If you've got a new or upgraded iPhone, or are simply just bored with what you've already got, then you'll be exhilarated to hear that you can revolutionise it, turning it into one of the greatest consoles of all time.
That's because the iPhone arguably kicked off the mobile gaming revolution, becoming home to exciting multitouch innovation through to ports of famous arcade titles.
Today, most phones are capable, powerful handheld consoles – if you know the right games to buy.This round-up covers the best iPhone games available right now. It’s split into categories, so you can jump right to the top racers, puzzle games, adventures, platformers, and more.
We’ll also highlight one new game each week as our iPhone game of the week, so remember to check back regularly to get a taste of the latest game to consume your waking hours.
iPhone game of the week: Snakebird Primer ($7.99/£7.99/AU$12.99)
Snakebird Primer is a turn-based puzzler that has you direct worm-like birds around levitating islands. They need to get to a swirling rainbow goal; but often the gaps between bits of land are too big, resulting in the grumpy burping avians ending up in the drink – or getting horribly spiked.
So you need to figure out paths, which often involves multiple birds working together. Eating fruit lengthens a bird, potentially enabling it to reach a ledge, or become a bridge for another. On quite a few levels, Tetris-style blocks appear – to help and hinder.
Snakebird Primer feels right at home on iPhone. It’s colorful, and the challenges tease your brain without smacking it too hard. But if you do get to the end and want a much sterner test, there’s always the vicious, unforgiving and equally brilliant Snakebird.
The best iPhone strategy games
These are our favorite iPhone card games, RTS and turn-based strategy titles, and board games to check out right now.
Kingdom Rush Vengeance ($4.99/£4.99/AU$7.99)
Kingdom Rush Vengeance is the latest entry in mobile gaming’s foremost tower defense series. As ever, the basics involve using resources to buy towers that stem the flow of adversaries. If too many of them reach their goal, you’re defeated and must try again.
The twist – at least from a storyline perspective – is that you’re the bad guy. Vez’nan the wizard has had enough, and is now on the rampage, attacking his nemeses. (How this is achieved through tower defense, we’ve no idea, but, well, video games.)
It’s visually smart, with varied levels, plus added strategy in the form of heroes to deploy and special powers to unleash. Even though it’s a touch fiddly on iPhone, and gates some towers and heroes behind IAP, Vengeance should be immediately snapped up by any fan of the genre.
Twinfold initially comes across a bit like iOS tile-sliding match classic Threes! You move cards within a claustrophobic grid, aiming to match pairs and double their face value, and cards all sport expressions, imbuing them with the kind of personality typically absent from such games.
Very rapidly, though, you realize Twinfold has more in common with turn-based dungeon crawlers than puzzlers. Your aim is primarily to survive; and this requires you learn and master rules and powers that enable you to efficiently deal with enemies roaming the mazes that shift and change every time you gulp down an energy-giving yellow card.
Despite the tight confines of the arena, there’s loads of depth here – but it sits behind a vibrant and inviting interface that ensures immediacy and accessibility. Top stuff.
Euclidean Skies ($4.99/£4.99/AU$7.99)
Euclidean Skies takes the framework behind iOS classic Euclidean Lands and stretches it to breaking point. Lands had you move in turn-based fashion on floating structures akin to Rubik’s Cubes, attacking nearby foes in chess-like fashion. Manipulating the landscape was as important as the direction of your next step. But in Skies, the land itself can be pulled to pieces.
This means the original’s quiet clockwork elegance has been replaced with a kind of brain-thumping chaos. You may be tasked with obliterating a giant monster’s spine by reworking the landscape, or figuring out how to simultaneously carve a pathway to a switch and some doors.
It’s hard work, but hugely rewarding; and even though the game’s a touch fiddly on the smaller screen, iCloud sync means you can always pick up from where you left off on your iPad.
Reigns: Game of Thrones ($3.99/£3.99/AU$5.99)
Reigns: Game of Thrones slaps a famous license on now-familiar Tinder-meets-kingdom management larks from the original Reigns, and follow-up Reigns: Her Majesty. You tend to the needs and desires of your subjects and enemies, keeping the army, church, people and bank happy – but not to the point they’ll instigate your untimely demise.
Flick cards left or right and your approval ratings change accordingly – and sometimes unpredictably. Quests and themes run throughout, providing surprising depth, given the basic nature of your interactions.
The writing is great, although the game is more enjoyable if you’re a fan of the TV show on which it’s based. But even if you’re a newcomer, this Reigns is fun, with you seeing how far you can get into its complex narrative web before being brutally taken down by any number of foes.
Sid Meier's Civilization VI (free + $19.99/£19.99/AU$30.99 IAP)
Sid Meier's Civilization VI is one of the PC’s finest 4X (eXplore; eXpand; eXploit; eXterminate) strategy titles. Its turn-based shenanigans have you explore a brand-new world, aiming to be the dominant civilization through conquering space, getting absurdly rich, or giving everyone else a kicking until your mob’s the only one left standing.
When the game arrived for iPad, that was an eye-opener, but now it’s on your iPhone. This isn’t a cut-back, cartoonish take either – it’s the full experience.
There are drawbacks beyond the high price – the game’s a touch fiddly on a phone, requires powerful hardware, and lacks cloud save sync. We’d love to play a few turns on the train and continue later on an iPad. Gripes aside, this game showcases the potential for immersive AAA experiences on iPhone like no other.
Meteorfall: Journey ($2.99/£2.99/AU$4.49)
Meteorfall: Journey is a mobile-friendly adventuring game, but rather than your hero venturing forth into a grid-like take on a fantasy realm, everything here’s based around a deck of cards.
Decisions are made Tinder-style, with you swiping left or right. You might beat up a monster or save your strength for later, knowing in the back of your mind that growing more powerful only comes from battle victories. Or while on the road, you might face the choice between visiting a blacksmith for weapons upgrades or a temple to optimize the cards you hold.
This might sound complex, but it’s really not. Meteorfall: Journey is approachable and immediate, but with enough depth to keep you playing for many months due to its semi-random setups, multiple heroes and varied quests.
Reigns: Her Majesty ($2.99/£2.99/AU$4.49)
Reigns: Her Majesty is a kingdom management game smashed into Tinder. You must tend to the needs and desires of your subjects, ensuring the church, people, army and treasury are kept happy – but not powerful enough to instigate your untimely demise.
Actions happen by flicking cards left or right in response to requests and questions. Your approval rating with the aforementioned factions then changes – sometimes unpredictably. It’s a simple, fun system, but one with surprising depth.
This is partly down to a great script, but the balancing act is further complicated and augmented by challenges. When completed, these often unlock new cards and storylines. And should things go badly wrong, death is not the end – quests thread throughout the ages as you play on as the next in a seemingly endless line of queens.
Card Crawl ($2.99/£2.99/AU$4.49)
Card Crawl is solitaire reimagined as a dungeon crawler – or perhaps the other way around. Regardless, it pits you against a grumpy ogre’s deck of 54 cards. During each round, he deals four cards, which may be a mix of weapons, potions, spells, and hideous enemies.
Your own four slots are for the adventurer, your two hands, and a backpack to stash items in for later. The adventurer’s health is diminished when fighting monsters (unless armed), but you can counter by getting stabby with swords (or hiding behind a shield, like a coward).
Games are brief – only a few minutes long – but Card Crawl manages to balance randomness and strategy. Over time, you can unlock new abilities and figure out strategies to boost your high scores. It’s a polished, entertaining and clever take on card games that’s ideal for iPhone.
Swap Sword ($2.99/£2.99/AU$4.49)
Although primarily a match-three game, Swap Sword adds a massive dollop of dungeon-roaming and turn-based strategy to the equation. The result is a fresh game that marries tension, planning and risk to great effect, adding energy and fizz to an otherwise tired genre.
The mechanics are similar to the likes of Bejeweled (swap two items, aiming to construct a row of three or more); but you must also keep the hero safe from roaming monsters, and collect enough keys to open an exit to the next stage.
At first, this is relatively simple, but later stages find you fending off insane numbers of foes, balancing power-ups, and figuring that colored gems have never had it this tough.
Card games have come a long way since the days when you completed a round of solitaire on a PC and were rewarded with said cards bouncing around the screen a bit. In Solitairica, you’re instead immersed in a fantasy world, where, for some reason, all battles take place by way of card decks. And your reward here is to not get horribly killed by some monster or other.
The solitaire itself is ruthlessly simplified into a game of higher or lower, with you hoping for runs of cards in order to batter down your enemy’s defenses. Meanwhile, they’re lobbing all kinds of attacks at you, from pointy sticks to making cards grow beards that have to be hacked away.
Cards also have energies, which you can collect to enable hurling of spells at your opponent; these can be upgraded during campaigns via the in-game shop.
This all sounds terribly complicated, we’re sure, but really this is a gentle, amusing, entertaining card game with a fantasy twist. And cards with beards.
Exploding Kittens ($1.99/£1.99/AU$2.99)
High-octane card games don’t seem the greatest fit for iPhone gaming, but Exploding Kittens perfectly captures the manic chaos of the Oatmeal-illustrated original. As per that version, this is Russian roulette with detonating cats.
Players take turns to grab a card, and if they get an exploding kitten, they must defuse it or very abruptly find themselves out of the game.
Strategy comes by way of action cards, which enable you to peek at the deck, skip a turn, steal cards from an opponent, and draw from the bottom of the deck “like the baby you are”.
Local and online multiplayer is supported, timers stop people from dawdling, and a ‘chance of kitten’ meter helps everyone keep track of the odds. Large hands of cards rather irritatingly require quite a bit of swiping to peruse (although cards can be reordered), but otherwise this is first-rate and amusingly deranged multiplayer mayhem.
Nintendo fans probably wonder why the big N hasn't yet brought the superb Advance Wars to iPad, but Warbits now scratches that particular itch. However, although Warbits is influenced by Nintendo's turn-based strategy title, it isn't a copy — the iOS game brings plenty of new thinking to the table and is very much optimised for the iPad.
Working with 16 varied units, you conquer a series of battlefields by directing your troops, making careful note of your strengths and the enemy's relevant weaknesses. All the while, Warbits merrily has you and your opponent trading barbs, often about subjects such as whether tomatoes are fruit, because that's the kind of thing you'd go to war over.
Finish the 20-mission campaign and you'll have a decent grasp of Warbits, and can then venture online to take on other human players across dozens of different maps. With superb visuals, enough new ideas over the game that inspired it, and a single one-off price-tag, Warbits is a must-buy for any iPhone-owning strategy nut.
Our favorite iPhone point-and-click adventures, room escape games, narrative tales, and gamebooks.
