There are more than 117,000 apps on the iPhone, including more than 22,000 games. So it’s a quixotic task to try to figure out the best games of the year. But with some recommendations from readers, we’ve taken a look at some of the best and here are the most addictive games we found. We did this list last year, and I think you’ll agree that many of these new games are leaps and bounds better than last year’s titles.
1. Spider: The Secret of Bryce Manor (Tiger Style Games, $2.99). There aren’t many games where you get to play spider. In this one, you are a spider that discovers a spooky abandoned house. The art work is well done and it shows you what the world looks like to a spider. You explore it to figure out what happened to the family that lived there. You can walk, jump, or spin webs. You spin silk to make webs by making a triangle or other shapes. Some places like the bathtub and tools are so smooth that you can’t spin webs on them or crawl on them. Then you can catch flies in the webs. If you use all of your silk, you have to find food to regenerate your silk or you die. In other words, you have to plan your meals. If you eat enough, you then have to look for a portal and get to the next level. There are 38 levels in the game, from the weathervane at the top to the basement. It’s a wonderfully creative game.
2. F.A.S.T. (SGN, free). This is another next-generation iPhone game that showed off the great 3-D graphics that are possible on the platform. It’s a hardcore modern combat flight sim, but it’s pretty simple to learn the basics. You tilt the iPhone to steer your plane in a 3-D dogfight. When you lock on an enemy plane, you can fire guns or guided missiles by tapping on the screen. If someone is on your tail, you shake the iPhone to release flares as decoys to draw away the heat-seeking missiles. Getting to the point where you can actually shoot down enemy planes is a challenge, and you may look foolish playing this game on the bus as you wildly tilt your iPhone in all directions. As you proceed through the exercises, you can unlock more planes. It has cool multiplayer options as well.
3. Flight Control (Firemint, 99 cents). This game is a time waster perfect for a long car ride or a lazy day. You are an air traffic controller, guiding planes to their runways from an overhead view of an airport. You have to touch and drag planes to form a route and avoid head-on collisions with other planes and helicopters. The two-dimensional graphics aren’t all that exciting, but the game play is genuinely addictive. After a few minutes of this, you’ll find out why being an air traffic controller is such a stressful job. The game could use more variety in terms of level-ups and maps. It has inspired copycat games as well, some of which are pretty good, such as Harbor Havoc 3-D, which has 3-D effects that make the routing of ships through a harbor even more difficult.
4. Star Defense (Ngmoco, 99 cents). Tower defense games have been a staple genre among casual gamers since the debut of Desktop Tower Defense in 2007. Ngmoco created its own sci-fi version of this game with Star Defense for the iPhone. The game landscape is a 3-D planet with a trail running through it. You set up your defenses along the trail and try to stop a bunch of aliens from breaking through to your base. As you stop each wave, you get more points to set up more defenses. You can beef up your gun turrets or buy towers that can disable the electronic shields of attackers or fire flames. You can use your fingers to zoom in on the action or spin the world to view a hot spot. If you haven’t thought your defense through, nothing will save you from defeat. If 10 aliens get through, you’re toast. It’s a tough game and can hold your attention for a long time.
5. N.O.V.A. Near Orbit Vanguard Alliance (Gameloft, $6.99). Just a year ago, I would have thought that a game like N.O.V.A. would be impossible to do on an iPhone. But this first-person shooter works wonderfully well. You play a retired space marine who is dragooned into service to find out what’s gone wrong on an incommunicado marine spacecraft. When you get there, you find it has been infested with aliens and it’s your job to shoot them all. Your weapons include shotguns, grenades and machine guns; there are 13 levels in a variety of environments. Unlike some other early shooting games on the iPhone, this one has controls that are simple to use. You can control movement with one finger moving around in the lower left of the screen, and you can target enemies with a swipe on the multitouch screen and by tapping the lower right corner. The graphics are as close to mezmerizing as you can get on an iPhone. You can play multiplayer over Wi-Fi or Bluetooth connections.
