Last week we teased out our top 50 iOS games of 2012 in groups of 10. Now we’ve gathered them all in one place for your perusing pleasure. Do you agree with our picks? Would you have chosen differently? Let us know what you think in the comments below.
#50: Mutant Mudds
iOS received a lot ports this year, but not all of them transitioned to the touchscreen with grace. Mutant Mudds, on the other hand, feels like a game that was made for touchscreen controls. And it’s a good thing, too, because this 2D platformer is tough as nails. You play as a bespectacled kid with a jetpack that lets you hover. You’ll hop from platform to platform, killing blob-shaped enemies, and trying with all your might to stay alive through the well-designed levels. Mutant Mudds deserves a spot in the library of any fan of retro-style platformers.
Our Bottom Line: Mutant Mudds is one of the very best platformers on the system.
#49: Final Fantasy Dimensions
Square Enix made a huge push on iOS this year, bringing new games to the App Store seemingly every other week. Final Fantasy Dimensions was one of the best. Made originally for feature phones in Japan, this RPG is a callback to the 16-bit era, giving fans of games like Final Fantasy IV a whole new adventure in a style they love. The full game doesn’t come cheap, but its scope is nothing less than epic, making this a smart buy for anyone who grew up in worlds with random battles.
Our Bottom Line: Final Fantasy Dimensions is a game that old-school Final Fantasy fans thought we’d never see again. We should all be jumping with joy that it’s here.
#48: The Room
You’re in a nondescript room, with an ornate wooden box placed in the center. You find a letter sitting on top of the box, saying that what’s in the box will change the world– if you can get to it. As you examine the box, you find small inconsistencies of design that turn out to be buttons or levers that open new drawers and compartments in the box. The Room is a deep, intricately-designed puzzle game that will constantly keep you guessing what might be inside the box.
Our Bottom Line: The Room is a beautiful, mysterious game that any puzzle fan should own.
#47: Azkend 2: The World Beneath
This Match-3 game, inspired by the Jules Verne story Journey to the Center of the Earth, is both tough to beat and beautiful to look at. Each level introduces new challenges, like zapping bugs before they reach the top of the screen, and also reveals gorgeous hand-drawn backgrounds that advance the story. Like an epic, interactive storybook, Azkend 2 is perfect for getting lost in another world for hours.
Our Bottom Line: Azkend 2 is a surprise on every level, combining puzzles and a great story for a memorable adventure.
#46: The World Ends With You: Solo Remix
The World Ends With You: Solo Remix is another port of a Square Enix RPG, but it originated on the Nintendo DS. We’re glad to see that nothing has been lost in the translation. This singular title takes place in modern Japan and stars an angsty teen with a cell phone. He’s been brought, against his will, into a game of life and death. You’ll meet lots of kooky characters along the way, and discover crazy depths in the fighting system. For RPG fans looking for something new, this is the game to get.
Our Bottom Line: The World Ends With You is a stellar RPG regardless of platform, and we’re glad it made its way to iOS.
#45: Organ Trail: Director’s Cut
This isn’t the Oregon Trail, where hopeful settlers cross the plains shooting buffalo and fording rivers. Organ Trail tells the tale of a band of post-apocalyptic survivors, driving through zombie-infested America trying to find a fabled uninfected zone on the West Coast. Many of the minigames from Oregon Trail, like hunting and crossing rivers, are parodied in Organ Trail as shooting zombies and plowing through herds of undead. It’s a bit bleak, but you might actually pick up a survival skill or two as you navigate this retro-style spoof.
Our Bottom Line: The Organ Trail is an education in survival that will take more than just a quick trigger finger.
#44: Pizza vs. Skeletons
Turns out Plants vs. Zombies isn’t the wackiest foodstuff vs. undead game on the App Store. That honor goes to Pizza vs. Skeletons, a goofy minigame collection where you play as a giant skeleton-squashing pizza pie. By tilting left and right, you can crush skeletons, rescue puppies, and engage in other weird one-off battles. You can even customize your pizza’s toppings and facial features, for a more personalized melee. The rivers will run red with marinara sauce!
Our Bottom Line: A weird, exciting, fun little dish of a game. You’ll be coming back for seconds sooner then you think.
#43: ORC: Vengeance
If you’re a fan of dungeon crawlers like Diablo, chances are you’ll enjoy ORC: Vengeance. You play as an orc who has to gather his kin together to go up against the Dark One and his vile army. Par for the course with dungeon crawlers, the game is full of loot, like weapons and armor to equip, potions to guzzle, and gold to spend. As you slay enemies, you level up and distribute points to specialize your skills. It’s a great big game with great big ambitions that it realizes fantastically.
