By Jason Snell
December 18, 2014 2:14 PM PT
Our Favorite Things: iOS Games
Note: This story has not been updated for several years.
I always say I am not a “gamer,” yet I seem to spend a lot of time playing games, especially on iOS. My Six Colors collaborator Dan Moren is someone I consider much more of a gamer than I am, so I asked him to join me to create this list of iOS games we have enjoyed over the past year. We hope you can waste as much time on them as we did.
As I detailed in November, Crossy Road is a free iOS game that’s inspired by Frogger. You’re a creature jumping across lanes of traffic, railroad tracks, treacherous waters, and the like. Eventually you get run over. Your point total is the number of spaces forward that you’ve advanced. It’s fun and, yes, addictive.—-JASON
I had to step away from Threes eventually, but only because it was so engrossing. Like Crossy Road, it’s one of those games that always makes you feel like you can do even better than that game you just played—and before you know it, you’ve been at it for hours. You’ve forgotten to eat, drink, and take care of other necessary tasks. Gameplay is deceptively simple: combine 1s and 2s to make 3s, then combine doubles of numbers (3s and 3s, 6s and 6s, 192s and 192s, etc.) to make ever larger numbers. The game ends when your grid is full, and there are no more places to put things—but that just means a new opportunity to beat the system, right? Much imitated, Threes is a classic and just $2, so accept no substitutes. —DM
It’s been one of the most celebrated iOS games for a while now, but if you haven’t played the $4 Monument Valley, do it! It’s not a long game, but it’s beautiful and entertaining and meditative. The puzzles aren’t especially hard, but that’s not really the point. As an experience, combining sound, visuals, story, and gentle puzzles, it works spectacularly. Even more great levels are available as a $2 in-app purchase. If you’ve got a friend or relative who is more of a casual games person, this would be the perfect app gift.—JS
Rules! is a beautiful and fast-paced $2 puzzle game. You’re dealt a four-by-four grid of cards, and then instructed to remove the cards in succession based on an increasingly complex set of rules, all while a timer ticks down to your ultimate doom. I found that Rules! was taxing both the memory and visual-processing parts of my brain to their limits—but in a good way. The items on the cards are adorable, but you’ll end up cursing the blue robot’s similarity to the blue monster.—JS
Space Age is a $2 retro-style adventure with fun graphics and a great chiptune soundtrack. The storytelling starts out seeming pedestrian, then suddenly gets amusingly twisty, and the final level is downright hard. Space Age isn’t a long game, but it’s a fun and memorable adventure with a whole lot of ambience.—JS
I’m taking a break from my usual Thursday crossword to write about crosswords. Specifically, the New York Times crossword app. There may be better ones out there, but the Times‘s offering remains the gold standard, and the recent updates to the app have brought back some missed features, like keeping track of your streaks. (I’m working on a four-day one right now.) Subscriptions aren’t cheap—a year’s worth costs $40, or $7 per month—but you get a free week’s worth of puzzles and archive access to try out. It also syncs progress between your devices and on the web, which is handy if you like your puzzles to go, and lets you play puzzles from the last 20 years. So, basically, you’re never without a good way to keep your brain challenged. —DM
The $3 game VVVVVV has been around for four years on various platforms, but I first encountered it this year on iOS. It’s a bizarre platform puzzle game about a crashed spaceship in which you have to continually reverse gravity in order to bounce off of walls and run across ceilings. It starts out easy and becomes insanely hard. The retro graphics and chiptune soundtrack are part of its strange charm.—JS
The Room/The Room Two
So, in case you can’t tell, I love puzzle games. The Room (now just $1) and its $3 sequel, The Room Two, remain—along with Monument Valley—the best ones I’ve played on iOS. As the name suggests, you’re trapped in a room, in which you find a strange contraption. As you progress, you’ll uncover secrets and hidden mechanisms that bring you to further puzzles. It’s a bit Myst-like, and there’s also a creepy occultish vibe over the whole thing—make sure to leave the sound on for the full experience, and maybe play in a dark room if you don’t mind a little…atmosphere. The puzzles are challenging, but not frustrating, and the only thing you’ll regret is that there aren’t more. —DM
Daddy Long Legs
Fittingly, it was my daughter who introduced me to Daddy Long Legs. Just as Crossy Road is an endless hopper, Daddy Long Legs is an endless walker. You control a creature on two very long legs, and each time you tap, one of his legs swings forward. If he loses his balance, he falls. You’re entirely judged by how far you can get Daddy Long Legs before he falls. (My daughter completely destroys me in this game, by the way.)—JS
Lords of Waterdeep
I hesitate to refer to this by its board-game enthusiast category, the “worker placement game,” because it makes it sound boring, and this Dungeons & Dragons-themed title is anything but. You play one of the masked Lords of Waterdeep, a city in the Forgotten Realms, where you maneuver and machinate against your colleagues/rivals to bring your schemes to fruition while simultaneously stymieing their schemes. Recruit adventurers and send them on quests, either squaring off versus AI opponents or—my preference—playing online against friends or strangers. The $7 game is gorgeous on a Retina device, and features two expansions for $3 each. —DM
This comical spaceship bridge simulator remains the most fun you can have yelling at your friends without (m)any hurt feelings. Your ship is trying to escape an impending supernova, and the crew needs to work together to make sure that the synthcage is enabled, the emergency whittler is jiggled, and the taxes are filed—all while your ship is falling to pieces around you, you’re avoiding wormholes and asteroids, and the control labels are sometimes replaced with incomprehensible icons. You’ll need at least one other friend to play, but it’s best with three more. Really, you haven’t lived until someone is repeatedly screaming at you to “set the Capacitive Omegasphere to 2!” It’s a free download, and you only need to spend money if you want to get all the upgrades (which, face it, after a game or two you will, happily). —DM
I don’t know why I like word-search games. I am terrible at them. At first, playing Quordy against my wife, I thought I was just the worst word-search player in my house. But thanks to Microsoft’s Wordament I now know that I am among the bottom 30 percent of Boggle players in the world.