6. Cartoon Wars (Blue, 99 cents). This game takes place in a two-dimensional cartoon world where the black-and-white cartoons are fighting against color cartoons. For thousands of years, the black-and-white cartoon tribe was enslaved by the color cartoon tribe. Now they’re in a revolt. You have to lead the black-and-white stick figures to take the enemy’s castle. You can aim your weapons at the castle and produce combat units as you attack. The action takes place in real time. There are dozens of unit types and lots of levels to upgrade. You bow will automatically fire from atop your castle, taking out some of the enemies. You also send your stick figures out to attack the enemies head-on. Your units are expendable and the battles are bloody messes. As you go on the offensive, you can reduce the enemy castle to rubble. The sequel, Cartoon Wars Gunner is also a lot of fun.
7. Jet Car Stunts (True Axis, $1.99). This game is more like a flying game than a racing game. That’s because you spend a lot of time rocketing between platforms, jumping from one place to another suspended in the clouds. Your vehicle is half jet, half car. You can steer the cars on the land, or make them drift through the air. You hurtle through the air and do spins before landing. You race through loops, jumps and other obstacles. You have to race against the clock to get to the next checkpoint. You can try to beat your own times and post the top times to leaderboards. The experience is a lot more like a quirky arcade game than a racing simulation. The game has 36 zany tracks.
8. Doom Resurrection (idSoftware/Escalation Studios, $1.99) This game showed that hardcore games with cool 3-D graphics are quite doable on the iPhone. The story and art are borrowed from Doom 3, a 2004 game with groundbreaking graphics on the PC. The game is set on rails, meaning you have limited control of the movement, sort of like riding through an attraction at Disney to land. You have to fight off the demon hordes from Hell who have taken over a research facility on Mars. You use everything from chain guns to shotguns to dispatch the monsters, and then the game shifts you to another location. The game is a lot of fun and the sounds are great, but it’s on the short side for a hardcore game. You can stop and admire the graphics, but don’t forget to keep shooting while you’re doing it.
9. Need for Speed Shift (Electronic Arts/Iron Monkey, $6.99). This version of EA’s classic racing franchise exploits the better graphics of the iPhone 3GS model that launched this summer. It also runs on the older iPhones. It looks better than EA’s earlier Need for Speed Undercover game that debuted earlier this year. (The game capitalizes on Open GL ES 2.0, which allows for better graphics like shadows and lighting effects). The Shift brand is more of a driving simulaltion, while the Undercover games play more like arcade games. But this Shift game can be played by dummies. You control the car by tilting the iPhone, or tapping its screen for brakes. You can play it in multiple modes: rookie, pro or expert. I raced in rookie mode and it’s almost impossible to crash. You try to follow the green line on a street race map. Shifting is automatic, you get help braking around turns, and thus it’s more accessible to casual players. If you play at a higher level, you get less help. You can work your way through a career with 28 different races. And you can play multiplayer via Bluetooth or 3G networking. The game has 20 cars licensed from real automakers.
10. Paper Toss (Backflip Studios, free). Paper Toss is a great game to play when you need a mindless distraction. You flick your finger across the screen to toss paper into a garbage can. You have to change aim often because a fan blows the paper sideways. You can start out easy and then move up to medium and hard levels, where you have to make shots from farther and farther away. It’s simple and addictive. The game has been downloaded more than 12 million times and has been copycatted a lot. You hear applause from your office coworkers when you make a tough shot or “oohs” when you have a heartbreaker miss. It’s refreshing to see a game about wasting time, and it’s just about as fun as the real thing. If only it had a great story to go with it, then the video game industry could make a whole series of games and then make a movie based on it. Just kidding.
There are a lot of honorable mentions. Among the titles that have also gotten a lot of applause this year are: Orbital, Real Racing, Myst, Mecho Wars, Peggle, Bejeweled Blitz, Jelly Cart 2, Skee-Ball, Bejeweled 2, Tap Tap Revenge 3, Zen Bound, Edge, Ragdoll Blaster, Blimp, Glyder 2, Gears, TouchGrind, Circuit Strike, Space Invaders Infinity Gene, Skies of Glory, Civilization Revolution, Canabalt, the Sims 3, Rolando 2, Doom, Drop 7, and Spore Creatures.