Our Bottom Line: ORC: Vengeance is a game that every action-RPG/dungeon-crawler fan should own. You’ll easily get lost in Rok’s epic quest to avenge his people, and you might even get a little sad when you eventually reach your goal.
In this fantastic free strategy game from Tilt To Live creators One Man Left, you control a gang of pirates, robots, and other odd creatures who are trying to destroy their enemy’s base. With the asynchronous online play, you send a move to your friend or random Game Center opponents, then wait for them to send one back to you. The units are perfectly balanced– some can hop around the board to score quick hits, while others are slow but pack a punch. The graphics are utterly charming, and with an active user base, it’s easy to find some tough competition.
Our Bottom Line: Outwitters is an effortless joy to play. Once you get a few games under your belt, you’ll have a hard time stopping.
#41: Knights of Pen & Paper
If you have fond memories of sitting in the basement with friends, eating chips and soda while rolling dice and fighting imaginary monsters, you’ll love Knights of Pen & Paper. This nostalgic, D&D-inspired RPG lets you choose some friends, stock up on snacks, and then go on a quest. At any time, you can shift between the fantasy world the dungeon master is creating for you and the real world, where you can raid the pantry for stat-boosting snacks. Knights of Pen & Paper has a remarkable graphical style and sense of humor, making it an easy addition to our Top 50 iOS games of the year.
Our Bottom Line: Journey to the age of Monster Manuals and D20s with Knights of Pen & Paper, a loving spoof of classic, 8-bit RPGs.
#40: Max Payne Mobile
Max Payne’s life is full of pain– there’s the emotional pain of losing his family to violent junkies, and the physical pain of being shot at hundreds of times over the course of his investigation. Rockstar’s dark tale of a rogue cop who uncovers a massive pharmaceutical conspiracy is full of action, intrigue, and slow-motion shootouts. If you never played this masterful game on consoles or PC, the iOS version is an ideal place to start.
Our Bottom Line: Max Payne has one of gaming’s grittiest, most noir-ish stories, and it’s worth buying for that reason alone. The slow-motion gunplay is a big bonus.
#39: Shark Dash
Gameloft is probably best known for its console-style games like N.O.V.A. 3 and Heroes of Order & Chaos. Shark Dash is their take on the physics puzzle genre, and it’s a heck of a lot of fun. You control a shark on a quest to rescue his wife from the clutches of evil rubber duckies. To that end, you must maneuver the shark through all kind of bathtubs to gobble up all the duckies you find. The gameplay is easy to pick up for players of all ages, and there’s enough content to keep you coming back for a long time.
Our Bottom Line: Shark Dash proves two things: Gameloft can create an amazing physics puzzler, and rubber duckies are mean.
#38: Epic Astro Story
Kairosoft is best known for their “Story” series of insanely addictive time managemnt sims. Epic Astro Story takes what all the previous installments did so well, and adds several new ideas that freshen the experience. Here, you’re responsible for colonizing an alien planet by mining resources, building factories and homes, exploring nearby terrain, and defending your citizens from any boistrous aliens you come across. It’s a magnificently deep game that you can easily lose yourself in for hours at a time.
Our Bottom Line: Epic Astro City mixes in fresh new ideas with the familiar gameplay that Kairosoft does better than virtually anyone else, to make a lively and enjoyable experience.
#37: Bad Piggies
Rovio demonstrated it was more than a one-trick piggy with Bad Piggies, a complex (and often hilarious) puzzle game. While the Birds solve their problems by flinging themselves bodily at them, the Pigs take a subtler, slower approach by building vehicles that propel them to their end goals. Problem is, planes made out of boxes, roller skates, and bottles of pop aren’t good for long, stable flights. Good thing the Pigs have no limbs to break. Bad Piggies is a clever puzzle game with thought-provoking mechanics that serve as a perfect compliment to the furious, fast-paced exploits of the Angry Birds.
Our Bottom Line: The pigs are all right.
#36: Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective
Not many games start out with your character dying, but that’s the premise of Ghost Trick, where you play as a spirit who has to solve the mystery of his own demise. You’ll have to possess background items to move through the environments, and try to alter the fates of other still-living characters. Ghost Trick is a full port of the Nintendo DS game, so it’s a quality adventure for a very low price. Plus, it’s the only game with a talking Pomeranian who saves the day.
Our Bottom Line: Ghost Trick was one of the best games on the DS, and now it’s one of the best on iOS as well. You must play this game.
