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New iPad Or iPhone Owner? Let’s Spend Fifty Bucks!

Thursday, March 24th, 2011 by

Are you a new iPhone 4 or iPad 2 owner? Perhaps you’re waiting for the iPhone 5 to be released later in the year. Great. Welcome to the cult. You should know Apple’s AppStore is a little overwhelming.

Good news, true believer! I’m here to guide your purchases and needlessly use Stan Lee catchphrases. So, pick up a fifty dollar iTunes card, and let’s begin.

Before we begin, you should know that a lot of developers discount their games without warning. To get the most bang for you buck, you should consider bookmarking AppShopper’s iPhone games list.

Additionally, you can pick up FreeAppaDay and AppFree. The former offers a free app a day. Shocking, I know. The latter compiles a list of free or discounted apps (from all categories, not just games). While there are many apps that do what AppFree does, I’ve found the graphics interface and speed to be better than the alternatives. Be advised that, due to the often erratic price changes in the AppStore, some discounts may no longer be valid. Keep an eye on the price tag before you install an app.


At ninety-nine cents each, here are some casual staples to fill the gaps as you go about your day.


Angry Birds
An absolute must-have game. The amount of content you get for a dollar is insane and the game’s physics-based puzzles are well made. Cute character designs appeal to the masses and hardcore puzzles can be found within this casual game. This is a game that can fill in gaps when you’ve nothing better to do and want something light to play.

Angry Birds: Seasons
More of the same, but that’s not a bad thing. Seasons appears to have an increased difficulty over its many holiday-themed stages. Few games have enough content to fill a second game, but Angry Birds has more than enough. Multiple updates have made this into an impressive package that will likely only continue to grow.

Cut the Rope
Another physics-based puzzle game featuring cute character design. You discover Om Nom, an adorable frog-like monster who eats candy, in a box. Your job is to cut the rope and get the candy into Om Nom’s mouth. As popular as Angry Birds is, I believe Cut the Rope is the superior game with exceptional level design, better physics, and cleaner graphics. Also, it may be the most aptly named app ever. I’ve had the following, actual conversation a few times:

“Hey what was that game you let me play where I cut the rope?”
“Cut the Rope.”
“Oh, okay. Thanks.”

Fruit Ninja
Fruit Ninja is highly overrated. However, it’s a great way to pass the time. Your job? Slice and dice an increasing number of fruit while avoiding the bombs. It’s a quick, simple, pick-up-and-play game that likely funded the mess that was Raskulls on Xbox 360. I almost want to rescind this recommendation, but I’m staying with it.

Tiny Wings
Every once in a while, there are games that just feel right. You can’t quite put your finger on what makes it special, but it’s so perfect that you don’t question it. Tiny Wings has that intangible factor that takes it to the top of the running game list. An adorable main character, soothing soundtrack, tangible progression system, and simplistic gameplay make this casual gaming’s next big thing. I love how it’s non-threatening. Most running games end in death. This one ends when at sunset.

Alternatives (Try before you buy):

Burn the Rope

I like this game, but it’s just not a must-have. It’s a title that you pick up when all available, better options have been exercised. The gyroscope controls and simple gameplay work fine enough, but I can’t ever say that it was all that fun.

Doodle Jump
I don’t see what the big deal is, honestly. This is one of those games that had to have risen to the top when the App Store was still slim pickings. I don’t see the fun or humor that made this culturally relevant. You tilt to jump and you constantly jump while picking up power-ups and avoiding hazards. It’s simple and intuitive, but hardly what I consider fun.

Flight Control
Firemint has a hit in Flight Control. You guide different colored aircraft of different sizes and speeds to their final destination. It controls well, has an excellent interface, and it is fun. However, there are simply better options out there for your gaming dollar.

I’m going on record. My favorite real-world game in Skee-Ball. I may have came in with my hopes a little high. That said, there is a lot to like about Skee-Ball. It could use a shiny, retina display coat of paint or, perhaps, a higher polygon count for the rendered field. Also, I don’t know anyone who puts spin on their skee-balls, so perhaps the gyroscope could be turned off. I suggest trying the free version, instead. I believe it retains most of the features.

Now, for the best of the rest:

Amateur Surgeon 2 ($2.99)
[adult swim] Games’ sophomoric take on Trauma Center is an all-around excellent game. While not as polished as Dr. Derek Stiles, Alan Probe’s way more funny in a crude way. The games both play about the same as you take on patient after violently-injured patient. This, however, then leads us to the question: “Why hasn’t Atlus developed Trauma Center for iOS?”

