A Year of Indies: The Very Best of Under The Radar

For over a year now, we’ve been bringing you weekly dispatches from an often unexplored side of the App Store– independent games that don’t have the budget or brands to stand out from the crowd. But these games are still worth your attention, and they’re a lot better than a lot of App Store shovelware. Here are 20 top picks from over 200 indie games we’ve featured in the last year of Under The Radar articles, along with links to our full reviews.

20. Space Frontier

“In this sci-fi sim game, you have to terraform small asteroids by building structures and managing your resources. You can also sell space real estate, hire an army of robot workers, and meet new alien species.” -December 8, 2011

Our score: 2 out of 4

Our bottom line: Space Frontier lacks the polish to be an impressive game, and this style of building sim is definitely not for everyone.

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19. Flapcraft

“As a ‘Flapcrafter’, you have to pilot your unwieldy log as far as possible and earn enough points to add some wings and a jet engine. You’re given a series of challenges, like swooping down to graze the treetops three times, and by the end of the game you’ll have a primitive, but effective, log-based flying machine.” -September 1, 2011

Our score: 2 out of 4

Our bottom line: Flapcraft isn’t a total flop, but it’s a bit too simple.

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18. CurveBot Evolved

“You start with a large shape, and you have to remove slices of it to get down to the last 20%. CurveBot is different, because it’s played from a 3D perspective, with really sharp, Retina-enabled graphics.” -July 14, 2011

Our score: 3 out of 4

Our bottom line: CurveBot is a neat take on the mechanics of Qix.

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17. Pickpawcket

“As you burglarize the world’s greatest dog-run museums, you’ll be rewarded with images of cat versions of Mona Lisa, The Birth of Venus, and many more. This stealth game has great graphics, simple one-touch gameplay, and a sense of humor that will make any art major or cat owner smile.” -August 11, 2011

Our score: 3 out of 4

Our bottom line: Pickpawcket has immeasurable charm, but it’s a little lacking in challenge.

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16. Doodle vs Brute: World Domination

“You play as a giant mecho-gorilla with a hatred of hand-drawn city backgrounds. Your goal is to smash the stick figure soldiers defending their turf, and earn enough points to upgrade your monster in the lab.” -May 12, 2011

Our score: 3 out of 4

Our bottom line: Doodle vs. Brute is an interesting game about repeatedly destroying tiny stick figures, with enjoyable animation.

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15. Noty & Moky

“Quick, what’s your favorite microgame collection? If you answered WarioWare in two seconds or less, you should check out Noty & Moky. This clever collection of microgames has you swiping, tapping, shaking, and more within a brief time limit.” -April 20, 2011

Our score: 3 out of 4

Our bottom line: You can’t count on monkeys to give you a deep, thoughtful gaming experience, but they still know how to have fun.

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14. You’re The Chicken Mogul!

“Have you ever dreamed of being Colonel Sanders? In this clever (but sometimes stomach-churning) simulation, you’ll control a chain of fried chicken restaurants, including the hatching and harvesting of live chickens.” -March 15, 2012

Our score: 3 out of 4

Our bottom line: Chicken Mogul is mostly for time management fans, but it’s got enough charm to entertain other gamers.

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13. Four Hats

“In this clever game, you play as a Beatles-esque band called The Four Hats. Like in A Hard Day’s Night, you’ll have to run from screaming crowds of fans before they smother you with their adoration. You can switch between band members, each of whom has a different special ability.” -February 16, 2012

Our score: 3 out of 4

Our bottom line: It’s a Hard Day’s Night for the fictional Four Hats, but spending time with them is well worth the entrance price.

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12. Gua-Le-Ni

“Gua-Le-Ni, or ‘The Horrible Parade’, is a game all about taxonomy. That may not sound fun by itself, but the freaky creatures on parade in this game don’t fit into any existing classifications. To play, you rotate a set of cubes so that they display the correct name of the animal.” -December 29, 2011

Our score: 3 out of 4

Our bottom line: Gua-Le-Ni’s isn’t like any game you’ve played before.

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11. Tactical Soldier – Undead Rising

“Tactical Soldier: Undead Rising is a turn-based strategy game similar to old-school games like X-Com. You play as a soldier on a military base when a zombie infection breaks out. You’ll take turns with the zombies, using action points to move, fire, and pick up items.” -March 30, 2012

Our score: 3 out of 4

Our bottom line: A bit slow, but a zombie-splattering good time nonetheless.