Maginary (free + $4.99/£4.99/AU$7.99)
Maginary exists in a gray area between novella and game. From the off, you get an inkling of what’s in store, on inputting your name and seeing it infused into the story. As you read on, it becomes clear interactions with your device affect what occurs within Maginary’s world.
There’s a great sense of atmosphere, from subtle sound effects to surprising animations that shake up the story in real-time – in narrative and visual terms. Events barrel along at some pace, too.
The story is resolutely linear, though – there’s no freedom to explore, unlike in, say, Device 6. But this doesn’t matter when you’re glued to the screen, and the interactive components are so cleverly designed. Entertainingly, even the one-off IAP to unlock the last two-thirds of the book is baked deep into the storyline – how very meta!
Florence is really an interactive storybook, but there are game-like elements peppered throughout – and because it was created by the lead designer of Monument Valley, you know it’ll be full of heart.
It also features plenty of clever design elements. For example, you at one point create something as a child that later makes a reappearance in a box of mementos. After a crash, sliders are used to make the blurred vision of the protagonist coherent. And at one point you fashion speech balloons from puzzle pieces, which reduce in number as the people conversing with each other become more comfortable.
The downside is brevity – Florence is very short and lacks replay value. But it’s a heartwarming experience, and one that showcases the kind of innovation that occurs at the fringe of gaming.
Far From Noise ($2.99/£2.99/AU$4.49)
Far From Noise is as much an exercise in self-reflection as a game. It begins with a car balanced precariously on a cliff edge. With no means of escape, what remains is to make sense of it all – not easy when you start possibly hallucinating a conversation with a surprisingly philosophical deer.
Interaction comes by way of balloons, which you tap to confirm thoughts and actions. As you make decisions, the narrative branches, leading you to one of several endings. Oddly, we could have perhaps done with fewer choices, because many seemed almost inconsequential. Although perhaps that’s the point.
Despite the situation (car wobbling; imminent death), the pace is very restful and the experience is unique. We suspect Far From Noise will nonetheless prove divisive, but it’s great to see such artistic games on iPhone.
Dark Echo ($1.99/£1.99/AU$2.99)
Dark Echo is a weirdly creepy horror game that manages to make squiggly lines scary. As you stomp about in the dark, sound waves are represented as abstract lines that rebound off of objects you can’t otherwise see.
The soundtrack is all-important. Don a pair of headphones, and you can hear your footsteps, and the floor squelching beneath you. Flies buzz as you pass… well, it doesn’t bear thinking about. And then you hear things growling in the shadows, before one decides it fancies a snack.
Dark Echo will helpfully suggest RUN! as you bolt for an exit – or end up devoured in a dead end. It’s a great example of how the imagination can give you bigger scares than any rendered CGI beast on your iPhone’s screen. That and you’ll never look at red zig-zags in quite the same way again.
Mr. Robot ($2.99/£2.99/AU$4.49)
Based on the hit TV show, Mr. Robot (or Mr. Robot:1.51exfiltrati0n.ipa, to give it its full name), immerses you in a world of hacking as you accidentally become entwined with a shady group planning a mysterious world-changing event.
It begins with a smartphone you find and quickly pocket, shortly before it's hacked by its actual owner, the furious Darlene, who then press-gangs you into service. The game plays out by way of a messaging app, your replies selected from canned responses to progress you through the narrative.
This simple structure is similar to the Lifeline games, and there's a distinct feeling of being shoved along a particular story regardless of what you choose to say. However, it's exciting bouncing between different message threads, and smart writing throughout infuses the game with palpable tension.
Sorcery! 4 ($4.99/£4.99/AU$7.99)
Gamebook-style text adventures have had something of a renaissance on mobile, and the adaptations of Steve Jackson's Sorcery! series are among the very best. The fourth entry, suitably titled Sorcery! 4, again immerses you in a world of fantasy, with you attempting to ascend a mountain, infiltrate a fortress, and recover the Crown of Kings.
If you’ve played previous games in the series, you’ll find a familiar set-up akin to a single-player board game. You drag your character about, respond to scenarios, bash up monsters, and can (thankfully) flip back to save points should you mess up and get horribly killed.
But even for total newcomers, there’s a full standalone adventure here – one that perfectly marries and balances a book, interactive game, and touchscreen experience. (Note that should you fancy trying the rest of the series first, it’s available as a bargain-priced three-pack.)
The Room Three ($3.99/£3.99/AU$5.99)
The Room is a series about mysteries within mysteries. It begins with a box. Fiddling with dials and switches causes things to spring to life elsewhere, and you soon find boxes within the boxes, layers unraveling before you; it’s the videogame equivalent of Russian dolls meets carpentry, as breathed into life by a crazed inventor.
The Room’s curious narrative and fragments of horror coalesce in follow-up The Room Two, which expands the ‘boxes’ into more varied environments – a seance room; a pirate ship. Movement remains restricted and on rails, but you’re afforded a touch more freedom as you navigate your way through a strange clockwork world.
The Room Three is the most expansive of them all, featuring intricate, clever puzzles, as you attempt to free yourself from The Craftsman and his island of deranged traps and trials. Get all three games, and play them through in order, preferably in a dark room when rain’s pouring down outside for best effect.
Spider: Rite of the Shrouded Moon ($4.99/£4.99/AU$7.99)
A game of exploration, mystery, and puzzles, Spider: Rite of the Shrouded Moon once again stars an intrepid eight-legged protagonist and lets you unravel a subtle story with each clue you find. Trap insects in your web as you explore the enormous Blackbird Estate, and solve some puzzles along the way too.
What's more, the game uses your location, time, and local weather to add dynamic features to your experience each time you play.
Our favorite iPhone arcade titles, from breakout and one-thumb rhythm action to multitouch madness and gorgeous survival efforts.
Microbian (free + $1.99/£1.99/AU$2.99)
Microbian is a creepy arcade game that features a scuttling spider scurrying through the gloom. Its monochrome world is full of traps, and instant death is always but a second away.
To keep the arachnid hero alive, you tap to make it jump, thereby avoiding things liable to kill it. Tap again while it’s in mid-air, and it will leap to the ceiling – or back to the floor if it’s already upside-down. The procedurally-generated path is finite, but you’ll need the timing and focus of a champ to reach the end.
Even if you never make it, Microbian is well worth a look. The action is great for quick blasts, and the art style is gorgeous – from jump scares when spike-toothed monsters lurch from the dark, to flying fish that offer a brief ride to safer ground.
INKS. is a pinball game. Each table has flippers and a ball to spang about, but INKS. differentiates itself from traditional fare by instilling proceedings with art and fine-tuning challenges so they heighten pinball’s demands for precision shots.
Tables are therefore stripped back, simple affairs, with a handful of targets, and you are rewarded for hitting them all in a minimum number of shots. Delightfully, targets splatter ink when hit, which the ball can subsequently pick up and create trails with, transforming every table into a tiny canvas.
Devoid of the clutter usually associated with pinball, INKS. is far more suited to iPhone play; and the unique presentation makes it a pinball game for people who didn’t even realize they might like pinball.
Spitkiss is an arcade game about lobbing bodily fluids about. That probably sounds a bit graphic, but Spitkiss actually comes across as a sweet-natured, cartoonish game, with cute characters in silhouette flinging little blobs at each other.
The mechanics are a bit like Angry Birds, but once you’ve fired your goop by slingshot, you get another shot if it hits a flat surface. Typically, you need many to get to your target – and this isn’t simple in levels packed with winding pathways, spikes, and monsters.
Fortunately, you can hold the screen for some slo-mo action, and plan your route before you start. It’s good stuff, in all – a quirky mix of shooter and platform game, and with a nicely conceived underlying narrative about love.
Dig Dog ($2.99/£2.99/AU$4.49)
Dig Dog features a dog that’s a big fan of digging. The pooch is after bones, but the snag is that this canine’s decided to search on fragile islands sitting atop deadly spikes, and peppered with roaming beasties.
You direct the hungry hound left and right, and tap a button to jump, at which point you can tap again to dig, tap fast to dig rapidly, or move horizontally to dash at speed.
Dig Dog’s claustrophobic nature and trap-laden levels create an experience that’s initially punishing. But put in the legwork and the game does open up. You’ll learn when to take risks, and how to obliterate multiple enemies in a series of bounds, to get extra coins you can spend on power-ups in a shop that infrequently appears.
Give this one time, then, and you’ll dig it.
Part Time UFO ($3.99/£3.99/AU$5.99)
Part Time UFO is the videogame equivalent of those claw crane games you find in arcades and want to smash because they keep dropping things. Only you won’t smash this one, because the claw extends from the bottom of an adorably cute UFO.
Said alien has crashed on Earth, and rather than humans spiriting it away to a top-secret location, they suggest it starts earning a living. So the little hovering critter ends up performing duties such as dropping goods in a van, repairing a broken art exhibit, and, erm, stacking cheerleaders.
The entire thing’s regularly frustrating yet spellbindingly charming. Just make sure you ditch the on-screen joystick for the thumbs-anywhere option, or you’ve no chance of success.
AR Smash Tanks! ($1.99/£1.99/AU$2.99)
AR Smash Tanks! is all about smashing tanks. Specifically, using yours to smash up your opponent’s.
Because this is an augmented reality game, you can project the rectangular arena onto anything from a table to a large garden – and then let battle commence. Whether using multiple devices or playing with pass-and-play, it’s great to be able to check out your next move from any angle.
Tanks are pinged around in slingshot fashion. If you’ve played Angry Birds, you’ll be right at home and, as with that title, the environments are destructible. That comes as a surprise first time round, when you knock a skyscraper on to your own tank. Later, you start trying for snooker-like trick shots, toppling towers, smashing up tanks, and escaping to safety.
In short, it’s tons of fun; an excellent example of the potential in AR gaming.
jodeo asks how a 2D creature might interact with 3D objects. Each level is introduced as an ‘experiment’, and that feels entirely appropriate as a little jelly critter is dropped onto a vector shape that morphs and spins. Your aim: to paint every edge.
You start by tackling basic polygons, but the experiments become quite diverse, introducing a range of conditions. These include invisible shapes, objects that pelt the critter, and gravity unhelpfully being turned off.
It can all be a bit finicky and random – irritating, even, when you keep missing the last bit of painting, fall off the shape, and are sent back to the previous checkpoint. But there’s a lot to like in this unusual miniature adventure – not least the permanently surprised and distressed expression of the protagonist.
Super Samurai Rampage ($1.99/£1.99/AU$2.99)
Super Samurai Rampage seemingly depicts the stabby breakdown of a legendary warrior, “provoked into a relentless rampage”. Quite how he was provoked isn’t made clear, but there’s no shortage of bloodshed in this lightning-fast slash ’em up.
