How we all scoffed when people suggested the iPhone would one day be a leading platform for gaming. Had they not seen how rubbish mobile phone games were? Had they not noticed the iPhone was entirely bereft of tactile controls? The fools!
Only things didn’t quite turn out as expected. Enterprising developers flipped everything on its head — shortcomings regarding tactile controls became benefits in terms of using new touch and tilt capabilities. Games became increasingly immersive as you interacted directly with content, and were forced to try new things through no longer being able to rely on the presence of a D-pad and buttons. For a while it was a glorious free-for-all — a kind of innovation frenzy not seen since the home gaming boom of the mid-1980s.
Alas, today’s iOS gaming scene is one frequently polluted by games more eager to attack your wallet than excite your senses — IAP and grind games abound. But brilliant titles do still exist and they are among the finest examples in gaming.
Our list showcases some of the very best the iPhone and iPad have to offer.
Threes! is one of those rare things in puzzle games: a new idea. As you swipe, every tile on the four-by-four board moves, and pairs merge and level up. Matters are complicated by a new tile being added on the edge you swiped from during every move. The aim is therefore to keep going until you run out of space, planning ahead to create upgrade chains that put off the inevitable deadlock.
In a sense, Threes! is the iPhone’s Tetris — a simple, beautifully realised puzzler understood in moments but that takes months to master. But unlike those Russian blocks, Threes! is infused with personality, the little tiles burbling away and grinning like loons when they spot a partner in an adjacent slot.
2. Device 6
You know you’re in for a treat as soon as Device 6 launches, unleashing a ballsy credits sequence any classic spy show would be proud to call its own. It then dumps you on a remote island with a name (Anna) and absolutely no idea of how you got there or what to do next.
You navigate the story — literally, since words form corridors you travel along — trying to make sense of what you see and hear, to complete cryptic puzzles and unravel the island’s secrets. To say more would spoil the surprises within, but suffice to say this is a modern gaming classic, and was one of 2013’s finest titles on any platform.
3. Eliss Infinity
When Eliss arrived in 2009, it was a game that defined the iPhone, fully taking advantage of multitouch. You had to contain and manipulate planets, which could be torn apart or merged before being dragged to portals of appropriate size and colour. Letting planets of different colour collide would deplete limited energy reserves, and matters were further complicated by space storms and other hazards.
Years later, this semi-sequel still feels fresh, and in later levels success demands intricate yet speedy finger gymnastics. Beyond the original game, there’s also a truly crazed endless mode to master.
4. World of Goo HD
2D Boy’s beautiful and surreal physics puzzler didn’t start out on iOS, but it really made sense once converted to it. The story centres on the World of Goo Corporation — seemingly a global leader in wrecking a planet — and the curious little Goo Balls that inhabit and power the world.
Puzzles mostly involve inventive ways of using Goo to build structures to a pipe that sucks the oblivious blobs to ‘Goo Heaven’ (i.e. a power plant). In being able to drag the Goo around with your finger, the game comes alive on the touchscreen in a way it just doesn’t when using a mouse or traditional controller. An evocative soundtrack and serious storytelling smarts further elevate World of Goo, frequently transforming a playable, engrossing puzzler into a disarmingly touching experience.
5. Lara Croft GO
You can imagine the look someone got over at Square Enix HQ when they suggested making a turn-based Tomb Raider for mobile. But it really works. Visually, there’s a sparse, minimal aesthetic that recalls Monument Valley; but the sense of space evokes a feeling of isolation as you explore the ruins of an ancient civilisation.
Fortunately, given that this is a puzzle game, said ancients apparently had a penchant for blocky architecture and devious traps. Your aim is to figure out a route to the exit that doesn’t result in being impaled or eaten by a giant scuttling spider. Despite its mechanics, this game feels surprisingly Tomb Raidery, and there are plenty of tense moments, most notably when you’re about to move and aren’t quite sure in which direction a saw blade is about to travel.