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73 Games: A Look Back at the Best of the iPhone’s First Two Years in Gaming

On July 10, 2008, Apple opened its App Store to the public. The App Store was not the first venue of its kind, but has arguably become the most successful and influential digital distribution platform of all time. Bolstered by the runaway success of the iPhone, iPod Touch and now the iPad, the App Store has muscled its way into the mainstream consciousness, and has definitively proven the potential of the online distribution model for media content.

I shudder to think of the money I’ve poured into the app store in the last two years, of the number of apps heaped upon my hard disk. Amongst its more than one-million apps, the App Store houses many treasures. But to find these treasures, one must often navigate the slush, and not every promising title lives up to expectations. In this article, the NoDPad staff has put their heads together to highlight some of our favorite games from the app store’s first two years. Our picks range the full time-line, including some newer titles that have helped to push gaming forward on the iDevices, and many old classics refusing to give up their thrones.

We have intentionally not included iPad titles in this list, as the device is still relatively new. Naturally, not all of our individual favorites made the list. But we feel confident that the titles below, organized by genre, represent some of the best gaming currently available for the iPhone platform.

Action


OMG Pirates!

Once upon a time, Peanut Butter and Jelly met up in a dark alley between two pieces of bread; their unnatural tryst has become legendary. No pairing since has compared — compaired? — at least, not until ninjas got together with pirates in Mika Mobile’s second iPhone outing, OMG Pirates! Granted, this is not the first time ninjas and pirates have gotten together; surely Peanut Butter and Jelly met up several times to carry on their scandalous affair — between walnut shells, banana leaves, sliced tomatoes, and beneath a bed of saffron rice — but it was bread that sealed the deal. And so it is with OMG Pirates!, the best joining of ninjas and pirates possibly ever, with all nonstop action, humor, combos, special moves and gratuitous violence you’d expect from such a beast. If ye be wantin’ action, ye’ll find it here, matey.


Samurai: Way of the Warrior

When it comes to action gaming on the iPhone, few games are as well suited or as beautifully realized as Samurai: Way of the Warrior. Taking place in feudal 16th century Japan, the game follows Daisuke Shimada, a wandering samurai, who stumbles upon a village in need of his skills. The evil Daimyo Hattoro has spread fear and terror throughout the countryside, with no one to oppose him. Daisuke takes up the cause to do battle with Hattoro and his generals, and to free the villagers from oppression. Stages are hand-drawn to resemble Japanese watercolor painting, and the story is told via gorgeous comic panels. The minimal UI allows you to really enjoy the game’s visuals and story, with movement and combat performed using touch gestures rather than buttons. By swiping left, right and up, players dodge incoming blows, and string attacks into devastating combinations. Victory is writ in blood, with successful combos resulting in gory decapitations and dismemberments. Samurai: Way of the Warrior is pure awesome, start to finish. And then the dojo remains to test your skills.


Inkvaders

Riffing off of concepts first popularized by Zombieville U.S.A., Chillingo’s Inkvaders increased the volume with a faster pace, cool sketchbook-inspired art, devastating weaponry, cow abductions, and an alien invasion of earth. A 2D side-scrolling action title at heart, Inkvaders seeks to overwhelm you with anal-probing extraterrestrials. Collect space rocks, upgrade weapons and explode heads; it’s just the scratch for your itchy trigger finger.

Action RPG


Dungeon Hunter

Dungeon Hunter delivers an epic tale of love lost, betrayal, revenge, salvation and redemption. The hack-n-slash adventure spans many diverse environments, and includes troves of loot, hoards of scary monsters, fairies, quests, skills and magic spells to be learned, undead princesses and more. All of this it delivers in superb 3D graphics and with an epic soundtrack.


Ravensword: The Fallen King

Ravensword was a game-changer for the app store, heralding a new wave of western-style RPGs and new standards for what the iPhone could offer. Inspired by games such as Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, the two-man team behind Ravensword delivered an open-world, 3D RPG unlike anything previously seen on the platform, with stunning graphics and an unforgettable story. Though the game drew minor criticism for its linearity and brevity, it’s an overall experience executed nearly to perfection, and should not be missed. Ravensword is easily one of the finest games ever to walk the app store’s halls.

Arcade Shooter


Space Invaders Infinity Gene

The original Space Invaders is one of the most historically important video games of all time, but is definitely a relic of its time, lacking compelling gameplay in the modern age. In Space Invaders Infinity Gene, however, the arcade classic literally evolves as you play, beginning at its humble roots, then transforming into something as spectacular as it is difficult to put down. Vertical shooters may crowd the app store, but there’s no mistaking this simple fact: Space Invaders is, as it’s always been, the king of all shooters. Space Invaders Infinity Gene kicks the action into overdrive, overflows with style, and brings the awesome like no other.


Blue Defense!

You control the planetary defense cannon tasked with defending your blue world against an endless onslaught of red attackers. The odds are against you from the start; your attackers come in droves from all sides, while you can only fire straight up. Luckily, “up” is relative. By rotating your device — often frantically — you can change “up”, effectively aiming your cannon in any direction you please. As the game begins, you will be defending only a narrow swath of your planet’s surface. But as the perspective shifts, you will gradually find yourself defending more and more of your planet’s surface. The perspective continues to pull out as you eliminate the enemy waves, and eventually changes altogether. You’ll soon flip your phone on its head to defend against attacking waves coming in from behind you, and then in a horizontal orientation to defend your sides, and eventually from all directions at once, forcing you to defend the full 360-degrees of your planetary surface. The game quickly becomes frantic, and you will find your phone practically performing acrobatics in your hands as you attempt to ward off your attackers. Blue Defense makes absolutely brilliant use of the accelerometer, and being one of the app store’s earliest titles is still one of the best.


