Our favorite iPhone blasters, from precision shooters to classic arcade shoot ’em ups.
NimbleNaut is a vertical bullet-hell shooter with the cruft removed. So rather than having you blast through swarms of enemies, and only occasionally rewarding you with the prize of taking on a big bad, it throws bosses at you one after another.
Naturally, your ship is armed with a space-age peashooter. It spews out bursts of little green laser blasts, forcing you to strategize how, when, and where to attack your colossal foe – assuming you’ve time to think when you’re weaving between dozens of rockets or deadly (but pretty) neon bullets.
Progression is interesting: you can carry on when you die, but your score is reset. So if you want to see everything, you can do so in a single sitting. But proper shooter fiends will want to do things properly, and get a high score – right?
P.3 uses retro stylings and squint-inducing CRT fuzz and blur to infuse shooty proceedings with a jolt of retro nostalgia. But although the basics echo ancient vertically scrolling blasters, the stripped-back mechanics and sheer speed result in something that feels much more modern.
In P.3, moving left or right emits a blast from your gun. Hold both directional buttons and you unleash your super weapon – but then can’t dodge. This juggling act recalls ATOMIK, and at first the difficulty in P.3 is similarly brutal.
Get into the groove, though, and you’ll start grabbing power-ups that enable you to survive for more than a handful of seconds. Even then, games are short – but you’ll be grinning from ear to ear even as your tiny craft is smashed to pieces yet again.
Backfire is a shooter that pitches you as a coward who runs away from fights, blasting behind you as you flee. That’s fair enough in this claustrophobic horror world, where you’re relentlessly pursued by swarms of ferocious demons – or, for an occasional change of pace, one massive, deadly boss.
It’s worth noting this is a vicious, tough game. It feels ponderous at first, but soon your foes multiply in number and you end up darting through tiny gaps, blasting behind you, trying to eke out a few extra seconds of survival. Fortunately, you can upgrade powers between games, for a fractionally better fighting chance next time around.
Stick with it and gradual success feels very rewarding. And especially on iPhone, the touch controls are superb, movement feeling like fish darting about a pond – albeit one filled with glowing, demonic piranhas.
Steredenn is a side-on blaster with a retro bent but a modern feel. It’s packed full of delicate pixel art and you’d be forgiven for assuming it a port of a classic, but Steredenn takes full advantage of the iPhone’s power, flinging glowing bullet death about with merry abandon.
This is a smart shooter in every sense. There’s humor, with your ship endearingly expelling spent bullet cases, and a giant sword power-up, and you’re just as likely to find yourself battling swarms of craft with chainsaws strapped to their noses as laser-spewing behemoths.
Procedurally-generated levels ensure Steredenn remains endlessly replayable, and refreshing your energy after beating a boss feels like a reward that also allows you to dig deeper into the game. 2019’s Binary Stars revamp – more ships, modes and content – further cemented its place as a mobile classic.
ATOMIK: RunGunJumpGun ($2.99/£2.99/AU$4.49)
ATOMIK: RunGunJumpGun finds the hero of the hour belting along hazard-infested corridors, attempting to obliterate evil-doers in a world where the local sun is dying. Unfortunately, said hero forgot their jet-pack, and relies on shooting a massive gun at the ground in order to stay aloft.
This becomes problematic when huge saw blades and the like need blasting. Shoot ahead and you plunge towards the ground (often covered in deadly spikes). The game therefore plays out like a choreographed juggling act, as you balance flying and shooting in its brutal, bite-sized levels.
Given how intense the game is (although you do get a shield and unlimited rewinds), it’s perhaps a good thing levels are short. But if you somehow don’t think it’s challenging enough, try grabbing every collectible; you can then rightly lay claim to being the toughest iPhone gamer around.
Tanks! - Seek and Destroy ($2.99/£2.99/AU$4.49)
One of the earliest 3D games was Battlezone, a tank warfare title at the time so realistic the US military commissioned a version from Atari to train gunners. iOS tribute Vector Tanks was subsequently gunned down by Atari lawyers, but its DNA survives in Tanks! - Seek & Destroy.
Like Battlezone, Tanks pits you against an endless number of vector tanks on a sparse battlefield, but this is a much faster, tougher game, with tilt-and-tap controls that put you more in mind of console racing games than a stodgy tank 'em up. The result is a relentlessly thrilling 3D shooter that marries the best of old-school smarts and modern mobile gaming.
Super Crossfighter ($0.99/£0.99/AU$1.49)
Super Crossfighter is a modern take on classic blasting action that harks back to Space Invaders. But instead of lobbing the occasional pot-shot at lumbering green beasts, Super Crossfighter is a neon-infused affair, with bullet hell aplenty, and a thumping techno soundtrack.
There’s also the ‘crossfighter’ bit, which alludes to the way you can leap back and forth between the top and bottom of the screen. This can be handy for grabbing power-ups, un-sportingly shooting an enemy in the back, or simply escaping certain death when facing a hail of projectiles.
The touchscreen controls work nicely, and there are over 150 waves and an upgrade system to sink your teeth into. The game’s perhaps a touch ‘relaxed’ in feel at times, rather than super-intense, but otherwise this is an excellent iPhone shoot ’em up.
This neon-infused one-thumb single-screen shooter has you fire orbs into the void. When an orb stops, it expands into available space and is given a number. Hit it with subsequent orbs and the number decreases until the orb explodes, sometimes starting a chain reaction that obliterates its neighbors.
Your main concern is an orb returning over the line of death above your cannon. Orbital therefore rapidly becomes a tense battle of nerves, accurate aiming, and space management.
Whichever of its three varied modes you try, it’s a gripping game, and there’s also a same-device two-player mode that pits you against a friend.