How we all laughed when people in 2008 suggested you could replace handheld consoles with a phone. Never could the majesty of the Nintendo DS and PSP be beaten by a device with no physical controls! Imagine! And then the games arrived – loads of them. And they were good. Really good.
Now the App Store’s 10 years young, and its gaming ecosystem has matured substantially, some people still gripe you don’t get real games on an iPhone or iPad. They're missing out big time.
There are plenty of excellent titles to play – and after a rigorous selection process, these are the ones that truly deserve applause, and they can’t be played on anything other than shiny Apple kit.
An intro sequence kicks DEVICE 6 off with the confidence and swagger of a dozen James Bond flicks, but this one’s smarter than the average spy movie. You’re dumped in a castle, on a seemingly deserted island, only remembering a particularly unpleasant doll. It’s all very odd.
What’s also strange is the manner in which the story unfolds: upending gaming and literary conventions, DEVICE 6 fashions geography from its narrative, with sentences becoming corridors you explore. You must flip your device, solve puzzles, and even make recordings.
Dazzling and stylish, DEVICE 6 is a game that could only work on a touchscreen device – and it’s only available on iOS.
This platformer heads towards more conventional territory, featuring a Viking who’s rubbish at being a Viking. But he gets a chance to prove his worth on gulping down some magic mushrooms to acquire ‘special powers’, and then setting out to find his tribe who’ve abruptly been zapped out of existence. All assuming he’s not in the middle of a terrible trip.
Gameplay-wise, this is all leapy jumpy fare, with you grabbing bling and finding exits. But there’s a level of polish here that nudges this iOS exclusive towards console fare. The controls are pitch-perfect, and the visuals are akin to a cartoon, whether you’re avoiding the tentacles of a furious sea monster boss, or fleeing from a massive boulder, as if starring in Indiana Jones Goes Medieval.
The original Eliss was cruelly denied a mainstream breakthrough moment. But back in 2009, it was a defining iPhone game for those fortunate enough to discover it. The game embraced multi-touch in a manner never seen before – and seldom since – having you partake in a kind of ‘finger Twister’, managing tiny planets you combine and separate, in order to shove them into wormholes.
Revamp Eliss Infinity arrived four years later, fully remastered. It added a demented endless mode, and a noodly zero-risk one for when the former fried your brain. That even today Eliss Infinity feels fresh, modern and essential showcases how far ahead of the game this iOS exclusive was upon its release nearly a decade ago.
Developers Kunabi Brother have been responsible for a trio of iOS-only classics, the other two being living calligraphy puzzler Blek and ethereal path-finding classic FROST. But Euclidean Lands gets the nod here, with its mash-up of clockwork puzzling and gorgeous minimal visuals, wrapped around a Rubik’s Cube suspended in space.
It’s a turn-based strategic affair, the aim being to off opposition by getting murdery with a spear, before scarpering for an exit. The constantly evolving nature of the landscape ensures the game comes alive, and it’s again a title that demands the kind of tactile interaction only a touchscreen platform can provide.
Disc Drivin' 2
The original Disc Drivin’ was one of those ridiculous concepts that should never have worked: a social turn-based racing game. Stripped of speed and simultaneous play, you’d think it would have been dull and stagnant; instead, flicking discs around circuits suspended in space proved tense and exciting.
It was also a showcase for a quirky kind of game that back then could only really happen on iOS, when other platforms were obsessed with the mainstream and required publisher approval. Today, things have opened up more with Android’s growth and the likes of Nintendo Switch, but it’s perhaps telling that the game’s superb sequel still only exists on iOS.