Blue Attack!

The sequel to Blue Defense, Blue Attack puts you on the offensive as you pilot a blue fighter craft in attempt to take the battle home to the red planet. Using tilt-control to maneuver your ship, you must eliminate droves of massive red attack craft. Along the way you will purchase upgrades to your ship, with the many options allowing you to outfit your ship as best fits your style of playing. Improve the strength and firing rate of your guns, attack with various formations of wingmen, purchase bombs or improve your handling and maneuverability. It’s really up to you how to shape your craft, and the possibilities are nearly endless. Defend your carrier while annihilating the red forces. Including both infinite and campaign modes, and with unlockable stages within the campaign, there’s plenty of space battling action to be had in Blue Attack.

Board & Card Games


Carcassonne

Though the game originated in Germany, Carcassonne is named after the southern France medieval castle town. The game’s goal is to build your own castles, roads and structures while strategically placing your “meeple” in the developing farmlands, roads, cloisters and cities to gain points. Skill, strategy and luck of the draw all come into play while trying to master one’s unique playing style. With online multiplayer and AI matches, this game covers it all – and no confusing points to tally!


Scrabble

EA’s Scrabble is a wonderful recreation of Hasbro’s classic board game. Whether playing solo, against the AI, or against your friends in Pass’n Play mode, over WiFi or mixing your iPhone asynchronously with the Facebook app, Scrabble spells FUN.


Sword & Poker 2

The first Sword & Poker delivered on the unlikely pairing of poker and RPG, and left us clamoring for more. The sequel delivered the same solid card play, but upped the ante with a world map of varied locations, new enemies, multiple decks and a soundtrack that (surprisingly) trumped its predecessor. Weird as it sounds, Sword & Poker 2 should not be missed.

Castle Defense


Plants Vs. Zombies

Plants Vs. Zombies was already a smash hit on PC and Mac platforms before coming to the iPhone, and has since become an app store hit as well. Less hardcore than other defense games, PvZ offers plenty of fun to casual gamers. Meanwhile, the game contains enough content and diversity, charm and good humor to appeal to nearly any kind of gamer. Defend your home and yard from zombie infestation by planting a garden of adorable, flowery combatants including resource producing sunflowers, pea pod artillery, exploding fruit and hard nut barriers. Meanwhile, the zombies defend themselves using everything from traffic cones and screen doors, to undead dolphins and Michael Jackson’s trademark dance moves. Plants Vs. Zombies is arguably one of the app store’s best games, and definitely one you won’t want to miss.


Knights Onrush

Knights Onrush is one of the app store’s premiere defense titles, high on polish and personality, with plenty of upgrades and challenges to be had. You’ll begin by tossing knights into the air, or smashing them into the ground. Before long, however, you’ll be feeding them to dragons as sacrificial victims, casting them into Hell, crushing them with boulders and pillars, setting them on fire, trapping them in ice and more. As challenges ramp up, you will face invisible assassins, powerful magic users, and devastating siege engines. With great art, epic music, diverse environments and nonstop action, it’s never a question whether Knights Onrush is or isn’t a fantastic game; the only question is whether your finger has what it takes to ensure victory.


Dinosaur Slayer

With Patapon-inspired aesthetics, a robust system of upgrades, some light resource management, and sweet boss battles, Dinosaur Slayer is a no-brainer for castle defense fans. Balancing upkeep costs with defensive improvements requires careful strategy, and the many options for fortification and defense allow for many strategic variations and ways of playing the game. This type of variety is what separates the games you hold onto from the games you retire.

Casual


Zen Bound

The iPhone’s touch and accelerometer-based input methods, and lack of physical buttons make it unique among gaming devices. And while some developers struggle to adapt button-dependent games to these unusual new controls, others embrace them by producing unique titles that could exist on no other device. Zen Bound is perhaps the most noteworthy of such titles, making full and spectacular use of the iPhone’s distinctive input methods to manipulate 3D objects in space. Using gestures, swipes and tilts, the goal is to wrap three-dimensional objects with rope, covering as much surface area as possible. There are no time limits and no dangers, but just the challenge of doing the best possible job with a finite amount of rope. The game’s atmosphere and musical score lend it a meditative quality, while its intuitive controls allow you to feel as one with the game. Zen Bound is a game more about the experience, and less about heart-pounding, jaw dropping action. And its execution is brilliant in every conceivable way. Be on the lookout for Zen Bound 2, already available for the iPad and coming soon for the iPhone; it includes all of the first game’s stages, plus new stages, refinements and features that make it even better than its predecessor.


Ninjatown: Trees of Doom!

Ninjatown: Trees of Doom is the definition of pick up and play casual gaming. Not only is it addictive, but the cuteness factor is through the roof. Where else can you ride a moustache straight up through the sky? Obstacles abound, with enemies and objects both vying to knock you back to the ground. Updates subsequent to the game’s release have introduced additional game modes and features, keeping replay value high and ever on the rise with each additional update. While there are plenty of climbing games on the app store, few are as delightful as Ninjatown, bringing a freshness to the genre that will keep you coming back for more. Do you have what it takes to guide Wee Ninja through randomized levels, both delightful and frustrating, and to meet Ol’ Master Ninja? Rise to the occasion!

