Race to the bottom in 3... 2... 1...
March 14, 2014 7:03 PM   Subscribe

Just because there's a load of crap, doesn't mean there isn't good stuff. People act like they've forgotten 1990s shareware...
posted by Jimbob at 7:17 PM on March 14, 2014 [10 favorites]

Yeah finding the good stuff is a huge pain in the ass but several games I've played lately on iOS are awesome. Ascension is maybe the best card game I've played, I just got Pacific Fleet and it's a lot of fun, Lionheart is one of the best tactics games in ages, Ace Patrol is just fantastic. Etc. etc.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 7:24 PM on March 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Indeed. Some of the best games I've played recently have been iOS. Device 6, for instance, or The Room.
posted by rifflesby at 7:25 PM on March 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Out There is pretty nice, and Year Walk
posted by empath at 7:36 PM on March 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

The biggest problem with IAP as a business model is that less than 1% of your player base are responsible for almost half of your revenue.

Subjectively, the problem I see is that in a desperate attempt to make a dependent revenue stream, plain old greed and dollar signs have overtaken sensibility.

For instance, Letter Quest included a 99c permanent item that made grinding in the game less laborious. You sure as hell better believe I bought that because the game is awesome, I want to support them, and it makes my life easier playing the game. It's a win-win for everyone involved.

Dungeon Keeper on the other hand goes ahead and shits on me for having the gall to play their game. Come back in a day or something otherwise either give me money or fuck off. Whatever, I just won't play it again.

If you make content, make permanent enhancements for the experience or just plain aren't a greedy fuck you can probably count on more than the minuscule amount of morons with way too much money on their hands for support. On the other hand, if your shitty mobile app has a $99.99 "package" you've taken a wrong turn somewhere and it wasn't Albuquerque.
posted by Talez at 7:40 PM on March 14, 2014 [10 favorites]

Good iOS game recommendations?

Here are some of my favorites, all with top-notch gameplay, art direction, and no cynical forced nickel-and-diming microtransaction BS.
Tiny Wings HD ($2.99) is fantastic -- an original, intuitive gameplay mechanic with endless replayability and an assortment of fun modes. That the charming art and music are all by the sole developer is a big plus, IMHO.

Jetpack Joyride (free) is similarly eye-catching and fun, and it has continual free content upgrades years after the original release. It has microtransactions, but they're purely optional, and buy stuff that's easy to earn with standard gameplay.

Super Hexagon ($2.99) is a masterpiece of hypnotic, minimalist hardcore gameplay, perfect for short trials of just a few seconds at a stretch.

World of Goo HD ($4.99) is a flawless, full-scale port of one of the best indie games ever, and is ideally suited to touch controls.

Crazy Taxi (normally $4.99, currently free until March 19th!) is another great, cuts-no-corners port -- including all the original music! -- and is surprisingly easy to control even on an iPhone.

Quarrel Deluxe ($2.99) is a perfect blend of Scrabble and Dice Wars, appealing to fans of strategy and language games.
These are all games I've enjoyed for years and keep coming back to over and over again -- seriously, the newest one is from 2012. I'd love to hear some more recent recommendations, though.
posted by Rhaomi at 7:46 PM on March 14, 2014 [9 favorites]

I could write a recommendation list for awesome iOs games that runs into infinity but
Threes is the only iOs game you need to be playing at the moment. Easy to pick up and devilishly addictive.
posted by AzzaMcKazza at 7:59 PM on March 14, 2014 [5 favorites]

Punch Quest is incredibly fun and hilarious. King of Dragon Pass is an all-time classic of the medium. The Baldurs Gate games are the Baldur's Gate games. Angry Birds and Bad Piggies are really good, despite their ubiquity. Plants Vs Zombies is delightful, though the sequel suffers a bit from its IAP model.

There is so much neat stuff on the platform, all it takes is an AskMefi, browsing the SA iOS thread or an enquiry on reddit to find it.
posted by Sebmojo at 8:00 PM on March 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

Also, Skydrift is a cool (and free) experience that makes good use of the accelerometer. Reminds me of old Sega Saturn games like Panzer Dragoon or NiGHTS.
posted by Rhaomi at 8:06 PM on March 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

My favorite iOS game is Contre Jour. I don't really know how to describe it because I don't have a gamer's vocabulary, but I find it engrossing, relaxing, and magical.
posted by ootandaboot at 8:31 PM on March 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

I hate in-app purchases so much. I'm willing to unlock a demo for the full game if it's a buck or two or even five. I'm totally over games that basically cripple me in the game unless I'm willing to shell out enough money to buy enough gems to have enough builders to have any fun. (I'm looking at you Call of Clans.)
posted by ob1quixote at 8:34 PM on March 14, 2014 [3 favorites]

I don't have an iOS device, but both Fiz and Out There are available for iOS as well as Android, and are two of my recent phone favourites. Neither have in-app purchases and both have compelling game mechanics. In Fiz, you run your own brewery, making batches of beer and deciding where to sell them. It's a Kairosoft-esque tycoon game, but it feels like there's a lot more going on here than your usual phone tycoon game. Out There, meanwhile, is basically FTL with the space battles replaced with resource management and a light choose-your-own-adventure angle. I got plenty of hours out of both games, far more than their under-$5 price tags would lead you to expect.

