Our favorite iPhone arcade titles, from breakout and one-thumb rhythm action to multitouch madness and gorgeous survival efforts.
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Night Skate initially feels like an ancient mobile game and resembles an even more ancient handheld title. In play, it’s a one-thumb endless effort, with you tapping the screen to make the skateboarding protagonist leap into the air; visually, it looks like something that might have once graced a Game Boy Color.
As a combination, this is nice enough, but feels fleeting and throwaway. And it is – Canabalt on a skateboard – until you make your first combo.
At that point, all bets are off and the game becomes an enthralling and constantly tense challenge where you string together moves that rapidly ramp up your score – points that are wiped away in seconds if you break concentration and clatter through cones or fall down a massive hole. Top marks also for the one-off price-tag rather than going down the freemium route.
pureya starts off looking like the most basic of arcade games, as you use huge red buttons to direct your character to grab marbles and avoid getting clobbered. Ten seconds in, however, everything changes as you take on an entirely new challenge.
The pace becomes exhilarating as you blow up asteroids, direct a jumping penguin, dodge cannonballs, and urge a monkey through a jungle thick with vines. A minute and a half in, you get a breather with a pachinko machine that has you use your marbles to win prizes: new character skins or even entirely new mini-games.
Then you repeat the process, which suggests grind, but pureya's always fun. And adding to its value, every unlocked game can be played as a standalone endless high-score chaser.
PUSS! at its core is a basic pathfinding game. You drag to direct your oddly square feline avatar through maze-like routes toward an exit. Simple. Only it isn’t, because PUSS! is drenched in enough visual madness to make your retinas scream.
As each level morphs and twists, psychedelic backgrounds evoke a strange combination of internet memes and experimental 1970s animation. Levels are short and sweet, and sometimes tough; get through enough of them and you’re hurled into a deranged boss fight from the bowels of bullet hell.
The game’s presentation and demanding nature will doubtless be too much for some. But if you fancy a challenge dripping with strangeness - one that’s entirely suited to single-thumb play on an iPhone - this kitty will get its claws into you.
(Free + $1.99/£1.99/AU$2.99)
Octagon 2 is a twitch iPhone game set in a tunnel - akin to Super Hexagon painted inside an octagonal tube. It features an octagon that doesn’t fancy being hurled into the abyss, meaning that you must swipe to have it hop sideways or leap to the ceiling in order to avoid the many holes in the floor.
The action is fast. The slightest hesitation means you will fail in your mission. However, unlike its contemporaries, Octagon 2 prizes defined challenges; so although its levels are algorithmically generated, each one stays the same unless you decide to manually refresh it, giving you a fighting chance of mastering the choreography required to win.
For free, you get five levels with potentially limitless play through refreshes. But pay and you unlock the entire game, including a compelling endless mode.
Vectronom is a visually arresting, ear-pleasing slice of demanding but captivating arcade gaming. In a world of geometric shapes, your cube wants nothing more than to reach an exit. But to get there, it must traverse a landscape that shifts and changes to the beat.
You soon work out that this is no freeform iPhone game of path-finding and timing. You must swipe to the beat, often moving into what appears to be thin air, because you’ve spotted the rhythmic pattern and know a platform’s about to save you.
Gradually, the game ramps up the complexity of the challenges and rhythms alike. By the end, you’ll be nodding along in manic fashion, your finger trying desperately to make the little cube dance its way to victory, knowing that losing your sense of rhythm even for a second means certain doom.
Witcheye resembles a classic platform game, with its roaming monsters and chunky pixel art. But rather than run, leap and shoot, you control a flying eyeball that darts along with a swipe, stops dead on a tap, and causes wanton damage whenever it collides with something – or someone.
Said eyeball is in fact a witch, who’s transformed herself to pursue the knight who stole her stash. It’s an odd mode of transport, but the idea works nicely on the touchscreen, avoiding problems usually associated with controlling platform games on a glass surface.
The game is still occasionally fiddly on iPhone, though, particularly when you need to squeeze through narrow gaps. Mostly, though, it’s a blast, not least when taking on one of the many bosses – or all of them at once in the unlockable boss rush mode.
Solar Explorer: New Dawn
Solar Explorer: New Dawn revisits ancient arcade game Lunar Lander, tasking you with getting a craft down intact on to a planet or moon’s surface. This is easier said than done, given that space is full of craft-smashing asteroids, and spacecrafts have limited fuel.
Each mission has three phases. The first two involve avoiding space debris while staying within a target path, to maintain an optimum speed for landing. For the final descent, the game switches to a traditional lunar lander view, where subtle puffs from boosters slowly direct your craft to the landing pad.
At least, that’s the theory. Often, in this intense game, your landers will be blown to bits, but with repeat effort comes mastery, and when you’re deep into Venus missions, you’ll wonder how you ever found it tough to land on the moon.
Jumpgrid is an intense twitch arcade game where blinking can be enough to make you fail. Each of the 100 levels features clockwork obstacles keen to obliterate your little vessel. Your only means of escape: darting about a wraparound three-by-three grid, gobbling up spinning cubes, and then leaping into a teleporter.
From the off, with its urgent chiptunes, eye-searing visuals and ridiculous pace, this is a furious white-knuckle ride. You’re generously given endless retries, but your ego will take a beating when you fail a level for the umpteenth time.