Dual-stick Shooters


Meteor Blitz

Its fast-paced action and incredibly responsive controls would be enough to cement Meteor Blitz as the app store’s finest dual-stick shooter, but the game has so much more going for it. Gorgeous graphics, a pumping soundtrack, tons of weapon upgrades, power-ups and bombs, and sweet particles effects are just a few of the many reasons we love this game. You might call it Asteroids on crack, but we just call it a gaming masterpiece.


Isotope

Isotope packs in 40 ships to pilot, a vast array of unique weapons, enemies and traps, more than 30 maze-like levels of progressing difficulty, boss fights, a challenging survival mode, RPG elements for improving your ships, and is thematically built upon the Periodic Table of Elements. It’s a ton of content, and the action remains varied and ever evolving throughout. With Isotope, you too can discover the chemical makeup of Awesome.


Geometry Wars

Following the success of Call of Duty: World At War: Zombies, Activision returned to the app store with Geometry Wars Touch, the iPhone port of their iconic dual-stick shooter. Offering online leaderboards, responsive controls, frantic battles and brilliant explosions, Geometry Wars Touch stands as one of the platform’s best dual-stick shooters.

Fighting Games


Street Fighter IV

The Street Fighter series is legendary in arcades and on consoles, and comes to the iPhone with its glory intact. Though the character roster is somewhat smaller than on consoles, Street Fighter IV for the iPhone still ranks as one of the platform’s best fighters, with stunning visuals, excellent controls and one of the best 2D combat systems in the genre. It’s no wonder the Street Fighter series comprises some of the most beloved fighting games of all time.


Bruce Lee Dragon Warrior

People are entitled to their favorite martial arts heroes, be them Chuck Norris, Jet Li, Jackie Chan, etc. But whomever you choose, there is one martial artist who will always stand above the rest. Bruce Lee was one of the finest fighters ever to walk the earth, and has been well honored in this iPhone exclusive fighter. Intuitive controls, excellent graphics and an interesting story make Bruce Lee Dragon Warrior one of the best fighting games in the app store.

First-person Shooters


N.O.V.A. – Near Orbit Vanguard Alliance

When it comes to first-person shooters on the app store, Gameloft is king, and N.O.V.A. is their crown jewel. Excellent graphics, refined controls, superb multiplayer and a sci-fi setting with great atmosphere make this the FPS to own. You’ve been enlisted to save mankind from annihilation at the hands of alien invaders. Do you have what it takes, soldier?


Modern Combat Sandstorm

Modern Combat Sandstorm kicked off the “era of FPS” on the iPhone, as it was the first true first-person shooter to appear on the app store. As promised, this Call of Duty-like game was updated with online multiplayer, and while unsteady at first, it was drastically improved to become one of the smoothest online experiences we’ve encountered. With that said, it’s breathtaking graphics and solid controls, along with its captivating gameplay and extensive content, make this first-person shooter an app store classic.

Hidden Object


Yard Sale Hidden Treasures: Sunnyville

You’ve just moved into a slightly worn home in the friendly neighborhood of Sunnyville, and as luck would have it, you’re just in time for the big house decorating contest. Being the determined and resourceful person you are, you travel from yard sale to yard sale in search of decorative treasures for your home. Yard Sale Hidden Treasures: Sunnyville nails those elements crucial to the hidden object genre: crisp graphics, unique characters, great humor and an engaging story manage to hold your interest through the entirety of the game. Add mini-games, and this hidden object game is itself a hidden gem.


Little Shop of Treasures

Little Shop of Treasures is unique in its genre, as the objects you’re hunting are actually relevant to the game’s story and locations. There are no random lemons or Roman numerals to find; instead, be on the lookout for rabbits in the magic shop, or gnomes in the garden center. Blending elements of hidden object and time management games, Little Shop of Treasures brings you a stream of customers, each with their own shopping list, and sends you scrambling to fill their orders. Polished visuals combined with store upgrades make for engaging find-the-hidden-object gameplay.

Line-drawing Games


Flight Control

The first of its kind, Flight Control made a massive splash when it landed on the app store. Its ripples were a wave of copycat line-drawing games, very few of which ever managed to live up to the high entertainment value of this pioneer. There were other successes, of course, but Flight Control remains the ace, flying in a class all its own. And to this day, it still has one of the best social scoring systems of any game in them app store.


Harbor Master

Following closely in the Flight Control’s vapor trails, Harbor Master moved the action to the seas, replaced planes with ships, and put an important twist on the basic line-drawing gameplay. Not only must players safely lead their ships to harbor while avoiding collisions, but they must also wait for them to unload their cargo and then lead them out again. While a seemingly simple change, this new interpretation of Flight Control’s basic concept successfully translated into another excellent line-drawing title. Not content to leave well enough alone, however, Imangi Studios then continued to innovate in subsequent updates, introducing new challenges such as weather hazards, cargo-specific ports, pirates and even monsters. Though Flight Control pioneered the genre, Harbor Master developed it and set new standards for the many copycat titles that would follow. We just can’t imagine enjoying one without loving the other.