That said, Edge is right—there are still bright spots in the mobile gaming universe, but it largely looks like a wasteland from here.
posted by chrominance at 8:44 PM on March 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

I kinda feel that most great iOS games are ports from other platforms. The majority of the other games that come widely recommended can only be enjoyed in minute-long bursts, which isn't really my style. Where are the WarioWare: Twisteds of iOS games? The Elite Beat Agents? The Phoenix Wrights? Nobody's making them because you can't sink that kind of upfront cost into your game when it's not going to sell in the $30-$50 price range.
posted by archagon at 9:07 PM on March 14, 2014

I'm thrilled that people have mentioned Year Walk and Threes, because those are both amazing games that really wouldn't be the same in any other medium.

That being said, I'm extremely disappointed that nobody else has yet mentioned SPACETEAM
posted by Itaxpica at 9:11 PM on March 14, 2014 [7 favorites]

Some iOS games I enjoyed and paid for: Plants vs. Zombies 1, Machinarium, Kingdom Rush.

Calling PvZ2 a good game is stretching it though.

SPACETEAM is awesome.

And I admit to playing (and even spending $20) on Clash of Clans.
posted by jeffamaphone at 9:14 PM on March 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

In the past I've said a lot about how much I hate free-to-play. This article largely backs up my opinions, I think, so I won't weigh in on it yet again here. But this part I think is an even more important drawback to the App Store:

Development guidelines urge game creators to distance themselves from touchy subjects and controversial topics: “If you want to criticise a religion, write a book. If you want to describe sex, write a song, or create a medical app”.

GOD I HATE THAT SO MUCH. Is this quote actually from the App Store guidelines?? How obnoxiously paternal.
posted by JHarris at 9:18 PM on March 14, 2014 [3 favorites]

I've spent a bit of time looking for worthy games on iOS. Here are my picks to try out:

Calculords - Created by Web 1.0 veteran Seanbaby. With its card-driven battles it inexplicably reminds me of the Megaman.EXE games, but I love the fact your cards must be deployed with math. I'm a little surprised it hasn't already been featured here. My only complaint is you can't save your progress mid-battle, with is an issue to me since I take forever to shape my numbers into their deadliest configuration.

Roly Poly Putt - (full disclosure, made by a good buddy of mine) Silly crazy golf game where you, as the ball, have limited control after making the shot. Has in-app purchases, but you can earn everything in the game without spending any more money.

Weird Worlds: Return to Infinite Space - A straightforward PC port of a fun game. No in-app purchases, and lots of replayability, by design.

There are a few others worth mentioning in passing, like Minecraft Pocket Edition which is steadily, albeit slowly, approaching the quality of its big brother, as well as Terraria, Sonic CD, and Crazy Taxi, which are all excellent ports of the original.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 9:19 PM on March 14, 2014 [3 favorites]

WEIRD WORLDS IS THE APP STORE??? Hold on Ill be right back.
posted by JHarris at 9:20 PM on March 14, 2014 [3 favorites]

Nthing SPACETEAM. Possibly the best game ever. We love that game so much around these parts we basically ported it to hardware.
posted by phooky at 9:29 PM on March 14, 2014 [7 favorites]

Angry Birds. Yeah I know, but... It cost 99 cents. I played it for hours. (Silly me) And all the updates that really extended the game have been free. Doughnut or game? I chose a game. It was worth it. In app purchases? If I see that, forget it.
posted by njohnson23 at 9:31 PM on March 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

On the topic of ports, there's also The Walking Dead, arguably one of the best games of 2013 on any platform, as well as the excellent Bastion, and the just-released Surgeon Simulator Touch. I haven't played these personally, but I've heard nothing but good things.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 9:41 PM on March 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

I mostly agree with archagon, my favorite IOS games are ports of some old school shooters, Doom2, Wolfenstein, and Marathon. Embarrassingly enough The Marathon games are free to play, offering in game purchasing. Unfortunately for them I'm a cheapskate and will happily play in free mode or move on to something else. Though lately I've been considering adding to my collection with things like Machinarium or Superbrothers. Honestly, I prefer to pay one time and then just play my game to the finish. I know both of those games are available for other platforms so I've yet to find an IOS specific title that I'm really interested in.
posted by evilDoug at 9:42 PM on March 14, 2014

Apple has basically given up on improving App Store discoverability in spite of there being lots of good games as people note. I find it frustrating that it's always the same parade of games featured that are I appealing to me, yet stuff like Threes goes unnoticed for ages.

That said I am basically addicted to XCom on the ipad. I've skipped meals and given up sleep to play it. So, so good. Anyone want to play multiplayer?
posted by GuyZero at 9:56 PM on March 14, 2014 [3 favorites]

Machinarium has its charms. But the ending is so dark that I regretted playing through the game.
posted by SPrintF at 10:13 PM on March 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Hoplite is my newest favourite. A quick roguelike combat puzzler.
posted by Fully Completely at 10:16 PM on March 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

I am, as usual, grinding my way through Real Racing 3 on my iPhone, it has a particularly heinous in-app purchase system based on Racing Dollars (R$) and Gold bonuses. I used to think it was hard winning enough prize money to buy a R$70k car, but now I'm buying R$1.2M cars and their upgrades can easily run R$2 or 3 million. And I'm playing it the hard way, no in-app purchases.

