Mobile gaming is my thing. I like that I can lie on the floor and play a video game. I like that I can play a video game while waiting at the DMV. I like that I can play a video game on a 13-hour road trip. I like that I can fit mobile gaming into the free moments — ten minutes before I have to head to work, fifteen minutes while the cookies are in the oven. Mobile gaming just works with my life.
Right now my main instrument for mobile gaming is my iPhone. Mostly, I’m in it for the game selection and the accessibility — if you own a phone, you also own a gaming device. I like that a lot of independent game developers are regularly publishing games in the iTunes store and getting their work out to the masses one 99-cent game at a time. It’s a great way to stay in touch with popular and cutting-edge gaming without having to make a giant investment on each game.
Here’re my top five recent releases and major updates for iOS, the operating system that runs on iPhones and iPads. The list includes puzzles, Tetris-like games, word games and RPGs. Download, play, read on.
Puzzle Craft, by Chillingo and Ars Thanea, is one of the most engrossing games I’ve ever played. It combines two genres I love: match-three puzzle ala Dungeon Raid and crafting/resource balancing a la games like Minecraft and Terraria. The goal of the game is to gather enough resources (like trees, coal and grain) in order to craft new things (like houses or ploughs or chicken coops) so that you can build additions to your kingdom-in-development.
On the surface, the match-three-style gameplay might seem like Bejeweled, where you swap one jewel at a time in order to make matches. But in Puzzle Craft, you drag your finger along matching resources, collecting as many as you can with one swipe of your finger. I really like the spatial problem-solving that comes with this kind of match-three game and I find the resource-collecting really addictive. Sometimes I find out I only need five more chickens to build a chicken coop or hire a new worker and I end up playing just one more short game of matching to get those last resources.
If you like the Professor Layton games for Nintendo DS and 3DS, you’ll probably like The Curse by Toy Studio and Mojo Bones. The Curse has a familiar, Professor Layton-y concept, where a series of traditional puzzles (like solving riddles and anagrams and shift-the-block puzzles) are tied together with a narrative. In The Curse, you find an old book and, upon opening it, unleash an ominous character named the Mannequin, who wears a mask that has a perpetually cocked eyebrow. When you release him, you also release a curse. Your mission: Solve all 100 puzzles in the game in order to seal him back into the book.
What I like about The Curse is that you’re free to go through all 100 puzzles and choose them according to what puzzle suits your fancy at the moment. Want to solve a glass-pouring puzzle? You got it. How about a string-detangling puzzle? An on-and-off lightswitch puzzle? Yes and yes. The game’s interface is designed to look like you’re moving through the pages of a book. When you move from one puzzle to another, the pages in the “book” turn realistically, complete with page-flipping sound.
While the storyline in The Curse isn’t as involved or adventure-game-like as the Professor Layton games, the Mannequin does pop up every few puzzles you complete to offer an entertaining monologue. He’ll often pop up and tell you you’ll never win, or pull a “prank call” on your phone or play a magic trick on you. Ultimately, this game is a great traditional puzzler with an intriguing narrative twist.
Confession: I love bubble matching games like Puzzle Bobble and Bust-A-Move. And Supermagical is no exception. Supermagical, by Gala Pocket and Super Awesome Hyper Dimensional Mega Team, is a very well-designed and beautifully-illustrated bubble-popping game where you guide a young witch named Nina through a world filled with multi-colored creatures called Minix. Your job is to use magic to get rid of the not-so-friendly Minix by matching their colors to magic orbs you send sailing their way.
The game is charming, with dialogue-based boss battles and power-ups like multicolored candy (which change the color of the spell you’re using at the moment) and soda (which allow you to use special abilities like removing large quantities of same-colored Minix at once). There’s a great deal of puzzle strategy involved with Supermagical and the bubble-popping ties in with several mini games — like a card matching game — that you can play to win more coins. Supermagical is a great adaptation of the classic bubble-popping game and the game’s narrative lends depth to the gameplay itself.
Dragon Island Blue
Dragon Island Blue, by NTT Resonant, is probably the best Pokémon-esque game that exists in the App Store. Remember Pokémon? I used to play it in the dark on my GameBoy color with a flashlight aimed at the screen. Yeah. DIB is kind of similar, except that the art style is more high-fantasy Shining Force, as Kotaku put it, and less Pokémon (and, you know, your screen is backlit). If Pokémon and edgy manga-style art are your bag, you need to check this out.
DIB is surprisingly well-executed. There are a lot of games in the App Store that try to copy the Pokémon formula, but I haven’t found any that have even come close until I started playing DIB. The game is straightforward in terms of what you’re trying to achieve: in DIB, the main goal is to fight, catch and train monsters. So far in the game, I’ve found that the plot and quests are minor in comparison. You travel on a map between various cities and caves, looking for new monsters to catch, breed and train.
What I like about DIB is that the game incorporates the touch screen into the game mechanics — in the monster-battling system, you can swipe your finger left, right, up or down on the monster you’d like to assail, and each move corresponds with a different action. I wasn’t expecting the game to be as involved as it turned out to be — what DIB gets right is that it plays to the pleasure in video game grinding — going through battle after battle in order to level your stats — and it does it well.
Puzzlejuice, by Asher Vollmer, was originally released earlier this year, but the game had a major update to version 1.5 this past week and now includes new power ups and game modes. Puzzlejuice is like Puzzle Craft in that it mixes two unlikely-to-mesh genres: the Tetris-y shape-stacking game and the word-finding game. It’s a strange mix, but it plays oh so well.
You start off with a set of Tetromino-like game pieces that fall from the top of the screen, and you’re meant to create horizontal rows with them. In Tetris, once a row is finished it’ll disappear; in Puzzlejuice, the row of colored blocks turns into a row of random letters. The more rows you create, the more letters you have to choose from to create words by dragging your finger on the screen. If you’re stumped, you can create little pockets of random letters by tapping on three or more matching colored blocks sitting next to each other. So it’s kind of like Tetris, kind of like a word-search game, and kind of like a color-matching game. I know, it’s a lot of things to keep in your head at once, but as you play you’ll find that the gameplay is pretty intuitive.
My only trouble playing this game is the size of my iPhone screen. Don’t get me wrong — the controls are well-calibrated and there’s even a magnifying aid to fine-tune which letter you’re selecting when you word search. However, playing the game can be difficult in later quick-fire stages of the game when you have to quickly multitask block-moving with word-finding if you have a small screen. While it’s a great game for iPhone, it might be a better choice for those of you who own iPads.