Aqua Globs

Aqua Globs began life as a very simple organism, with only a single stage and yet another fresh take on the line-drawing concept: drawing paths between like colored globs to combine them, while avoiding collision with globs of opposing color; when two large globs combine, they are cleared from the board to make room for new globs. The game won over a vocal fan base, giving the developers incentive to grow their organism into what it is today. Through updates, Aqua Globs has evolved to include multiple stages, and a variety of globs, such as the pirate, crab and alien globs who serve special purposes in their respective stages. Aqua Globs easily stands with the best of the best of the line-drawing genre.

Match-3


Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords

Puzzle Quest redefined the match-3 game, plumbing its simple concept of matching like objects to previously unheard of depths. It introduced RPG elements such as characters, classes, skills, equipment and experience levels, and allowed players to battle monsters, siege cities, train mounts, craft items and more, all via variations on match-3 puzzles. The game offers an incredible volume of content and variety, and immense replay value as different character classes and different opponents each require different strategies. Puzzle Quest is simply incredible.


Bejeweled 2

The Bejeweled franchise helped to define the modern-day match-3 genre, with Bejeweled 2 being one of the earliest match-3 titles to hit the app store. Two years on, it remains one of the best. The game’s winning formula will bedazzle you, and keep you playing in an effort to reach high scores and to compete with your friends. The game is well-balanced for competition, and the addition of the Blitz game mode just sweetens the pot. While Bejeweled 2 may be lacking some of the genre’s newer innovations on account of its age, there are some classics you just can’t put down. There’s plenty of replay value here, and plenty of reason to keep on playing this, one of the match-3 genre’s crown jewels.

Neo-Retro


Super QuickHook

Successor to the super-fantastic Hook Champ, Super QuickHook is everything we loved about the first game made better: grappling hooks, rocket boots and hats — lots and lots of hats. Stunning graphics reminiscent of the 16-bit era and loads of little visual details make swinging through each of the game’s stages a joy to behold. Though speed factors heavily into your score, you will surely want to take the levels slowly at first, simply to enjoy Super QuickHook’s beautiful worlds. The game itself is a swinging good time, more accessible than Hook Champ without sacrificing the first game’s hardcore elements. For those players wishing to unlock all of the game’s achievements, hefty challenges await!


Canabalt

Exquisite in its minimalism and atmosphere, Canabalt is more than a game; it’s a metaphor for life. You run and are compelled to run ever faster. Sometimes you stumble; it slows you down but you regain your feet and keep on running, overcoming the obstacles in your path. You run until you die. Few games accomplish so much by doing so little. As the city falls to robot attack, you run pell-mell over the rooftops in a desperate and ultimately futile attempt at escape, vaulting obstacles, pitfalls and collapsing architecture. In the end, you die. But as towering robots smash the city in the distance, you will constantly find yourself coming back for just one more run. Superb music, grayscale pixel-graphics and the many intricate details give Canabalt fantastic atmosphere and make it one of the app store’s best pick-up-and-play titles.


Dark Void Zero

Capcom’s ode to 8-bit gaming, Dark Void Zero plays like an NES classic and comes complete with a bogus history dating back to the 1980s. Despite its ridiculous lore, however, the game’s sheer awesomeness is no joke. Utilizing a jet pack and a variety of weapons, navigate the Watchers’ twisting installations and put a stop to their invasion of Earth before it’s too late. Intense retro action, great replay value and an original chip-tune score by legendary Battlestar Galactica composer Bear McCreary make this trip into the Void very worth taking.

Platformer


Rolando 2: Quest for the Golden Orchid

Of all the iPhone’s thousands of games, relatively few will be remembered as classics. The first Rolando title was one of the app store’s earliest games deserving of such honor, and its sequel, Rolando 2: Quest for the Golden Orchid, took everything that was great about the first game, then made it even better. The game’s unique platforming gameplay, pseudo-3D visuals, and fully realized world, characters and story set it on a pedestal among the gaming greats. Combining parts Super Mario Bros. with Lemmings, the sum total is an utterly unique experience that simply must be played. Roll your way through diverse environments, overcoming obstacles and enemies in your quest to save the Rolando kingdom. It’s high adventure with beautiful graphics, super funky music and a vibe all its own. It’s games like this that making gaming worthwhile.


Spider – The Secret of Bryce Manor

There’s a mystery to be unraveled, but it’s all in the background. It’s up to you whether to piece together the events having transpired in Bryce Manor, or simply to lose yourself in being a spider, oblivious to the affairs of humans and focused solely on the hunt. Spider: The Secret of Bryce Manor embraces freeform storytelling like no other game in our experience, leaving it entirely up to the player’s discretion to take what they will from the game. Spider’s hand-drawn artwork and intuitive, gesture-based controls do much to put you in the role of the spider, and so you will be forgiven any lack of interest in the mystery. As a spider, traverse the manor’s rooms, niches and infrastructure, weaving webs to trap your prey — ladybugs, fireflies, aphids and moths, to name but a few — or pounce on particularly powerful prey, such as hornets and bees, to take them out. Or take your time to explore the manor, revel in its beauty and atmosphere, and gather the threads the story to reveal the manor’s secrets.