Dead Space ($6.99)
Scary. Not the game, though it has its moments. No, the price and quality. That’s scary. Seriously, Iwata, you need to get your shit in order if you’ve any hope of surviving the coming portable war. While most of the games I’ve mentioned thus far are casual gap-filling games, Dead Space is pretty fully featured. A recent update has optimized this game for iPad 2, or so they claim. An already great looking game can manage to look better? Yipes. Just yipes.

Game Dev Story
Game Dev Story ($3.99)
Here’s a game that had no right being as insanely addictive as it turned out to be. The perfect “just one more” formula robbed me of hours of sleep on more than one occasion. A simple time and resource management game, you are charged with running a game development studio. You hire, level, and train workers in different fields, and put them to work on games by selecting a genre and theme. As success comes, you expand your operation and can one day make your own portable or console system. It’s simple, but it’s awful hard to put down.

i Love Katamari($4.99)
I have a soft spot for the strange world of Katamari Damacy. The original is still one of the craziest, most original games to make it stateside in years. The sequel was not as crazy, but the gameplay was still pretty solid. With excellent tilt and touch controls, the iPhone version reminds me that I did, once upon a time, love Katamari.

Infinity Blade screen
Infinity Blade ($5.99)
You know, I know there are better games out there. This game is shallow. The gameplay is repetitive. I even gave it a mere 78 rating. Yet, here I am, saying you should pick it up as an essential app. Admit it. You want people to like the things you like. When you get something shiny and new, you put something on to appeal to others. Just like when I loaded “Kicked in the Nuts” videos (and porn) on my iPod Video all those years ago to appeal to my friends, this is what I will use to show what my pretty little device can do. Oh, also, they dropped a massive content update that made this game a pretty great value and worthy of another review and optimized graphics for the recently released iPad 2.

NBA JAM ($4.99)
EA Sports recent revival was much-needed. Now, here’s hoping they don’t pimp it out too much and lead it down the path of gamer fatigue like Midway did. I am not a fan of the virtual controls, but it still plays pretty slick. At five dollars, it’s as close to a console port no-brainer as you’re going to find. No review, big or small, can be written without at least one “BOOMSHAKALAKA!” It’s a scientific fact that I just made up.

Paladog! ($1.99)
There is a lot to love about Paladog! (Please note, I’m not excited there. The stupid title ends with an exclamation point.) Aside from the annoying need to grind out some levels often just to progress (and unannounced level 100 cap that kept me from upgrading Paladog), Paladog! represents some of the most accessible tower defense gameplay that you’re going to find this side of Plants vs. Zombies. However, be prepared to watch your system slow down and skip frames due to a massive number of sprites on screen or spawning within a tower. Paladog provides around 20 hours of gameplay through 125 levels with the promise of future content updates.

Plants vs. Zombie iPhone screen
Plants vs. Zombies ($2.99)
An absolute steal at $2.99, this version of the tower defense hit plays better than any others out there courtesy of multi-touch controls. With a promise of additional content and retina display graphics in the future, Plants vs. Zombies is poised to become the best iPhone game, if it isn’t already. You know, until World of Goo comes out…

SpongeBob: Marbles & Slides ($2.99)
A quick note to all you parents: My daughter played through this game in a week. She’s not an adept gamer and she didn’t get a 4-crabby patty rating on each stage, but she completed all levels. A recent update even added 3D graphics for those of you who have some old-fashioned red/blue 3D glasses lying around. You guide marbles down a path and avoid obstacles while keeping your marbles on screen by drawing lines prior to setting the marbles into play. Gyroscope controls help guide the marbles to their final destination of a drain. It’s simple, but fun for all ages.

Sword & Poker 2 ($3.99)
The premise is simple. Equip your heroine with weapons, armor, and spells while making the best poker hand by placing two cards on the outside of a 5×5 grid given the nine cards in the middle of the grid. You go from dungeon to dungeon battling monsters for whatever generic story that the game gives you. The game’s a blast to play even if it is more of the “add RPG elements to another genre” trend that started after Puzzle Quest. It’s Texas Hold ‘em meets Dragon Quest!

Other recommendations:

Battleheart ($2.99)
Mika Mobile has an interesting title on its hands. Someone described Battleheart to me as a single-player MMORPG. At its core, you have an interesting take on party-based combat. You get to frantically manage your tanks, damaged dealers, and healers with solid touch control. Characters grow more powerful, MMO nomenclature like “cooldown time” are thrown around.