I was saving up for my most expensive car ever, the R$1.25m McLaren F1. Yesterday I was just within reach when I suddenly unlocked the car above it, the Pagani Zonda. One time discount offer, get the R$1.6M Zonda for only a million. Sold. But these high end cars are useless until they're fully upgraded. This is taking longer and longer. Oh boy I'm in a new Elite class, I have to race against the Bugatti Veyron in this series. It was the most expensive car in the game at R$1.65M. But recently an upgrade added the Koenigsegg CCXR at R$1,999,800. It will take me months to complete this series, if I have to buy the game's most expensive cars to do it. I could buy R$2M with $50 real money.

It can be difficult to make progress without expensive in-app purchases like that, so sometimes Electronic Arts dangles a freebie in front of you, to keep you going. It's not much, but every few days, you can win R$1 or 2 for watching a 15 to 30 second commercial. They show a lot of commercials for iOS apps. I had no idea these app commercials were a thing until I saw them on cable tv. There's that same annoying commercial for Candy Crush, Casino games, or Civilization clones except they're on TV instead of my RR3 session.

But even the streaming commercials in the app manage to screw the players. I recently watched a series of commercials for a Pepsi Grammy campaign. Watch this series of commercials of up and coming nobodies. All told it was worth about 10 Gold, way more money than usual. But none of the commercials delivered the reward. Dammit I watched those annoying commercials with the alterna-Country Folk singer and the obnoxious urban DJ phony, these people are the reasons I don't watch the Grammys. I watched most of them twice in order to get the server to register my viewing it, since it obviously wasn't working. I deserved my 10 gold but it was never transmitted. Hey what's this? A button that says "Missing Payments?" Oh, tech support email to the ad agency. Where's my money?

I got an email back that their server has no record I watched their videos. Case closed. Sincerely, Burstly. Well of course the server didn't record that I watched the commercials, that's what I was complaining about. But oh crap this is ad agency is Burstly. Apple just bought Burstly. Oh this is going to suck.
posted by charlie don't surf at 10:55 PM on March 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

"Then there’s Apple’s stringent rules on what content is acceptable in the iOS games department. These rules forced the removal of Sweatshop HD – a satirical game about a production line manned by children – which crippled UK developer Littleloud. Games that have anything to say about the conditions at the factories where iPhones are assembled have been banned. A game about the Syrian civil war was forced to change setting to a fictional country, while a game about smuggling illegal immigrants over the Mexican border was turned into a game about carting cuddly animals to the zoo, metamorphosing from Smuggle Truck into the more wholesome-sounding Snuggle Truck."

Freakin' Apple.
posted by LarryC at 11:00 PM on March 14, 2014 [8 favorites]

I beta tested for Pixeljam's upcoming Trials Of Glork, but it looks like it'll be real swell (it might be out already).

Out There ($3.99) was linked a week or two ago, it's flawed but still very interesting.

Defense Of The Oasis ($2.99) is terrific, and is basically Minesweeper Super DX Special Edition.

Tiny Wings HD ($2.99) has already been mentioned, but is still great.

Pinball Arcade is currently rocking a two-star rating, I think because of stability issues, and costs $0.99 despite being basically a shell that allows you to buy pinball tables. But those tables are really good, being video recreations of actual pinball machines, including some of the best ever made.

Goat Up ($1.99) is a wonderful little goat-flavored confection from Jeff Minter. Just a lot of fun.

Frotz (Free) is a player for Z-machine files, which are Infocom-format interactive fiction. You can upload the files to the player using iTunes, or use a built-in browser to get the directly off the IFarchive site.

Empire ($2.99) is designed by 100 Rogues designer Keith Burgun, and is pretty cool. It's kind of a turn-based exploration war game, but one where you're destined eventually to lose, and you try to get as many points as you can before then. It also has a deck building component.

iOS isn't a good platform for platformers, but two that are interesting are Shantae: Risky's Revenge ($2.99) and (of all things) a game version of MANOS: The Hands of Fate ($1.99).

For board gaming:
*Agricola ($6.99, but there are two essential IAPs at $0.99 each so really $8.97) I adore, although empath mentioned before that it's interface makes it difficult to get the hang of if you haven't played the board game first. This video, a tutorial for the physical version of the game, might help you out with that.
*Puerto Rico ($4.99) is another extremely good game, although I suggest a video tutorial for that one too. The interface is a bit obtuse on this one, though.
*Le Havre ($4.99) is different but also nice. Here's yer video.
*Small World is a bit overpriced now at $9.99, and has three IAPs that will set you back several more dollars. That especially sucks because it was free for a long time with very inexpensive IAPs; it's much improved since then however, with built-in support for up to five players now and various kinds of online play. If you can afford it, you'll find it a cool game.
*Carcassonne ($9.99) is also expensive, and also has IAPs on top of that, and also isn't my favorite game, but it has the best of all iOS board game interfaces, it's just a joy to play.
*Caylus ($4.99) is another game similar to Puerto Rico and Agricola, but with a much better interface than either of those games. How to play video.
*Ticket to Ride ($6.99) is a very fast-playing and light combo route-claiming and card collection game, and is a good introduction to board gaming whether with a physical set or on iOS. There is a separate, much cheaper version for iPhones, Ticket to Ride Pocket ($1.99), and another with the Europe map, Europe Pocket ($1.99). The iPad version make alternate maps available through IAPs.
*And Forbidden Island ($4.99) is a great introduction to the field of cooperative board games, and plays much like a lighter version of Pandemic, from the same designer.
posted by JHarris at 11:04 PM on March 14, 2014 [4 favorites]

