The iPhone’s had a huge number of AAA console-esque games this year, but it’s the indie games that seem to stay on my device for the longest. A mix of genuine innovation and charm backed with super cheap prices and small download sizes mean some of the fifteen games featured below are immediately grabbable and well worth the cash.
We’ll be doing a monthly round-up of games in addition to picking out the biggest iPhone titles each day here on TheSixthAxis, so here’s December’s backlog with handy links so you can click and buy directly from the site. Magic.
Big Bad Flower
Big Bad Flower’s an interesting one to start with – basically you’re a huge, monstrous flower intent on taking over the world – flowers aren’t normally associated with such destructive acts, but there you go. The game sits the titular flora in the centre of the screen and, at least at first, presents loads of little critters that are trying to stop you in your tracks. You’ll eventually make your way into outer space and face tougher opponents, but the concept remains the same: you have to draw circles around enemies to form bubbles, and then swipe the flower to make him blow the bubbles away.
Think the early Nintendo DS tech demo featuring Yoshi and the principle is similar, although here it’s much more frantic and the secondary ability to tap incoming projectiles to prevent them hitting the flower adds another layer to the mechanics. Yes, it’s simple, but it’s addictive and the learning curve’s smooth enough to ensure that you’re not hitting a brick wall each time you play. It’s not easy, mind, but it’s a smart little game that plays to its strengths. Presentation is attractive, the graphics are fine and the controls are responsive – Big Bad Flower’s not going to change the world but it might offer a nice diversion.
Buy now: BIG BAD Flower – BIG BAD BRUSH inc. 59p
Bee Patrol: taking Flight Control to a whole new level. Yes, the game’s almost the same at first glance: guide little buzzing bumblebees with your finger to the right spot on the screen, but you’ve got to give the developers credit: this actually goes a few steps further. For starters, you don’t just aim the bees at their hive, they have jobs to do – so, you’ll need to direct them to areas of pollen first, and the levels will require you to collect a fair amount of pollen, so each bee can make a few stops along the way. Thus, what was a simple idea for aeroplanes becomes intricate micro-management for the little insects – especially, that is, when you have to factor in colour matching and the fact that bees will die if they don’t make it back to the hive on time.
I’m a big fan of Flight Control but whilst Firemint are busy working on Real Racing it looks like the bees have come in and stole their thunder – Bee Patrol is a really smart little game that might be a tad confusing at first actually makes a huge amount of sense after a few goes. There’s loads of options and various scenarios (there’s even a completely different mode to play) and the whole thing is packed with cute character and bags of charm. Fans of the genre should definately take a look at Bee Patrol.
Buy now: Bee Patrol – IslandJohn.com 59p
Hot Plates is one of those games that gets better you better you get at it, if that makes sense. Plates scroll past the screen in a number of directions, and you’re in charge of adding sauce to each plate. I’ll be honest, it’s not hugely obvious which sauce needs to go with which plate at first, aside from the introductory screen, but you soon learn that blue sauce goes on the pizza-looking plate and, for whatever reason, the brown sauce goes on the meaty-looking one. As the plates increase in speed your dexterity needs to increase with them, as you need to tap each bottle and then the place to succeed – adding the wrong sauce to a dish breaks the plate in dramatic style.
There’s a couple of other game modes thrown in, too – Dynamite Dogs sees you trying to tap normal hotdogs but avoiding the dynamite-equipped ones (incredibly hard on your eyes) and Kitchen Countdown, which gives you 60 seconds to get as many sauces down as possible on a grid of static plates, which requires utmost concentration. Nice little side plates to the main event, then, and all are garnished with decent graphics and plinky music. Nothing groundbreaking, but solid enough.
Buy now: Hot Plates – Big Mouse Media 59p
Jumbline 2 builds on the first game’s ideas (and price) by presenting a pile of letters at the bottom of the screen and then a series of empty grids at the top, corresponding to the number of words you can create from the letters below. You’ll have no doubt seen games like this on other platforms – the concept is incredibly simple but the mechanics behind Jumbline 2 are sublime: the player need simply drag under the letter cubes to make words, and shuffling them around is as simple as a quick drag of the finger.
The presentation’s floaty and serene, with chunky graphics, gentle music and user chooseable backgrounds that include drifting clouds. There’s pressure if you want it, but if you simply want to test your knowledge of the English language and improve your wordplay skills for something like Scrabble, Jumbline 2 is great fun. To be honest, I personally preferred the purity of the first game (which is still available on the App Store) but if you’ve already exhausted Jumbline then the sequel is well worth checking out – there’s a couple of new modes (Cloud Pop and Star Tower) and some welcome Retina graphics too for iPhone 4 owners.
Buy now: Jumbline 2 – Brainium Studios LLC £1.19
Heroes of Kalevala
The ‘match-three’ genre is one of the most populated on the App Store, with dozens of games all following very simple ideas based on some of the classics (think Bejeweled for a recent commercial example). Heroes of Kalevala goes a few steps further, though, by presenting the action as a lite RPG you become engrossed in the storyline and plot as opposed to just shuffling around little tiles. Yes, Kalevala does that bit particularly well anyway, but it’s the wealth of extras that really set it apart from the rest, such as the side-game that requires some management skills to keep your growing population of villages happy and numerous.
