Monday 23 December 2013

Steve Paris' iOS Games Christmas Extravaganza

When Apple released iPhone in 2007, it wasn't designed with third party apps in mind. In fact, Steve Jobs spent a long time telling developers that web apps - programs that make use of technologies available through a browser - were the way to go if they wanted a presence on Apple's new revolutionary device.

But developers would have none of it, and because iPhone was touted as running OS X (albeit a stripped down version of it), they knew how to program for it and demanded the opportunity to do so. After all, it was no secret web apps couldn't match the responsiveness and data access speeds of native programs.

Apple relented, the App Store was introduced, and the rest is history.

Steve Jobs introduces iPhone
The biggest success turned out to be games. We've got thousands of them to choose from, created by either large established companies or small independents. Both have a chance and opportunity to sell their games to the massive and ever growing iOS community.

But with Christmas nearly upon us, which ones should you invest in for your own or your loved ones' entertainment?

Well, I've compiled a list of my favourites. I'm more keen on extensive in-depth gameplay than casual minute-breaks like Angry Birds and its numerous clones, so it won't be a surprise that my list reflects this.

I do have some rules though: the game should be able to run on any iOS device natively (ie, you shouldn't have to buy an iPad version and an iPhone version of the exact same game, which would rule out Angry Birds right there!), and freemium, i.e., games that are apparently free but which you have to end up paying a small fortune through endless in-app purchases in order to keep playing, is a big no-no.

So without further ado, and in no particular order, here's my list of the best iOS games out there:

Since Bastion was originally created for the game console market, a lot was expected of it graphically, and it certainly delivers. But it's not just the appealing cartoon style, nor the adventure that makes it compelling to play, but the imagination around it, including a narration that fits the action you perform as The Kid, the apparent sole survivor of a planetary catastrophe. It's something you have to hear to truly appreciate.

The world builds or collapses around your character, as he tries to piece together what happened and if anything can be done to restore the world to its former glory. Once you've started on your quest, it'll be hard to put down.

Price: £0.69 ($0.99)

Compatibility: Requires iOS 5.1 or later. Compatible with iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. This app is optimized for iPhone 5.

If you're a fan of trade, space exploration and dog fights, then you won't be able to ignore Galaxy on Fire 2. Two versions exist, with the HD one offering the best quality graphics, but as a consequence will only work on more modern iOS devices, like the iPhone 4S and iPad 2 and above.

You play Keith Maxwell, an adventurer whose spaceship, through a technical mishap is thrown 35 years into the future and reappears in a distant part of the galaxy. Your aim is to find a way to survive, upgrade your ship, and even buy new more powerful ones, as you try to uncover the mysteries that await you in this brave new world you find yourself in. Two in-app purchases are available which are by no means compulsory but further your adventures with new storylines and of course new solar systems to explore, and new ships and equipment to play with. You can also choose to voyage through the various solar systems on your own without following the story, it's all up to you, but those three chapters are exciting enough and provide enough challenges to keep making you go back for more.

Price: Free

Compatibility (SD): Requires iOS 4.3 or later. Compatible with iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. This app is optimized for iPhone 5.

Compatibility (HD): Requires iOS 5.1.1 or later. Compatible with iPhone 4S, iPad 2, and iPod touch 5G. This app is optimized for iPhone 5.

Buy now:

This is a game with a difference. The emphasis is on storytelling, and most of it takes the shape of a written novel. You'll find yourself reading a lot and choosing what your character must do next from a handful of options. Your decision will affect how the story will unfold. But this is more than just a book with a few choices to perform; the adventure comes to life with great combat sequences, along with other types of mini games like lock-picking, for instance. The music is fantastic and the writing is very immersive. If you were a fan of "books in which you are the hero" from the 80s and 90s, it'll be hard for you not to love this brand new and original adventure.

You play Lone Wolf, the last of the Kai Lords, sworn to protect your country from the Dark Lords. This game actually furthers the adventures of this protagonist who features in a series of popular ongoing adventures in one of those famous aforementioned book series, but you don't need to know any of that in order to enjoy the game. Of course, if you're familiar with the former Lone Wolf adventures, this story will obviously be more exciting.

Price: £2.99 ($4.99)

Compatibility: Requires iOS 4.3 or later. Compatible with iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. This app is optimized for iPhone 5.

