Our favorite iPhone platform games, from retro-style 2D titles to full-on console-style adventures.
GRIS is a rare iPhone game that feels like a work of art. It contains a beautiful hand-illustrated world, splashed with watercolors. Alongside a soundtrack determined to squeeze every ounce of emotion from your core, this makes for an evocative, engaging experience – for what is, fundamentally, a side-on platformer.
The basics of play have you run, jump, and find stuff that unlocks new areas to explore. Sometimes, GRIS is fiddly. More often, it’s joyful, with grin-inducing set pieces, such as when you’re tracked through a forest by a tiny creature that thinks you can’t spot it. Occasionally, there are gut punches, too, when the protagonist is put through the grinder.
You get the full range here, then, in a masterful game that showcases there are still new things to say in side-scrolling platform games.
Death Hall is a bit like Super Mario Bros. or Donkey Kong as reimagined by a psychopath. “This game is simple,” suggests the trailer, noting that all you need to do is run, jump, and escape the Death Hall. The tiny snag is said hall is jam-packed with massive spikes, uneven surfaces, and hideous toothy monsters. And there’s a deadly demon in hot pursuit – one touch from him and you’re dead.
The danger of this kind of approach is it can just be too much – and Death Hall can overwhelm. You might feel dispirited on being dispatched yet again, especially when so close to a level exit. But the polish and superb design here is enough to keep you coming back for more punishment – and that glimmer of hope that your thumbs will eventually be dextrous enough to help you escape.
Ordia is the marriage of flinging a protagonist about, Angry-Birds-style, and platform gaming. However, in this world of primordial ooze, resting places are rare, and some surfaces are liable to fire you across the screen like a sentient pinball.
At first, the going is mercifully easy, though. You line up your shots, reach each point of safety, grab collectables along the way, and eventually make your way to safety. But Ordia’s world quickly becomes hazardous, requiring perfect timing to get past a ravenous worm’s snapping jaws, or a steely nerve to outpace a predator in hot pursuit.
Mechanically, Ordia is familiar, and even the – admittedly lovely – graphic style is nothing new, but the execution is borderline perfect, making it a joyful experience on your iPhone.
Rolando: Royal Edition
Rolando: Royal Edition is a love letter from the early days of iPhone gaming. It remasters one of the platform’s earliest hits, released way back in 2008: an inventive puzzle-platformer, where you trundle rotund Rolandos to their goal.
With drag-based selection in the multiple-character levels, gestural actions and tilt-based movement, Rolando always felt like a game designed for iPhone first. It’s stood the test of time remarkably well. With spruced-up visuals, it still feels like a modern, vibrant take on what mobile gaming can be.
There’s great variety in its challenges too, whether you’re rolling a chubby regal Rolando along, avoiding traps and pits, or whirling your iPhone around like a maniac, trying desperately to get to the end of a level in an extremely tight time limit. Buy it (again)!
see/saw is a fast-paced platform game with a delicious streak of sadism. It features a subject who’s been invited to help with scientific tests of a distinctly dubious nature.
Each single-screen test involves collecting three coins as rapidly as possible. This is easy at first, as your little player zips about, scooting up walls, and leaping around. But the professor in charge is a nutcase, and soon has you facing massive saw blades, spikes, and rockets. Helpfully, challenges often require the player to be killed in precisely the right manner to fling them at the final target.
With 150 bite-sized levels, this platformer is ideal for dipping into – and engaging enough that you may find yourself wanting to blaze through the entire thing in a handful of sittings.
Suzy Cube is a platform game set in a world with a thing for straight edges. Assuming you’ve played a platformer before, you know the drill: explore; grab gold; unsportingly jump on the heads of enemies to obliterate them.
But Suzy Cube goes beyond the stripped-back 2D fare we often see on iOS for something akin to Super Mario 3D Land. This means you may find yourself quickly swapping between skidding down icy mountains in 3D, following Suzy Cube as she runs side-on around a tower, and then delicately leaping between floating platforms, as seen from above.