Swipe the screen and your samurai moves and attacks: up and he’ll leap; across, and he’ll slash his sword – not great for anyone in the vicinity at the time. The key is to chain kills to increase a multiplier that culminates in a brief period of murdery invulnerability.
One hit and you’re dead, and although you’re given fair warning when an enemy’s going to attack, keeping track of everything on the busy screen is tricky. Still, get into the zone, and Super Samurai Rampage is a rewarding way to unleash your frustrations on hordes of little computer guys who should really learn to run away.
Beat Sneak Bandit ($2.99/£2.99/AU$4.49)
Beat Sneak Bandit is one of the most audacious genre mash-ups you’re likely to find on an iPhone. Despite each level taking place on a single screen, the game manages to combine platforming, pathfinding, rhythm action, turn-based puzzling, and stealth.
The premise is that the nefarious Duke Clockface has stolen all the clocks, throwing the world into disarray. Benevolent pilferer Beat Sneak Bandit vows to get them back.
Amazingly, everything is controlled using a single thumb, which propels Bandit onwards. He must move on the beat, and you make use of walls to turn around, ensuring the rhythmic hero’s not spotted by a guard or security camera.
The game’s full of character, along with devious level design that requires seriously twisty routes and deft timing to crack. Great stuff.
Micro Miners ($1.99/£1.99/AU$2.99)
Coming across like an auto-scrolling stripped-back Lemmings, Micro Miners features a team of excitable, tiny miners that toddle along tunnels you dig with a finger. On encountering a deposit of gold, silver or coal, they’ll gleefully hack it to bits with their tiny pickaxes.
At first, this all feels noodly and simple, but Micro Miners soon bares its teeth. You must commit each level’s layout to memory, in order to navigate underground hazards, often splitting and rejoining your little auto-running-team.
Before long, you’re carving complex pathways through the dirt, so you can grab large deposits and huge gems, circumvent lava, and avoid ferocious giant worms that eat anyone daft enough to stray into their path. The result is a fun, sometimes chaotic, and unique iPhone gaming experience.
Fish Fly Fever ($1.99/£1.99/$AU2.99)
It might have a chill-out jazzy soundtrack and cute visuals, but Fish Fly Fever is a tough arcade game determined to make your thumbs – and by extension all your other parts – feel like gaming buffoons.
In its tiny single-screen universe, a little fish fly scoots about, emitting a trail. When its bubbles hit another creature, that creature is transformed into a gem. Grab those and your score goes up, periodically sending you into a ‘fever’ mode (bigger trail), or pitting you against a boss (which will almost certainly kill you).
It’s really tough. Despite the simplicity of what’s required and the controls (rotate left or right), you’ll initially die before you grab half a dozen gems. But persevere and, like the best arcade games of old, you’ll slowly master Fish Fly Fever. Over time, it may become a bit repetitive, but again like classic arcade titles, this one’s perfect for the occasional blast.
In Edge, you control a cube that finds itself within a minimal geometric clockwork universe. As the cube trundles about, the blocky world frequently shifts and changes, often thwarting your attempts to find the goal. When you do finish a level, Edge dispassionately awards you a rating, which will probably be rubbish.
If you’ve got steely resolve, you’ll try again to see how rapidly you can speed through each isometric wonderland. If not, you’ll still have a great time exploring the dozens of varied worlds, regularly being surprised at how much imagination can be packed into landscapes comprising only cubes.
And if in either case, you exhaust Edge’s levels, you can start all over again in equally impressive sequel Edge Extended.
Captain Cowboy ($0.99/£0.99/AU$1.49)
If you’re old or well-versed in classic games, Boulder Dash might be a favorite. The fast-paced 1980s arcade game has its protagonist zoom about 2D caves, digging through dirt, grabbing diamonds, manipulating rocks, smashing up enemies, and heading for an exit. Captain Cowboy uses the same mechanics, but reimagines everything as a giant puzzle adventure.
Instead of short, timed levels, Captain Cowboy offers a single massive maze in space. Although there are still moments of tension and excitement, this title’s more about the joy of exploration and discovery – finding your way blocked and figuring out a new route.
There are lovely touches throughout, such as the CRT-style visual filter and the soundtrack dulling when floating through space or underwater. But mostly, Captain Cowboy is a must-have for its mobile-friendly mix of adventuring and arcade action.
Eliss Infinity ($2.99/£2.99/AU$4.49)
The original Eliss was an early App Store darling, defining the iPhone in terms of multi-touch gaming. Eliss Infinity takes the basic premise of the original and runs with it, cementing itself as a modern-day classic.
The basic aim is to control (move; tear apart; combine) colored planets in order to fit into them into wormholes that sporadically appear. Should planets of different colors collide, your energy reserves are depleted – only replenished by mopping up space dust that appears after successful planet dumpage.
Each of Odyssey mode’s 25 levels demands unique tactics to conquer. Best them all and there’s the manic Infinity mode, ready to tie your fingers in knots.
Power Hover ($3.99/£3.99/AU$5.99)
Power Hover is an impressive action game that takes you through a beautiful world to recover a village's stolen power. Hover through deserts, oceans, and highways, and grind on rails as you make your way to the finish line, chase down baddies, or play through arcade-style boss runs and challenge your friends for the best score. Collect dropped batteries to unlock even more gorgeous and thrilling levels.
It turns out the future will involve hoverboards, only it'll be robots piloting them. In Power Hover, all the humans are gone, but so too are the batteries that power your robot village. So you hop on your flying board and pursue a thief through 30 varied and visually stunning levels.
Whether scything curved paths across a gorgeous sun-drenched sea or picking your way through a grey and dead human city, Power Hover will have you glued to the screen until you reach the end of the journey. And although it's initially tricky to get to grips with, you'll soon discover the board's floaty physics and controls are perfectly balanced.
Our favorite iPhone games where you run, leap, board, and dodge your way to a high-score – or an abrupt end.
Alto’s Odyssey ($4.99/£4.99/AU$7.99)
Alto’s Odyssey is a side-on endless sandboarding game. Alto zooms across windswept dunes, frequently hurling himself into the air to perform speed-boosting tricks that then enable him to leap across vast canyons.
In gameplay terms, it echoes Alto’s Adventure, and long-time players of that title might get a sense of deja vu. However, stick with Odyssey and you learn it’s more than just a reskin.
Complete achievements and new elements are slowly revealed: additional biomes to explore, and – more importantly – a rock-wall ride move that can have you reach greater heights than ever.
The main mission remains a curious combination of heart-poundingly exhilarating (when escaping a frenzied lemur, or completing a jump by a hair’s breadth) and relaxing; if you hanker after the latter, check out the Zen mode, which removes scores, coins and power-ups. At that point, it really is just you and the endless desert.
Impossible Road ($2.99/£2.99/AU$4.49)
Impossible Road is an endless survival game, starring a featureless sphere belting along a ribbon of road suspended in space. Gates are placed along the road at intervals, each of which bestows a single point when you blaze through it. As the road bucks and lurches, it’s all you can do to stop yourself plummeting into the abyss.
But Impossible Road is sneaky. It turns out that if you’re careful – or lucky – you can soar briefly into the air and return to the track, taking massive shortcuts that would perhaps be best referred to as ‘cheating’.
Amusingly, high scores are logged not only for the farthest gate reached, but also the most skipped. And although the App Store has freebie riffs on the Impossible Road theme, none have the class, style, polish and razor-sharp focus of this premium title – so stick to the original.
Canabalt popularized endless runners on the iPhone. Originally released in 2009, it strips back platform gaming to tapping the screen to make a little sprinting man leap over gaps rather than plummet to his doom.
You might wonder why such an ancient title is on this best-of list, but Canabalt is a classic that easily deserves a place. With a firm emphasis on speed, Canabalt’s breakneck pace makes it a pure adrenaline rush in a way that complex and slower rivals just can’t match.
The game hasn’t stood still for years, either. It’s optimized for modern iPhones and has eight variants on the basic theme. The aesthetics remain intriguing too – an ominous, urgent soundtrack accompanies a city’s destruction by massive machines, perhaps explaining why the leaping hero is so desperate to flee.
Sheep Goes Right ($0.99/£0.99/AU$1.49)
Sheep Goes Right is an auto-scrolling arcade game that features a sheep that goes right. And also up. But mostly right.
For reasons unknown, the heroic Sheepy has been challenged to pick his way through 100 levels of mayhem, packed with swirling maces and massive spiked balls. Hitting one is baa-d, sending you back to the start of the level, and wiping out one of your three gold stars. Fail too many times and the game assumes you’re rubbish and helpfully offers to let you skip the level, at which point you woolly feel like a failure.
The game looks crude, but proves compelling as you figure out which combination of rightward steps and upward jumps will get you to the end without being turned into a kebab.
A friendly whale beckons a shipwrecked pirate to leap on its back. So begins their joint adventures, in Run-A-Whale, which is perhaps the iPhone’s most gorgeous endless runner.
Really, endless swimmer is more like it, seeing as you’re a massive aquatic mammal speeding through the sea. You hold the screen to dive and release your finger to surface and leap, grabbing coins in a manner akin to Jetpack Joyride in reverse.
But Jetpack Joyride was never this eye-dazzling, and Run-A-Whale is packed with wonderful moments, from soaring through the air after being blasted from a cannon, to zooming along as a volcano erupts in the distance.
Occasionally, the game irks with its demands – obstacles in succession you have little chance of avoiding, or unskippable tricky missions – but for the most part this is a gem that’s not to be missed.
The thinking behind Stagehand is to flip platform games on their head. Instead of controlling the character, you control the stage. So as your little chap automatically ambles along, you drag chunks of landscape to give him a clear path, ensuring he doesn’t smack into a wall.
From a visual standpoint, Stagehand feels like the sort of thing Nintendo would be happy to call its own. There’s also a superb soundtrack that tinkles away as you grapple with the weird means of staving off the hero’s untimely demise.
If there’s any criticism, the controls can be a tad awkward, and Stagehand could have been improved with finite designed stages, rather than solely being an algorithmically generated endless runner.
Still, it’s a clever twist on the genre and there’s plenty of polish and entertainment here for anyone wanting to make the Earth move – by dragging it with a finger.
Frutorious HD ($0.99/£0.99/AU$1.49)
Slingshotting cartoon characters across your iPhone’s screen is a popular gaming pursuit. But if you’ve become bored rigid of catapulting miffed avians at kleptomaniac hogs (and, let’s face it, who hasn’t?), try Frutorious HD for something that’s somewhat familiar, but with far more spark and heart.