Bounce On 2

Defying the laws of physics, Bounce On bounces higher on its second bounce than it did on its first; while the original Bounce On garnered positive reviews, its sequel is even more deserving of praise. A 2.5D platformer, the game offers excellent visuals and control, unique gameplay, intriguing puzzles to solve, and plenty of style. Whether rooting out the gems necessary to unlock the next level, scoring achievements over the Plus+ network, enjoying the original soundtrack, or just bouncing along through obstacles and enemies, the game’s level of polish is evident and cements the title’s must-have status for platforming fans.

Point & Click Adventure


The Secret of Monkey Island

A classic on any platform arrived in the app store. Lots of pirate action from our wannabe pirate Guybrush Threepwood. Revamped for point and click action on the iPod Touch and iPhone, Secret of Monkey Island still manages to retain its classic roots. On a search for LeChuck, Guybrush can get himself in heaps of trouble, all of which you must solve of course. The game has the ability to switch seamlessly from the updated graphics to retro at any point you get the inkling. Complete with voice overs, action and adventure, Monkey Island is the bar that many Point and Click Adventure titles attempt to reach. And if finding LeChuck and saving Elaine is not good enough for you, the sequel Monkey Island 2 Special Edition: LeChuck’s Revenge was released just days ago.


Beneath a Steel Sky: Remastered

Another remastered classic, Beneath a Steel Sky has been given new life on the iPhone, while retaining everything that made it great to begin with. Taking place in a futuristic Australia, the game features plenty of interesting NPCs, a deep story, witty humor, mysteries to solve, and some truly mind bending puzzles. Luckily, a hint system is included for when those puzzles get the best of you. A thinking man’s adventure game through-and-through, Beneath a Steel Sky has long been one of the genre’s best.


Hector: Badge of Carnage

Clapper’s Wreake – the craziest place you never heard of. Such is the town that our hero Hector must save from terrorists. Sound ordinary? It most definitely is not. This is a point and click adventure made entirely for the iPhone and iPod Touch and a mature audience at that. The pressure of the safety of the citizens sits entirely on Hector’s back and he handles it well, traveling to several locations around town, and of course answering every demand the terrorist has made (first rule of negotiation with terrorists, ah never mind…). What brings you deeper into this story is the humor, the characters and the crazy antics. It is so refreshing to see a developer take such care with an app. Anyone remotely interested in the genre should give this a whirl.

Puzzle


iBlast Moki

iBlast Moki is an adorable physics puzzler in which you must blast Mokis into portals using bombs, balloons, wheels and other materials to overcome obstacles. This is generally accomplished by setting up timed chain-reactions of events. The game includes 85 levels, spanning seven beautiful worlds and ranging in difficulty from simple to taxing. Each of the worlds has its own gameplay mechanics, such as the underwater world, where Mokis float up rather than fall down. The game also includes a level editor, allowing players to design their own stages and share them online for virtually limitless playability.


Toki Tori

Toki Tori hearkens to the gaming days of old, when titles such as Humans, The Lost Vikings and Lemmings were the rage. An adorable yellow bird, Toki Tori must utilize a variety of skills to rescue eggs perilously perched in over 80 mind-bending stages. In each stage, Toki Tori has only a limited number of select skills at his disposal which much be used in the correct order, at the appropriate locations in order to reach all of the eggs. The skills are introduced gradually over the course of play, and include abilities such as bridging gaps, teleportation and creating pitfalls. The puzzle lies in discovering the sequence and timing of skills necessary to overcome the various obstacles and opponents in each stage. The graphics are gorgeous, the puzzles logical, and the controls excellent; there’s even a rewind feature that allows you to take back bad moves, rather than having to start the puzzle over. It doesn’t take a puzzling genius to see the appeal here. Like a good date, Toki Tori is pretty, smart and loads of fun.


Mobigame’s Edge

Mobigame’s Edge takes the classic puzzle design philosophy of simple visuals with complex puzzles to a whole new level. While the basic look of the game is almost exclusively three-toned, there are just a few splashes of vibrant color cycling that practically scream out against the backdrop. Couple this art style with puzzles that have you climbing up walls and around corners and you get an incredibly satisfying experience. The grade scale upon completion of a level inspires the player to retread the same ground almost immediately, especially if given a particularly low grade. Further challenges await the perfectionist through collection of every prism as quickly as possible without falling off the puzzle.

Racing


Real Racing

Real Racing skidded into the app store following more than a year of development, and from the then unknown Firemint. The game’s grand promises seemed too good to be true, but Firemint nonetheless executed with sheer beauty, creating a racing experience that rivals newer games even a year later. While we wish it had online multiplayer, Real Racing leaves little else to wish for. Firemint nails the details big and small, including features such as flip screen, the ability to listen to your iPod music, and tons of control options. The game has even received updated graphics for the new iPhone 4. The unrivaled racing champion of the app store, Real Racing is a game that’s hard to put down.


Need for Speed: Undercover

Not the app store’s first racing game, but the first to be any good, Need For Speed: Undercover brought quality street racing, unbridled speed, hard-rocking tunes and Maggie Q to pockets everywhere. With Maggie Q as your handler, you — a covert operative and total badass — go undercover in the illegal street racing circuit to root out the most nefarious thrill-seeking criminals in three cities. Featuring eight intense racing modes, including head-to-head races, cop takeout missions and highway battles, vehicle customization, and environments ranging from cityscapes and countryside, to seaside docks, NFS: Undercover is simply awesome.