Ah, Trials of Glork ($2.99) is out after all.
posted by JHarris at 11:05 PM on March 14, 2014

My requirements for games for me iPhone are: Easy to pick up and play for short times, and no in-app purchases. The game I've played the most is Flight Control. Easy to learn, a nice challenge to play, and it was well worth the 99¢ I paid on it.
posted by azpenguin at 11:31 PM on March 14, 2014

There's also been a realisation that touch only really works for some types of game.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 11:50 PM on March 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'd highly recommend reading Pocket Tactics on a regular basis if you're interested in iOS / Android gaming. It's essentially the Rock Paper Shotgun of its chosen platforms and I've discovered many games from their site. Unlike Touch Arcade, the reviews are generally honest and in depth, and any game hobbled by excessive IAP is routinely flogged.
posted by honestcoyote at 12:07 AM on March 15, 2014 [9 favorites]

Oceanhorn ($8.99 USD), Zelda-like adventure, absolutely *no* IAP.

I think the Apple store would be improved if, in addition to the current charts, there was a chart that was only top-downloaded apps with no IAP, free and paid mixed. If an app on that chart was updated to include IAP, it would be removed from that list immediately.
posted by D.C. at 2:12 AM on March 15, 2014

I'm glad this thread exists, because I'd've never found any of these games in the actual App Store.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 2:42 AM on March 15, 2014 [4 favorites]

Yeah, this thread has cost me a lot of money today.
posted by donkeymon at 2:47 AM on March 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

donkeymon: “Yeah, this thread has cost me a lot of money today.”
Word. Not the least of which is me looking at all the great iOS only games reviewed at honestcoyote's link and seriously thinking about buying an iPad.
posted by ob1quixote at 2:58 AM on March 15, 2014

One thing that confused me about the article was how it said the most popular way to find games was the "Top Grossing" list, which seems stupid to me. Top Free and Top Paid maybe, but "Top Grossing" seems like it would, by definition, be the greediest, most exploitative games on the App Store.

I've been focusing a little on the Android side of things lately. Here's some things to look for there:

Androminion (Free) is a must-buy for anyone familiar with the deck-building card game Dominion. It will greatly enhance your enjoyment and skill at that game by giving you computer opponents to play against with all the expansions. It was supposed to have been taken down when Goko's (overpriced) online version went up, but it persists for some reason, and in fact has gone open source. If you get this, also get the app Dominion Shuffle (Free), which works with Androminion to provide it a kingdom card selection interface.

Android is a bit friendlier to open source gaming than iOS, so you can get decent, up-to-date ports of Nethack, UnNethack, Freeciv, HyperRogue and Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup (all free).

Instead of poaching the Play Store for deals, one nice option is to watch for Humble Indie Bundles, which sometimes offer Android versions of purchased games alongside the PC versions, and even runs Android-specific bundles. Right now the Humble Android Bundle 4 has three days left, which will get you nine Android games for $4, one of them a version of Settlers of Catan (which, unfortunately, has obtrusive IAPs, but you can still play basic Catan with it. Although you'll have to put up with giant infuriating lock graphics on prominent UI elements, which I hate with righteous fury).
posted by JHarris at 3:36 AM on March 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

Wurdle is Boggle on crack, and has the same addiction potential.

Galaxy on Fire 2 Is an utterly superb space sim that straddles the line between the Frontier series and standard Arcade. They seem to have switched to a more in-app purchase model, but not necessary at all to go down that road - playing the game is far more involving.

The Settlers / Settlers HD is a decent port of the classic Blue Byte series.
posted by sektah at 7:10 AM on March 15, 2014

Quell and its sequels are great if you like Rube Goldberg puzzlers.

CRABITRON is a game that could only exist on a multi-touch tablet.
posted by murphy slaw at 7:42 AM on March 15, 2014

Some of the secrets to enjoying the world of iGaming:

* If you like an indie developer, support them. Buy their games if they're not free, consider minor IAPs as a 'tip jar'. Be patient with two-guys-and-a-dev-kit developers whose games need further updates or bug fixes. Talk up their games in threads like, well, this one.

* Watch sites like Appshopper for price changes -- lots of interesting games you've never heard of go free every now and then, which means you have nothing to lose trying them out. Sometimes you can find some real gems.

* If you're going to play the IAP RPGs -- the Puzzle & Dragons, the Marvel Puzzle Quest, the Brave Frontier, the Tower of Saviors kinds of grindfests where huge IAP bundles offer slot-machine chances at faster success -- play one at a time. More than one is an enormous timesink. Find ones that are reasonably generous with premium currency giveaways, keep creating new content, and don't REQUIRE you to cough up money at regular intervals to be competitive -- like the four I just mentioned. Resist the temptation to drop big money on premium currency packages, because you WILL burn out on these games at some point and if you've spent little or nothing, it's a lot easier to let go.

