10 iOS spinoffs that are actually good

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Your favorite gaming series is going mobile... uh oh. We've all seen perfectly good games chopped up to add cynical in-app purchases, overhauled with unnecessary new graphics, and--more often than not--saddled with unresponsive, unintuitive control schemes. If you're looking for quality mobile games, your best bet is often to seek out totally original, touch-centric experiences.

Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, and several classic console franchises have made their way to the App Store in fine fashion--but they're rarely ports. Instead, the games featured here are mostly those that have taken the essence of a popular series and transformed it into something that makes more sense on a touch-screen device. So if you're in search of a solid, AAA-branded experience that isn't a mobile mess, these 10 picks won't steer you wrong.

Call of Duty: Strike Team

In most moments, Call of Duty: Strike Team looks a lot like its core series cousins, delivering spit-shined first-person shooting action with plenty of nameless guards to fill full of lead. And yes, flying drones zipping around. But if you tap on that drone button on the screen, it's suddenly clear how this mobile and tablet original is different: You can use an overhead view to move your two-man team around the maps.

You'll need to harness both game styles to do well in Strike Team, using the top-down view to plan attacks and navigate the terrain, and then switching to first-person to quickly clear areas of enemies. The lack of multiplayer is disappointing, and Strike Team has no where near the depth that its console sibling has--which is perhaps a given. But for iOS-centric players, it's a pretty strong take on the console design with solid, touch-friendly tweaks.

Hitman GO

Hitman GO is the new gold standard for taking an established AAA game premise, boiling it down to its most essential core elements, and then building something totally different that's tailored to a mobile, touch-centric device. In this case, Square Enix's long-running assassination favorite is reimagined as a grid-based, single-player board game of sorts.

You move Agent 47 one space at a time, evading or killing guards, and using disguises and distracting elements (like rocks) to snoop around unseen. Optional mission objectives--like finishing a stage in a certain number of turns--offer incentive to master your route through each level, and the stunning, faux-plastic model aesthetic perfectly conveys the board game inspiration. It's still smart and tactical despite the streamlined design, and deftly feels both original and a natural extension of the Hitman franchise.

Rayman Fiesta Run

While not as staggering a shift as Hitman GO, last year's Rayman Fiesta Run makes a brilliant leap to touch devices while using many of the same gorgeous hand-drawn assets seen in Rayman Legends. It's a super streamlined take on the side-scrolling platformer--more like a mobile "runner"--that challenges you to guide your auto-sprinting hero to the end of the stage by jumping, gliding, and punching foes at the right moments.

The earlier Rayman Jungle Run was a very solid mobile debut, but I found it made a fleeting impression: While gorgeous and fun, it was also easy and somewhat forgettable beyond the charming lead. By contrast, Fiesta Run is challenging and engaging, with an ever-expanding world map that goads you to perfect its core stages, unlock its hidden levels, and master its tap-centric design in small spurts.

Mirror's Edge

One of the earliest examples of a totally overhauled, touch take on a AAA game is still among the best, as Mirror's Edge makes the daring leap from first-person action to side-scrolling running--and pretty much sticks the landing (or rolls into it, rather). While lighter on atmosphere and jaw-dropping thrills, it does feature intuitive touch controls that do a fine job of capturing Faith's console move-set.

Mirror's Edge mobile is all about building and maintaining momentum to clear each stage. The goal is to overcome hazards found on rooftops and within the hallways of industrial buildings, and you'll do so by--you guessed it--swiping your finger across the screen.. Split-screen multiplayer on iPad is a neat twist (not essential, but worth trying out), and while the tablet version sadly hasn't been updated for Retina devices, the clean aesthetic still looks pretty slick--albeit a bit jaggy.

Layton Brothers Mystery Room

We all know Professor Layton from Nintendo's beloved puzzle/adventure series, but Level-5's self-published Layton Brothers Mystery Room for iOS deals with another member of the family: his son, Alfendi Layton, a brilliant Scotland Yard investigator. Alfendi's new assistant detective, the young Lucy Baker, even calls him "Prof" in a nice nod to the main series, but the experience is very different indeed.

Across nine cases (the first two are free), you carefully examine crime scenes, interview suspects, and make deductions to solve cartoonish murders, all while lively jazz loops in the background and the characters trade accusations. It's not terribly difficult--there's no real punishment for making mistakes--and I found that some of the dialogue to be obnoxious. Still, it's a light and enjoyable deviation for Layton fans, or really anyone who enjoys a good murder mystery.