Bar some duff boss battles, it’s ambitious, entertaining fare, with tight touchscreen controls, and a great sense of pace and variety as you delve into the world and discover its many hidden secrets.
Oddmar is a platform game featuring the titular protagonist, a selfish Viking who suddenly has to become the hero when his village vanishes and evil critters take over the land. It is a stunning mobile production, awash with dazzling visuals, and wonderful set pieces, such as trying desperately to outrun a massive troll in a boss battle, or riding a pig like you’re starring in a medieval Metal Slug.
But even the more typical platforming bits are something special. Wonderful animation ensures the game is full of life, while carefully placed hazards and enemies cleverly shift and change the game’s tempo as you pick your way through each level.
On iPhone, there’s the slight niggle of thumbs getting in the way of the action. That said, the controls are among the best we’ve ever seen on a mobile platformer, as – to be frank – are all other aspects of the game.
VVVVVV is a love letter to classic games. Its visuals and soundtrack recall the Commodore 64, and its platforming action (each single-screen challenge also being amusingly named) echoes much-beloved 1980s fare, like Manic Miner and Bounty Bob.
However, VVVVVV’s speed and fluidity are thoroughly modern, as you zoom about a huge space station, trying to locate lost crew members. And unlike comparatively stodgy platformers of old, VVVVVV doesn’t have you leap over hazards – you instead invert gravity to flip between ceiling and floor in an excitingly disorienting manner.
The spike and alien-infested twisty corridors awaiting you require serious dexterity to conquer. Fortunately, death is not the end, because you get unlimited lives, and there are frequent checkpoints.
And in another nice nod to the old-school, even the 4:3 viewing area works in the game’s favor – you can control your character by swiping and tapping in black bars at the edges of your display, rather than covering up his on-screen exploits with your thumbs.
Precision platformer Bean Dreams is more bouncing bean than jumping bean. The edible hero, decked out in a natty sombrero, bounds about colorful environments, aiming to grab fruit, free a hidden axolotl (a Mexican salamander, if you didn’t know), and reach the exit without getting impaled. Your part in all this: guiding the bean by prodding left or right on your iPhone.
Bean Dreams offers plenty of replay value – you can spend time learning each small level, but only on committing to memory every nook and cranny can you aim for the tiny number of bounces that unlocks a gold medal award.
And to succeed in grabbing the axolotl or getting all the fruit, you’ll often need to play again, shaking up your approach.
With plenty of variation in its stages, alternate beans with special powers, and devious puzzles lurking within, Bean Dreams is ample proof platform games can work on iPhone – when specifically designed for the system.
The bar's set so low in modern mobile gaming that the word 'premium' has become almost meaningless. But Leo's Fortune bucks the trend, and truly deserves the term.
It's a somewhat old-school side-on platform game, featuring a gruff furball hunting down the thief who stole his gold (and then, as is always the way, dropped coins at precise, regular intervals along a lengthy, perilous pathway).
The game is visually stunning, from the protagonist's animation through to the lush, varied backdrops. The game also frequently shakes things up, varying its pace from Sonic-style loops to precise pixel-perfect leaps.
It at times perhaps pushes you a bit too far — late on, we found some sections a bit too finicky and demanding. But you can have as many cracks at a section as you please, and if you master the entire thing, there's a hardcore speedrun mode that challenges you to complete the entire journey without dying.
This single-screen platformer initially resembles a tribute to arcade classics Bubble Bobble and Snow Bros., but Drop Wizard is a very different beast. It's part auto-runner, which might infuriate retro-gamers, but this proves to be a brilliant limitation in practice.
Your little wizard never stops running, and emits a blast of magic each time he lands. You must therefore time leaps to blast roaming foes, and then boot the dazed creatures during a second pass. It's vibrant, fast-paced, engaging, and — since you only need to move left or right — nicely optimized for iPad play.