Gaming used to be sharply divided. The most advanced titles were on PCs and home consoles, while portable systems were limited to scaled-down light versions. That line has been blurred. Apple's iPhone and iPad have led this transition, offering a library of games that compete with both home and portable consoles. Which of these games stand out? Read on, as we break down the all-time best iOS games.
Infinity Blade II
Infinity Blade II is iOS' premiere showcase game. With visuals and gameplay that are among the best on the platform, this sequel built on its predecessor's successful formula. If you only buy one game for your iPhone or iPad, consider this slash-and-dodge classic.
Grand Theft Auto 3
Grand Theft Auto 3 transformed console gaming, single-handedly creating the sandbox and open world crime genres. In 2011, Rockstar ported the classic to iOS, adding enhanced HD graphics and as-good-as-possible virtual controls.
The World Ends With You: Solo Remix
A cult classic on the Nintendo DS, the iOS port of The World Ends With You may be iOS' best role playing game. It oozes style (of the urban Japanese ilk), with much deeper gameplay than most iOS titles.
Walking Dead: The Game
If you had doubts about the legitimacy of iOS gaming, look no further than Walking Dead: The Game. Telltale's five-episode adventure won numerous 2012 Game of the Year awards (including ours). And the iPad version is basically a straight port of its PC and console counterparts.
Walking Dead resists the temptation to be just another zombie shooter, focusing instead on story, humanity, and moral dilemma. Adventure gaming is back, thanks to this masterpiece.
Another terrific port, Bastion first showed up in 2011 on Xbox Live. The iOS version has intuitive touch controls, one of the best soundtracks in the App Store, and a reactive narrator who would be right at home in a Sam Shepard play.
Take your pick: Rovio now has five Angry Birds games in the App Store. Each offers something a little different, but they're all built on the same foundation. If you like physics-based, bird-flinging destruction, they all supply hours of entertainment.
Rayman Jungle Run
The App Store is saturated with running platformers. Most are freemium affairs, requiring countless in-app purchases to get anywhere.
Not only is Rayman Jungle Run sold at a refreshing fixed price, it's also one of the best casual games on iOS. The mobile cousin of the excellent Rayman console games, Jungle Run has simple controls, sharp visuals, and plenty of cartoon charm.
One of the simplest games in the App Store is also one of the best. Tiny Wings only has one control: touch the screen to send your bird into a dive. The fun is in timing those dives to catch maximum air. It's simple, addictive fun.
It's hard to find a game more perfectly suited to the touchscreen than Fruit Ninja. It's fruit-slicing fun is simple enough for anyone to pick up, while it's addictiveness makes it hard to put down. Time and score-based modes coupled with online multiplayer (and local split screen on an iPad) have made this game from Halfbrick Studios a must have for iOS devices and seen it expand onto various other platforms.
Jetpack Joyride showed Halfbrick wasn't just a one-trick pony. It's another great arcade-style game whose graphics, soundtrack, and unapologetically badass attitude harken back to games from the mid 90s. Halfbrick gave Jetpack Joyride just enough variety and challenge to keep you coming back for more.
If you've never played Scribblenauts, you're in for an "Oh S$%#!" moment. Type the name of any object, and it will appear on the screen, ready for use. The puzzles are simple and easy. The fun is in the creative – often wacky – ways that you solve them.
Max Payne Mobile
Another great Rockstar port, Max Payne Mobile is the same PC and console classic from 2001. Like GTA 3, the gritty epic sports an HD touchup and a surprisingly usable virtual control scheme.
Plants vs. Zombies
If you haven't played Popcap's quirky tower defense game, you're missing out. Create an army of plants to defend wave-after-wave of the undead. With striking visuals, balanced gameplay, and light-hearted whimsy, PvZ is an all-time great.
Chaos Rings II
Square Enix sells several RPGs in the App Store, but unlike The World Ends With You and its Final Fantasy ports, Chaos Rings is an iOS original. The other two (Chaos Rings, Chaos Rings Ω) are worth checking out, but Chaos Rings II has a better story and more variety.
GTA: Chinatown Wars
Don't be fooled by the retro birds-eye view: Chinatown Wars is a fully-fledged Grand Theft Auto game. With hours of gameplay, an intentionally campy story, and addictive drug-dealing side missions, Chinatown Wars is an often-overlooked masterpiece.
Nobody ever accused Gameloft of being original. The company thrives at ripping off popular console franchises for mobile devices. One of its crowning efforts is N.O.V.A. 3, a clone of H.A.L.O.
Like with most Gameloft games, the dialogue and voice acting are grating. But the excellent graphics and entertaining gameplay make up for it.
Tiny Tower proves that the simplest games can also be the best. With graphics that would have looked dated 15 years ago, this sim shines with addictive gameplay, a jazzy soundtrack, and progress that continues when you aren't playing.
The freemium title gets bonus points for being insanely fun even if you don't make a single in-app purchase.
No "best of" list is definitive, and any of these titles could easily make their way onto your iOS device:
- World of Goo
- Superbrothers: Swords and Sworcery EP
- Air Mail
- Dead Space
- Modern Combat 3
- Sky Gamblers: Storm Raiders
- Cut the Rope
Any big games that we left out? Drop us a line in the comments.