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Top Ten iPhone Games of 2011

Thursday, December 29th, 2011 by

I am the marginalized gamer. In my first year as an iOS device owner, I’ve taken to it pretty well. However, a majority of my game time comes in thirty minute windows as I travel to and from work.

I seldom have time to sit and play on consoles. My Nintendo Wii has become my go-to exercise device. Last month, I lost seven pounds playing Michael Jackson: The Experience and Just Dance 3. That’s your “No One Give’s a Rat’s Ass, Fade” fact of the day.

So, today, we look at my picks for the best of iOS gaming in 2011.

 Top Ten iPhone Games for 2011

10.) You Don’t Know Jack

Confession: I had never played a You Don’t Know Jack game until this year. I wasn’t a PC gamer back when the games were relevant, and I didn’t want to waste my money on a trivia game back when they were getting made for the Sony Playstation. I didn’t know what I was missing.

You Don’t Know Jack seems like it was made for people like me. Most questions mix pop culture references with useful knowledge where you have to decipher an answer in as little time as possible. The jokes can be juvenile, but they’re a nice change of pace from your standard by-the-books trivia games. Especially important is the show’s host, Cookie Masterson, and the commentary that goes with each question. Whether he’s insulting you for being wrong or simply talking slightly off-tangent, there’s a good chance Cookie will make you giggle.

While no multiplayer elements are present and the 22 episodes won’t last long, trivia fans looking for a laugh on the go absolutely must pony up three dollars for You Don’t Know Jack.

9.) SpellTower

Word games are all over the App Store, and with good reason, but SpellTower is the first one to mix Dungeon Raid and Bookworm to create some sort of Boggle-Tetris love child. With clean, minimalist graphics, four play modes, and GameCenter integration, SpellTower finds that nice middle ground between fun and frustration that gamers love while looking mighty fine.

Until EA PopCap ports Bookworm Adventures over to iOS devices, SpellTower will be the single-player word game to beat.

8.) Bring Me Sandwiches!!

[adult swim] Games has done a lot of great work on iOS. Their library is full of iOS staples, from Amateur Surgeon and Robot Unicorn Attack games to Five Minutes to Kill Yourself. However, most of those games had one joke and built around it in a fashion that often wore its welcome out quickly.

Bring Me Sandwiches!!! is an original game that would best be described as a sidescrolling platform Katamari Damacy. An alien named Gourmo takes the role that belonged to the King of the Cosmos as he demands sandwiches. While Bring Me Sandwiches!! doesn’t feature some of the quirkier features of Katamari Damacy (I particularly miss the strange J-pop and belittling overlord), it features the same mechanics. The bigger your bread, the bigger the items you can pick up. The stages, then, branch in different ways. Each stage has a hidden alien spaceship part and features three different ways to gauge your success.

The game features two different control methods, and I actually found myself using the accelerometer controls by choice. Bring Me Sandwiches!! isn’t the best platforming game on the system, but it’s well worth your time and better than the Katamari game that we got this year.

7.) Zombie Parkour Runner

Regardless of the numerous games that I’ve gotten for free in the App Store, there are very few times that I’ve felt compelled to tell anyone about it. For instance, I still don’t know why Amazing Breaker was atop the App Store a couple months back as I picked it up for free and uninstalled it days later. The law of averages caught up with me, though, when I picked up Zombie Parkour Runner.

Zombie Parkour Runner managed to speak to me on a level I hadn’t anticipated. Think of the game as an on-rails platformer where you navigate through one context-sensitive action button. That’s what you get in Zombie Parkour Runner.

This seems as though it was crafted by people who were well-versed in platforming games. Branching paths, collectibles, and solid action are highlights of a surprisingly fun game that rewards old-school memorization and quick reflexes. It’s decidedly retro while being something new.

6.) Superbrothers: Swords & Sworcery EP

I had nearly forgotten this game was on my iPhone until a recent conversation with Markham Asylum. He asked me if I had played it. I said I had, but that it hadn’t hooked me. Then, after playing it again, I remembered why I stopped playing. Like Papa Sangre before it, I quit playing Superbrothers: Swords & Sworcery because it requires headphones for sound.

What I had missed out on, though, was one of the most beautiful and interesting adventures on iOS. There are so many quirky hooks that make S:S&S EP stand out. Beautiful, fluid pixel art, superb sound, and tweet-able text all stand out in this adventure by Capybara Games. The adventure is short, but damn is it sweet.

5.) Tiny Wings

Tiny Wings has a lot of great elements that other runner/flyers should consider. Tiny Wings, like most running games, features procedurally generated levels. Unlike most runners, the bright, hypnotic colors change daily and result in a different feeling every day. There’s only one play mode, but you’ll come back time and again as you improve your nest and try to top your old scores.

What I love most, though, is that failure is nothing more than a minor setback. Tiny Wings is a zen runner, something that may not have existed prior to Andreas Illiger’s beautiful little game. Things speed up as you go along, sure, but that’s a result of momentum as you fly higher and fall faster. The upbeat music and happy sound effects are different than every other runner out there. There is no tension here.