* Watch threads like this one and similar ones on other notable forums for people talking up games you haven't heard of. Everyone sees commercials for Clash of Clans or Candy Crush Saga on TV, but games like Pocket Mine, Dungeon Raid, Pocket Trains, Dead Man's Draw, Ballistic SE, Spell Sword, Tower of Fortune 2, Space Chicks, Bouncy! Trampoline, 10000000, Sword & Glory, Towelfight 2: The Monocle of Destiny, Girls Like Robots, Pawn'd, Cruel Jewels, Kitten Sanctuary, CRUSH, Spell Tower, QatQi, Puzzlejuice, Scurvy Scallywags, Time Ducks, King Cashing 2, Yodel-Oh Classic, What the Frog, Bike Baron and many others mentioned earlier are worthy of your attention and your dollar or two and will not choke you to death with Facebook integration or massive IAPs or such.

* Download stuff like Alpaca Evolution now and then just to make your friends wonder about you.
posted by delfin at 8:14 AM on March 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

I end up deleting 19 out of 20 games I download. It's tough finding the right mix of price (i.e. can be won or at least played for a long time without in-app purchases) and addictive gameplay that's more fun than frustrating after a long time.

On the iPhone, along with others mentioned above, I love Spirit ($0.99, retro space actioner), Reckless Getaway ($0.99, offensive driving), and Triple Town (free match-3 puzzler).

On the iPad, iBomber Attack (free, tank action), Rails ($2.99, moving train puzzler) and especially Badland ($3.99, scrolling flyer) are all great.
posted by gottabefunky at 8:26 AM on March 15, 2014

WEIRD WORLDS IS THE APP STORE??? Hold on Ill be right back.

Also available for two bucks with a bunch of other games for those wanting it on pc.
posted by MartinWisse at 8:26 AM on March 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'd like to plug a slightly older game that is one of my all time favorites and never got the attention I thought it deserved: Sword & Poker 2(WW) ($3.99) there's also a free lite version if you want to try before you buy. Unfortunately, all of the screenshots in the app store are broken for some reason - but Touch Arcade had a nice write up here.

It's a RPG based on poker and it was my go-to game for a quick round here and there while standing in line, or whatever. As a sequel it has this perfect little difficulty curve where pretty much every match is challenging and interesting which was a problem in the original where in later levels you could just steamroll over everything.
posted by ssmith at 8:44 AM on March 15, 2014

And to make navigating my list of links above a bit easier:

* Pocket Mine - Click to dive downwards Mr. Driller-style. Collect powerup cards, chests, keys, gems, all kinds of stuff to upgrade your pick and make trips longer and more productive. A little pushy with requests for Facebook/Game Center integration but quite playable without it.

* Dungeon Raid - The game that inspired Puzzle & Dragons's creator. Really, really addictive RPG / puzzle-piece-wrangling combination. Spawned a bunch of imitators, some of which are good in their own right.

* Pocket Trains - Pretty much all of the Nimblebit games (Pocket Frogs, Tiny Tower, Pocket Planes, Disco Zoo) are really good and structurally similar -- timer-based objectives, non-intrusive IAP, open-ended without a 'game over' condition. This is their best IMHO, starting you off in Europe and challenging you to slowly build a worldwide railroad empire.

* Dead Man's Draw - A card game where nearly every card has its own associated special effect; one lets you steal a card from an opponent, one blasts away one of his cards, one lets you draw from the discard pile when played, etc. Players have their own abilities as well, lending a lot of strategy and staying power to this one.

* Ballistic SE - State-of-the-art bang-bang. Radiangames specializes in "shoot/avoid anything that moves" twin-stick games and this is my favorite of theirs, tons of modes to conquer. It'll put callouses on your thumbs.

* Spell Sword - Super Crate Box done right. (Not that Super Crate Box on iOS is bad, but...) One-screen platform hack-and-slash with tons of powerups and enemy types.

* Tower of Fortune 2 - Intentionally primitive graphics wedding a slot machine to sword-swinging RPG gameplay.

* Space Chicks - Hop between planetoids, rescue girls, avoid being smacked around by aliens. More goofy than sexist despite the name, and it gets challenging fast.

* Bouncy! Trampoline - Make your rabbit bounce on a trampoline, flip every which way, and eventually snap his neck like a twig on a bad landing. A perfect time-waster.

* 10000000 - One of those games that came out of nowhere and took over a lot of people's lives. Slide tile columns and rows to generate what you need -- resources, swords and wands, keys, etc. to keep your hero from being pushed off the screen, and slowly work your way to freedom.

* Sword & Glory - Sort of an adventure-book with an action mode. Your neophyte viking-type builds skills, fights unsavory types, travels around, eventually dies horribly but passes on Epic Points to his descendants. Full of flavor and really fun.

* Towelfight 2: The Monocle of Destiny - Twin-stick shoot-em-up to scratch that Binding of Isaac itch with a lot of humor. Quadropus Rampage also worth a look.

* Girls Like Robots - A strategy game where you try to place units of different types to make everyone happy. (Girls like being next to robots, but hate being next to nerds. Nerds like girls but don't like being near other nerds. Robots are largely indifferent but have cute overload and explode when next to too many girls.)

* Pawn'd - One of the better tile games I've run across. Several different modes, a chess-piece theme, well worth your look-see.