Still, the concept for Wordament is great. Everyone around the world plays the same game at the same time, and after it’s all over you see yourself ranked against your friends and everyone else who’s playing the game. Finish in the top 50 percent and feel your self esteem rise! At least, that’s what I assume would happen if it ever happened to me.—JS
Small World 2
Another board game entry! The $3 Small World 2 brings to life all the fantasy tropes you’ve read about—and then throws them into a big pile of mix-and-match. Flying Skeletons, Merchant Orcs, Alchemist Ratmen: the possibilities are, well, not endless, but pretty large. As you control one of these factions, you battle against other fantasy races, each attempting to carve out their slice of the oh-so-small map. You can play over a tabletop or the Internet, and there are a number of expansions to increase your pool of possible powers and peoples. —DM
Fairway Solitaire HD
I can’t explain it. I’m neither a solitaire player nor a golfer, and yet my wife and I both keep playing Fairway Solitaire HD. It’s a solitaire-golf game that’s got a free-to-play mechanic that doesn’t get in the way of casual gameplay. It’s strangely satisfying to rip off a run of 20 cards in a row, up and down. And demoralizing when there are just no options but to draw more cards. Like I said, I can’t explain it, but I keep playing it.—JS
Jason wrote about the tabletop version of this game the other day, but this $5 offering remains another of my favorite board-game-to-iPad transplants: over the summer I even got my cousins’ young kids to play, and they enjoyed it immensely. Plus, without the need for setup or clean-up, you can play a full game in about 30 minutes. The premise is the same: you and your compatriots are stuck on a sinking island, and you need to find a handful of artifacts and escape with your lives. Every turn, more and more of the island falls beneath the waves. I really enjoy cooperative games where teamwork is key to survival, and Forbidden Island is no exception. —DM
Super Stickman Golf 2
The original Super Stickman Golf was a surprisingly great game, and Super Stickman Golf 2 just improves on the original. The course design is spectacular and the physics engine solid, enough to make a non-golfer like me a fan.
But the thing that puts Super Stickman Golf over the top is its multiplayer mode. Normal golf competitions, where golfers take turns and the lowest score wins? Boring. In SSG and SSG2, the first person to the hole wins, no matter how many strokes it takes to get there. The result is often hilarious and also fiendishly competitive.
My only real complaint about SSG2 is that the game so embraced a-to-play genre that it started to frustrate me. Rather than messing around with coins and hats and other stuff, I’d prefer to just give the developers a reasonable price and play the game without any more encumberances. The original SSG let me pay for an “unlock all” mode; SSG2 just wants me to buy more coins. I don’t want more coins.—JS
As much as I like Super Stickman Golf 2, and I do, I found this fusing of the Super Stickman Golf course designs with the game mechanic of Flappy Bird to be one of the most compulsively playable games of the year.
In Flappy Golf, rather than hitting the ball with a club and watching it go, you advance the ball by tapping on the screen. Each tap increases the ball’s height and forward velocity, and once you get a handle on the physics of the situation, it becomes a fun challenge to get the ball in the hole with the fewest “flaps.” What started as a dumb joke became a pretty great game.—JS
Again, let me point out that I am not a golfer. And yet golf games on iOS somehow keep popping up and surprising me. I’m a latecomer to the $2 Desert Golfing, having heard about it on ATP a few weeks ago.
It’s almost a game combined with performance art. The game has no chrome, no real trappings. There’s a ball, and a desert landscape, and a hole. When you get the ball in the hole, you go to the next hole. There are no congratulations for holes-in-one, no fancy sounds or graphics, no mulligans, and the course seems to go on forever. No, I mean it—your score just keeps compiling as you pass hole 100, 200, 500, 1000, and on and on and on. The subtlest change in the landscape ends up becoming a world-shaking event. It’s almost like a cousin to Desert Bus. But more fun to play.—JS
The best “real” game I played on my iPad this year was probably Revolution 60. (Disclosure: The head of the company that made the game has been a guest on The Incomparable several times.) My wife and I both played this (free, but with a $4 in-app purchase to play the full story) sci-fi action adventure story all the way through, and while neither of us got one of the game’s happier endings, we both felt satisfied with the experience.
There are definitely some flaws—so much walking through corridors!—but I really enjoyed the game’s grid-based battle mechanic and the series of character decisions I had to make along the way, which ultimately determined the final resolution of the story. This is the sort of game you expect to see on a PC or console, not on an iPad.—JS
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