Chaos Rings ($12.99 retail, wait for a discount before purchasing.)
A solid Square-Enix RPG, but suffers from the regular dick-ish hero. We get it, you’re tough. Go kill something. However, it’s likely the second best Square-Enix game in the past five years after “The World Ends with You” on Nintendo DS.

ChuChu Rocket! ($2.99)
ChuChu Rocket!, for my money, was the best puzzle game on my Dreamcast. You guide mice to a rocket by placing arrows in a set path while evading cats and pitfalls. For the purpose of today’s article, I’m listing the retail price as $2.99, but I’ve seen it reduced three different times to $.99 in the two short months I’ve owned an iPhone.

Drop7 ($2.99)
Math-based puzzle game where you get need to drop random numbers between one and six in a 7×7 grid. When the numbers add up to 7 in a row or column, they are eliminated. Fun, but there comes a point where it’s nearly impossible to move on… or I suck at math.

Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit ($4.99)
Play as the getaway car or the police pursuit cruiser, solid tilt-based controls with smooth graphics and realistic sounds. The tilt controls take a little getting used to, but once you do, it’s a solid action racer.

N.O.V.A. 2 ($6.99)
Gameloft’s Halo rip-off. It’s not bad, but it’s clearly a copycat. You kind of know what you’re getting when you buy a Gameloft game that’s not a license or Ubisoft port, though…

Osmos ($2.99)
Solid game where you are a blob trying to absorb larger blobs around you. Gravity and orbits need to be taken into consideration as well as movement which is done by expelling pieces of your blob in the opposite direction to propel yourself. Interesting mechanic, outstanding soundtrack.

Peggle ($2.99)
You’ve surely played it by now. I’d put it as essential, along with the Peggle Nights expansion, if it had retina display graphics. Fickle, I know, but I’ve officially been spoiled by crisp pixels and anti-aliasing.

Real Racing 2 ($6.99)
Racing fans, this is likely the best title on iOS systems and as close as you’re going to get to a Gran Turismo game. There’s not a lot more to say about that.

Secret of Mana ($8.99)
The classic Square game with slightly updated visuals and slightly downgrade controls. I’d suggest waiting for the inevitable price-reduction when Square releases Final Fantasy III or Final Fantasy Tactics: War of the Lions in the coming months.

Shining Force ($.99)
It’s hard to recommend a very old tactical RPG/strategy game. However, Shining Force is still one of the best Sega classics and it’s emulated well enough to spend a buck on.

Street Fighter IV ($4.99)
Before you pick up Street Fighter IV, you wonder how they cram so much into a title so little. Then, once you play it, you see why. Capcom took a page out of Killer Instinct’s SNES release and just chopped it apart. It still plays well enough, though I’ve had the damnedest time trying to spinning piledrive anything. As far as fighting games go, it’s this or the horrible Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 emulation.

Vay ($4.99)
Admittedly, I haven’t picked this game up, yet. However, I’ve been eyeballing it for quite some time, now. Originally released in 1994 on Sega CD, Vay was a cult classic. However, part of that was due to a Working Designs translation. Still, there aren’t a lot of legitimate RPGs on iOS. If this doesn’t interest you, you could go for a newer take in Ash.

Finally, let’s get to the our free apps. There are a load of freemium games out there. Most of them are horrible. Many of them are just demos. However, there are a few that rise to the top. They are the cream of the crap.

Farmville (Free)
Link your account to your app and you have Farmville on the Go. Most of the features are stripped away, but planting is made easier as you can hold and slide your fingers across your plots to mass plant. It’s slightly faster and feels better than clicking. If you play Farmville, this is an app worth looking into. If not, stay away. Your life is too important to get sucked into this time sink.

Smurfs Village (Free)
Capcom put out an interesting title. A majority of the game is Farmville, but slower with fewer options. One could argue that less is more, seeing as Farmville is an absolute mess that has grown too big. Mini-games give you gold and xp, but are really just a drop in the bucket. You won’t be playing them unless you really enjoy them or a Papa Smurf requests it for a mission.

Words with Friends Free (Free)
This ad-supported, asynchronous game of Scrabble is every bit as playable as the paid version. If you don’t like the ads, a few bucks will get rid of them. Words with Friends is better than the Scrabble app and supports many, many asynchronous games with friends or random opponents. This is a must-have app for word game fans.

Look at all that gaming and all for less than the price of a standard Playstation 3 or Xbox 360 game. Excelsior!

About the Author

Fade to Slack is a founding member of Delta Attack, an American expatriate in South Korea, and a true believer in the legitimacy of mobile gaming. Keep up with him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/Fade2Slack so he can justify having a Twitter account.

Fade to Slack has written 352 posts on Delta Attack

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