#35: Frederic: Resurrection of Music
Rock Band and Guitar Hero may teach you about classic rock, but not classical music. For that, you’ll need to download Frederic: Resurrection of Music, a music/rhythm game starring the reanimated Frederic Chopin, a 19th century master composer and pianist. You’ll have to battle wacky opponents, who each put a different spin on Chopin’s best-known sonatas. Not only does this game teach you about Chopin’s music, but it’s highly entertaining on its own with beautifully animated and highly creative cutscenes.
Our Bottom Line: Chopin probably never thought he’d star in a video game, but he does, and it’s good.
#34: Heroes of Order & Chaos
Heroes of Order & Chaos is the first complete MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) for iOS, and Gameloft did a great job of balancing the maps and characters. Every week, six new heroes are available for you to choose from, but you can pay extra to use your favorites anytime. When you start a round of 3 vs 3 or 5 vs 5 in the online multiplayer mode, you’ll have to level up your character by killing enemies until you’ve got an overpowered, unstoppable champion. Then, you have to take down the enemy base. Heroes of Order & Chaos is a highly-replayable real-time strategy game, and best of all, it’s free to download and play.
Our Bottom Line: Gameloft’s free-to-play strategy game feels epic and endless, even if it only gives you two maps to play with.
#33: Beat Sneak Bandit
In this clever rhythmic platformer from Simogo, you control a thief who has to steal clocks. However, you’ll only be able to move on the beat, which means that timing is everything. In addition to timing your taps on the screen, you’ll also have to pause to avoid guards and security cameras, and rush through automatic doors. Beat Sneak Bandit is one of a kind; nobody else has attempted a mobile platformer with this level of sophistication and style.
Our Bottom Line: Beat Sneak Bandit is quite unlike any other rhythm game on the market.
#32: Triple Town
At first, Triple Town might seem like a standard Match-3 game. But once you start playing, you’ll find an unusual amount of depth. And before you know it, you might look up to discover that the sun has set, your stomach is growling, and you’re late for an appointment. The gameplay consists of strategically laying down cartoony pieces on a grid to achieve a high score, but the more you play, the more strategy you uncover. Pick up Triple Town for free, brain-busting fun.
Our Bottom Line: Triple Town is an original strategy game that’s easy to fall into and hard to put down.
#31: LostWinds2: Winter of the Melodias
Many iOS games serve up single-screen puzzles or nonstop running action, so it’s nice to come across a calm, sprawling, beautiful title like LostWinds 2: Winter of the Melodias. You play as Toku, a young boy on a big quest to thaw out a world that’s under an icy curse. Good thing the wind is on your side. When the breezes blow, they can lift you up, put the hurt on enemies, and more. LostWinds 2 is innovative and gorgeous, and the touchscreen controls actually work well for the game rather than against it.
Our Bottom Line: LostWinds 2: Winter of the Melodias should find its way to your iOS device and stay there.
#30: Jack Lumber
A collaboration between Sega and Snuggle Truck developer Owlchemy Labs, Jack Lumber is a touch-based action game that takes Fruit Ninja’s slicing gameplay to the next level. You play as a legendary lumberjack who wants to get revenge on the tree that killed his dear grandma. After Jack sends blocks of wood flying into the air, you have to neatly slice them down the middle as they tumble in slow-motion. Jack Lumber is easy to learn, but the special logs and power-up syrups introduced later in the game add a lot of fun challenges.
Our Bottom Line: Jack Lumber is a mythic, larger-than-life character who could be the App Store’s modern-day Paul Bunyan.
#29: Grand Theft Auto: Vice City
Last year, Rockstar’s port of Grand Theft Auto 3 ranked towards the top of our Best Games of 2011 list. This year, GTA Vice City is still a Must Have download, but it faced some tougher competition. If you’re not familiar with the series, Vice City is set in a fictional version of Miami, where drug lords and local gangs have the run of the town. You play as an up-and-coming mafioso, voiced by Ray Liotta, who takes the city under his control one business at a time. As usual for the series, you can expect amazingly-staged shootouts and car chases under the postcard-perfect sunshine.
Our Bottom Line: Grand Theft Auto: Vice City was a landmark console game ten years ago with its unique setting and unbeatable gameplay. Now, it’s a landmark mobile game.
#28: Modern Combat 4: Zero Hour
Nobody does Call of Duty on iOS like Gameloft. Like its three predecessors, Modern Combat 4: Zero Hour offers one of the most fully-featured first-person shooters on the App Store to date. You get a beefy campaign mode, tons of upgrades, and some of the best multiplayer shooting you can fit in your pocket. Tie it all together with best-in-class controls and killer graphics, and you’ve got a console-style experience that probably won’t be beat until next year’s installment.