* Cruel Jewels - A more conventional tile game but with enough variety to recommend it.

* Kitten Sanctuary - Candy Crush-ish tile-moving to free cute kittens (or puppies, if you prefer Puppy Sanctuary, its cousin) and then play with them like the old Catz / Dogz games. Dripping with cuteness and enough gameplay to keep you interested.

* CRUSH - Falling tiles, click to clear a contiguous color, last as long as you can. Think Super Collapse but upside down and with much better presentation.

* Spell Tower - Word game with several different game types, highly recommended. Just try it.

* QatQi - Sort of a word game / dungeon crawler mix -- place letters Scrabble-style to explore rooms and look for items. Tons of levels with varying difficulty levels.

* Puzzlejuice - Mix Tetris 2 and Scrabble and let it punch you in the face. Think it can't be done?

* Scurvy Scallywags - A fun variation on match-3 because in this one, YOU'RE on the board too and have to keep yourself from being beaten down by baddies.

* Time Ducks - Frogger with a time machine, exposed to hard radiation.

* King Cashing 2 - Sequel to another slot-machine RPG that was an unexpected hit. This one has a lot more depth than its predecessor.

* Yodel-Oh Classic - A nifty throwback to old-time mechanical games; keep the yodeler from being goat-butted off the mountain, enjoy clinks and clanks, go for a high score.

* What the Frog - A platformer with simple graphics and not-so-simple challenges.

* Bike Baron - Motorcycle obstacle course, tons of levels, ridiculously convoluted paths to navigate. Very well polished.

* Alpaca Evolution - The grandfather of the four-legged-animal-absorbs-others-of-his-species-to-mutate-beyond-recognition-and-eventually-fight-and-absorb-God genre.

Go, now, and play! (And get stuff like Hoplite and Threes and Spaceteam and Ridiculous Fishing and Crabitron and Pinball Arcade and GoatUp too.)
posted by delfin at 8:45 AM on March 15, 2014 [4 favorites]

What's weird about the iPad is how mainstream and popular it is but yet the great gaming library is almost a secret. No one, outside of Pocket Tactics and a few other sites, seems to take it seriously and the rest of the world just talks about the casual games.

Anyways, there's too many great games for me to recommend but here's a few I haven't seen mentioned yet.

King of Dragon Pass -- hard to fully describe this one. Nation / city management mixed with an RPG mixed with an choose-yr-adventure style with an incredibly detailed mythology.

Final Fantasy Tactics -- I suppose everyone knows this one already. I just wish Disgaea was available. I would probably never leave the house again if this was the case, but FFT is a nice consolation prize.

Space Chem -- Puzzler which is essentially programming but doesn't need any prior knowledge of coding. Completely addictive and the high score charts are histograms. Everyone loves histograms.

The Room -- point & click mystery which takes full advantage of a touch interface. Also quite gorgeous.

Ascension -- deck building fantasy card game, but without the headaches of the collectible card games. Can play a full game in about 5-10 minutes and is probably the most played game in my collection. Does have IAP to buy additional decks, but there's no randomness. Each deck will have a specific set of cards.

Starbase Orion -- 4x conquer the universe in the style of Masters of Orion, GalCiv, etc. Very response developer who updates and adds new features regularly.

And look on Pocket Tactics for the PC quality wargames that are coming out for the platform. Touch is a very good interface for when you're making one last desperate assault in the Ardennes or manuevering tanks around in some of the new Panzer General clones.
posted by honestcoyote at 8:47 AM on March 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

* Scurvy Scallywags - A fun variation on match-3 because in this one, YOU'RE on the board too and have to keep yourself from being beaten down by baddies.

Just to add on some very important detail:

Scurvy Scallywags is the only game in existence which is about pirates and community theatre. The (slight) plot is completely bonkers and is written by Ron Gilbert, formerly of Lucasarts and DoubleFine.
posted by honestcoyote at 8:51 AM on March 15, 2014

WEIRD WORLDS IS THE APP STORE??? Hold on Ill be right back.

Android market too! Yay!
posted by octothorpe at 9:14 AM on March 15, 2014

"iOS isn't a good platform for platformers"

To name a few: Swordigo, Mutant Mudds, Babylonian Twins, Incredible Jack, Limbo, Devious Dungeon, Jazz: Trump's Journey. There are lots of good ones.
posted by Clustercuss at 9:27 AM on March 15, 2014

LarryC: Actually, it gets better - there is actually an exemption to the satire/parody restrictions in the App Store Guidelines - if you are a well known satirist. I like to call this the Fiore Rule, in honor of the Pulitzer-winning political cartoonist whose app rejection caused a minor publicity headache for Apple (and led to the creation of the specific rule in question.)
posted by NoxAeternum at 10:57 AM on March 15, 2014

I have really liked the Kingturn RPG series by Mangobile (on android and iOS) for a little turn-based strategy RPG that's small enough (graphically) to be very playable on the phone, has an engaging storyline, and executes the genre well. They've updated with extra content (like special stages featuring nothing but bats, or gladiator-type battles) over time after you finish the main storyline, and I've played through the main storyline on each game probably three times. It retains quite a bit of replayability for me. And they're all pretty easy to pick up and put down for quick 20-minute play sessions, due to the episodic nature of a TBS RPG. They have "Lite" versions so you can try out the games and recommend you do so before purchasing. They cost $4 or $5, I forget, for the full version. No IAPs.

