Archive for the ‘Essential iOS games’ Category

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Essential iOS games – Part 6 – Plague Inc.

August 1, 2014

plague pic icon

Plague Inc. has been out for ages, gets regular updates that add new (and topical) plague types and is always fun to play. Arcadelife reviewed it back in January 2013 when it had already been available for quite some time, awarding it an overall rating of 10/10 and describing it as the Best Game Ever.

I still have it installed on both my 4th gen iPad and 5th gen iPod Touch. I recently revisited it because I wanted to unlock the latest plague – ‘Simian Flu’ the Dawn of the Planet of the Apes movie tie-in plague.

plague inc pic1424

The great thing about the new plagues (always available as IAPs) is that you can alternatively unlock them by beating all the previous plague types on brutal difficulty. That is not as hard as it sounds. Also, if you don’t enjoy the game enough to want to beat all the plague types on brutal… why would you want to buy new plague types? I’ve unlocked everything without paying any extra; if I can do it, I’m pretty sure the majority of players can do the same.

plague inc pic 1420

There are currently 7 standard plagues and 3 specials. Strategies vary between plague types, particularly the 3 specials which allow you to enslave the world with mind controlling parasites, create your own zombie apocalypse or, in the latest instalment, go ape with Simian Flu and a world dominating army of angry monkeys. There are also 18 challenging scenarios, from the Black Death to a new Ice Age. Add in speed runs for each plague type and a new Mega-Brutal difficulty setting and you’ve got more content and variety than you’re going to see in almost any other iOS game.

plague inc pic 1422

Plague Inc. is a whole load of compelling, strategic fun and you also get the chance to annihilate [insert any particular country name here]. Highly recommended, just don’t forget that it’s only a game. Right?

iTunes link

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Essential iOS games – Part 5 – Pizza Boy

September 5, 2012

I had a bit of a crisis trying to decide whether or not to include Acne Play’s Pizza Boy (iPhone) in my list of essential iOS games, mostly because it is still not a universal (iPhone & iPad) app, it’s relatively short and presents a fairly unforgiving challenge. The recent update, primarily adding Game Center support, prompted me to start replaying the game and helped me make up my mind about how I felt about it and its eligibility as an essential iOS game.

It’s a platformer with an old-school style, horizontal scrolling with some vertical exploration and plenty of enemies to avoid, bounce on or eliminate by hitting with thrown soda bottles or kicked bins. Sounds and visuals are inspired by chiptunes and the early Super Mario era of platform games.

The graphics are attractive and detailed and, although the game has never been updated to Retina resolutions, Pizza Boy looks very nice on my 4th gen Touch. On every level there are pizzas to collect, which also act as health – take a hit and lose a slice of pizza, also the letters P-I-Z-Z-A and a small cat, which all contribute to each end-of-level score. Fruit and despatched enemies also add to your score, as do any soda bottles that are still in your inventory at the end of a level. On top of that, the speed with which you complete a level is also factored into the score.

The controls look rather ugly, taking up the lower quarter of the screen, but they work extremely well and I’ve never had any cause to complain about them or blame them for a death or a missed jump. When you’re playing, focussing on the game area, you hardly notice them.

Pizza Boy is quite a tough challenge, with no checkpoints, limited health (3 hits) and only a few lives available to get through each level. Yes, adhering quite strictly to its retro roots, Pizza Boy  has lives and you will want to take very good care of them! On your side, together with the solid and reliable controls, the Pizza Boy character runs and jumps in a very consistent and convincing manner. You will fall, die and repeat levels numerous times but the game always feels fair, even when it hits several notable difficulty spikes.

Ultimately, despite the small number of levels, total lack of checkpoints, fairly high difficulty and basic (non-retina, non-universal, non-iCloud) functionality, Pizza Boy gets so much right and carries it off so well that I came to this conclusion: it is indeed an essential iOS game. Is it the best iPhone platformer in a Super Mario style? I’d have to say it is, because it’s certainly my favourite – a solid, challenging, rather pretty and very addictive game.

