Our favorite iPhone arcade titles, from breakout and one-thumb rhythm action to multitouch madness and gorgeous survival efforts.
Solar Explorer: New Dawn ($2.99/£2.99/AU$4.49)
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.
Microbian (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! ($1.99/£1.99/AU$2.99)
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.
Super Samurai Rampage ($1.99/£1.99/AU$2.99)
Super Samurai Rampage seemingly depicts the stabby breakdown of a legendary warrior, “provoked into a relentless rampage”. Quite how he was provoked isn’t made clear, but there’s no shortage of bloodshed in this lightning-fast slash ’em up.
Swipe the screen and your samurai moves and attacks: up and he’ll leap; across, and he’ll slash his sword – not great for anyone in the vicinity at the time. The key is to chain kills to increase a multiplier that culminates in a brief period of murdery invulnerability.
One hit and you’re dead, and although you’re given fair warning when an enemy’s going to attack, keeping track of everything on the busy screen is tricky. Still, get into the zone, and Super Samurai Rampage is a rewarding way to unleash your frustrations on hordes of little computer guys who should really learn to run away.
Beat Sneak Bandit ($2.99/£2.99/AU$4.49)
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.
Micro Miners ($1.99/£1.99/AU$2.99)
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.
Eliss Infinity ($2.99/£2.99/AU$4.49)
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.
Power Hover ($3.99/£3.99/AU$5.99)
Power Hover is an impressive action game that takes you through a beautiful world to recover a village's stolen power. Hover through deserts, oceans, and highways, and grind on rails as you make your way to the finish line, chase down baddies, or play through arcade-style boss runs and challenge your friends for the best score. Collect dropped batteries to unlock even more gorgeous and thrilling levels.
It turns out the future will involve hoverboards, only it'll be robots piloting them. In Power Hover, all the humans are gone, but so too are the batteries that power your robot village. So you hop on your flying board and pursue a thief through 30 varied and visually stunning levels.
Whether scything curved paths across a gorgeous sun-drenched sea or picking your way through a grey and dead human city, Power Hover will have you glued to the screen until you reach the end of the journey. And although it's initially tricky to get to grips with, you'll soon discover the board's floaty physics and controls are perfectly balanced.