This is another game ported from consoles and PCs, and it's huge. It's a strategy role-playing game in which you look after the workings of a secret base whose objective is to uncover the mysteries behind sudden and hostile extra-terrestrial activity. You select your team and send them on missions, where you have to eradicate the invaders from either rural or urban areas. When your team isn't out on manoeuvres, you must research the objects you've salvaged and develop technologies to improve your equipment and find a reason why this alien invasion is happening.

The graphics are great, the story involving, the touch control flawless, and you have to work carefully to not lose your team on away missions. This is not a game you'll finish in a handful of hours; this is a full-featured console game on a portable device.

£6.99 ($9.99)

Compatibility: Requires iOS 5.0 or later. Compatible with iPhone 4, iPhone 4S, iPhone 5, iPhone 5c, iPhone 5s, iPad 2 Wi-Fi, iPad 2 Wi-Fi + 3G, iPad Wi-Fi (3rd generation), iPad Wi-Fi + Cellular (3rd generation), iPad Wi-Fi (4th generation), iPad Wi-Fi + Cellular (4th generation), iPad mini Wi-Fi, iPad mini Wi-Fi + Cellular, iPad Air, iPad Air Wi-Fi + Cellular, iPad mini with Retina display, iPad mini with Retina display Wi-Fi + Cellular, iPod touch (4th generation), and iPod touch (5th generation). This app is optimized for iPhone 5.

If you remember the early computer games and their blocky 8-bit graphics, you'll feel right at home in Star Command. The game aims to be a Star Trek equivalent, letting you explore space and upgrade your ship and crew over time but it's mostly an excuse to blow things up. The storyline is fun although extremely linear and the animations are very enjoyable. The controls are quite simple: you tap on a crew member, then tap where you want them to go. Once there, they'll automatically do what they need to do (heal others, shoot at aliens or repair the ship). Ship to ship combat takes the shape of time-based mini games when quick reflexes is the order of the day.

For the price, it's a lot of fun and definitely worth giving it a shot.

Price: £1.99 ($2.99)

Compatibility: Requires iOS 4.3 or later. Compatible with iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. This app is optimized for iPhone 5.

You'll most likely never get to play Zelda on your phone, but why would you want to when Oceanhorn offers the same type of adventure yet is perfectly suited to handheld, touch-enabled devices? This game offers over 11 hours of exploration and gameplay. You must learn what happened to your father and why your destiny seems inexorably linked to the sea monster that's been plaguing your world for over a thousand years. You'll travel to numerous islands over the course of your exploration, as you unveil secrets, and gain experience and new skills which will help you defeat Oceanhorn.

The graphics are amazing and so is the music. The touch controls work very well most of the time, and the story is designed in such a way that it's easy to pick up and stop at any time. This is high adventure in the palm of your hand.

Price: £5.99 ($8.99)

Compatibility: Requires iOS 5.0 or later. Compatible with iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. This app is optimized for iPhone 5.

Pocket God
In every list there has a to be one that breaks all the rules and Pocket God is it. It's not designed for the iPad so the graphics look a little blocky on that device, and don't even ask if it was ever updated for the higher resolution retina displays. It's also filled with in-app purchases, although to be fair, you don't need to buy any of them.

So what's so special about this game and why would you want to spend nearly £0.70 (almost a dollar) on it?

Because it's fun and highly imaginative. You control six cute little pygmies which you can torture at will: you can throw them into a volcano, feed them to various dangerous creatures like sharks, piranhas, a giant octopus, a T-Rex, a giant spider or gorilla, turn one into a vampire or freeze them to death. They never die for long and you can redirect them at any time by tapping the big "+" button. You can also be nice to your pygmies and help them fish, start a fire, cook a bird, open a coconut, or make them dance.

There's also a huge number of mini games which you can access from various locations, like an endless runner, an endless jumper (which got recently expanded to a new self-contained game called Ooga Jump), a donkey kong-style game, a challenging battle arena, and a mysterious apocalypse puzzle, among so many others.

The in-app purchases allow you to alter the look of your islands and the creatures that inhabit them, but the best ones are the dance packs. Tapping on the screen makes the pigmies dance - and sing - based on the style you selected.

There's no goal in this game except to have a little fun and try to discover all the things you can do with and to your pygmies. It's an original way to keep yourself distracted and offers more fun and versatility than most other game worth five times as much.

Price: £0.69 ($0.99)

Compatibility: Requires iOS 5.0 or later. Compatible with iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. This app is optimized for iPhone 5.

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