I’ve started using an iPhone some months ago. I’m not surprised that there’s twenty-six games on my phone right now, plus a bunch I’ve deleted, but that they hold my attention better than the PlayStation Vita games I got my hands on at the same time is surprising. This is a look at what I consider must-play titles.
Death Rally: Remedy’s remake of their old-school PC original (1996) is mobile action gaming at its finest. The one problem I have is due to constant contact with the screen, your driving finger develops nasty friction within a race or two, necessitating finger switching on the fly. Everything else is completely as it should be. The structure of never knowing exactly which races and tracks are going to be playable on the next round keeps you interested, and grinding to max out all the cars and guns keeps you going. The multiplayer is lots of fun.
Triple Town: Triple Town is the best new puzzle game in years. It’s not fully developed yet and the iOS version is not quite as far along as the browser version, but this is casual, engaging, deep puzzling at its best. Cutesy graphics meet hardcore challenge as you get a little bit further into the campaign. It’s essentially match three (think Bejeweled), except you’re building a town, and there’s multiple levels of matching that you need to take into account. Add hostile bears to the mix and you’ve got just the right combination of luck and skill.
Drop7: Drop7 is the other big new puzzler. So well tuned it approaches Tetris levels of “casual” addiction, perfect for killing a minute while waiting for something.
Hero Academy: This was the first iOS game that changed the way I play games. The now very much in vogue asynchronous multiplayer (I play, you play – just like play by mail used to be) works very well in this team-based fantasy sports title. It’s kind of like Blood Bowl meets League Of Legends, with teams of fantasy characters trying to destroy each other’s crystals. Played on a single-screen grid, the scope is just right to allow for varied tactics while remaining easy to grasp. The different teams add the right amount of variety.
Ascension: I thought you couldn’t possibly squeeze a card game into the iPhone screen. You can, at least on the 4S screen it works just fine. The same game is available as a physical card game, too, and I’ve had so much fun with the iOS version I wouldn’t object to picking it up for face to face play. This also sports asynchronous multiplayer, but it’s not a great fit here, as Ascension plays very fast. It would be better with same-time lobbies, turns taking a couple of minutes at most.
Infinity Blade II: I started with the sequel and haven’t yet played the original. This is a gorgeous game with super high production values and unusually strong visual design. It’s a bold take on swords and sworcery fantasy fiction, completely embracing the nature of the platform. The heroic journey is condensed to choosing from a couple of possible routes by clicking on a hotspot, checkpointed by glorious duels. The journey is completed in 15-30 minutes. Then you start again, retaining your experience and gear. The twist is, the journey changes a little bit every time you play. New paths open up, new chests appear, the monsters change, the sparse dialogue changes… a little. The grinding of experience is addictive, the amount of gear lures you in, and the timing and direction based dueling is always tense, always rewarding. Different weapon styles make sure there’s always something different you can try. The addition of “Clashmobs” recently is reason enough to log in daily to see what prizes you could get by participating in global challenges where all the players combine their efforts to meet a goal (kill 65 000 demons in 12 hours, that sort of thing). The gameplay and world remind me of the sublime Vagrant Story and the more recent Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls. It is a glorious game, every bit the mobile game I would’ve loved to make.
So there’s plenty to play and it costs next to nothing. Controls are the one thing that can be a problem, but with all the games above, they’re not. Many of the games plain wouldn’t work without a touch screen (Infinity Blade, Hero Academy) and cases where you genuinely miss a controller are typically bad fits for the platform anyway. All of the games above work as a couple of minutes of play, or hours spent on the small screen. That a game can be so adaptive to whatever time and space you can give it is revolutionary – not because of the portability as we’ve had portable games for a while now, but because of them feeling like viable alternatives to turning on the Xbox. Mobile gaming has grown up and to me, it’s as proper a gaming platform as anything else.