Pitfall!

Activision's Pitfall!--which hails from the recently closed Blast Furnace, developer of Call of Duty: Strike Team--takes some inspiration from Temple Run. But it outdoes that seminal free-to-play runner in some respects. For one, it's a lot livelier, both in gameplay and presentation. The action alternates between side-scrolling and behind-the-back segments, and it also adds in motorcycle sequences and massive creatures to whip away.

It's more like the old Atari classic in style than execution, but it remains one of the better free games on the App Store. However, as with many games of this sort, its various in-app purchases become annoying after a while, especially when it comes to buying checkpoints to skip past the slower, earlier segments. My recommendation? Enjoy it for the very fun freebie it is and simply move on when it starts to become irritating.

Deus Ex: The Fall

A series as complex and nuanced as Deus Ex seems an odd subject for a scaled-down mobile adaptation, but that's exactly what last year's Deus Ex: The Fall is. Essentially a side story to Human Revolution (and using similar imagery all around), The Fall is a less rich take on that celebrated entry's approach. Luckily, most of the fundamentals are still intact.

The first-person blend of stealth and shooting works surprisingly well on a touch screen, with the ability to take cover by double-tapping, plus contextual buttons that appear for melee kills. Expectedly, the story and dialogue choices aren't quite as intriguing, but there's room to make judgment calls, not to mention the ability to select and upgrade your augments. It's not mind-blowing, but The Fall does an admirable job of making a big game like Deus Ex feel solid on a touch device.

Pac'n-Jump

Namco has unleashed several Pac-Man games on the App Store over the last few years, and some just glom Pac's image onto an existing game premise--side-scrolling runner, puzzle-RPG, etc.--without much enthusiasm. Pac'n-Jump may be little more than a Doodle Jump clone in premise, but it's the rare exception to this trend in that it's not only super entertaining, but also arguably better than the popular game it so clearly mimics.

As in Doodle Jump, Pac'n-Jump finds you bopping ever upwards on platforms, tilting your device to keep him landing on solid ground and gobbling power-ups. There are a number of challenging additions, such as sections in which the platforms are swapped for tiny pellets, and the retro love is in full effect here, with pixel graphics and unlockable stages based on Dig Dug, Galaga, Mappy, and more. I hate to reward a lack of ambition, but Pac'n-Jump is just too much fun to ignore.

Injustice: Gods Among Us

Launched at the same time as the DC Comics console fighter, NetherRealm's own mobile take on Injustice: Gods Among Us takes a different approach. Not only is it a free-to-play affair, but it's one in which you build a tag-team of combatants using cards unlocked via combat (or money, of course). Taps and swipes are used in combat, not unlike the Batman: Arkham City games on iOS, plus many of the cinematic special moves are still included on mobile.

It's freemium, so expect a slow-paced grind and odd difficulty spikes along the way, plus a fair bit of monotony. However, considering it's free, there's a lot of fun to be had within, especially since online multiplayer was just added via a major update. And with console play unlocking content in the mobile game, fans of the bigger version will have on-the-go bonus goodies awaiting them.

Skylanders: Cloud Patrol

Activision has tried several different approaches to Skylanders on mobile. Battlegrounds is bland and grindy, but at least it uses the same toys as the console version. Lost Islands is just a Farmville clone, and not a great one at that. But its first effort, Skylanders: Cloud Patrol, remains its best by a good margin, delivering a straightforward, entertaining arcade-style experience in which you zap waves of trolls with taps and swipes.

Your flying airship zips from platform to platform, giving you an initial second or two to tap individual enemies or swipe away several at once before they start firing projectiles. Deadly (and often moving) spiked balls threaten to end each high score run. It's simple, but Cloud Patrol remains a lot of fun. And for the Skylanders die-hards out there, you can import 30+ figurines and use those characters in the game.

Tap tap tap

Now that you've seen all this interesting iOS titles, maybe you'll stop worrying that every tablet or mobile game will just be another Flappy Bird clone. However, if you think we missed some other great apps when making this list, we'd love to see your suggestions in the comments. Just leave out Angry Birds: Star Wars; we've heard of that one already.

And if you're looking for more mobile excitement, check out GamesRadar's lists of the best iPhone games and the best Android games.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Freelance writer for GamesRadar and several other gaming and tech publications, including Official Xbox Magazine, Nintendo Power, Mac|Life, @Gamer, and PlayStation: The Official Magazine. Visit my work blog at http://andrewhayward.org.
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