As you get further into the game, hero characters appear (that can be called on by matching their icons in a line of three or more) and various enemy types that bring in time limits and other factors. It really does feel much deeper than your traditional puzzler and gets better the further you get into it. It’s all dressed up in gorgeous graphics and despite the price being a little higher than other games of this ilk, it’s worth every penny. A really good game.
Buy now: Heroes of Kalevala – 10tons Ltd £1.79
Lightning Fighter’s a vertical shoot-em-up, spread over seven levels (and three difficulty settings) and about as formulaic as you can get from a game like this. Of course, if you’re into your shmups then this isn’t a bad thing – it’s just that despite some flashy graphics we’ve seen most of what Lightning Fighter has to offer in countless other games already. There’s some of its own verve in here though, the weapon system offers up some nice chunky laser death and the controls (once you’ve switched off the daft tilt setting) are fine – just drag on the screen and the fighter copies you at a slightly accelerated rate.
There’s nothing particularly wrong with Lightning Fighter, it’s cheap, offers up a nice challenge (and is welcoming enough for newbies on the Easy level) and looks great, but there’s just something missing that I can’t quite, if you’ll excuse the pun, put my finger on. Give it a shot if you’re a genre fan and you’ll probably get much more out of it than me, but if the style of game isn’t your cup of tea then there’s little here to change your mind.
Buy now: Lightning Fighter – Uwan Studio 59p
Mani Golf takes the concept found in games like Stick Golf and updates it with nicer graphics and a bit more sustance. Of course, Mani Golf’s been around for ages and this is really just an iPhone remix of the game found online. There are two courses, each with (as you’d expect) eighteen holes, and each hole has little slots for your success, cleverly mapped to gold, silver and bronze depending on how under par you scored. Compulsive, addictive types will relish in getting 100% out of the game, I’m sure.
Each hole looks and feels a little like the Worms games, 2D and sprite-based, and you shoot by dragging back from the golfer to create an arc where the ball will go, Angry Birds style. It’s a bit fiddly, especially as exactly the same control is used to scroll around the level, but the way the game zooms out for you when you’re aiming is a nice touch. Of course, games like this live and die on their level design, and thankfully, despite a few sticking points the courses are actually pretty nicely done – tough, but fair, and the retry function is only ever a button press away.
Buy now: Mani Golf – SoGoPlay Games 59p
Nodes of Yesod
Nodes of Yesod was one of the ZX Spectrum’s defining titles, a side-on platformer with a few bits of strategy built in. It was, as I recall, incredibly difficult, so when the game appeared on the App Store I was reluctant to take the plunge. Happily, either I’m now a much better gamer (unlikely) or my memory was tainted – Yesod’s tricky, but not nearly as tough as I remember it being. The ability to save your progress, new to the iPhone version, is a welcome touch too, and the remixed, updated version (in addition to the direct port) offers up text-based tips, too. Easy peasy.
If you’re familiar with the game, which is now 25 years old, you can rest easy in the knowledge that this is 59p well spent. For everyone else, be prepared for some British charm, lots of leaping and rolling about and a teasing mole that finds popping in and out of craters something of a naughty delight. Seriously: you’re in search of eight items in a subterraneum, side-on Moon-based adventure that might seem archaic in design now but was cutting edge back in the day. Just get it, and be thankful for your modern 3D, 60fps, hand-holding shooters.
Buy now: Nodes Of Yesod – Uztek Games, Inc. 59p
I like Push Panic, purely for its simplicity, simple, bold colours and singular game mechanic. There’s four modes, Classic, Score, Color and Time, and from the attractive menu (which updates your leaderboard positions live) you can jump into any of them instantly. It’s the main Classic mode that’s the best, though, and offers fifty levels of increasing puzzly difficulty, again selectable from another menu screen that presents your previous ranks in a very clear, concise manner. The presentation throughout, as you’ll no doubt have gathered, is perfect.
The game itself is pretty good too – the core idea being to tap on coloured blocks as they fall from the top and once you’ve tapped on three or more of the same colour you can double tap to remove anything selected. It’s a brilliantly neat concept that whilst carried over to the other sections of the game never feels tired and does indeed provoke the eponymous panic when the screen starts to fill up: do you play it safe and just pick off groups of three as they come or save up your combos and aim high, whilst other colours continue to fill the well? A lovely puzzle game.
Buy now: Push Panic – Appular 59p
The Line plays on the age-old game of joining the dots – kids today won’t be familiar with the concept but back in the 80s we had to make our own entertainment from a piece of paper filled with numbered dots which, as you traced your way around with a stubby 2B, vaguely resembled a Disney character. The Line provides the dots, normally scrolling along in some form of platform system, and an unstoppable blob that’s quite happy to follow whatever lines you draw inbetween the little circles.
