It used to be that mobile gaming was either done on a game-specific device, such as a DS, PSP, or (back in the dark ages) a Game Boy. Most games that were available on mobile phones tended to be disappointing knock-offs or overly simple affairs made difficult by lack of good controls. This also tended to have negative effects on keypads, which rather defeated the purpose of having a mobile phone.
However, those days are gone. In a few short years, the iPhone has become a valid handheld gaming platform in and of itself, with more game options becoming available as each week passes. Most of these are quite reasonably priced for the amount of entertainment value, and some of them are even free. It is near impossible to calculate which are the absolute top ten, so I've chosen ten of the best iPhone games, and tried to include both free and paid options for iPhone users of all budgets. Because let's face it: Data plans aren't cheap.
Here are my top ten best games for iPhone in no particular order:
It's a dark day on the farm. The pigs, in an act of flagrant disrespect, have stolen the birds' eggs, and are proceeding to hold them hostage in a complicated, but rudimentary fort, made of flimsy wood, stone, glass, and other random junkyard items. Normally, if one were to need to gain access to a house that a pig built, one would call in a Big Bad Wolf. Not these birds, though. These birds are angry. And they have a slingshot.
Each bird has a special ability when launched from the slingshot. Some accelerate forward very quickly, some split apart like shrapnel, but all of the birds have the same goal: Take out the fort, and the pigs in the process. When all the linkers have been hit, the birds have won. For now.
Plants Vs. Zombies
You have to have been living in a cave if you've not heard of this game by now, so any description I give will probably fall short of the critical acclaim which has been awarded this title. A fun twist on tower defense, Plants Vs. Zombies sees the player attempt to defend his or her lawn from an onslaught of shamblers by planting various types of crops. Some of the plants are passive defenders that wear down zombies who step on them. Some are more proactive and shoot seeds at the zombies. When sunlight pops out of the ground, the player must grab it in order to earn points which can then be exchanged for more plants. And that's really all there is to it, aside from eye-catching artwork and a great soundtrack.
i Love Katamari
When I saw this title was available for iPhone, my heart skipped a beat, because I'm a huge fan of all the Katamari-related console titles. For those who are not familiar, this game involves rolling around a giant ball called a "katamari", which picks up objects relative to its size. The larger the katamari becomes, the bigger the objects it can pick up. There is a minimum that must be met with each level, and the King of the Cosmos, who is in charge of putting stars back in the sky after knocking them out during a night of hard partying, makes it very clear that the minimum, while acceptable, is not necessarily to his liking. The mobile version certainly doesn't disappoint, but be warned: It can seem a lot more difficult at certain points. The game mechanisms are obviously different on a mobile phone, and so all rolling and steering is done by tilting. This is particularly amusing to play while on an airplane, as it involves a fair amount of movement, and potentially swearing, as the King can be downright infuriating at times.
iJewels is basically a Bejeweled clone, the object of which is to get three like type of jewels in a row on the gridded board. It is so simple that anyone can play, and it is free. It sounds, based on these facts, that it would be boring, but in actuality, people can sit and play it for hours without realizing how much time has passed. The jewels are visually appealing to most (personally, I am always reminded of the final scene of the movie Goonies, when the kids find their parents on the beach after a harrowing adventure, only to discover that they've managed to hang on to some of the pirate treasure, and will not, in fact, lose their homes after all). The game tracks maximum combos, and even has levels of a kind- after a certain amount of combos are racked up, the board clears and a bonus is awarded. This is exactly the kind of shiny, addictive thing to play while waiting in the dentist's office, because you know you don't really want to read that 6 month old copy of Sports Illustrated anyway.
This is perhaps my all-time favorite mobile game, if for no other reason than it features the music of thrash metal favorites, Slayer. If you're not a Slayer fan, this game is probably not for you. If you are a Slayer fan, then this will automatically become your sworn all-time favorite, due the the nature of Slayer fandom.
The controls are simple, you launch the ball by sliding back a lever on the pinball table, and then flick the tabs at the bottom of the table to keep the ball moving. The actual physics of a pinball machine are simulated rather well, here. If you're not fast enough (or the ball falls in just the right spot), it will drop into the gutter and you're down a ball. You get four balls per play, and no matter how awesome you think you've done, the leaderboards will always make to you want to cry. However, Tom Araya provides much vocal encouragement during the entire affair, which should serve as inspiration.
Words With Friends
If you have ever played Scrabble, this one will already be familiar. Draw seven letters, make the best word you can, build off of other words, and gibberish is illegal. While Words With Friends is very careful to be just BE Scrabble, it's about as close as you can get without some kind of copyright infringement. The board is slightly larger, and the bonus squares are in different locations, which can be disconcerting at first for longtime Scrabble fans, but once players adapt to the environment, it definitely scratches the Scrabble itch.