The story is that an evil skull’s turned all the protagonist’s friends into fruits, and so he must bound up vertically scrolling levels, making use of handy levitating platforms and cannons to collect fruit and avoid various nasties ambling about.
It’s a jolly, sweet-natured game with superb hand-made visuals that add plenty of character, and a slightly unhinged edge always lurking just beneath the surface.
Chameleon Run ($1.99/£1.99/AU$2.99)
You might have played enough automatic runners to last several lifetimes, but Chameleon Run nonetheless deserves to be on your device. And although the basics might initially seem overly familiar (tap to jump and ensure your sprinting chap doesn’t fall down a hole), there’s in fact a lot going on here.
Each level has been meticulously designed, which elevates Chameleon Run beyond its algorithmically generated contemporaries. Like the best platform games, you must commit every platform and gap to memory to succeed. But also, color-switching and ‘head jumps’ open up new possibilities for route-finding – and failure!
In the former case, you must ensure you’re the right color before landing on colored platforms. With the latter, you can smash your head into a platform above to give you one more chance to leap forward and not tumble into the void.
Super Hexagon ($2.99/£2.99/AU$4.49)
Super Hexagon is an endless survival game that mercilessly laughs at your incompetence. It begins with a tiny spaceship at the centre of the screen, and walls rapidly closing in. All you need to do is move left and right to nip through the gaps.
Unfortunately for you, the walls keep shifting and changing, the screen pulses to the chip-tune soundtrack, and the entire experience whirls and jolts like you’re inside a particularly violent washing machine. It seems impossible, but you soon start to recognize patterns in the walls.
String together some deft moves, survive a minute by the skin of your teeth, and you briefly feel like a boss as new arenas are unlocked. And although complacency is wiped from your face the instant you venture near them, Super Hexagon has an intoxicating, compelling nature to offset its mile-long sadistic streak.
Our favorite iPhone platform games, from retro-style 2D titles to full-on console-style adventures.
Rolando: Royal Edition ($2.99/£2.99/AU$4.49)
Rolando: Royal Edition is a love letter from the early days of iPhone gaming. It remasters one of the platform’s earliest hits, released way back in 2008: an inventive puzzle-platformer, where you trundle rotund Rolandos to their goal.
With drag-based selection in the multiple-character levels, gestural actions and tilt-based movement, Rolando always felt like a game designed for iPhone first. It’s stood the test of time remarkably well. With spruced-up visuals, it still feels like a modern, vibrant take on what mobile gaming can be.
There’s great variety in its challenges too, whether you’re rolling a chubby regal Rolando along, avoiding traps and pits, or whirling your iPhone around like a maniac, trying desperately to get to the end of a level in an extremely tight time limit. Buy it (again)!
see/saw is a fast-paced platform game with a delicious streak of sadism. It features a subject who’s been invited to help with scientific tests of a distinctly dubious nature.
Each single-screen test involves collecting three coins as rapidly as possible. This is easy at first, as your little player zips about, scooting up walls, and leaping around. But the professor in charge is a nutcase, and soon has you facing massive saw blades, spikes, and rockets. Helpfully, challenges often require the player to be killed in precisely the right manner to fling them at the final target.
With 150 bite-sized levels, this platformer is ideal for dipping into – and engaging enough that you may find yourself wanting to blaze through the entire thing in a handful of sittings.
Suzy Cube ($3.99/£3.99/AU$5.99)
Suzy Cube is a platform game set in a world with a thing for straight edges. Assuming you’ve played a platformer before, you know the drill: explore; grab gold; unsportingly jump on the heads of enemies to obliterate them.
But Suzy Cube goes beyond the stripped-back 2D fare we often see on iOS for something akin to Super Mario 3D Land. This means you may find yourself quickly swapping between skidding down icy mountains in 3D, following Suzy Cube as she runs side-on around a tower, and then delicately leaping between floating platforms, as seen from above.
Bar some duff boss battles, it’s ambitious, entertaining fare, with tight touchscreen controls, and a great sense of pace and variety as you delve into the world and discover its many hidden secrets.
Oddmar is a platform game featuring the titular protagonist, a selfish Viking who suddenly has to become the hero when his village vanishes and evil critters take over the land. It is a stunning mobile production, awash with dazzling visuals, and wonderful set pieces, such as trying desperately to outrun a massive troll in a boss battle, or riding a pig like you’re starring in a medieval Metal Slug.
But even the more typical platforming bits are something special. Wonderful animation ensures the game is full of life, while carefully placed hazards and enemies cleverly shift and change the game’s tempo as you pick your way through each level.
On iPhone, there’s the slight niggle of thumbs getting in the way of the action. That said, the controls are among the best we’ve ever seen on a mobile platformer, as – to be frank – are all other aspects of the game.
Ovivo comes across as much like an art experiment as a platform game. It’s certainly rather more reflective than most running and jumping games.
Much of this is down to the environments, which are all stark monochrome – semi-abstract silhouettes that only occasionally offer a spark of familiarity. You tilt your device to move circular protagonist Ovo, and a tap of the screen switches Ovo from existing within the light to the dark.
By using gravity and flipping from black to white (and back) at opportune moments, you can scale hitherto unreached heights. And although there are objects to collect en route, your main aim is simply to reach a goal. Finish an entire world and the screen zooms out, giving you a slice of dazzling artwork to take in before immersing yourself in the next challenge.
Reed ^_^ ($1.99/£1.99/AU$2.99)
Reed ^_^ is an entertainingly ridiculous high-speed platform game, featuring a hyperactive virtual kitten inside an old supercomputer. The computer’s on its last legs, and you need to find ‘cubes’ to save the world.
The tiny snag is that the inside of this machine is designed to kill. It’s littered with spikes and roaming monsters, and a single touch vaporizes Reed ^_^. Fortunately, due to our hero not being alive in any conventional sense, death is immediately followed by the chance to try again. And again. And again.
With such regular failure, this is the kind of game that could easily get trying, but Reed ^_^ gets the fun/frustration balance right. Levels are short, and you know when you end up dead yet again, your thumbs were ultimately to blame.
Food Pals ($2.99/£2.99/AU$4.49)
Food Pals is a platform game, featuring bipedal food – eggs, fruit and the odd burger – sprinting through hostile terrain full of electrified barriers, clockwork teeth, spikes and giant bugs. Your local supermarket, this is not.
Everything’s controlled by a single thumb. One prod of the screen sends your character into the air or ninja-jumps them off of a wall. Each level is hand-crafted, so the key is to learn every nook and cranny, then try your hand at the perfect run.
Reaching the end of Food Pals isn’t the most demanding of tasks, but there’s longevity for completists, with collectibles peppered throughout each level – often in hidden places. However you play, it’s a game that exudes fun and charm.
Max & the Magic Marker – Remastered ($1.99/£1.99/AU$2.99)
Max & the Magic Marker – Remastered is a spruced-up take on a much-loved platform puzzler that first appeared on iPhone way back in 2010. Despite its age, the game still feels fresh today, offering a breezily fun and entertaining mix of leaping about platforms, collecting objects, and being a massive cheat by way of the titular marker.
Actually, that’s not entirely fair on Max – it’s not like he can scribble a cheat code and skip to the end. But he can fashion shields to protect himself, slabs to drop on bounding monsters, and ad-hoc stairs to clamber up.
Neatly, you can pause the game while working on your temporary artistic masterpieces – and that’s just as well, because to get three stars at level’s end, you must beat a timer, along with collecting all the floating bling.
Mikey Hooks ($1.99/£1.99/AU$2.99)
Mikey Hooks is a speed-run platform game that plays out a bit like a stripped-back Super Mario Bros. in fast-forward – if Mario happened to be armed with a grappling hook he could used to swing past enemies.
Each level is full of spikes, pits, monsters, and platforms, along with piles of gold coins to collect. You run left and right, and use virtual buttons to jump and slide through narrow gaps. The twist is the aforementioned ‘hooks’ bit, and it’s exhilarating to swing through the air, scooping up coins, missing a spike-headed roaming enemy by a whisker.
There are 36 levels and a bespoke ‘race’ mode to tackle; and to keep you coming back for more, you can race against ‘ghosts’ of your fastest times.
VVVVVV is a love letter to classic games. Its visuals and soundtrack recall the Commodore 64, and its platforming action (each single-screen challenge also being amusingly named) echoes much-beloved 1980s fare, like Manic Miner and Bounty Bob.
However, VVVVVV’s speed and fluidity are thoroughly modern, as you zoom about a huge space station, trying to locate lost crew members. And unlike comparatively stodgy platformers of old, VVVVVV doesn’t have you leap over hazards – you instead invert gravity to flip between ceiling and floor in an excitingly disorienting manner.
The spike and alien-infested twisty corridors awaiting you require serious dexterity to conquer. Fortunately, death is not the end, because you get unlimited lives, and there are frequent checkpoints.
And in another nice nod to the old-school, even the 4:3 viewing area works in the game’s favor – you can control your character by swiping and tapping in black bars at the edges of your display, rather than covering up his on-screen exploits with your thumbs.
Bean Dreams ($2.99/£2.99/AU$4.49)
Precision platformer Bean Dreams is more bouncing bean than jumping bean. The edible hero, decked out in a natty sombrero, bounds about colorful environments, aiming to grab fruit, free a hidden axolotl (a Mexican salamander, if you didn’t know), and reach the exit without getting impaled. Your part in all this: guiding the bean by prodding left or right on your iPhone.
Bean Dreams offers plenty of replay value – you can spend time learning each small level, but only on committing to memory every nook and cranny can you aim for the tiny number of bounces that unlocks a gold medal award.
And to succeed in grabbing the axolotl or getting all the fruit, you’ll often need to play again, shaking up your approach.
With plenty of variation in its stages, alternate beans with special powers, and devious puzzles lurking within, Bean Dreams is ample proof platform games can work on iPhone – when specifically designed for the system.
Super Mario Run (free + $9.99/£9.99/AU$14.99)
Mario on iPhone could have been a disaster – a lazy port of a DS title with virtual buttons. But that’s not very Nintendo. Instead, Super Mario Run rethinks Mario for touchscreen and mobile, in a manner that initially seems reductive – even regressive – but that in time reveals a clever game with surprising depth.
In essence, it’s an auto-runner, where you tap to jump. But this isn’t Canabalt in Mario’s dungarees. Clever level design forces you to master – and subvert – perceived limitations should you want to scoop up all of the coins.
This transforms each of Super Mario Run’s admittedly smallish number of stages into a compelling mix of puzzling, precision timing, and gradual mastery of the game’s tiny worlds.