If you have any doubts there’s a lite version that you can try for free, released on 31st August 2012, that includes the first world of the full game.

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Essential iOS games – Part 4 – Toki Tori

January 7, 2012

Toki Tori and I go way back, at least as far as when I used to write reviews for a popular PDA website. The reasoning behind adding this heavily ported game to my list of essential iOS titles is, first of all, it’s possibly the best example of the puzzle/platformer genre ever and, secondly, I’m still regularly drawn back to the iPad version despite having already played Toki Tori to death on other devices.

The individual elements of the game: maze type platform levels, flightless bird protagonist, items to collect in order to complete level, limited tools, hazards … so far, so generic. However (and it’s a pretty big ‘however’, so please pay attention) the way that the elements are combined, the sheer brilliance of the puzzle design and the attention paid to testing but not frustrating the player, results in a truly wonderful gaming experience.

The graphics are very nice, as you can see. Animations are also very good and all the important items stand out against the backgrounds, despite the overall prettiness of everything. In the screen above, see that little yellow “rewind” icon? That does exactly what it sounds like – it rewinds whatever you have done in small increments. Say you’re in the middle of a large, complicated level and you make a mistake, there’s no need to swear and throw things (although that’s always fun), you just tap the rewind button until you get back to a point before you messed up, tap the green tick icon to confirm that’s where you want to go back to, and carry on. This facility can be used as much as you like with no penalty.

As well as the regular introduction of new puzzle elements and hazards, Toki Tori has navigational tools and weapons that are limited in availability in each level, with different types appearing as you progress through the game. What really stands out for me is the way the game will do something devious, like giving you the ability to move impassable blocks from in front of Toki Tori to behind him, then immediately put you in a level where blithely racing around doing just that will cause blocks to fall deeper into the level, completely blocking you later on. Thanks to the rewind button, this sort of practical joke is amusing rather than infuriating. “Oh, nice one,” you think to yourself, prodding the rewind until just before you happily walked right into their cunning little trap.

There are plenty of levels. Once you beat all the normal levels in one of the four worlds, you can take on the hard levels of that world. There are also several bonus levels (again, in each world) that become available when a specific number of normal levels have been beaten. The worlds are Forest Falls,  Creepy Castle, Slimy Sewer and Bubble Barrage.

One last thing I have to mention, something that the game doesn’t have but which I see as a huge plus – there’s no timer on the levels. Trust me, they get hard soon enough and a time limit would really spoil the fun!

If you have never played this game before, on any platform, or you just want to find out how it translates to touch screen devices, there’s an iPhone/iPod lite version and also an iPad HD lite version available.

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Essential iOS games – Part 3 – Trainyard

July 19, 2011

Trainyard has been around for a while, accumulating a lot of praise from reviewers and app store customers. There’s a very good reason for this – it’s a great game.

It’s a puzzle game, where your challenge is to connect departure stations to destination stations, ensuring that trains of a specific colour end up at the correct colour coordinated station.


As the game progresses, different colour mixing techniques become essential in order to send, for example, a red train and a yellow train to an orange station…


I’ve had Trainyard for ages; it’s still installed and I often return to it, despite having rather a lot of far more recent games hanging around waiting to get played. The game mechanics work so well, and the interface is so friendly, it’s easy to get back into at any time and start fiddling around with whatever level I last reached.


There’s no time limit for solving the puzzles, you just carry on making adjustments and experimenting until you reach the solution. Then you keep messing around trying to make the solution prettier, or shaped like a penis, depending on your current frame of mind.


Every solved puzzle retains your solution. If you are particularly proud of any, you can upload them to the game’s solution database.


Overall, this is an engrossing and very entertaining puzzle game that will keep you going for a long time.

There’s also a free version with its own 60 puzzles. Go get that now!

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Essential iOS games – Part 2 – Game Dev Story

May 31, 2011


Game Dev Story
is a frighteningly addictive game. It has a fairly ugly interface which hasn’t been scaled or optimised for iOS devices and relies heavily on the imagination and creativity of the player for much of the entertainment on offer. It is utterly absorbing and hilarious, going way beyond what would be required to simply overcome the basic handicaps of its appearance.