Our Bottom Line: Modern Combat 4: Zero Hour is the closest they’ve come yet to recreating a recent Call of Duty game on iOS.
#27: Avengers Initiative
Marvel’s take on Infinity Blade may not have an original gameplay mechanic– it often feels like a re-skinned version of Epic’s Unreal-powered series– but it does offer excellent graphics and one-on-one combat that does the characters justice. You play as The Hulk (but also Captain America, since the recent update) as he tries to find the source of an attack on S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters. We also loved the replayability factor. The hunt for more ISO-8 and experience points, used to unlock new outfits and abilities, makes Avengers Initiative very hard to put down.
Our Bottom Line: Avengers Initiative takes a proven gameplay formula and makes it even better with interesting characters and more addictive components. Despite the obvious influences, it stands very well on its own.
#26: Spin Up
Spin Up reinvents the arcade high-score genre with its unique gameplay. Like a DJ spinning records, you have to spin the segments of a crumbling space elevator so that your astronaut can try to survive. Eventually, you’ll be eaten alive by sentient printers or linger too long on a broken ladder, and the game will end. Besides the fun retro graphics, we enjoyed the two different gameplay options: You can either scramble upwards for a high score, or try to take out enemies and computer monitors along the way to unlock new playable characters.
Our Bottom Line: Spin Up is one of the most creative high-score games we’ve ever played.
#25: Angry Birds Star Wars
When two mega franchises like Angry Birds and Star Wars come together in an excellent game, it makes everyone happy. Angry Birds Star Wars is exactly what fans would expect: an adorable physics game cleverly infused with characters and locations from the Star Wars universe. Bird versions of Luke Skywalker, Obi-Wan, and Leia are featured prominently, as are pig versions of Stormtroopers and Darth Vader. There’s lots of bird-flinging and destruction– some of it taking place in outer space– and when it’s all said and done, one thing’s for sure: The imperial forces will have a lot of rubble to clean up.
Our Bottom Line: Angry Birds Star Wars is exactly what you’d expect, meaning it’s clever, adorable, and a lot of fun.
#24: Arc Squadron
If you were a Nintendo gamer in the ’90s, chances are that you’re a fan of Star Fox. Arc Squadron zeroes in on that nostalgia and offers a gameplay experience worthy of Fox McCloud, Slippy Toad, and company. In it, you pilot a space ship through 64 levels peppered with enemy fighters and giant bosses. Your arsenal is full of impressive firepower, coupled with slick controls that let you shoot and pull off barrel rolls with ease. There’s a lot packed into this gorgeous game, making it feel like a worthy spiritual successor to the classic franchise.
Our Bottom Line: There are no two ways about this. Everyone needs to play Arc Squadron, and they need to play it now.
#23: Waking Mars
Tiger Style Games, the company behind Waking Mars and Spider: The Secret of Bryce Manor, can invoke a mood like no other developer on the App Store. Waking Mars puts you in the boots of an astronaut on a mission to terraform the caverns of Mars. To do that, you fly around using your jetpack, planting seeds and growing plants that help open up new areas and pathways. The red planet they’ve created is as eerily beautiful as it is satisfying to explore.
Our Bottom Line: Waking Mars offers a unique, engaging, atmospheric experience you won’t find anywhere else.
#22: Sky Gamblers: Storm Raiders
The Sky Gamblers series is so visually impressive that Apple has featured it onstage to show off the kinds of graphics iOS devices are capable of displaying. But it’s not just looks that this game has going for it. The game features excellent World War II-era dogfighting, with a hangar full of planes, a handful of gorgeous environments, and gameplay that mixes arcade-style shooting with sim-style flying. Apple was right: this is a game to show off to friends without an iPhone to let them see what they’re missing.
Our Bottom Line: Sky Gamblers: Storm Raiders is a WWII-era combat flight game that hits the sweet spot between arcade and sim, and offers great online play.
#21: Zuma’s Revenge HD
Popcap’s classic Match-3 shooting game is a welcome addition to the App Store. After playing through many clones and knock-offs, Zuma’s Revenge HD showed them all why the original series is still the best. You have to blast your way through dozens of twisting marble chutes, earning power-ups and even facing a few bosses along the way. Then, when you’re done with the lengthy main campaign, you can try the ultra-tough challenge missions for extra bragging rights. There’s never been a more fun and responsive version of this game in the crowded Match-3 genre.
Our Bottom Line: Zuma’s Revenge HD is another home run from PopCap.
