The only iOS games I play (more or less)
There are millions of different iOS games (or so it seems), and many of them are of high quality and original concept. Not many, however, have held my attention for more than a few days — perhaps they were fun during that time, but ultimately the gameplay grew old, the graphics too familiar, and I moved on to look at other things. A few, however, have become classics for me, that I play again and again, no matter how old they are (though most in this list aren’t particularly old). These games to me are all innovative, with interesting gameplay, but are also very polished, and are truly enjoyable just to experience, even if one is not very good at playing them. I have listed some of these few below.
Super Crate Box
Super Crate Box (SCB) is a platform game about picking up crates. You play as a small creature on a single-screen two-dimensional level, running around trying to pick up crates while shooting (or avoiding) green monsters and white skulls that come out of the top of the level at you. Every time you pick up a crate, you get a point, and you also get a new, random weapon. Each weapon has its own strengths and weaknesses — the disc gun is very powerful, for example, but can kill you when it bounces, while the minigun has enough recoil to prevent you moving in the direction of fire — and learning to use all the different weapons is key to the game.
The main reason I like this game so much is because it is just too addicting. The innovative and slightly rebellious gameplay mechanic, where the only way to progress is by discarding the weapon you have for something unknown, leads to very dynamic and non-repetitive gameplay. You literally never know what will happen next, and the tradeoff between keeping a good weapon or going for the next crate is always hard to make. The game is also pretty challenging, with more monsters spawning than it is possible to cope with indefinitely. It is not possible to just avoid the monsters either, because let them get to the bottom of the level and they will respawn, red and more angry (faster) than before.
Beyond the gameplay, the app is very well put together, with lots of love from its developers. The only issue some people have with the game is its on-screen controls, but recent updates have improved them significantly. For those that prefer keyboards, there is also a free Windows/OS X version available.
Puzzlejuice is a different game from SCB altogether. Universally described as “Spelltower / Boggle meets Tetris”, the goal is to arrange tetrominos (and sometimes triominos) falling from the ceiling into rows, Tetris-style — but instead of the rows disappearing when formed, they instead turn into letters, which then have to be made into words to actually disappear. Furthermore, the blocks inside the tetronimos are coloured, and arranging the blocks into groups of three transforms them into letters as well. Don’t worry, it’s not as confusing as it sounds.
The tagline of Puzzlejuice is that it “will punch your brain in the face”, and it certainly does that (not literally though of course). Arranging the constantly falling tetrominos at the top of the screen all while searching desperately for words at the bottom results in constant multitasking — in fact, some of the best scores on the online leaderboards have been achieved by two people working cooperatively, one on the Tetris side, and one on the word-finding aspect. Compounding this sense of urgency is the ever-present score multiplier, which increases as more words are found but is eliminated dramatically if no words are made for too long. This encourages you to constantly do both “Tetris” and “Boggle” at the same time, instead of focusing on one, and then the other.
Despite this complexity, there are many little things to help you on your way, including powerup blocks such as the “kabomb”, which destroys blocks in a radius around it, and the “twister”, which rearranges the blocks into a more even layout. Even the colour-matching mechanic can save the day in the end, giving you a word when you have almost filled the screen. It’s all very fun.
Jetpack Joyride is not as recent as the other games on this list, but perhaps that is all the more testament to how much I enjoy this game. In it, you play as “Barry Steakfries”, an (according to the trailer) out-of-luck salesman who happens to chance across a lab testing a (formerly eponymous, before they changed the name — for the worse in my opinion) “machine-gun jetpack”. Seizing his opportunity for happiness in life, he grabs the jetpack and flies through the lab. In the game, it is your job to help Barry control his jetpack and avoid the various lab defenses, including electric beams, rockets, and lasers, as he moves forward at an uncontrollable and ever-increasing pace. While trying to pick up coin, bonus tokens, and vehicles with unique mechanics that shield you from one hit. And when it’s all over, you get to play a mini-slot machine game with the bonus tokens you’ve collected. Sound a bit contrived?
Despite the description, all the components of Jetpack Joyride come together really well. Every game, you will only be able to go so far before Barry becomes victim to one of the defense systems in the lab, and striving to beat your high score is very fun. The system of incremental achievements, in which only three are active at every time and which reward you with “level-ups” for completion, provides a further framework for replayability. There are also many unlockables, such as the very useful coin magnets for the vehicles, and less useful but still amusing alternative jetpacks and outfits, which you’ll still be unlocking many weeks later. In the end, however, it’s still the simple fun of flying through the air and dodging things that gives this game its enduring appeal.
Unlike all the other games I have described here, this game is not in any way action-oriented, or even real-time. It’s also, interestingly enough, the only multiplayer one. So what is it?
Hero Academy is a two-player turn-based tactical game played out on rectangular boards split up into tiles. At the beginning of the game, you begin with a certain number of tokens, representing soldiers, or “heroes” of various types, along with buffs, such as attack and defence boosts. Every turn, you get five moves to place heroes on the board, move them around, buff them, or attack enemy heroes. The aim of the game is to either destroy the opponents “crystals” — special tiles on the board — or to knock out all their heroes. The game is designed to be played over long periods of time, similar to Zynga’s “With Friends” series, so turns can take from minutes to days to be played.
While the game may seem simplistic, significant depth is added through the various teams available (currently only two, but more will be made available through in-app purchases). Each team, furthermore, has several unique units, some ranged, some magical, and even one that can consume its fallen enemies to become stronger. In addition, the board has several “bonus” tiles, which when occupied give further buffs to the units standing on them, but which are usually quite hard to occupy continuously. One wrong move can often spell disaster, but fortunately, you can reset your moves within a turn as much as necessary, and thus test out different move combinations.
For me, Hero Academy provides a nice relief from the constant action of the other titles I play on iOS, and gives me something to do when I just want to relax. The robust matchmaking system, which enables anyone to find a game instantly, also helps.
While I have played many iOS games in my time, these four are most of the few that have consistently held my attention over time. They are probably not for everyone, especially Super Crate Box, but I encourage you to try them out. And if you have your own favourite iOS games that you’d like to share, you can always comment below.