The fundamental premise is that you are managing your own games company, developing, promoting and marketing videogames. So who would want to play a game like that? Well, most videogamers probably would, so that’s a pretty astute example of audience targeting right there.

One possible ultimate goal - create a game that earns complete critical acclaim

As well as the game development and moneymaking, you have to employ and improve staff members. Although you can hire and fire mostly at will, there’s no option to replace your entire workforce of highly skilled and loyal employees with a bunch of polite yet incomprehensible foreigners. Chief Execs of financial institutions, take note – this game will show you the way to run your IT department properly.

How original

Much of the hilarity and entertainment stems from the ability to name your company and all its software releases however you see fit. If you happen to have a friend or two playing the game at the same time you will find yourself sending them text messages containing the name of your latest game and then LOLing in response to their own text messaged efforts. It happens, trust me.

It’s particularly satisfying when one of your poorly titled games gets high critical praise and goes on to win several awards at the annual award show. Despite the fact that “there is no game”, you find yourself cheering on non-existent releases such as “Chainsaw Enema” and “Eunuch Ninja”, often fantasising about what the game would actually look like … if it was real. Incredibly sad, I know, and again not something to discuss at the bar if you are hoping to get anywhere with the barmaid.

Who needs a real life when you can churn out virtual social comment like this?

I spent many, many hours on this game, taking several stupidly named companies to the top, and beyond. Getting hopelessly addicted to GDS is easy; all you need to do is start playing it. If you’re lucky, a few weeks later you might be able to suddenly drop it and move on.

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Essential iOS games – Part 1 – Galaxy On Fire 2

May 7, 2011

Galxy on Fire 2's gorgeous fully animated intro screen

Galaxy On Fire 2 is one of my all time favourite iOS games. Although it’s a universal app, I mostly play it on my iPad. There is an option to create a saved game on Openfeint, meaning you can sync your progress between two (or more) devices.

In space, everything is beautiful

The game is a great blend of space travel, trading, fighting and following the main storyline. Early on, I got obsessed with trading and figuring out lucrative routes and I let the main story alone while I trundled around the various star systems building up my fortune and acquiring blueprints for weapons and upgrades. When I eventually went back to the story I already had what would probably be considered almost an end-game ship and armaments.

One of those would be just great. Oh look, I can afford about 6 of them.

Checking my game stats, I’ve put over 35 hours into this game. For a game that can be played on a phone that’s not bad at all, and I am nowhere near the top of the Game Center leaderboards so there are lots of people out there who are obviously putting way more time than that into it.

You too can have a screen full of gold achievements if you're willing to waste 30+ hours of your life on this game!

Here’s a list of things that I think are particularly good about this game, in no particular order:

– Lots of ships to buy and fly.
– Deep and engrossing upgrades and endless fiddling with blueprints, weapon loadouts, different ship strategies.
– Fairly decent main story with an often amusing script and generally good voice acting.
– Rather wonderful graphics.
– Space combat is fun and doesn’t seem to get too repetitive, even after 30+ hours of game time.
– You can dip in and out of the main story pretty much as you please, taking time out to travel around picking up side missions, trading or just sight-seeing around the galaxy.
– Trading can become incredibly addictive.

Approaching a space station on auto-pilot

The recent update with the optional Valkyrie expansion pack has brought me back to the game after a short time away. I wasn’t sure how it would feel, essentially revisiting an old game that I had already played to death, but as soon as I started on the new storyline I was hooked … again.

Completing the original story has some interesting side-effects. This mercenary is offering to pay me for the honour of accompanying me. If only my real career was 1/1000th as satisfying as this game...

Well, there you have it. The first post in a series of posts about essential iOS games. Galaxy on Fire 2 isn’t a cheap game (£5.99 + £2.99 for the Valkyrie expansion) but it’s worth every penny of that, and probably a little bit more. If you’re unsure, there’s always the lite version to try.

Explosions in space are always pretty.