I wouldn’t be the first to say that I do a lot of my best thinking on the toilet, and it was in this situation that I found myself convinced of how good the iPhone’s distribution model is. In the time that I was in there, I was able to find a new game, download it, and play a couple of rounds. It’s proper, ubiquitous digital distribution and, I think, a glimpse at how all handheld gaming will be done over the next couple of generations.
But as with anything like this, there’s some real crap on iTunes. For this reason, here are a handful of iPhone games that I think do a particularly good job of playing to the format’s strengths, without trying to shoehorn in traditional, button-reliant gameplay.
- Airport Mania: First Flight (£0.59; Lite version available) – This is a representative of the popular ‘time management’ genre, this time casting you as an air traffic controller. Handle queuing up the aircraft for runways, terminals, repairs and refuelling, making sure not to keep them waiting too long, lest they give up and leave for another airport. It’s fast, makes intuitive use of the touch screen, and it’s only 59p. Quite a reasonable amount of content, too.
- Flight Control (£0.59) – Another air traffic controller game? Don’t be fooled. They’re not really that similar. Flight Control is more of an old-school arcade game where you try to land as many aircraft as possible by managing their flight paths so that they don’t collide, drawing them with your finger. It gets more complicated as the screen fills with jets of different speeds, and has a nifty leaderboard system that actually uses the phone’s GPS to put you in a local leaderboard. I thought that my high score of 48 was fairly respectable, but someone within a mile of me has somehow managed 194. I’ve got work to do. Oh, and it’s 59p again and has a pretty nice age of flight theme.
- MotionX Poker (£1.79; Lite version available) – One of the earliest hit iPhone games and now actually has two versions: MotionX Poker and MotionX Poker Quest – they have pretty much identical gameplay, so it’s all down to whether or not you prefer the Chinese or ancient Egypt theming. Use the accelerometer to shake up your dice and aim to create dice poker hands against the computer. It’s got a pile of unlockable dice and achievements, and it’s maddeningly addictive – I’ve clocked up 12 hours across both versions.
- Rolando 2 (£5.99) – It’s a couple of quid more than its still-excellent predecessor, but I think it’s worth it. The original was more than slightly ‘inspired by’ Sony’s LocoRoco, adding in the tilt controls that that game was really crying out for, but this one outdoes it with 3D environments, a much better difficulty curve, more innovative uses of the iPhone controls, and a lot of game for your money. The original is still getting free updates with bonus levels, so expect to get plenty for your money here.
- Star Defense (£3.49) – My favourite of the popular tower defence genre, with cutting-edge graphics and connectivity, including day one use of push notifications and ngmoco’s new Xbox Live-esque Plus+ network for challenges. It really does look gorgeous, and it’s a great example of the genre, whether you’re a beginner like I was or an experienced tower defender. Did I mention that it’s really, really pretty?
- UniWar (£1.79) – It’s described as a cross between StarCraft and Advance Wars, and that pretty much sums it up. It plays very similarly to Nintendo’s turn-based strategy series, with three factions/races that bear more than a resemblance in looks and style to Blizzard’s series. What impressed me the most, however, was the suite of multiplayer options, from the obvious system-sharing style that suits the portable format to the 21st Century equivalent of correspondence chess, where you are notified of a remote opponent’s turn via email, with a link that’ll take you straight back into the game. It’s more expensive than what I paid when it came out, but I still think it’s worth it.
- WordFu (£0.59) – The third and final ngmoco game on the list, which combines MotionX Poker and Boggle to decent effect. Set out your dice in a world with a slightly incongruous kung-fu theme, and make as many words as you can in 45 seconds. Ideal fare for bite-size gaming on the bus or when you find yourself at a loose end for a few minutes, which is what the iPhone is great for.
- WordJong (£1.79; Lite version available) – Another word game, but this one is slightly more involved. Create words to clear a board and get a high score, but it gets tricky when you have to completely clear it without any leftovers. There’s a new puzzle every day – not to mention a massive backlog of them by now – so comparing scores is easy if you have friends with the game. But what is it with word games and martial arts themes on the iPhone?
- Zen Bound (£2.99; Lite version available) – This is probably the most arty game here, but it’s a great demonstration of both the iPhone’s graphics and up there with Star Defense as an example of how multitouch controls work. Wrap a tethered rope around a wooden carving to paint it, getting higher scores for using less rope or covering more of the shape. No time limits or anything like that means it’s a great game to chill out with, boasting a brilliantly mellow soundtrack – free to download when you buy the game, incidentally – that, as one of the opening splash screens suggests, is best experienced with headphones.
All prices are correct at the time of posting. Feel free to let me know any of your recommendations that I might not have spotted and I’ll do a follow-up at some point, because, judging by the variety on offer after only a year, what we have in 12 months could be very exciting.