Real-time Strategy


Red Conquest!

Despite its bizarre story and steep learning curve, Red Conquest is one of the app store’s best real-time strategy games. Red Conquest takes place in the same universe as Blue Defense and Blue Attack, in which the forces of Red and Blue seem constantly to be at war, and attempts to tell the story of the conflict’s origin. The story is really secondary to the real-time, fleet-based, interstellar combat though. It takes some time to learn to navigate the game’s command menus, but once you’ve mastered the interface and the dynamics of resource gathering, fleet building and massive assaults, the game becomes really cool. Presently, Red Conquest contains two campaigns, one each from the Red and Blue perspectives, and is well worth the attention of genre fans.


Hills and Rivers Remain

Square Enix’s Hills and Rivers Remain plays like peeling an onion; seemingly simple on the surface, the game’s layers are gradually peeled back to reveal greater complexity and challenges beneath. Alan, the protagonist, is a commander in the Julius Army and a loyal soldier. But as a minor conflict erupts into full-scale war, he experiences greater misgivings regarding his liege’s intentions. While war rages on the battlefield, Alan wages his own internal battles — torn between friendship and country, loyalty and morality, war and peace — and sets himself on a path that will change the fate of nations. Each of the game’s maps consists of castles connected by roads. With only limited forces, players must occupy these castles in order to cut off enemy attack routes and push the front lines of battle ever closer to the enemy stronghold. Along the way, specialty bases may be conquered, providing bonuses to troops including horses, improved armaments, cannons, gold mines and more. Items may also be won and used to turn the tide of battle. As one might expect from Square Enix, the artwork is stunning, the musical score is epic, and the writing top-notch. Hills and Rivers Remain is a difficult game, and not for the feint of heart, but an excellent title for those who are up to the challenge.


Galcon Labs

Galcon Labs improved upon the original not just by updating the graphical style, but also adding a swath of new modes. These new modes add a significant amount of variety and flavor making this version not just superior to the original but one of the best real-time strategy games available. The combat is simplified and the interface is super clean, a very unusual and welcome change from the typical screen clutter that is the real-time strategy genre on the iDevices. And Galcon Labs is perfect for quick, on-the-go gaming sessions.

Roguelikes


100 Rogues

Sweet pixel graphics, swingin’ cool tunes, multiple character classes, diverse skill trees, tons of loot, cool beasties and a quest to slay Satan. What more could you possibly ask for in a roguelike? 100 Rogues is incredibly well-balanced, allowing you to build your character and to approach the dungeon and its challenges in many unique ways. Designed specifically for the iPhone and with loads on additional content planned for updates, 100 Rogues may just steal your heart.


The Sword of Fargoal

The classic lite roguelike remade for the iPhone, The Sword of Fargoal takes a streamlined approach to the sub-genre, making it an excellent entry title for those having never experienced a roguelike. Explore dungeons, slay monsters and gather treasure in your quest for the mythical Sword of Fargoal. It certainly doesn’t hurt that the game is extremely easy on the eyes.


Rogue Touch

When Rogue came out in the early 1980s, it sired a brand new type of dungeon-crawl adventure game. Rogue Touch is the iPhone’s most accurate and enjoyable rendition of that classic title, remade and imitated countless times over the years. Be aware, it is not for the feint of heart. But Rogue purists need look no further than this on the app store.

Role-playing Games (RPG)


Chaos Rings

The single best RPG on the app store, Square Enix’s iPhone exclusive Chaos Rings packs a console quality experience into Apple’s pocket-sized display. The epic tale follows several pairs of warriors who find themselves trapped in an arena, forced to fight in a competition for their own survival. The graphics, music, combat engine, characters and story all live up to what we’ve come to expect from the makers of Final Fantasy, making this a title not to be missed.


Chronicles of Inotia: Wanderer of Luone

South Korean developer Com2Us did a fantastic job porting this RPG from mobile phones, completely rebuilding the game for the iPhone with stellar new graphics and an excellent interface. With myriad quests to complete, items to discover, monsters to battle and a sinister plot to unravel, Wanderer of Luone should keep you busy for a long time to come. And let’s not forget the many character classes and party combinations, or the multiplayer component! This one is second only to Chaos Rings.


Yipe V

Yipe V is an old-school, tongue-in-cheek RPG whose apparent simplicity belies its true depth. While modern RPGs ante up with complicated skill trees, weapon forging and alchemy, pet raising and Bruckheimer-esque, melodramatic tales, Yipe instead relies upon the tried and true offerings of simple leveling, humorous quests and silly one-liners. As such, the game is immensely well suited to mobile gaming. With several character classes to play and quests galore, Yipe V is an excellent and enjoyable way of getting your RPG on.

Simulation


Artists Colony

Among sims, Artist Colony stands out for having focus. While most simulation games are wide open affairs, lacking goals or a sense of purpose, Artist Colony provides 15 unique characters to manage, each with their own set of tasks and objectives, and the overarching goal of restoring the once-thriving colony to its former glory. Along the way, your characters — including painters, sculptors, musicians, dancers and photographers — will interact with each other, fall in and out of love, advance their careers and more. It’s an attractive game with a cohesive theme, and the continuity provided by leveling up your characters and completing tasks in order to expand the colony really helps it rise to the top.


