends is a two-person crossword challenge that absolutely isn’t Scrabble, though there might be a few similarities. Enter an email address and search for an opponent using Wi-Fi or 3G, seek out a random player, or invite friends to play through Twitter and Facebook. There’s also a live chat feature with a pair of animated googly eyes to show when a friend is online.