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10. Crazy Hedgy

“If you combined Sonic the Hedgehog and Super Monkey Ball, you’d end up with a game like Crazy Hedgy. Hedgy is a hedgehog who rolls around as you tilt the device, and his world is full of enemies, spikes, and deadly falls.” -December 29, 2011

Our score: 3 out of 4

Our bottom line: Crazy Hedgy looks like a throwback to a darker time when every game mascot had to have attitude, but this particular hedgehog has a good game at his back (to say nothing of thousands of quills).

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9. Tweet Land

“One of the zaniest games we’ve played lately, Tweet Land is a frantic high-score action game where the obstacles and power-ups are all created by users on Twitter. For example, every time someone on Twitter types the word “meteor”, a meteor will fall from the sky in front of your car.” -February 9, 2012

Our score: 3 out of 4

Our bottom line: Tweet Land has some great ideas, but the randomized driving gameplay tires out before the tweets do.

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8. Shoot the Birds

“Got a bad case of Angry Birds and Tiny Wings rage? In this twisted take on those two games, you don’t shoot the birds out of a slingshot– you impale them with a crossbow.” -August 18, 2011

Our score: 3 out of 4

Our bottom line: Shoot the Birds has you do as the title suggests, and not much more. Even so, this score attack-styled game is good for passing the time.

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7. Mailboxing

“If Grand Theft Auto 3 is just a little too violent for you, you might want to engage in Mailboxing’s less felonious shenanigans. In this high-score game, you have to tilt to steer your car between lanes, and tap to swing your baseball bat out the window at nearby mailboxes.” -January 5, 2012

Our score: 3 out of 4

Our bottom line: Mailboxing takes a tiny sliver of Grand Theft Auto 3′s mayhem and turns it into a fun, highly replayable minigame.

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6. Eve of Impact

“Gameplay-wise, Eve of Impact is similar to Missile Command, but the presentation is absolutely breathtaking. Your job is to fire missiles at incoming asteroids, which are quickly destroying Earth’s protective shield.” -October 20, 2011

Our score: 3 out of 4

Our bottom line: A simple, yet well-done mix of Asteroids and Missile Command that’s perfect for a minute or two of free time.

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5. PirateGunner

“In PirateGunner, you’re connecting fuses to cannons by rotating the mess of rope in the middle of the screen. As you make connections, you’ll be able to watch a pirate ship battle unfold at the top.” -July 28, 2011

Our score: 4 out of 4

Our bottom line: An all around solid swashbuckling puzzle game that will keep you coming back to battle its varied enemies.

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4. Burning Run

“In this bizarre game, you have to douse animals with water before they burn up from too much sun. You can use water buckets, which require Fruit Ninja-like swipes, or heavy-duty water guns, which you can tap to shoot.” -March 23, 2012

Our score: 4 out of 4

Our bottom line: Only you can prevent forest fires, because Smokey Bear is spending all of his free time playing Burning Run.

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3. Firefly Hero

“In this clever puzzler, you have to guide a firefly to pick up stars by turning on and off lights. You can get a golden leaf on each level by using as few taps as possible, which unlocks extra bonus levels at the end.” -May 19, 2011

Our score: 4 out of 4

Our bottom line: Firefly Hero is one of the App Store’s hidden gems. It’s a Must Have if you’re looking for an intelligent puzzle game.

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2. Dice Soccer

“If you enjoyed Sword & Poker, we highly recommend you download the free Dice Soccer as well. Like Sword & Poker, Dice Soccer combines two unlikely genres into a deep and addictive experience.” -July 28, 2011

Our score: 4 out of 4

Our bottom line: Dice Soccer will have you rolling dice and cheering on cartoons at all hours, and with a developer dedicated to updating the game and smoothing out the edges, it just keeps getting better.

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1. Spin Up

“Spin Up is a brilliant iPad game where you play as an astronaut climbing through a rapidly-deteriorating space elevator. You have to rotate each floor to bring your astronaut to a ladder, all while destroying computers and vicious aliens for experience points.” -March 29, 2012

Our score: 4 out of 4

Our bottom line: Spin Up is one of the most creative high-score games we’ve ever played.

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