Is there anything better than a bag of popcorn, a cushy sofa on which to recline and an iPhone or iPod Touch loaded with games? Well yeah, there is, especially considering what popcorn fingers can do to a touchscreen. But when you’re on a bus on your way to work, being able to punch up a bloody gorefest like Alive 4-ever or kick it through the uprights in a football sim does help while away the commute time. With hundreds of games to choose from, though, it can be tough to find the ones that are worth your time, to say nothing of your money. With that in mind, what follows are some of the best we’ve found.
In putting this list together, we focused on the games that really take advantage of the iPhone’s capabilities – not only the touch controls and the tilt or shake features, but also its somewhat limited capacity for graphics. We also favored original games over those ported over from other handhelds, as well as games that offer some long-term value instead of just an initial “wow” factor. We thought about price, too, and heck – let’s just get to the games.
Note: All prices are current as of this writing, but will likely fluctuate over time.
1. Alive 4-ever
Meridian | $2.99
There’s a lot of blood in Alive 4-ever. Not just a smidgen here and there – we’re talking bucketloads splattering all over the screen, red and oozing. The RPG elements (mostly HP upgrades) and short level structure work well on the iPhone, since you can kill a few undead in short sessions and pick up where you left off later on. The game is a little repetitive – you shoot a lot of zombies with guns – but the real fun is in trying to complete each level as quickly as possible. Alive 4-ever has some of the best music and sound in any iPhone game, and the multiplayer shootouts over a Wi-Fi connection (you need someone to be close by) are outstanding.
2. Zen Bound
Chillingo | $4.99 (free demo available)
Too many iPhone games (e.g. Assassin’s Creed: Altair’s Chronicles or FIFA 2010) just try to mimic the action of console games, but Zen Bound is entirely unique. You twirl a block of wood in 3D space, tying a taut length of paint-soaked string around it in an effort to completely color it. Each block figure is a bit more complex and, like the best casual games, Zen Bound is soothing and compelling at the same time. There’s also an amazing soundtrack, and probably the best graphics of any iPhone game – they’re ultra-realistic.
3. Heavy Mach
IndieAn | $0.99 (free demo available)
Here’s a game that borrows a few ideas from old side-scrollers like Contra and Metal Slug, putting you in control of a jumping tank that can fire a range of weapons – including airstrikes – in any direction. There’s a sci-fi angle with missiles and bombs in a post-apocalyptic setting, plenty of weapon upgrades, boss fights, and side-scrolling action that uses the tilt function to move your tank and a tap-to-shoot gameplay. The sound effects are up a notch from the lame synth of other side-scrollers, too, making this a treat for old-school action fans.
4. Zombieville USA
Kelli Noda | $1.99 (free demo available)
No one ever said a game had to be complex to be fun. Zombieville USA is one of those simple “play for five minutes” games you end up playing for hours, killing zombies – who have appendages that break off like they should – and grabbing cash in safe-houses to upgrade weapons (including chainsaws and flamethrowers). It’s also nicely animated, especially when zombie heads explode with every kill.
5. Flight Control
Firemint | $0.99
Since the iPhone can’t quite compete with the PSP in pixel-for-pixel realism, the best games often use top-down views and focus on gameplay, not graphics. In Flight Control, you direct incoming aircraft to landing strips by dragging your finger on the screen to plan their routes. More aircraft – including helicopters and seaplanes -- means more frantic gameplay. You can even speed up the action, and there’s a level involving an aircraft carrier and incoming jets. Time to panic!
6. Tiki Towers
Real Arcade | $1.99 (free demo available)
We just can’t get enough of Tiki Towers (a monkey-themed clone of cult hit World of Goo), for two reasons. One, you have to plan your bamboo-and-coconut towers and bridges carefully, especially in later levels, which makes for a fairly devious challenge. Two, it’s fun to release the monkeys, who have to then leap and swing across the structures you just created and collect floating bananas (if the monkeys can collect them all, you get a bonus). There’s a legitimate edu-gaming value here as well – supporting structures and engineering and all that.
7. MGS Touch
Konami | $5.99 (free demo available)
A departure from the Metal Gear Solid games on which it’s based, MGS Touch is more of an MGS4-themed shooting gallery in which the bad guys pop up from cover spots, and you have to shoot them by tapping the screen. It might sound a bit lame, but MGS Touch has an attention to detail that rivals the console version, with finely detailed environments, crisply rendered 2D characters that look like PS3-quality polygons and varied levels – 20 in all. It’s also a little more than just a simple shoot ‘em-up; taking cover is important, and lots of your enemies require the use of sniper rifles (complete with a zoom feature) and rocket launchers before they can be taken down. It’s a lot more fun than it has a right to be.
8. Doodle Jump
Lima Sky | $0.99
Doodle Jump is one of those games that should not work: it has really cheesy graphics and amateurish sound. Yet, the game emphasizes a few classic game paradigms: power-ups, high-scores, and surprises on each level. As you use the iPhone tilt to guide the main character up a sheet of paper, bouncing off platforms, blasting enemies and avoiding black holes, you’ll find springs, propeller beanies and even jetpacks that propel you higher. As you proceed through the game’s seemingly endless upward scroll, you’ll pass the high scores of other players, written in the margins. It’s a small touch, but it gives the game an element of competition that makes it hard to put down.
Subatomic Studios | $2.99
Aside from its derivative Tower defense gameplay, Fieldrunners works because it has a strong strategic element. Like in most Tower defense games, you place gun towers on a game board as the enemy strolls by, which in turn will shoot them down before they reach your base at the edge of the screen. The challenge is in knowing where to place those towers (which can cause your enemy to change course and slow them down considerably) and how to spend your upgrades.
10. Real Racing
Firemint | $6.99 (free demo available)
Real Racing is the Gran Turismo of iPhone games – both realistic and intense for the racing purists, yet forgiving enough on the controls for any gamer. The real draw: since the game auto-accelerates for you, you can concentrate on keeping the car in the center of the track and touch the screen for occasional braking. There are 48 cars to choose from – six on screen per race – and 76 events in career mode, making this surprisingly meaty for a phone game.