Thus, in a game that can truly be described as ‘doodle’, The Line offers up a really nice idea as you try make it to the end of the level whilst picking up little orbs for bonus points. Although your own lines are naturally safe, there’s dangerous ones in the way too, like electrified red spiky lines that don’t sit well with meandering globular player characters. The pace is slow and considered but you do need to move quickly if you’re to get the maximum points, and whilst the game is relatively smart in determining which path to follow, Eddy (the blob) doesn’t always make the choices you might expect. You’ll grow to love him, though.
Buy now: The Line – Ant Hive Games 59p
Tiki Totems 2
Totems, according to Tiki Totems 2, can’t touch the ground. If they do, the gods are displeased and there’ll be copious amounts of fire and brimstone. Sounds dangerous, but in reality it’s just an excuse for a good old puzzler and Tiki Totems 2 is actually really good fun. Any given level features lots of blocks underneath said totem, and you simply tap the blocks to remove them, one by one until they’re all gone. Of course, the laws of gravity (and various block types) mean that the puzzles get pretty tricky quickly, but never at the expense of being fair to the player.
Tiki Totems 2 also includes a level editor, there are 16 slots to edit and you can send completed levels over email – it’s a shame there’s no in-game based system here but if you’ve got mates you want to test it’s a neat enough inclusion given the price, even if the interface is a little bit tricky at first. Otherwise, there’s new ‘Altar’ and ‘Love’ game types, super shapr Retina graphics, nice music and loveable graphics – pretty much all you need in a puzzle game. Fans of the first should lap this one up immediately.
Buy now: Tiki Totems 2 – spokko 59p
Oddly, this cute little platformer starts off light and fluffy (and packed with gratituous manga-style graphics) but soon descends into a rather more dark adventure, which sees three parallel stories running side by side until the three protagonists all meet up. Each section is split into levels and numerous game types (with some emphasis on stealthly jumping and creeping thrown in for good measure) which are short enough to entertain without overstaying their welcome, but offer enough variety to see what’s next.
There’s also story-based intermissions, and although the plot’s hardly going to win any awards it does mean that the action has some basis in exposition and the purposefully old-school 2D mechanics have a certain charm that’s missing from the more advanced, fancy games out there. A game that probably warrants checking out via the free Lite version first, but bear in mind that the full game offers upgrade paths and a decent chunk of retro-tastic gaming for anyone brave enough to take the plunge.
Buy now: Twisted Fates – Leuvsion 59p
Virus Strike takes a singular idea – that of matching coloured antidotes against like-coloured virus cells, and runs with it. The twist is that you’re in charge of what falls where, with your finger able to draw out a line that’s used to guide both virus and medicine alike. Let the bad cells mount up and hit them with a ‘plus’ of the same colour and they’ll both disappear, but miss, and hit a virus with an antibody of the wrong colour and the virus will multiply – it’s a case of trying to shepherd the colours together for bit combos.
The game’s ‘next’ icon is a little confusing, though – it only shows you the next antibody, not the next virus, which fall at random and at will, which makes planning ahead tricky as the game hots up. If Virus Strike let the player plan ahead a bit and showed you what was coming it could have been excellent but it all feels a little bit too chaotic and the ability to tilt your iPhone to steer the viruses clashes with the exact nature of the line drawing. Still, the central idea is solid and although the whole thing is a little basic in terms of presentation there’s potential here if the developer worked on some updates.
Buy now: Virus Strike – Vertigo Software 59p
Wispin, despite appearances, is actually a rather limited game. The central premise – the titular chap can change colour at will – is a neat one but it’s only used to battle enemies of the same colour, which are killed off upon contact with a like-coloured player character, and whilst the controls are decent enough (move with a joystick on the left of the screen and change colour via a little wheel on the right) there’s a little too much interia and the colour wheel is a tad too small and fiddly in the heat of battle.
Still, the idea’s there, and the game’s not half bad, especially when you get into the groove and start racking up same-coloured combos. There’s a lot of dodging to be done, all the while ensuring that Wispin’s the right colour for his next battle, and as the enemies obtain projectile weapons you’ll be constantly on the move – but the fresh, slick presentation is lovely and the core idea is certainly there, it just needs a little bit of work to ensure that the repititive nature doesn’t mar what could be a real sleeper hit down the line for the developers.
Buy now: Wispin – Grumpyface Studios 59p
Wordsearch Star comes from the same guys as Jumbline, and it shows – the visual presentation is similar and the core interface idea, sliding your finger under the word, is carried over ad verbatim. For a wordsearch game it’s particularly slick and there appears to be a massive amount of puzzles to play through, each handily split over a wealth of categories. So, if you fancied searching for Pizza-related words in a lovely big grid of letters, Wordsearch Star has you covered.
The game’s smart enough to know what you’re trying to highlight, and as the words can be in any direction that’s probably a good thing. You can select multiple difficulty levels, too, and on the highest level the list of words at the bottom of the screen is obscured, so you only see the first letter – a nice touch for the hardcore puzzler. Games are ranked and timed, and there’s a hint system too that highlights the first letter of an undiscovered word, although usage of the tool is limited by a recharge time. Wordsearch Star is a shining example of how to dress up a traditional game without making things overly complicated or fussy, and it works as a result.
Buy now: WordSearch Star – Brainium Studios LLC 59p