The iPhone is no gaming device... unless you make it one.
I had this idea late last year while preparing for a month-long trip to Australia. I wanted to see if I could turn my iPhone into a satisfying, gaming device. The thing is, I love gaming on the iPhone, but more often than not I find myself playing an iPhone game for a day or two and then never touching it again. So many of the games found on iTunes are empty calories, titles that offer only fleeting satisfaction, but no real substance.
So I came up with some rules for my little experiment:
Pick sixteen games for the device, the number that would fill a single screen of the iPhone.
All of the games need to be the sort of titles that I enjoy playing, but more importantly that I would enjoy playing for weeks or months. That meant ruling out a lot of great games that I would never play again after completing.
Include an eclectic mix of titles that feature multiple genres, multiple play styles, hardcore and casual experiences.
So, now nearly two months after starting down this road, I've created a screen of games I'm pretty happy with. They include deep strategy titles, fun pick-up-and-play games and online and offline experiences.
Take a look.
I've tried quite a few real-time strategy games in my hunt for a solid Advanced Wars game that I enjoy playing and can keep playing. In the end I landed on UniWar because it has a bit of depth, supports turn-based online gaming, live online chat and play and its own set of single-player campaigns to trudge through on your own.There are endless solo play skirmishes and pass-and-play options. It also helps that the four factions feature straight forward graphics with just enough to make them interesting to watch at war.
There are a few other rhythm music games in iTunes, most notably Tapulous, but Rock Band's relatively familiar design and game play and it's promise (still not realized) of a never ending supply of new songs for purchase have anchored it on my gaming iPhone. I also love playing this with friends when the opportunity arises.
Another sort of game I was hoping to find on the iPhone was a Mario Kart racer. I tried a number of games that seemed to offer the experience, but somehow fumbled aesthetically, or by missing some of the most important features. Krazy Kart has a fun selection of racers (Hellooooo Pyramid Head), a nice assortment of weapons to toss at fellow racers, neat courses and, most importantly, the ability to race friends both locally and online. Keeper!
Dungeon Hunter has the most tenuous spot on this list, not because I don't love it but because it features only a single-player campaign. But the campaign, which can take 20 hours to complete, can be played through as three difference classes. There are also side quests to complete in this Diablo-take-off and of course all of those unique weapons to collect. Whenever I'm in need of a bit of Diablo dungeon crawling, this is the game I go to to scratch that itch.
This classic puzzle game includes 55 levels and 40 challenges, it also includes a multiplayer Duel Mode and the ability to capture your greatest shots, ensuring that it will be sticking around on my iPhone for quite some time.
F.A.S.T. — Fleet Air Superiority Training
F.A.S.T. started out on iTunes as what I would consider a very fun tech demo. It showed you could do a combat flight sim that looked and felt great. But the game was missing, well, a game.
A major update to the game, though, fixed all of that quickly making F.A.S.T. the best flight combat sim for the iPhone and iPod Touch hands down. New features allow you to form squadrons, added escort missions and bombing runs and, most importantly, an in-game store. The store lets you purchase new areas of operations, each with their own missions, as well as special gear and planes.
My one complaint is that, as with many of the iPhone games that feature in-game stories, F.A.S.T. 's add-on content is surprisingly pricey. It also confuses matters with the inclusion of in-game credits.
N.O.V.A. - Near Orbit Vanguard Alliance
There is a growing list of first and third-person shooters on the iPhone and iPod Touch and I've played most of them looking for the one that most satisfies my urge to play a shooter on the go. Eventually my desire to play against people online or locally narrowed that list to just two: Ngmoco's Eliminate and Gameloft's N.O.V.A.
Ultimately it was N.O.V.A.'s fairly robust single-player experience, straight-forward pricing and visual pizazz that won me over. N.O.V.A. won't replace the console or PC versions of Call of Duty or MAG for me, but it's one of the better portable shooters across any platform.
Space Invaders Infinity Gene
Classic Space Invaders look and sound with a new, slick shoot-em up design. This latest iteration of Space Invaders uses an intuitive design and mix of new weapons to keep the aging franchise interesting. A recent patch adds the ability to check worldwide high scores and in-game achievements. My favorite thing about this game, though, is that you play original stages with the music on your iPhone or iPod Touch.
Despite their inclusion on this list, I'm actually not the big a fan of straight puzzle titles. But it's important to include them in the mix, especially when they're so very addictive. While Bejeweled 2 offers plenty of reasons to play it, it's the sudden-death nature of Blitz mode that keeps me coming back for more.
No list of games for the iPhone and iPod Touch would be complete without at least one tower defense title, but for my single screen of long-lasting gaming there can only be one. I burned through an impressive list of these sorts of titles before I came to a final pick. geoDefense Swarm is substantial enough to keep my interest over weeks or months and different enough visually to separate it from the rest.
Teeny tiny graphics and a concept that boils the nature of gaming down to it's most basic elements makes Canabalt a fantastic fit for my iPhone library. The game focuses on your run from some impending doom. To play you jump. Your score is how far you made it before dying. That's it. But don't dismiss it.
I spent more time searching through the more than 60 chess games on iTunes than I did looking at any other single title. Chess is a passion of mine. Again, like RTS games, I'm pretty bad at it, but that doesn't mean I don't get it or deeply enjoy it.
My quest for the one chess game to take a spot on my iPhone's screen was not entirely successful. I was looking for a chess program that included an intelligent, adjustable AI, the ability to coach and help you learn from your mistakes, support for ELO ratings and the ability to play against opponents both locally and online. Unfortunately, I never found one that met all of those requirements, which is so odd.
Shredder Chess is certainly one of, if not the, best single-player chess game available. There are another three or four very close in ability, but in the end Shredder's design won me over. Unfortunately, none of the great AI chess games featured any real online gaming support, which is just bizarre. Ultimately, the only real way to find what I want is to use Shredder Chess and Chess With Friends together, which is most certainly cheating. Instead I have to pick, in this case learning and lone gaming win out.
Sword & Poker
Price: Sale price is $0.99
Sword & Poker has only been out since Jan. 11, but I've played more of this game over the past two weeks than anything else on my iPhone. The game combines the addictive fun of a role-playing game with an odd form of puzzle-solving Texas Hold-Em and marries that with fun design and color graphics.
The only thing missing here is the ability to play online, something I hope is coming with an update.
There are a huge number of racing games in iTunes, many of which offer solid experiences, but none of them deliver more across the board than does Firemint's Real Racing. The graphics and controls are superb and the selection just crazy. The game includes 48 cars, 12 tracks and five game modes. It also supports six player local racing and a form of online season racing.
The game's in-car cockpit view is astounding and some of the little touches blow me away. One of my favorite is the ability to instantly capture your best races and almost immediately upload videos of them to YouTube. Impressive.
Luke said it best. If you like SimCity 2000 you're going to like SimCity for the iPhone. The game includes three time periods, plenty of in-game advice, the ability to tear down your cities with plenty of disasters and the amazingly detailed graphics. The big reason this game makes the cut is because it offers PC gaming in a package that fits in your pocket and never gets old playing.
Not everything I have loaded on my gaming iPhone is a deep gaming experience. Some of my pics are short little burts of fun, a sort of palate cleanser. Doodle Jump fits nicely into that category. To play the game you just tilt your iPhone or iPod Touch to direct the direction of your jumper's leap and try to make it up the screen from platform to platform without falling. Basic, addictive fun.
This is by no means meant to be THE list. There really is no correct list. This is merely my take on which games are best suited to fill my device and offer up a long-lived eclectic selection of gaming on my phone.
How would you fill your screen?