Westward – Wild West Frontier Simulation

The American Frontier has long held our collective interest as a society, being a place of hardships and rewards, where strong individuals could realize their dreams, while weaker men would lose them altogether. The wild west was as dangerous as it was exhilarating, and towns would come and go like the wind. Westward tasks you with the establishment and well-being of frontier towns. Build homes, shops, mills and mines to draw inhabitants to your dusty town, keep them watered and fed, happy and productive, then employ sheriffs and deputies to protect them against bandits and outlaws. Tame the west, or perish in the attempt.

Space & Sci-fi


Space Miner: Space Ore Bust

Space Miner combines parts I Dig It, Flatspace and Asteroids to create a game that is simply impossible to put down. This space-shooter/RPG hybrid is absolutely packed with action, quirky humor and some very pretty visuals. Zoom through space, blasting asteroids and nasty mining drones, gathering space ore, and selling that ore to purchase upgrades for your ship. You will find yourself purchasing upgrades at a brisk pace, so the game will constantly be rewarding your efforts. Meanwhile, the story unfolds with riotous characters and great dialogue. Space Miner is nearly flawless in execution, and really deliv-ores the goods.


Warp Gate

Warp Gate is an epic, open-world space RPG that essentially allows you to write your own story. You may engage in interstellar trade on both the legal and illegal commodities markets, engage in confrontations with human, alien and space pirate fleets, play faction politics, accept quests, or simply explore the massive universe while making improvements to your ship. The game offers limitless possibilities for things to do, and it’s one that you may never see the end of. The graphics are mesmerizing and the controls very intuitive; if we have any complaints about the game at all, the combat system is fairly lackluster and it’s definitely a better experience when played on the iPad’s larger screen than when played on the iPhone. That said, Warp Gate offers hours upon hours of enjoyment on either device and is one of the most expansive titles in the app store. If space is your place, then Warp Gate is the very best way of losing yourself in the black.

Sports


Let’s Golf

Gameloft did an absolute fantastic job with bringing a Hot Shots Golf experience to the iPhone. Even with its age of over a year and a half, it stands as one of the most polished and enjoyable experiences on the App Store. Its stat boosting items along with gorgeous graphics should be enough to reel anyone in, and even for non-golfers, this is definitely one of the best sports games on the platform.


Flick Fishing

Flick Fishing is hands-down the best fishing simulator on the iPhone. Despite competition from the likes of Gameloft’s Fishing Kings, Flick Fishing’s excellent graphics and creative use of the accelerometer are enough to tip the scales. For fishing fanatics, Flick Fishing should provide many hours of fun.


Homerun Battle 3D

Baseball is labeled as America’s favorite past time, but that doesn’t stop Korean developer Com2us from creating one of the most addictive baseball titles on the device. Whether a sports fan or not, this arcade experience is sure to addict anyone who touches it. The online play is buttery smooth, items are plentiful, and you’ll be playing this game all through the night. I think it’s safe to say that this is one of the best sports experiences on the App Store, even if it’s not a full baseball simulation.

Strategy RPG / Turn-based Strategy


Rogue Planet

Following 35 years among the stars, a space vessel returns to Earth to find it a much different place than when they’d left. Humans are now in hiding, having been overrun and pushed to the brink of extinction by machines. With a ship capable of producing the weaponry necessary to wage one final war, you are mankind’s last and greatest hope to take back the planet. In 19 story missions and 34 quick-play maps, produce and deploy units strategically to ensure the continued survival of man; or, in quick-play, command the machines and seal its demise. With presentation values rivaling those of Advance Wars on the Nintendo DS, and an excellent narrative and cast of characters, Rogue Planet is one of the app store’s finest SRPGs.


UniWar

For old-schools fans of tabletop tactical warfare games like Battletech or Warhammer 40K, Uniwar may just be where it’s at on the iPhone. The hex-grid maps and unit designs clearly hearken back to these classic strategy titles, and the game features one of the best asynchronous multiplayer modes around, putting clear emphasis on human vs. human battles. Three races consisting of eight varied units, 50+ maps, multiplayer team battles for up to 8 players, support for up to 20 simultaneous games and push notifications go a long way to ensuring an excellent multiplayer experience. For those of the single-player persuasion, the 21 mission campaign mode alone is worth the price of admission, and serves as an excellent orientation for making the leap to multiplayer.


Song Summoner: The Unsung Heroes – Encore

Song Summoner is an SRPG in the vein of Final Fantasy Tactics, which originally appeared on the click-wheel iPod. In this Encore edition, the game has been greatly improved upon and expanded to include many new Tune Troopers and a storyline twice the size of the original. Ziggy is the conductor of prophecy, capable of summoning Tune Troopers to his aid to combat clockwork oppressors who would see the world stripped of music, leaving it without a groove and without a soul. It’s a game all about being human, finding your inner rhythm and tapping into the harmony of the world, to which we all contribute. Throughout the game, references are made to bands and songs from pop culture’s rich musical history. In a very cool way of tying the game into your real life, you can utilize your own music to summon soldiers, then strengthen them by listening to your songs outside of the game. Role-playing fans and musical aficionados alike will want to get on their grooves with Song Summoner.