But you’ll keep coming back for more, because Jumpgrid is so refined, balanced, and brilliantly designed – a superb take on a streamlined Frogger hurled into the maw of a Super Hexagon. A modern day classic, albeit one that might leave you a crumpled heap in the corner.
(free + $1.99/£1.99/AU$2.99)
Microbian is a creepy arcade game that features a scuttling spider scurrying through the gloom. Its monochrome world is full of traps, and instant death is always but a second away.
To keep the arachnid hero alive, you tap to make it jump, thereby avoiding things liable to kill it. Tap again while it’s in mid-air, and it will leap to the ceiling – or back to the floor if it’s already upside-down. The procedurally-generated path is finite, but you’ll need the timing and focus of a champ to reach the end.
Even if you never make it, Microbian is well worth a look. The action is great for quick blasts, and the art style is gorgeous – from jump scares when spike-toothed monsters lurch from the dark, to flying fish that offer a brief ride to safer ground.
INKS. is a pinball game. Each table has flippers and a ball to spang about, but INKS. differentiates itself from traditional fare by instilling proceedings with art and fine-tuning challenges so they heighten pinball’s demands for precision shots.
Tables are therefore stripped back, simple affairs, with a handful of targets, and you are rewarded for hitting them all in a minimum number of shots. Delightfully, targets splatter ink when hit, which the ball can subsequently pick up and create trails with, transforming every table into a tiny canvas.
Devoid of the clutter usually associated with pinball, INKS. is far more suited to iPhone play; and the unique presentation makes it a pinball game for people who didn’t even realize they might like pinball.
Spitkiss is an arcade game about lobbing bodily fluids about. That probably sounds a bit graphic, but Spitkiss actually comes across as a sweet-natured, cartoonish game, with cute characters in silhouette flinging little blobs at each other.
The mechanics are a bit like Angry Birds, but once you’ve fired your goop by slingshot, you get another shot if it hits a flat surface. Typically, you need many to get to your target – and this isn’t simple in levels packed with winding pathways, spikes, and monsters.
Fortunately, you can hold the screen for some slo-mo action, and plan your route before you start. It’s good stuff, in all – a quirky mix of shooter and platform game, and with a nicely conceived underlying narrative about love.
AR Smash Tanks!
AR Smash Tanks! is all about smashing tanks. Specifically, using yours to smash up your opponent’s.
Because this is an augmented reality game, you can project the rectangular arena onto anything from a table to a large garden – and then let battle commence. Whether using multiple devices or playing with pass-and-play, it’s great to be able to check out your next move from any angle.
Tanks are pinged around in slingshot fashion. If you’ve played Angry Birds, you’ll be right at home and, as with that title, the environments are destructible. That comes as a surprise first time round, when you knock a skyscraper on to your own tank. Later, you start trying for snooker-like trick shots, toppling towers, smashing up tanks, and escaping to safety.
In short, it’s tons of fun; an excellent example of the potential in AR gaming.
Beat Sneak Bandit
Beat Sneak Bandit is one of the most audacious genre mash-ups you’re likely to find on an iPhone. Despite each level taking place on a single screen, the game manages to combine platforming, pathfinding, rhythm action, turn-based puzzling, and stealth.
The premise is that the nefarious Duke Clockface has stolen all the clocks, throwing the world into disarray. Benevolent pilferer Beat Sneak Bandit vows to get them back.
Amazingly, everything is controlled using a single thumb, which propels Bandit onwards. He must move on the beat, and you make use of walls to turn around, ensuring the rhythmic hero’s not spotted by a guard or security camera.
The game’s full of character, along with devious level design that requires seriously twisty routes and deft timing to crack. Great stuff.
Coming across like an auto-scrolling stripped-back Lemmings, Micro Miners features a team of excitable, tiny miners that toddle along tunnels you dig with a finger. On encountering a deposit of gold, silver or coal, they’ll gleefully hack it to bits with their tiny pickaxes.
At first, this all feels noodly and simple, but Micro Miners soon bares its teeth. You must commit each level’s layout to memory, in order to navigate underground hazards, often splitting and rejoining your little auto-running-team.
Before long, you’re carving complex pathways through the dirt, so you can grab large deposits and huge gems, circumvent lava, and avoid ferocious giant worms that eat anyone daft enough to stray into their path. The result is a fun, sometimes chaotic, and unique iPhone gaming experience.
In Edge, you control a cube that finds itself within a minimal geometric clockwork universe. As the cube trundles about, the blocky world frequently shifts and changes, often thwarting your attempts to find the goal. When you do finish a level, Edge dispassionately awards you a rating, which will probably be rubbish.
If you’ve got steely resolve, you’ll try again to see how rapidly you can speed through each isometric wonderland. If not, you’ll still have a great time exploring the dozens of varied worlds, regularly being surprised at how much imagination can be packed into landscapes comprising only cubes.
And if in either case, you exhaust Edge’s levels, you can start all over again in equally impressive sequel Edge Extended.
The original Eliss was an early App Store darling, defining the iPhone in terms of multi-touch gaming. Eliss Infinity takes the basic premise of the original and runs with it, cementing itself as a modern-day classic.
The basic aim is to control (move; tear apart; combine) colored planets in order to fit into them into wormholes that sporadically appear. Should planets of different colors collide, your energy reserves are depleted – only replenished by mopping up space dust that appears after successful planet dumpage.
Each of Odyssey mode’s 25 levels demands unique tactics to conquer. Best them all and there’s the manic Infinity mode, ready to tie your fingers in knots.
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