Four Quirky iPhone Games To Make Awkward Situations Less Awkward

I love portable gaming. This love affair started with the SEGA Game Gear, which is the approximate size and weight of a cinder block, runs on 6 AA batteries, and is the video game equivalent of Zack Morris’s cell phone. The Game Gear is what turned me on to games you can play while under the covers / in a closet when your family is having a family reunion. This was very important to my socially anxious social life growing up.

So what are the options now that we’re out of the technologically oversized ’80s? The Nintendo 3DS and DS – while I am a huge fan – are still a little unwieldy, large and conspicuous. This is part of what makes iPhone gaming so great – there’s still an element of stealth. Are you answering a pressing email from work? Or are you flinging frustrated birds at wooden shanties built by amorphous, egg-stealing, ball-shaped pigs? Are you texting your landlord about the water leak? Or are you dodging explosives while slicing up exotic fruit? Sometimes you just want to look like you’re doing something important to avoid enduring the uncomfortable conversation about sexual harassment your aunt is initiating at your grandma’s 80th birthday party.

Mobile gaming is probably the most portable of all the gaming options right now, particularly because your phone goes everywhere you go. While Angry Birds or Fruit Ninja are tried and true options for passing the time, there’s a great array of witty, interestingly odd games by smaller developers that range anywhere from “bro”-style, fist-bumping gothic Bram Stoker games to culinary undead mash-ups where you wheel a giant angry-looking pizza over an array of skeletons. Here are some you should check out:

1. Whale Trail

RAINBOWS EVERYWHERE via appsafari.com

Would you believe it if I said that this game is about an airborne whale named Willow who collects rainbow stars and multicolored bubbles called Blubbles in a place called Rainbow Land? Believe it. This shit is real. In the beautifully designed game by ustwo, you use one-touch controls to fly Willow through a landscape of angry clouds while collecting rainbow-colored bubbles and stars — the more bubbles you catch, the longer you remain airborne, and the higher your score. The game ranks pretty high on the hipness scale, not just because of the beautiful design and intuitive controls, but because Whale Trail comes with a theme song by Gruff Rhys of Super Furry Animals. Bonus: in the Whale Trail music video, Rhys wears a yellow raincoat and rides through the clouds on a motorized old people scooter. Beauty.

2. Pizza vs. Skeletons

Why yes, that is a giant pizza bagel wearing an eyepatch skiing down an icy slope. via examiner.com

Have you ever wanted to be a gigantic, angry pizza capable of crushing every robot, skull, and skeleton in your path? No? Okay. Granted, it’s not an obvious dream like “make out with Ellen Page,” but once you start rolling your massive, customizable, doughy body over all things living and undead you might realize what you’ve been missing out on. The game by Riverman Media utilizes sensitive touch and tap controls to wheel your gigantic pizza avatar through graveyards, space, and the ocean. While the game can be effectively summed up by its simple title, the levels never lack in variety — each has an entirely different objective, from rolling down a rollercoaster-like ramp to tromping through a graveyard. You can also adorn your pizza with a variety of unlock-able customizations like lovely mustaches, cowboy hats and various gourmet toppings and doughs. While it may not compare to making out with Ellen Page, it’s pretty damn great anyway.

3. Helsing’s Fire

Love that 'stache. via gizmodo.com

In this “Dracula”-themed game by Clickgamer you fist-bump, vaporize vampires and drink celebratory tea while listening to soothing moog and organ synth music reminiscent of the soundtrack of Napoleon Dynamite. Are you still with me? Yeah, while mixing gothic literary allusions with fist-bumping and fascinatingly retro music seems a little odd, it fits together in Helsing’s Fire. You wander about increasingly puzzling rat-, vampire- and werewolf-infested rooms in a gigantic mansion sending various monsters back-from-whence-they-came with the aid of your torch and colored tonics. My favorite part about this game is the bold cut-out, mustachioed illustrations of Helsing and his buddy Rifton doing celebratory handshakes at the end of every level.

4. Radiant

Pew pew! via itunes.apple.com

Remember Space Invaders? This is just like that except for the tongue-in-cheek B-movie  dialogue (and sometimes smack-talk) that happens between you (the alien-blasting space pilot) and the evil alien invaders. What sets this game by Hexage apart are the beautifully rendered neon retro-esque visuals and the atmospheric, electronic music. You blast through blocky, pixely alien hoards that look like they came straight out of your Atari, except that the aliens have suddenly moved into a nightclub and swallowed glowsticks, pulsating and shimmering fluorescently in the outer space sky. The storyline reads like it came out of a not-so-great alien movie (complete with time-traveling action!) but the writers of Radiant‘s dialogue seem to be aware of it and play with the tropes lightheartedly. The main pull is the simple controls and sleek visuals, which create an addictive, nostalgic, alien-shooting experience.

What kinds of mobile games have you been playing? Any great / odd / quirky games to add to the list?

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Whitney is a lover of food, books, comic books and journals made for left-handed people. She is a Ph.D. student at Northwestern University, where she studies video games and new media. She is also a graphic designer, writer and editor who has worked for places like Opium Magazine, Literary Death Match, Publishers Weekly and The Feminist Press. Check out her blog at whitneypow.com and follow her on Twitter @whitneypow.

Whitney has written 51 articles for us.

29 Comments

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    I see a common theme between the framing of this article and the recent autostraddle sex-in-public-bathrooms debate. Both authors seem to think that if other people are making you uncomfortable, then you should be rude to everyone around you. I disagree.

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    Awesome recommendations, Whitney! Game Gear was the start of my video game nerdery too! Got it for my 8th birthday and was definitely coolest kid on the block that year (or felt like it). Ecco the Dolphin, anyone?

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      OMG ECCO THE DOLPHIN. I still don’t really understand what that game’s about re: storyline. I remember just swimming around, not understanding how to make progress in the game. So I just headbutted all of the sharks.

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        I know! The game was sooo hard — I definitely never made it past the third level. I later read that the storyline was actually really dark and involved time travel and aliens! I just liked pretending to be a Flipper.

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    It’s not a mobile game, but Radiant looks like a game I was playing with some friends called Geometry Wars. It’s basically all the 80s games mashed into one and covered with a bizarre soundtrack and neon visuals and it plays similarly to how I conceive an acid trip.

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    i have an adroid situation, so the only things i can get from this jealousy-inducing list is whale trail and radiant. BUT i’ve been playing speed anatomy and it’s a super good conversation starter and it makes you a genius. for example, do you know where your sigmoid colon is? or your manubrium? YOU WILL.

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    - Machinarium
    – (Sword and) Sworcery
    – Osmos
    – Ghost Trick
    – Aquaria
    – Crimson! Steam Pirates, although I wish I could buy a level
    – Civ Revolutions
    – Anything by Tiger Style Games comes highly recommended
    – So does Spooky Squid Studios, but they’re mostly not portable

    These are probably best enjoyed on a plane, not at your grandmother’s.

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    Machinarium and World of Goo are pure fun. I have an Android and I like to test various apps, but not so much games so far, only the Gameboy Color & Advance emulator, and like inception, it’s like having a handheld game device within a handheld game device!

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