Undoubtedly, traditionalists will grumble, cheapskates will baulk at the price, and gamers on the go will rightly gripe at Nintendo’s infuriating decision to require an internet connection to play.
But we nonetheless reckon Super Mario Run is a worthy addition to the Mario canon – and a polished, playable title for iPhone.
Mimpi Dreams ($0.99/£0.99/AU$1.49)
Mimpi is a little dog with a big imagination, and in Mimpi Dreams he becomes a canine superhero as he snoozes. Within various dreamtime worlds, Mimpi fends off dragons, leaps atop projectiles blasted between pirate ships, and deals with the dastardly goings on in an evil pollution-spewing factory.
This all plays out as a straightforward platform puzzler. The cheery pup pootles along and you prod and swipe at various contraptions to make them do things so Mimpi can continue. Most of the puzzles are gentle in nature, but hints are generously peppered about and give you an idea of how to proceed by way of comic-like speech balloons.
Much of the joy in Mimpi's Dreams, though, is immersing yourself in its sheer inventiveness. Only a few times does it slip, with the odd tedious maze to grind through; mostly, the game is a breezy, grin-inducing, vibrant romp through a charming cartoon world.
Leo’s Fortune ($4.99/£4.99/AU$7.99)
The bar's set so low in modern mobile gaming that the word 'premium' has become almost meaningless. But Leo's Fortune bucks the trend, and truly deserves the term.
It's a somewhat old-school side-on platform game, featuring a gruff furball hunting down the thief who stole his gold (and then, as is always the way, dropped coins at precise, regular intervals along a lengthy, perilous pathway).
The game is visually stunning, from the protagonist's animation through to the lush, varied backdrops. The game also frequently shakes things up, varying its pace from Sonic-style loops to precise pixel-perfect leaps.
It at times perhaps pushes you a bit too far — late on, we found some sections a bit too finicky and demanding. But you can have as many cracks at a section as you please, and if you master the entire thing, there's a hardcore speedrun mode that challenges you to complete the entire journey without dying.
Drop Wizard ($1.99/£1.99/AU$2.99)
This single-screen platformer initially resembles a tribute to arcade classics Bubble Bobble and Snow Bros., but Drop Wizard is a very different beast. It's part auto-runner, which might infuriate retro-gamers, but this proves to be a brilliant limitation in practice.
Your little wizard never stops running, and emits a blast of magic each time he lands. You must therefore time leaps to blast roaming foes, and then boot the dazed creatures during a second pass. It's vibrant, fast-paced, engaging, and — since you only need to move left or right — nicely optimized for iPad play.
Our favorite iPhone turn-based puzzlers, match games, path-finding tests, dexterity challenges, and open-world brain-smashers.
Pipe Push Paradise ($3.99/£3.99/AU$5.99)
Pipe Push Paradise sends you to a desert island, but not to the beach. Nope – you’re there to sort out the island’s dreadful plumbing disasters. This involves moving massive pipes around confined angular rooms, aiming to make connections that get water flowing once again.
It echoes box-shoving games, but adds some ideas of its own. Pipes can be rotated and dropped into pits – and sometimes you’ll consider yourself victorious, but then realize your little character can’t get back out of the room, thereby forcing you to rethink.
On iPhone, the controls are a touch fiddly, but infinite undos ensure errors don’t frustrate, while also giving you space to experiment. With multiple challenges unlocked at any given time, this is a puzzler where you’ll want to plumb the depths.
Chuchel is a very strange experience that sits somewhere between trial-and-error logic game and decidedly oddball animation. The premise involves a ball of angry fluff who’s desperate to devour a cherry. Unfortunately for the hairball hero, it’s snatched away by a giant hand after every hard-fought victory.
Actually, ‘logic game’ might be stretching things a bit. Ultimately, you’re tapping hotspots, seeing how things play out, and trying to crack the sequence that will temporarily get Chuchel his fruity prize.
This can be a bit of a grind, given that you may end up seeing a canned animation several times before cracking a level; but it’s hard to stay mad at a game that has so much to give in terms of charm, surprise, energy, and flat-out imaginative weirdness.
Marching Order ($1.99/£1.99/AU$2.99)
Marching Order is an amusingly absurd logic game, featuring a put-upon band leader who must keep his band members happy. If he doesn’t, disaster ensues as the band abruptly collapses in a heap.
The way to keep said critters – a veritable menagerie of cartoon animals – content is by responding to their text messages. These brief missives outline specifically where each member wants to stand – one might, for example, want to be next to the drums, or sandwiched between animals with fur.
It’s fun, cute, silly, and also quite simple at first. But more animals are added after every few successful marches – and if that’s still not enough to challenge your brain and digits, there’s a tougher mode where you rearrange your bizarre band against the clock.
Where Shadows Slumber ($4.99/£4.99/AU$7.99)
Where Shadows Slumber is a puzzle adventure featuring an old man with a mysterious lantern. Its special power is to change the landscape when shadows are cast on it, transforming treacherous drops into bridges, and blocked passages into doorways.
Much of this is a logic test, with you needing to figure out how to build a path to an exit, sometimes with the help of lights you can switch on and off, or people that march back and forth, triggering switches. The mechanics are engaging, as is the minimal yet vibrant art style.
There’s also a story underpinning your adventures, which has moments as dark as the shadows that are cast. If nothing else, though, these shocking moments only make you root for the protagonist more, and urge you to help him to victory.
Blask is all about using mirrored boxes to refract laser beams to targets. Where Blask differs from similar titles is in the gleefully free-form nature of each level’s construction. Often, large blocks can be separated into their component parts and rearranged as you try to send the colored beams to their targets.
This isn’t quite as effective on the iPhone as on iPad. On a smaller screen, Blask can be a touch fiddly and rather demanding in terms of precision.
Still, its tactile and organic nature results in an experience that feels like a magical take on a real-world puzzle, devoid of the stiffness often associated with digital fare. And that puzzles can usually be solved in several ways affords further flexibility.
7 Billion Humans ($4.99/£4.99/AU$7.99)
7 Billion Humans is the follow-up to excellent puzzler Human Resource Machine. Taking place in a benign robot dystopia, it features humans that demand to be useful. The robots therefore have humans becoming living computer programs, performing entirely pointless tasks in return for the slightest praise.
Topical and satirical backstory aside, this is clever stuff. The puzzle mechanics use real-world programming concepts, although in a drag-and-drop manner that proves accessible to newcomers, but coding experts will also be tested by each level’s optional additional challenges that demand you use the fewest possible steps, or complete tasks within a set time.
On iPhone, the going is a touch fiddly on the smaller screen, in terms of interaction and seeing what all your people are doing. Even so, this is an excellent sequel – and a first-rate title in its own right.
Golf Peaks ($2.99/£2.99/AU$4.49)
Golf Peaks initially looks much like a mini-golf game – a genre that doesn’t typically fare well on iPhone, since it’s too fiddly to accurately aim. Fortunately, Golf Peaks only uses smacking a ball as a theme of sorts for some sporty turn-based puzzling.
Each single-screen challenge tasks you with getting the ball into the hole, but moves are dictated by a small number of cards (denoting moves and jumps) that can be played in any order. You therefore need to figure out which sequence combined with which directions will get you to your goal.
It’s all quite chilled out, but as courses grow in complexity, Golf Peaks becomes rather more of a cerebral test than the typical mini-golf course packed with plastic windmills.
Persephone is a puzzle game that asks you: what if death is not the end? Here, it’s instead a vital component of solving puzzles.
That might sound a bit confusing, but really Persephone is a quite conventional isometric puzzler. You need to reach an exit, and do so by getting past hazards. It just so happens that along with avoiding projectiles and shoving boxes around, you sometimes have to trample on the corpse of your previous incarnation, or shove your dead predecessors along to trigger a switch.
It’s comically dark stuff, but in a cartoonish way. And its mix of the macabre, clockwork movement, and twisty labyrinthine puzzles makes for a compelling and engaging combination.
Layton: Curious Village ($9.99/£9.99/AU$14.99)
Layton: Curious Village [USA] | [RoW] won an award for being the best handheld game of 2008. You might think it’s rocking up a bit late on iPhone over a decade later, but this game – first released for Nintendo DS – is something of a classic, having racked up over 17 million sales.
Whether it will do nearly as well on iPhone is anyone’s guess, but developer Level-5 is giving it a go. Recognizing that a modern iPhone’s display is rather different from a mid-2000s Nintendo console’s, all the visuals have been redone in HD.
The plentiful puzzles and riddles are the important bit, though, and they remain as devious as ever. Even early on, the game is pretty tricksy, and as you delve further into the quest, you’ll come to understand how this title grew to become a much-loved gaming series.
ELOH is a really smartly conceived puzzle game. Although it’s extremely rigid in the nature of the solutions it demands, it’s pretty open-minded about how you get to them.
Each puzzle is a grid of loudspeakers, goals, and snoozing masks. Tap a loudspeaker and it regularly emits colored blobs that bounce off of objects at precise right-angles. If blobs hit a mask, they change color. The aim, of course, is to send strings of blobs to goals of identical colors.
Although you can try and figure everything out before tapping the loudspeakers, ELOH is more fun when tackled in an organic manner. Switching up your approach on-the-fly as a meditative beat thumps away in the background makes for a relaxing and engaging experience.
Hidden Folks ($3.99/£3.99/AU$5.99)
Hidden Folks is a hidden object game that shouldn’t work as well as it does on the iPhone. On iPad, it’s an obvious buy, with the hand-drawn illustrations shining on the larger screen. You have plenty of space in which to explore the varied, animated, interactive scenes, trying to track down the selection of people and objects that will complete the challenge.
On iPhone, everything’s much tinier, and yet it somehow still works. In part, that’s down to the game’s sheer charm, and subtle humor. But mostly it’s due to smart graphic and interface design, which makes the game a joy to play in any orientation, and at any zoom level.
Although probably avoid zooming out too much, unless you have the eyes of a bird of prey and can spot your target from the equivalent of half a mile in the air.
Evergarden is a gorgeous puzzler underpinned by an emotionally charged narrative adventure. The main game echoes Threes! and Triple Town, in being about merging elements on a board to boost your score. Only here, you’re combining plants into new forms, and having them strategically spit out seeds between rounds.
The game has a great sense of rhythm, and stunning visuals that make everything shine on the iPhone’s screen. It’s also layered, gradually revealing new ideas as you play. Early on, animal companion Fen will demand you match provided patterns to increase your score; within the adventure, you acquire new skills, and must strategically apply them within the main challenges.