4.) Scribblenauts Remix

Long before it was released, I stated that iOS was the perfect platform for Scribblenauts in my Top Ten Games Missing from iOS list. Scribblenauts Remix’s blend of word, puzzle, and platform gaming is a blast to play that’s still pretty incredible. For example, the screen you see above has an ax-wielding George Washington chopping down a cherry tree on his own volition. When people stay there’s nothing quite like Scribblenauts, they really aren’t kidding.

The version iOS gamers got was better graphically, but missing small elements that made the Nintendo DS version so magical, such as playing the same stage three times without using the same words. While still a perfect fit for the system, the fifty stages currently presented are not enough to sate most gamers, especially those who have already played the previous two entries. My time with Scribblenauts Remix, while fun, was incredibly brief.

Nintendo DS owners should pick up Scribblenauts and/or Super Scribblenauts instead. They are simply fuller experiences. For gamers without Nintendo DS access, though, this is definitely worth having on your iOS device.

3.) Cut the Rope: Experiments

Zeptolab’s adorable, candy-loving monster, Om Nom, returned in 2011 for more of the same. But, as I said before, the same is the best physics-based puzzle game in the App Store.

Cut the Rope: Experiments is still a tremendous value and the second best puzzle game in the App Store. The first, of course, is the original Cut the Rope. If you can only afford one, get the one that has twice as many levels.

Cut the Rope: Experiments has all the best iOS elements. It is a blueprint for what makes iOS gaming unique. Bite-sized stages, beautiful retina-display graphics, and a cute character make this game great for kids and adults alike. From the second your mad scientist opens that box, you’ll fall in love.

Admittedly, when I reviewed Cut the Rope: Experiments, I anticipated quicker updates and shot the score a bit higher than it currently deserves. A hundred levels just don’t last long enough when you’re playing a game every chance you get.

2.) Groove Coaster

For all the crap I like to give Square Enix, one of the best things they’ve done is acquire Taito Corporation. While I’m still waiting for a sprite-based Lufia update, the direction they’ve taken Taito in pulling at gamers’ nostalgic hearts while creating some of the best retro experiences over the past six years is commendable.

Groove Coaster is the next in the line of experimental, retro-based games. While the rhythm-game genre is already well-represented with Guitar Hero, Rock Band, Tap Tap Revenge, and Tap Sonic taking up lots of space, Groove Coaster is just another iOS rhythm game. However, Groove Coaster is the first to serve up a minimal, vector-based presentation as your beam of light rides on-rails that twist and turn (yes, like a rollercoaster) while you tap and swipe in rhythm with chip tunes.

For people who grew up with Taito games, getting through each song presents both a challenge and a reward, as higher difficulties unlock. Some songs require an in-app purchase, but that’s the standard for the genre. Groove Coaster is the iOS rhythm game for nerds who never wanted to be a rock or pop star.

Honorable mentions

Before I get to the game of the year, I’d like to mention a few games that I enjoyed that just didn’t make the cut. The sheer number of games that I’ve picked up throughout the year made narrowing the field to ten surprisingly daunting. These are all good games that are worthy of your time and money.

Angry Birds: Rio
Dark Meadow
Dead Space
Early Bird
Infinite Blade II
Kami Retro
Mage Gauntlet
Order & Chaos: Online
Pocket RPG
The Secret of Mana
Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing
Sonic CD
Spy Mouse
Swords & Soldiers
Where’s My Water?
World of Goo

Zombie Gunship

iPhone Game of the Year 2011

1.) Jetpack Joyride

My favorite game of the year, though, was Jetpack Joyride. Halfbrick’s endless cave-flyer set a new standard for all endless games. The base of the game is your average endless runner/cave-flyer as you navigate through the corridor avoiding the three standard hazards. The way everything is implemented, however, makes the package all the more appealing.

Vehicles change the game completely with each having its own control style. Mission objectives that change the way you play and rotate out after completion may as well be the definition of “just one more game.” Leveling and “prestiging” are handled very tongue-in-cheek with a majority of the little jokes also being in the same vein, from the “Angry Wings” achievement to the price of an orange DragonBall Z gi.

From top to bottom, this is just a well-made game that hits all the right notes. Since its release, Jetpack Joyride has redefined the genre, making a majority of the endless games in the App Store seem absolutely garbage by comparison.

This is gaming joy distilled into a fun, bite-sized package that gamers with little time can play for brief moments and feel rewarded. Like Cut the Rope and Angry Birds before it, Jetpack Joyride encompasses what makes iPhone gaming so radically different from consoles and handhelds.

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

3 Responses to “Top Ten iPhone Games of 2011”

  1. Mark A. Brooks says:

    Jetpack Joyride is pretty bombastic. I love the music!

  2. Fade to Slack says:

    I really like all 30 games that I listed, sir. I believe Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing is free right now… just an FYI.

    World of Goo would definitely feel better on iPad than on iPod Touch or iPhone. As is, it’s a bit too cramped to play as well as it did on PC (and I assume Wii).

    I know console and handhelds still give better, fuller experiences (touchscreen controls just aren’t precise enough most of the time), but I’m having a hell of a time with my phone.

    • Mark A. Brooks says:

      iOS games definitely scratch an itch that other platforms don’t. I think they round out a gamer’s repertoire rather well.

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