Developer says on their FAQ page: "The widely spread freemium model with virtual currencies, on the other hand, comes down to this in the end: Players really interested in playing the (whole) game have to pay additional money on behalf of those players who are not. As a passionate gamer myself, I'd rather prefer a different model: Playing a game for a few hours for free, and if I really like the game, making a moderate one-time purchase for the full version (in ancient times this concept was called shareware :))."
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:05 AM on March 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Careful with Ascension, btw. It's leaving the App Store and the multiplayer servers are being shut down in July. The publisher of the physical card game plans to release their own version. Which is unfortunate because Playdek has made some fantastic versions of some great board games, including Agricola, Lords of Waterdeep, Summoner Wars, Fluxx, and Nightfall, and Stone Blade Entertainment is an unknown quantity.
posted by eyeballkid at 11:52 AM on March 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

This is what I love about Metafilter. Read the article and recognized the truth about the App Store billboards being less than useless. Come into the thread and other MeFi readers have curated a list of more games than I could play in a year, complete with capsule reviews about what makes them good. Favorited the thread, problem solved!
posted by kovacs at 4:23 PM on March 15, 2014 [4 favorites]

I am so grateful for this thread because it's almost impossible to browse for good games in the App Store. Apple is reaching Netflix-levels of noise with their browsing interface.

I've been playing EA's stupid Dragon Age advertisement, and it shuts my mind off for a few minutes at a time. This is good, because who I realize how much the developers are changing the rewards and costs of the game to penalize free player like me, I get annoyed. But in the game's forums, I've seen people tell of dropping multiple hundreds, even thousands of dollars on little animations for what is basically a spiffed-up version of war.

And then I feel like I've saved money.

My own recommendation is the Star Wars:KOTOR port. That game worked perfectly for me on the iPad.
posted by bibliowench at 4:25 PM on March 15, 2014

I'd like to plug a slightly older game that is one of my all time favorites and never got the attention I thought it deserved: Sword & Poker 2(WW)

Seconded. One of my favorite iOS games. Unfortunately the developer seems to have gone under. At one point the game vanished from the store entirely.
posted by eyeballkid at 5:32 PM on March 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm so happy this thread exists. The app store is so irritating to navigate, and i don't like just downloading a bunch of random games to try them.

Really best of the web right here.
posted by emptythought at 9:04 PM on March 15, 2014


But even the streaming commercials in the app manage to screw the players. I recently watched a series of commercials for a Pepsi Grammy campaign. Watch this series of commercials of up and coming nobodies.

The entire fact that they think streaming commercials are ok is completely bullshit to me too.

You mean you want me to waste my capped data on your stupid fucking video ads to earn a pathetic amount of credit in a game?

If apple is going to have so many silly restrictions, how about banning any ads that aren't the standard iAd stuff?(which i'm aware, has a mode in which you tap an ad and it brings up a video, but still, that's once you engage with the ad not its default mode). I also think there should be some sort of rules about free to play games not being as ridiculous as that dungeon keeper game was. Some sort of "your game should be playable without stupid shit like waiting 24 hours or playing the same race 50 times to advance some minuscule amount, that's just coy assholism".

I mean, i find their micro-management of the app store tiresome and do not associate it with having anything to do with how many high quality apps the platform has. I think it has those despite that. But if they're going to do it anyways, and they are, can they at least give a shit about the user experience?

And that isn't even getting in to how terrible and stagnant the app store app is. Why aren't there way, way better recommendations along the lines of "trending with your facebook friends" "Similar to this other thing you liked" and other shit like netflix does?
posted by emptythought at 9:14 PM on March 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

I disagree that iOS isn't good for platformers. I played the crap out of Wind-up Knight on my iPad. It's a great platformer...until it gets so hard that you just can't play it at all. But that is due to the way the tuned the game, not the limitations of the system.
posted by jeffamaphone at 12:57 PM on March 16, 2014

I base my statement that iOS is bad for platformers on the touchscreen. I've had plenty of experience with touch, and swipe, and tilt, control schemes that emulate gamepads, and they all suck. I say this as someone who has been known to sometimes top the weekly high score charts of Pac-Man CE on iPad, and has gone all the way through iOS Manos (iManos?). The existence of iOS gamepads now is interesting, although I have yet to see one locally.
posted by JHarris at 1:09 PM on March 16, 2014

Links to favorites of mine that (mostly) I haven't seen linked yet:

Elder Sign: Omens -- an excellent adaptation of the Fantasy Flight Games card/dice game. Surpasses the physical version in a lot of ways. Has IAP, but just for expansions (more bosses, which come with their own enounters/events, and beating them unlocks more player characters)

Chainsaw Warrior -- A good port of Games Workshop's very old and very brutal solo boardgame. Uses all the old graphics, which is cool, and is faithful to the old mechanics, which is less cool. Worth picking up if you like old-schooly boardgames though, and definitely if you played the original.

Lords of Waterdeep -- I haven't played this yet, but the original Lords of Waterdeep boardgame is excellent, and as mentioned, the makers of this have a rep for very solid boardgame ports.

Helsing's Fire -- An excellent and creative puzzle game by Lucas Pope, who went on to make Papers, Please.

Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery
-- A fantastic point-and-click game with some Punch-Out style combats. Impeccable pixel-art, music, and writing. Not to be missed.

McPixel -- Sort of like if WarioWare was point-and-click adventures. The main character's primary mode of interaction with other characters is kicking them in the groin. A hilariously dumb classic.

The Room -- Point-and-click ( and drag, pull, rotate, etc.) focused on increasingly intricate self-contained puzzle-boxes. Extremely tactile. Marvelous. Has a sequel which opens up the gameplay into actual rooms instead of single boxes -- and consequently I didn't enjoy that quite as much, but it's still the best example of Escape-the-Locked-Room games you'll find.

The Walking Dead -- Telltale Games' point-and-click-and-converse game indirectly based on the comic books. (By which I mean it's a new story in the same world, almost entirely with new characters.) Your choices are genuinely meaningful to the story. Was game of the year, a lot of places. Excellent port. Season Two has started recently, and has its own app.

Gemini Rue -- An excellent port of Wadjet Eye's highly-regarded LucasArts-style adventure game.

Device 6 -- Interactive fiction, but not in any of the usual modes. You kind of just have to see it for yourself. Has a very "The Prisoner" theme/vibe. A must-have. By the makers of the also-excellent Year Walk, which is a more usual sort of point-and-click, except for the companion app which is a necessary part of the experience.

République -- A 3rd-person stealth game similar to Metal Gear Solid but with much less combat. Separation of the protagonist and the player (you're watching her through security cameras and providing instructions through her phone) makes things mechanically and thematically interesting.

Layton Brothers Mystery Room -- by the makers of the Professor Layton games on Nintendo DS, except this is a game more like Phoenix Wright. Investigate crime scenes, interview witnesses, badger the suspect with evidence until your case is proven. Has not grabbed me as thoroughly as other games on this list, but it's pretty charming, and I haven't found much else like Phoenix Wright on iOS. Except of course for the ports of the actual Phoenix Wright games (I can't speak to the quality of those ports, but the original games were terrific.)

Also there's a port of the visual novel 999: 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors coming out tomorrow night. They've apparently removed the room-escape sections of the game that were in the Nintendo DS version, so this version will be entirely reading and occasionally making a choice, but the story is a really intriguing mystery that should be able to stand on its own, so I recommend giving it a look.
posted by rifflesby at 8:16 PM on March 16, 2014

I realized I have a few more tips to offer concerning getting free mobile software --

1. Even if you don't have a Kindle device, many Android tablets can install the Amazon App Store, which gives away a different paid app for free every day. Sometimes these are substantial things, like the ad-free version of Bad Piggies.

2. There exists an extensive open source "app store" for Android now, called F-droid. It takes some wading to find good stuff there, but you might find some unexpected things. Everything there is free.

3. On the iOS side of things, Starbucks gives away at least one new Apple download a week via these giveaway cards you can pick up from a counter in their stores. Often these are songs or something like that, but sometimes they're paid apps, and once in a while a real gem shows up; last year I got the "Crosswords" app (aka Crosswords Classic) from one of those cards, which ordinarily costs $10.
posted by JHarris at 11:43 PM on March 16, 2014

Personal iPhone favourites (this being a list first put together in 2011 and updated every so often with the games I haven't eliminated):

- Spaceteam (btw: are there ANY other real-time-locally-networked-collaborative games out there?)
- Osmos (beautiful, original, challenging)
- Eliss (original, tricky)
- Spider: The Secret of Bryce Manor (original concept and gameplay)
- Orbital (GimmeFriction-alike)
- Edge (nice aesthetic)
- Zen Bound (unique gameplay)
- Strategery (pretty elementary, yet I keep coming back to this...)
- Canabalt
- Tiny Wings
- Solipskier (think Canabalt on skis)
- Ski Safari
- Tipoli (graphically rather crude but somehow very compelling; sadly no longer seems available)
- Monospace (pretty original 3D maze/puzzler)
- Chromixa (simple graphics, but nice concept and gaming structure)
- Mystic Colours (Chromatron-alike)
- Flood-It (straightforward, yet addictive)
- Ancient Frog (quite zen)
- ASYNC Corp (weird abstract assembly line puzzler)
- Beat Sneak (original rhythm platformer)
- Groove Coaster (interesting rhythm game)
- Flowerz
- Letterpress (believe the hype!)
and nthing Threes...

(If I find the time, I'll add my iPad list, too; but just to anticipate one: Luxuria Superbia.)
posted by progosk at 11:55 AM on March 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

how about banning any ads that aren't the standard iAd stuff?

There's very little inventory on iAd. Buyers aren't buying it for whatever reason. Plus it would probably bring up an anti-trust investigation pretty quickly.

You can blame the game devs, but honestly, the trouble is that most of the mobile ad buyers are bottom-of-the-barrel low-CPM trolls. Games doing programmatic ad selling are not going to get a lot of good inventory until something changes on the buy-side.
posted by GuyZero at 12:03 PM on March 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Except of course for the ports of the actual Phoenix Wright games (I can't speak to the quality of those ports, but the original games were terrific.)

For anybody who might be considering those: stay away. They retranslated the games (why?) very poorly and the whole thing's generally glitchy and awful (spoilers).
posted by asperity at 9:34 AM on March 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

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