In all, Evergarden is a distinctive, beautifully realized treat – even if you think you’ve already got quite enough mobile puzzlers installed on your device.
Donut County ($4.99/£4.99/AU$7.99)
Donut County is a physics puzzler where you play as a hungry hole in the ground. The more the hole eats, the larger it grows. Initially you are only able to swallow a few blades of grass but as you crack the correct order of items to gulp down you’ll soon be downing cars, buildings and even hillsides.
Coupled with the satisfying gameplay, Donut County adds lovely visuals, inventive ideas, and a superb storyline. The imaginative conceit is that a local raccoon has been sending people down the hole when they order donuts, and now everyone’s deep underground recounting their stories and figuring out how to get back to the surface.
The challenge is slight and the journey short, but that also means Donut County wisely doesn’t outstay its welcome. Instead, it’s a beautifully crafted finite slice of engaging entertainment.
Dissembler is a match puzzler that seemingly has you methodically dismantle tiny geometric works of art. The mechanics will be familiar to anyone who’s played the likes of Bejeweled – flip two elements (flat colored tiles in this case) and try to make a match of three or more – only there’s no gravity in this game to fill blank spaces.
Instead, your matches vanish, and nothing else appears, which sometimes leaves single tiles isolated. At that point, you must undo moves and think again, figuring out the precise sequence needed to consign the entire artwork to oblivion.
It’s a deliciously captivating, tactile game, which also builds on its many dozens of hand-made puzzles with an intriguing endless mode, and extra daily free puzzles. In all, it’s flipping great.
Million Onion Hotel ($3.99/£3.99/A$5.99)
Million Onion Hotel is crazy. But if you want specifics, it mixes Whac-A-Mole-style screen prodding and a highly strategic match mechanic. The aim is to make solid lines by tapping onions that appear randomly on a five-by-five grid.
The simultaneous demand for speed and strategy clashes gloriously. Tap too slowly and you run out of time. Too fast and you secure only single lines, rather than the doubles you need to ramp up your score and bonuses.
And that’s before you take into account deranged boss battles, and an underlying story that encompasses onion soup, the mafia, quite a lot of hanky panky and an interdimensional wormhole.
Just know Million Onion Hotel is a relentless assault on the senses that’ll leave you exhausted – but eager to dive in for another go, in part to try and make sense of what’s happening.
The Talos Principle ($4.99/£4.99/AU$7.99)
The Talos Principle brings a much-admired open-world PC puzzler to your iPhone. It begins with you awakening in a garden, fresh from a deep sleep. A brief look at your hands reveals you’re a robot – which may come as a bit of a surprise – before a booming voiceover reveals you’re in some kind of facility for testing your abilities.
Over the next 20 or so hours, you work your way through dozens of immersive puzzles, battling floating drones, and manipulating laser beams, all the while gradually finding the answers to your purpose, and what it means to be human.
There are niggles here and there with the controls, which don’t always click on the touchscreen. But the game otherwise gels nicely with iPhone, looking great on the smaller screen (compared to noticeably rough edges on iPad), and enabling you to tackle an epic quest in bite-sized chunks.
Zen Bound 2 ($2.99/£2.99/AU$4.49)
Zen Bound 2 is a puzzle game of sorts, which has you wrap a length of rope around objects, in order to paint them.
That all probably sounds horribly dull, but it turns out Zen Bound 2 is an engaging, unique, and oddly tactile experience.
The blocky objects on the screen effortlessly shift and turn with a flick or drag, gradually acquiring color as the rope encases them, or blows up paint bombs. The rope obeys gravity, too, enabling you to twist your iPhone as you manipulate the challenge in front of you.
The meditative and somewhat noodly feel is further enhanced by a lengthy soundtrack, and the remastered take released in 2017 ensures the game looks pin-sharp on every size of iPhone. So although Zen Bound 2 might be a game that’s been knocking around for years, it manages to remain distinctive and thoroughly modern all the same.
Linelight is a serene, smartly designed puzzle game set in a universe of lines. It vaguely resembles a stripped-back take on Tron, or perhaps a circuit board diagram as reimagined by a graphic designer with taste. Your task is to help a white line find its way through dozens of pathfinding puzzles.
Movements are controlled by a virtual stick, which is one of the most effortless and elegant in any iOS game. The puzzles are similarly graceful and ingenious, gradually introducing new mechanics.
These include enemies that amusingly bob along to the chill-out soundtrack’s beat. Said foes are colored lines that kill with a single touch; but when carefully directed, they trigger switches to help you across otherwise impassable divides.
It might not be the longest experience on iOS, but Linelight deserves a place on your iPhone, due to being an engaging, beautiful experience, and a perfect example of how minimal design can have a soul.
Warlock’s Tower ($1.99/£1.99/AU$2.99)
Although it resembles a dungeon crawler running on a Game Boy, Warlock’s Tower is a cunning turn-based puzzler that plays out across 100 meticulously designed rooms.
The backstory is the titular warlock is in a mood, thinks everyone’s shunned him, and has decided to obliterate the world. Enter Tim the mailman, carrying a letter saying everyone loves the warlock.
But the tower is filled with magic, robbing you of life for every step you take. You must chart a (frequently convoluted) path to each exit, grabbing life-replenishing gems along the way, along with outwitting zombies and flying eyes.
The retro aesthetic can be trying, as can the lack of an undo (mess up and you must start a stage from scratch); however, the puzzles are cleverly designed, often sending you down dead ends and making you properly think before you figure out a solution, leaving you suitably satisfied when you finally do.
In our opinion, Threes! is the iPhone’s Tetris – that absurdly addictive puzzler that’s perfect for the hardware, with simple rules but enough depth that you can conceivably improve your skills over a period of years.
It takes place on a four-by-four grid, within which you manipulate tiled cards. The aim is to merge matching pairs, which increases their face value and leaves an extra space for subsequent cards to appear.
Subtleties in the rules keep Threes! head and shoulders above countless App Store pretenders, and it’s also infused with personality. Even when you’re in a fix, it’s hard to be mad at a game where all the cards on the board have cute faces and natter away to each other.
Snakebird (free + $3.99/£3.99/AU$5.99 IAP)
Redbird, Greenbird and Bluebird aren't birds in the conventional sense. They're 'snakebirds' – grumpy worm-like feathered critters with a penchant for fruit. The tiny snag is they happen to live on tiny islands, and getting to the fruit (and then to the exits that propel them to the next fruity collection point) isn't exactly simple.
In fact, it's pretty clear the creators of Snakebird have tried their best to drive you to the brink of insanity with this game. Even the earliest levels are hard going, with you twisting and turning your grumpy snakebird, trying to figure out how to wind it around a floating rock, grab an apple, and not end up tumbling into the sea.
Eventually, you're faced with multiple snakebirds per level, and increasingly deviously designed puzzles involving movable objects, teleporters, and snakebird-impaling spikes. All the way through, Snakebird sits on the edge of sadism, but you'll feel like a genius when you crack one of its puzzles, only to realize there are dozens more waiting for your subsequent feeble efforts.
We should hate the game, but Snakebird is superb – a properly brain-mashing puzzler that drives you to despair, but keeps you coming back for more.
Hitman GO ($4.99/£4.99/AU$7.99)
Square Enix would have been on a hiding to nothing converting its free-roaming 3D game to touchscreens, and so it's great to see the company do something entirely different with Hitman GO.
Although still echoing the original series, this touchscreen title is presented as a board game of sorts, with turn-based actions against clockwork opposition. You must figure out your way to the prize, without getting knocked off (the board). It's an oddly adorable take on assassination, and one of the best iOS puzzlers.
Lara Croft GO ($4.99/£4.99/AU$7.99)
Following in the footsteps of Hitman GO, which astonishingly managed to transform that series into an adorable board game, Lara Croft GO reworks the adventures of the world's most famous tomb raider. It's another turn-based affair, with lashings of atmosphere, finding Lara carefully working her way past traps crafted by an ancient civilisation with a penchant for blocky design and elaborate moving parts.
There are also lots of snakes and deadly lizards about, which she's quite keen on shooting in the head. The five chapters are quite brief, but savour the game rather than blazing through, and you'll find something that merges early Tomb Raider's sense of adventure and solitude, Monument Valley-level beauty, and bite-sized touchscreen gaming that's perfect for iPhone.
You Must Build A Boat ($2.99/£2.99/AU$4.49)
It's always great when a savvy developer rethinks a genre and comes up with something that feels fresh. EightyEight Games welds auto-running to match-three in You Must Build A Boat.
Deft fingerwork must be married with careful timing, matching keys as the hero approaches locked chests, or swords at the moment an incoming enemy prepares to get all stabby. Get shoved off of the left-hand side of the screen and you're told YOU WIN!, because every step potentially adds to your coffers.
There are missions to complete, abilities to power-up, and a cheeky sense of humour that sets the title apart from its frequently comparatively po-faced contemporaries.
Our favorite iPhone trails games, top-down racers, 3D console racing sims, and quirky time-attack challenges.
Reckless Racing 3 ($2.99/£2.99/AU$4.49)
Reckless Racing 3 is a top-down effort that features dilapidated cars and trucks battling it out across a surreal section of courses. Whereas the original in the series appropriately restricted itself to scrapyards and mall parking lots, Reckless Racing 3 features routes through a quaint European village, an airport, and a nuclear plant with a worrying amount of green goop sloshing about.
The handling feels a bit lightweight, but the races are amusingly smashy. And if you’re in the mood for something completely different, there’s a gymkhana mode for precision driving and drifting in your decrepit vehicle.
PAKO 2 ($1.99/£1.99/AU$2.99)
PAKO 2 exists in a bizarre universe of constant, unending criminal shenanigans, and a police force whose sole response to getaway drivers is to hurl police cars at them with merry abandon – and then attempt to blow them away with a gunship when that approach fails.
This presents a tiny problem for you, given that you’re the getaway driver. Prodding left and right to direct your tiny car, you must zoom between pick-ups and drop-offs, gradually powering up your car as you do so, and trying to avoid taking a career-ending plummet into a ravine, or being atomized by psychotic law enforcement.
PAKO 2 is a shallow game, but also buckets of fun, and with several environments and a slew of vehicles to unlock, it should tempt you to unleash your inner criminal for many weeks to come.
Grid Autosport ($9.99/£9.99/AU$14.99)
Grid Autosport is a console-quality racer. That isn’t hyperbole; this is an accurate conversion of a game that has graced countless PCs and PlayStation 3s – all on your iPhone.
Naturally, not just any iPhone will do; you’ll need an iPhone SE or an iPhone 7 or newer, and at least 6GB(!) of storage space. But once the game’s installed, you can immerse yourself in by far the deepest racing experience mobile has to offer.