Players create usernames upon starting the first game, and you can choose your opponent by adding known usernames of friends and acquaintances, or simply ask for a random opponent. Since the game keeps a record of the outcome of every match, you can easily find opponents for future rematches, or simply use the "rematch" feature, which begins a new game right away. Turns are updated in real time, so gameplay can vary in length depending on how quickly players respond. I've had games go on for weeks, but I've also had some that are played out as though my opponent and I are sitting in the living room, playing over tea and crumpets (substitute whatever food and drink you like for your own scenario). The lexicon used is very similar to Scrabble's lexicon, with a few added words, which may upset purists, but can be very useful in rare cases.
There are paid and free versions of Words With Friends, making it accessible to anyone with an iPhone or iPod Touch. However, the advertisements in the free version can get invasive enough that it might be worth spending the $2.99 to go without.
Once, when I was little, I came home from school to find that my baby brother had torn my favorite book to shreds. In tears, I went to my mother, who explained that he was just a baby, and probably liked the sound that the paper made when it was tearing. "That's stupid", I thought. "Who likes to listen to paper? Isn't that why we have music?". But I'll be a hippo's mom if that isn't the very reason Paper Ninja is so appealing.
I mean, it also probably has to do with the fact that ninjas enjoy immense popularity the world over. Whether you're an open ninja fan-boy/girl/person or just hiding behind the facade of irony to preserve your hipness, a silent, deadly assassin dressed all in black is pretty awesome, right? Luckily for you, there's a dojo in which to train against ninjas made of paper first, so you don't have to go up against the real thing right away. Make no mistake, these ninjas can still kill you, but not if you slash them with your index finger first! There are various attacks to master, and a few different in-game modes, which is remarkable, given that Paper Ninja is free!
I confess, I'm not really a platformer fan. I kind of suck at jumping, so logic dictates that I would hate this game. However, I don't. In fact, I kind of feel the opposite way about it. I am not sure if it's just because the Doodle Jumper himself looks like a green rendition of Q*bert drawn by a 9-year-old, or because the jumping happens automatically here, so timed button-mashing isn't as much of an issue, but I got sucked into this one for about an hour straight.
The layout of the game is vertical. The default platforms look a bit like flattened jelly beans, and you bounce upwards every time you land on one. There are brown ones, which break when you touch them, and if there's nothing under you to break your fall, it's game over. Meanwhile, you'll encounter a few enemies who look like giant flies which must be taken out with pellets that shoot out of your nose (mouth?). Some platforms have little bonuses on them, such as springs, trampolines, propellor hats and jetpacks (Yes, jetpacks. Who wouldn't pay $.99 to use a jetpack?), which provide various boosts. There's even a Doodle Jumper version of the invincibility star in the form of a green bubble, which protects you from the giant flies for a short while. Steering and, to a lesser extent, speed are controlled by tilting the screen, though the character never stops moving completely. In order to stay in one place, the player must repeat the same motion, much the same way one might try to keep a tennis in the air by bouncing it off a racket, making this a fairly original take on the genre.
This game, at first look, seems as though there's nothing to it. And in a sense, that's not entirely off the mark. Basically, the goal is to wrap a piece of rope around a wooden object. Each level has a different object. Some of them look like animals, some of them look like people, and some of them don't look like anything familiar at all. When the rope lays against the wood, the object becomes saturated with paint in that spot, and the object of the game is to paint the entire object. When you've got as much as you can, you wrap the end of the rope around a glowing nail, and you're done. Simple.
Except that the length of rope varies, and the objects can become ridiculously complicated, and it is often frustratingly necessary to unwrap the object and start over completely. Luckily, this is the sort of game one might play on the train during a commute, so there will be plenty of time. And plenty of strangers to stare at you while you maneuver thumb across your phone in bizarre ways in an attempt to beat each level while still avoiding physical contact with the grumpy looking businessman sitting next to you.
Epic Win is a very interesting case, as far as apps go. If you've ever been faced with a long list of daunting tasks, you surely know how difficult it can be to even get started, let alone finish them all. Something I used to do at university in order to balance studying with chores, tasks and general life-stuff was to think of each thing as a quest. Obviously, some of the quests were side quests, like laundry, and it didn't always make the quests that much more fun, but it still provided just the tiniest bit more motivation, because at that point in my life, I was already deeply entrenched in the gaming mentality.
Epic Win actually turns your tasks into quests for you. First, you pick your character class. Three of these come with the game, but there are extra ones available for purchase if you want to be fancy. You then make a list of your tasks, assign an experience point value and deadline to each one, and then assign one of five skill categories to it. When you finish the task, you receive the XP, skill points, and your character travels a bit further along the road, where checkpoints denote leveling up. When you level up, you receive money, loot and spells. Not as cool as actually getting money, loot and spells, and the tasks you're doing are still tasks, and the doing of them is not any more or less glamorous than they would be anyway. But somehow, the completion of them is slightly more satisfying with dramatic music in the background.