Time Management


Miriel the Magical Merchant

As time management titles go, the medieval-themed Miriel the Magical Merchant is as bewitching as they come. As Miriel, you’ll find yourself scampering about the kitchen, preparing magical dishes for a variety of picky customers including commoners, nobility and monks. The menu includes middle-age staples like eggs, milk, water and fruit, which will be made into breads, cakes and other dishes using magical ovens. As a bonus, in-game achievements are rewarded with real-life recipes that you can make at home! You know, just in case the game gets your craving some apple cake.


Airport Mania: First Flight

It all begins simply enough, with the loading and unloading of planes. But as you move from one airport to the next, you will find more planes to load, fewer runways to use, more repairs to be made, an increasing need for refueling and more. You’ll need to make clever use of power-ups to hustle passengers on and off of planes, freeing the gates for incoming traffic, while managing refueling times, contenting passengers, and collecting money bags dropped by passing helicopters. Airport Mania offers a frantic, fun-filled and unique take on the time management genre.


Farm Frenzy 2

Farm Frenzy 2 follows upon the success of the first game with more grass growing, chicken feeding, bringing your bear to market, give a dog a bone fun than ever before. Combining resource management with facility upgrades, players will find a great deal of strategy required for successful farming and to meet steadily increasing productivity demands. Challenging fun is all in a day’s work on this farm!

Tower Defense


The Creeps!

It’s difficult not to smile when playing The Creeps, one of the app store’s most personable and charming titles. At it’s core, it’s a path-based tower defense game; enemies enter the stage at one end of the path and must be prevented from reaching the other end by placing defense towers. Everything else is the stuff of children’s nightmares, but cute in a Tim Burton kind of way. The stages are themed after monsters, aliens and dinosaurs who enter through the closet door. At the end of the path is a frightened child in bed, hiding beneath his covers, and your job is to prevent the monsters from getting under his bed. To do that, you’ll set laser beams, glue cannons, exploding boomerangs, paper ninja stars and more. In a unique twist on the genre, you can also use the accelerometer to control summoned UFOs, tornados and other special mobile defenses. The Creeps includes several modes of play, loads of content, and a ton of personality, making it one of the very best of the app store’s offerings. If you have only one tower defense game, this should be that one.


geoDefense

For hardcore tower defense gamers, geoDefense is the ultimate TD experience. The game is incredibly challenging, but incredibly well-balanced and fair. Branded “the thinking man’s action Tower Defense”, victory will be hard won and will require every ounce of your strategic might. But you will never, ever feel cheated by the game. Five upgradable towers, 30 unique and challenging stages, an excellent interface, and cool neon graphics and particle effects add up to one amazing, path-based tower defense game. And for open-field tower defense gaming, check out the sequel, geoDefense Swarm; same great features, minus the paths. The two make a great set for all of your hardcore TD needs.


Defender Chronicles – Legend of the Desert King

Defender Chronicles is unique among its peers. Instead of being played from an overhead perspective as most tower defense games, it’s played from a 2D side view. It also adds heavy RPG elements. In addition to the standard troops (“towers”) that can be deployed, forces are led by one of several hero characters who can be leveled up, armed with various types of equipment, and whose leadership skills play into the effectiveness of your soldiers. This all adds up to an incredibly deep and satisfying tower defense game that’s unlike any other, and which definitely warrants your attention.


Fieldrunners

Fieldrunners is one of the app store’s earliest successes, and has become something of a classic. It’s an open-field tower defense game with excellent artwork and animations, several modes of play, and polish all around. The game includes three maps, with two more available via in-app purchase. Each map offers unique challenges and some unique towers. While geoDefense is definitely for the hardcore, Fieldrunners caters a little more to the casual TD gamer, but is brilliant in its own right.

Zombies & Horror


Pro Zombie Soccer

Pro Zombie Soccer has been on our radar seemingly forever. We fell in love with the game some months back when we previewed it, and celebrated its timely release during the World Cup games last month. Featuring fantastic art direction, fun and accessible gameplay, and an entertainingly bizarre story, it’s safe to say we’ve never had so much fun exploding zombies’ heads with a soccer ball.


Aftermath

Equal parts survival horror and action shooter, Aftermath is to video games as 28 Days Later is to film. In this, one of the app store’s most atmospheric titles, the darkness, rain and fog are as much your adversaries as the zombies who prowl the streets, and your flashlight is just as important as your firearms. This zombie thriller should not be missed.


Alive 4-ever Returns

The sequel to Alive 4-ever, Alive 4-ever Returns exceeds its predecessor in every conceivable way. Develop your four playable characters over more than 40 stages, arming them with ever more powerful weapons and equipment. Use skills, items and bullets to defeat the zombie hoards as you fight to rescue survivors, obtain vaccine against the zombie infection, and to ensure the survival of humanity. The action-packed Alive 4-ever Returns is a dual-stick survival shooter of epic proportions.



  1. WilhelmR on Monday 19, 2010

    New iphone owners wouldn’t know about these games now, lots of them are off the charts and not being reviewed anymore. Some of my favs are missing, but then that would make the list extra long. :D

  2. Matt on Monday 19, 2010

    Precisely. That’s one of the reasons we like to do round-ups once in a while. Newer games aren’t necessarily better games, and there are plenty of older titles still very deserving of attention.

  3. Travis on Monday 19, 2010

    We had a huge debate over the titles that did go into the article. There are still tons of amazing games that didn’t make the list, but if we included all the worthy titles the list would have been far far longer. I still contend that Peggle is the king of the casual games, but not everyone is a fan so it didn’t make the cut.

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