If you’re a simulation nut, turn off all driving aids, head into a full season and prepare to spend time spinning off into gravel traps. More cautious players can stick with quick races and rookie mode for a while, gradually learning car handling and tracks alike, and wondering why all mobile games can’t be made with such love.
Pigeon Wings ($1.99/£1.99/AU$2.99)
Pigeon Wings is a deranged side-on racing game, featuring wide-eyed pigeons belting along in tiny planes. The backstory involves a rich nutcase aiming to destroy a city by way of a heavily-armed gigantic flying fortress; the birds race it out to decide who gets the chance to stop him.
The game switches things up between strings of races and occasional battles. In the former, you slipstream rivals, bob and weave through the air by tilting your iPhone, and power up your craft through trophies won in-game.
The shooty bits are brief and intense – a nice change of pace, despite the fact you’ll likely be blown to bits several times before claiming victory.
Should you hanker after something marrying the intensity of ALONE… and the frantic racing of Mario Kart, Pigeon Wings is a must – in fact, you’d be bird-brained to miss it.
Mini Motor Racing ($2.99/£2.99/AU$4.49)
Mini Motor Racing is a top-down racer featuring tiny vehicles that blast about twisty-turny circuits. They auto-accelerate, so you’re left with steering, and periodic use of a turbo that rockets your vehicle forward a few car lengths, leaving you unable to steer in the meantime.
From the off, Mini Motor Racing is frenetic. The tracks are claustrophobic, and the cars respond (and even sound like) remote controlled vehicles – albeit ones seemingly driven by psychopaths. Once you’re a few dozen races into the game, it seems your opponents are keener on smashing into you than winning.
That grumble leaves Mini Motor Racing languishing in the slipstream of the best top-down effort on iPhone, Reckless Racing 3, but it still manages a podium finish. And that’s because it’s packed full of content, has a great multiplayer mode, and in its ‘remastered’ 2017 form looks stunning.
Pumped BMX 3 ($3.99/£3.99/AU$5.99)
Cartoonish graphics. Simple controls. An emphasis on catching ramps, much like in Tiny Wings. You might look at Pumped BMX 3 and think: Pah! Easy! Casual gaming! At which point, the game hurls you rudely over the handlebars, leaving you a crumpled, tearful mess, with grazed knees and broken pride.
Pumped BMX 3, it turns out, is a deviously tricky but deliciously compulsive trials game, keen to punish any error, and yet reward those who take the time to master controls and courses alike.
Your best bet is to carefully learn every nook and cranny of each course. Only when you can easily make it to the end unscathed should you start getting clever with the odd stunt, before finally winning the shiniest of medals with the kind of routine that would make BMX aficionados the world over break out into a cold sweat.
Riptide GP: Renegade ($2.99/£2.99/AU$4.49)
The core of Riptide GP: Renegade feels like it's been wrenched wholesale from the unhinged water-based faction of 1990s arcade racers. Renegade, for the most part, matches their energy and spirit, as you barrel along splashy tracks atop a souped-up futuristic jet ski, performing death-defying stunts to accrue boost that catapults you along at even more breakneck speeds.
The game's packed full of content, from single races to a challenging career mode, and the premium price means you need skill rather than cash to succeed.
There are times you wish the game would let go a little – the colors are drab and it at times takes itself too seriously – but when it fully unleashes as you blaze through factories or get hurled into the air by the wake from a rocket launch, Renegade is glorious.
Drift 'n' Drive ($2.99/£2.99/AU$4.49)
Madcap racer Drift 'n' Drive somehow appears to have arrived from a 1980s home computer and yet feels perfect for mobile play. It's an old-school overhead racer that pits you against a grid of crazed opponents, all fighting to get to the finish line first.
The game only scrolls vertically, and the controls are simple: steer by tapping near a screen edge or prod the centre for a temporary boost of extra speed. Tracks snake left and right within the screen's narrow confines, but sometimes do so abruptly, causing plenty of opportunity for massive pile-ups.
Manage to not crawl in last and you move up the grid next time round. Place better and you start getting cash to upgrade your car. Before long, you're laughing like an idiot while barreling along in a race of two-dozen tiny cars buzzing around the track like flies, boosting into walls, and occasionally wondering why modern racers are rarely this much giddy fun.
Horizon Chase ($2.99/£2.99/AU$4.49 IAP)
Time was racing games were all about ludicrous speed, gorgeous graphics, and the sheer rush of weaving through a sea of cars to the finish line. Horizon Chase briefly reverses back to such halcyon days, grabs the best bits from the likes of Lotus and Top Gear, before zooming back to the present as a thoroughly modern arcade racer.
It looks gorgeous, with some stunning weather effects, and an odd but pleasing low-poly roadside-object style; it sounds great with veteran games musician Barry Leitch on soundtrack duties; but most importantly, it handles perfectly, and is a joy until the very last track.
AG Drive ($2.99/£2.99/AU$4.49)
In the future, it turns out people have tired of racers zooming about circuits on the ground. In AG Drive, tracks soar into the air – akin to massive roller-coasters along which daredevil racers of the day speed, gunning for the checkered flag.
This is a pure racing game – all about learning the twists and turns of every circuit, and the thrill of breakneck speed. The only weapons you have available are strategy and skill. And this suits the kind of stripped-back controls that work best on iPad – tilting to steer, and using thumbs to accelerate, brake, and trigger a turbo.
Also, while some slightly irksome IAP lurks, there’s little need to splash out. The game’s difficulty curve is such that you can gradually improve your skills and ship, working your way through varied events until you become an out-of-this-world racing legend. (Or, if you’re a bit rubbish, an ugly stain on the side of a massive metal building.)
Our favorite iPhone blasters, from precision shooters to classic arcade shoot ’em ups.
Backfire is a shooter that pitches you as a coward who runs away from fights, blasting behind you as you flee. That’s fair enough in this claustrophobic horror world, where you’re relentlessly pursued by swarms of ferocious demons – or, for an occasional change of pace, one massive, deadly boss.
It’s worth noting this is a vicious, tough game. It feels ponderous at first, but soon your foes multiply in number and you end up darting through tiny gaps, blasting behind you, trying to eke out a few extra seconds of survival. Fortunately, you can upgrade powers between games, for a fractionally better fighting chance next time around.
Stick with it and gradual success feels very rewarding. And especially on iPhone, the touch controls are superb, movement feeling like fish darting about a pond – albeit one filled with glowing, demonic piranhas.
Steredenn is a side-on blaster with a retro bent but a modern feel. It’s packed full of delicate pixel art and you’d be forgiven for assuming it a port of a classic, but Steredenn takes full advantage of the iPhone’s power, flinging glowing bullet death about with merry abandon.
This is a smart shooter in every sense. There’s humor, with your ship endearingly expelling spent bullet cases, and a giant sword power-up, and you’re just as likely to find yourself battling swarms of craft with chainsaws strapped to their noses as laser-spewing behemoths.
Procedurally-generated levels ensure Steredenn remains endlessly replayable, and refreshing your energy after beating a boss feels like a reward that also allows you to dig deeper into the game. 2019’s Binary Stars revamp – more ships, modes and content – further cemented its place as a mobile classic.
ATOMIK: RunGunJumpGun ($2.99/£2.99/AU$4.49)
ATOMIK: RunGunJumpGun finds the hero of the hour belting along hazard-infested corridors, attempting to obliterate evil-doers in a world where the local sun is dying. Unfortunately, said hero forgot their jet-pack, and relies on shooting a massive gun at the ground in order to stay aloft.
This becomes problematic when huge saw blades and the like need blasting. Shoot ahead and you plunge towards the ground (often covered in deadly spikes). The game therefore plays out like a choreographed juggling act, as you balance flying and shooting in its brutal, bite-sized levels.
Given how intense the game is (although you do get a shield and unlimited rewinds), it’s perhaps a good thing levels are short. But if you somehow don’t think it’s challenging enough, try grabbing every collectible; you can then rightly lay claim to being the toughest iPhone gamer around.
Tanks! – Seek and Destroy ($2.99/£2.99/AU$4.49)
One of the earliest 3D games was Battlezone, a tank warfare title at the time so realistic the US military commissioned a version from Atari to train gunners. iOS tribute Vector Tanks was subsequently gunned down by Atari lawyers, but its DNA survives in Tanks! – Seek & Destroy.
Like Battlezone, Tanks pits you against an endless number of vector tanks on a sparse battlefield, but this is a much faster, tougher game, with tilt-and-tap controls that put you more in mind of console racing games than a stodgy tank 'em up. The result is a relentlessly thrilling 3D shooter that marries the best of old-school smarts and modern mobile gaming.
Kick Ass Commandos ($2.99/£2.99/AU$4.49)
Kick Ass Commandos is a top-down twin-stick shooter that begins in conventional fashion. But as you blast through the jungle, you quickly happen upon a prisoner. He then tags along, also shooting all and sundry. Save more and you amass a tiny army, which blows everyone in their path into chunks of meat.
This is a violent game, and also sometimes a stupid one. Despite the retro stylings, it can be a bit gross and occasionally tone-deaf; in one early scene, you mow down largely defenseless enemies in a shower block.
Fortunately, Kick Ass Commandos isn’t without brains. It demands you think tactically and safeguard health – particularly of characters who must survive to the level’s end. If you can deal with the odd icky moment, there’s hours of breezy action-packed high-octane retro shooting here, with an interesting twist.
Super Crossfighter ($0.99/£0.99/AU$1.49)
Super Crossfighter is a modern take on classic blasting action that harks back to Space Invaders. But instead of lobbing the occasional pot-shot at lumbering green beasts, Super Crossfighter is a neon-infused affair, with bullet hell aplenty, and a thumping techno soundtrack.
There’s also the ‘crossfighter’ bit, which alludes to the way you can leap back and forth between the top and bottom of the screen. This can be handy for grabbing power-ups, un-sportingly shooting an enemy in the back, or simply escaping certain death when facing a hail of projectiles.
The touchscreen controls work nicely, and there are over 150 waves and an upgrade system to sink your teeth into. The game’s perhaps a touch ‘relaxed’ in feel at times, rather than super-intense, but otherwise this is an excellent iPhone shoot ’em up.
This neon-infused one-thumb single-screen shooter has you fire orbs into the void. When an orb stops, it expands into available space and is given a number. Hit it with subsequent orbs and the number decreases until the orb explodes, sometimes starting a chain reaction that obliterates its neighbors.
Your main concern is an orb returning over the line of death above your cannon. Orbital therefore rapidly becomes a tense battle of nerves, accurate aiming, and space management.
Whichever of its three varied modes you try, it’s a gripping game, and there’s also a same-device two-player mode that pits you against a friend.
Although Glitchskier is a fairly typical vertically scrolling shooter, it lives in its own strange little world that provides a unique sense of character.
The conceit is Glitchskier is all happening inside an ancient PC. It begins with a clacking keyboard, PC hum, and icons to click. The shooty bit involves your little ship blasting chunks of code and squadrons of letter Vs, all intent on your destruction.
A clever power-up system that restricts you to only holding the most recent two forces you to strategize. Power-ups also work as shields: get hit and you lose one, but the game world temporarily slows, Matrix-style, so you can get out of a scrape.
It’s all very smart – but over far too rapidly, when you best the last of four bosses. But then you can enter an endless world, which is far more ferocious.
The Bug Butcher ($3.99/£3.99/AU$5.99)
We’re very much in classic shooter territory with The Bug Butcher, which has your dinky soldier blasting away at all manner of squelchy foes. It’s a bit Space Invaders (death from above!), a little Pang or Asteroids (monsters inconveniently splitting apart when shot), and a touch Defender (with lurking idiots getting captured, and you having to rescue them).
The game’s controls perhaps betray its origins on platforms that don’t favor touchscreens, but they just about work on an iPhone, enabling you to dart left and right, blast enemies, and reach for a bonus weapon as necessary. (Avoid playing on iPad, however, unless you’ve got incredibly flexible thumbs.)
And although the gameplay might feel a little old-school, everything’s dressed up in smart, modern cartoon visuals, paired with some sassy scripting, as the hero berates the scientists who got everyone into this mess.
Our favorite iPhone extreme sports, golf, soccer, and sports management games.
Desert Golfing ($1.99/£1.99/AU$2.99)
Desert Golfing streamlines smacking a ball with a big stick as far as it’s possible to go. It begins with you being invited to drag an arrow to direct a shot towards a hole. The course you’re faced with is side-on, jagged, and – as you soon discover – composed entirely of unfriendly sand.
There are no do-overs, but there is a score. Yet that becomes almost meaningless as you find yourself dozens of holes into a seemingly endless bout of golfing, deep in a minimalist desert.
What’s surprising is Desert Golfing is so compelling. Gradually, the colors change and the challenges increase in complexity. But even though some holes frustrate, you realize they’re ultimately fleeting. It’s a Zen take on golf, then – and an experience that’s far more satisfying than its appearance in still imagery would suggest.
Motorsport Manager Mobile 3 ($3.99/£3.99/AU$5.99)
Motorsport Manager Mobile 3 is a racing management game without the boring bits. Rather than sitting you in front of a glorified spreadsheet, the game is a well-balanced mix of accessibility and depth, enabling you to delve into the nitty gritty of teams, sponsors, mechanics, and even livery.
When you’re all set, you get to watch surprisingly tense and exciting top-down racing (This being surprising because you’re largely watching numbered discs zoom around circuits.)
One-off races give you a feel for things, but the real meat is starting from the bottom of the pile in the career mode, with the ultimate aim of becoming a winner. It’s all streamlined, slick and mobile-friendly, and a big leap on from the relatively simplistic original Motorsport Manager Mobile.
Touchgrind BMX 2 (free + IAP)
Touchgrind BMX 2 invites you to coax a virtual BMX to the checkered flag in courses likely to usher in panic attacks and vertigo, while performing all kinds of stunts along the way. But unlike ostensibly similar fare on iPhone, there’s no rider on the bike – instead, you control it with two fingers.
You plant one finger on the saddle, and one on the handlebars, dragging left and right to steer. As you pick up speed and hurtle into the air on hitting a ramp, you perform stunts by flicking your fingers in various ways. Land safely and you get points.
Wonderfully tactile, and with superb track design, Touchgrind BMX 2 easily betters traditional BMX racing fare on iPhone. And although grabbing all the courses sets you back US$7.99/£7.99/AU$12.99, they’re worth the outlay.
Wonderputt is what might happen if Monty Python-era Terry Gilliam was hurled through time and charged with designing an iPhone minigolf game. The single 18-hole course is an exercise in surrealism and imagination from the moment tiny meteors smash into the ground to fashion the first hole.
Things then get weirder, with courses eaten into grass fields by cows (who are then whisked away by UFOs), and an impossible waterfall hole that looks like it’s escaped from a colored Escher print.
Fortunately, the game is more than a visual delight – it plays well too. Notably, a ‘smart zoom’ feature ensures you don’t need a magnifying glass to see what’s going on in the visually arresting miniature landscapes.
The only snag is there’s just that one course – but even if you only play it once, this game’s worth the outlay. And for perfectionists, there’s replay value in spotting visual details you may have missed, and getting all of the achievements.
Touchgrind Skate 2 ($6.99/£6.99/AU$10.99)
A criticism leveled at touchscreens since day one is how they robbed gamers of ‘proper’ controls. Touchgrind Skate 2 highlights how ridiculous such a statement can be, because rather than having you perform tricks on a little on-screen board by manipulating a gamepad, two of your fingers become legs that dictate how the board behaves.
This is not an pick-up-and-play game, though. You really need to work through the tutorials and fully master them, before you try your hand at competition and jam sessions where you’re punished for mistakes, but greatly rewarded for strings of amazing moves.
In a sense, it feels weirdly like the real thing in miniature – which is more than you can say when your hands are fashioned into claws, gripping a traditional console controller.
NBA JAM ($4.99/£4.99/AU$7.99)
If you’re a massive basketball fan whose nose will be put out of joint when rosters aren’t entirely accurate, or the game you’re playing is a bit weird, skip this game description and head on to our next entry.
Otherwise, try NBA JAM.
This game’s an updated take on a mid-1990s arcade game, which features weird photorealistic characters playing two-on-two matches. Sportsmanlike behavior’s left in the dressing room, as they muscle each other off the ball, and a big-head version of the visuals is deeply unsettling yet oddly hypnotic.
The controls are a bit of a virtual-joystick-and-buttons nightmare at first, but simple enough to grasp without sliding your fingers all over the place. And before you know it, you’ll be BOOM SHAKALAKAing it with the best of them. (Or hiding from the freaky oversized heads.)
Our favorite iPhone games based on anagrams, crosswords, and generally doing clever things with letters.
Supertype is a word game more concerned with the shape of letters than the words they might create. Each hand-designed level finds you staring at a setup of lines, dots, and empty spaces in which to type. Tap out some letters, press the tick mark, and everything starts to move.
The aim is to get the letters you type to the dots. In some cases, the solution may be fairly obvious – for example, placing a lowercase l on each ‘step’ towards an out-of-reach dot at the top of a staircase, then having a p at the start tip over to set everything in motion.
More often, you’ll be scratching your head, experimenting, trying new approaches, and then grinning from ear to ear on cracking a solution.
Sidewords is a word game with a new twist. Each single-screen puzzle has a grid with words along the top and left-hand edges. You use letters from those (at least one from each edge) to create each new word.
On selecting a letter, a line shoots into the grid; where lines from the left and top edges collide you get solid blocks, which display the words you create. Blocks can at any time be tapped to remove them.
The aim is to fill the grid with these blocks – simple early on, but not when you’re staring at a seven-by-seven grid annoyingly full of gaps. At that point, the devious nature of Sidewords becomes apparent.
But this game’s nonetheless also forgiving and relaxing – there’s no time limit, and the vast majority of puzzles are unlocked from the start. There’s replay value here, too, despite the static set-ups, since for each puzzle you can save a solution, clear the grid, and try to solve it in a different way.
Typeshift (free + IAP)
Games creator Zach Gage is seemingly on a mission to reimagine all those puzzle games that used to languish only in newspaper pages. With Typeshift, you get something that approximates anagrams smashed into a crossword.
But unlike on paper, the word grid here isn’t static – you drag columns to try and form words in the central row. When every letter has been used, the puzzle is complete.
For free, you get a smallish selection of puzzles, but many more are available via various IAP. If you’re at all into word games, you’re likely to devour them all.
The best of them roll another aspect of crosswords into the mix – cryptic clues. In these brain-benders, you can’t almost brute-force solutions by dragging the columns about and finding weird words – you must figure out what a clue means, eke it from the grid, and after a few of those probably go for a little lie down.
To differentiate itself from a slew of Boggle and Scrabble clones, word game AlphaPit tries something a bit different. Although the aim is, as ever, to clear a grid of letters, there’s more to AlphaPit than simply dragging lines through the grid, making words to remove tiles.
There are bonuses, which you can use strategically, to shuffle letters, or blow to pieces a tile that’s particularly annoying you. Spare letters also lurk, which can be swapped in at an opportune moment.
Perhaps most importantly, though, AlphaPit isn’t random – instead, you get 200 predefined levels to work through. This proves rewarding, transforming the experience into a set of puzzles you know you can beat – if only you can figure out the solutions.
Blackbar is fundamentally a game about guessing words. Yet it’s also a chilling commentary on the dangers of a dystopian surveillance society.
The game begins with you receiving letters from a friend who’s started work at the Department of Communication. Anything from them considered controversial or negative is censored – a ‘blackbar’ – which you must correctly guess to continue.
Over the course of a number of communications, the story escalates in a frightening manner, and you find yourself feeling like you’re beating the system (man), despite ultimately just tapping in words to best a basic logic test. If nothing else, this showcases the power of great storytelling; and filling in Blackbar’s blanks feels a lot more fulfilling than chucking more hours at a run-of-the-mill Scrabble clone.
Heads Up! ($0.99/99p/AU$1.49)
Heads Up! is a digital take on the party game where you guess something written on a piece of paper clamped to your forehead on the basis of guess clues yelled out by friends. Here, though, words are housed on your iPhone’s screen, and you can blaze through many.
To get started, you select a category (several are included, and more are available to buy). During a round, you flip the screen upwards to pass or downwards when you correctly guess. At the end of your minute of glory, you’ll get a score. It’s simple, smart, effective and fun.
There’s something gleefully classic about SpellTower. It marries very old-school word games – in the sense of paper-based crosswords and word searches – with much-loved arcade puzzlers. The result is perhaps the best word game on iOS.
Tower mode has you face a stack of letters, tapping out snaking words that disappear when submitted, the tiles above then falling into the gaps. A keen sense of planning is required to balance letter stacks and ensure tiles aren’t left stranded.
Additional modes soon open up: Puzzle adds a new row of letters for every word you submit; Rush throws in a timer; and Debate pits two players against each other. iPad Pro owners also get Super Tower mode, offering a colossal 432 tiles and the potential for blockbuster scores – if you can find the right words lurking within the jumble.