#20: Jazz: Trump’s Journey
Jazz: Trump’s Journey is a unique game on several levels. It’s a fairly typical side-scrolling platformer, but it takes place in the Jazz Age in New Orleans. You play as Trump, a trumpet player looking to start a band. You make your way through the city, collecting band members as you progress. Each time you pick up a new player, their instrument is added to the jazzy soundtrack. And to top it all off, it has great touchscreen controls. Come for the platforming fun, and stay for the unique atmosphere.
Our Bottom Line: Jazz has style, class, and excellent controls, making it one of the best platformers we’ve played lately.
If you grew up playing Mario and Zelda, then you’ll feel right at home with Swordigo. It’s a mix between a platformer and an RPG, and it works great on the touchscreen. The goal is to gather pieces of a shattered sword, but to do that you’ll need to solve puzzles and navigate all kinds of colorful environments. Throw in experience points, stat boosts, and giant bosses, and you’ve got a lasting experience.
Our Bottom Line: Swordigo is a love letter to platforming/adventure games, giving iOS gamers another detailed world of fantasy to explore.
#18: Star Marine: Infinite Ammo
Another throwback to classic NES games is Star Marine: Infinite Ammo, a shooter that will appeal to anyone who grew up blasting bad guys in Contra. You play as a human who’s had the unfortunate luck to crash land on a planet inhabited by battle robots. These guys come at you without mercy, so you must pelt them with a delightful arsenal of high-powered weaponry. It’s a killer game with an addictive upgrade system. If you like shooters, don’t miss out on Star Marine.
Our Bottom Line: Star Marine: Infinite Ammo isn’t perfect, but it’s such a gorgeous, amazing retro shooter that you’d be doing yourself a disservice by passing it up.
#17. N.O.V.A. 3: Near Orbit Vanguard Alliance
Like they did with Modern Combat 4: Zero Hour, Gameloft proved this year that iOS can keep up with consoles when it comes to cutting-edge first-person shooters. N.O.V.A. 3 is their most ambitious sci-fi shooter to date, with giant vehicles like mechs and a 12-player multiplayer mode. The graphics also pushed new boundaries, with stunning environments like a shattered San Francisco, or drifting spaceship that’s orbiting a deadly sun. For both its single and multiplayer modes, N.O.V.A. 3 is easily one of the year’s best.
Our Bottom Line: N.O.V.A. 3 delivers a substantial, console-like first-person shooter complete with full story and multiplayer modes, just like the first two N.O.V.A. games.
Illusion Labs has already made their mark on the App Store with successful games like Labyrinth 2 and Touchgrind, but Blast-A-Way feels like an even bigger step forward for the iOS developer. You play as a tiny, blocky robot who can demolish parts of each level to free his companions. With each bomb toss, you can clear out obstacles, or accidentally blow yourself off the platform. Blast-A-Way has remarkably crisp 3D graphics, with realistic textures that actually look like the real-world materials they’re supposed to represent.
Our Bottom Line: If you’ve been looking for a game that will impress your friends, look no further. Blast-A-Way is a fun, casual game that looks fantastic.
#15: Magic 2013
Magic is one of those games that never goes out of style, and this year’s iPad edition does justice to the classic card battler. You and your opponent play as powerful wizards, with decks of cards representing the spells you can cast. Whether you’re waging battle or choosing which cards to put in your deck, there’s a whole lot of strategy going on. The best thing about Magic 2013 is that it’s equally welcoming to newbies and pros alike. This is a game to pick up whether you’re a lapsed wizard or a grizzled old pro.
Our Bottom Line: Get out your gaming tokens…it’s time to delve back into the world of the Planeswalkers yet again!
#14: Walking Dead: The Game
This powerful episodic adventure series from Telltale Games actually won Game of the Year from the Spike Video Game Awards, and we think it easily deserves a spot in the Top 50 on iOS. As you try to survive a post-apocalyptic zombie epidemic, you have to band with survivors to gather supplies and build up your defenses. You’re accompanied by a young girl who sees you as her protector, and the decisions you make in the heat of the moment about who lives and who dies will affect the way she responds to the crisis. Walking Dead: The Game is videogame storytelling at its finest, and on top of that, it looks like the comic book brought to life.
Our Bottom Line: Walking Dead: The Game is Telltale’s best adventure game debut on iOS. It blurs the lines between a game and a movie more effectively than any other series.
#13: Punch Quest
Madgarden Games and RocketCat Games teamed up to produce this year’s wildest auto-runner, Punch Quest. Your sprint through a monster-filled castle is on auto-pilot, but you can punch and jump to avoid traps and rack up insane combos. Punch a skull off a skeleton’s head, use it to knock out a bat, the juggle it into an orc– with enough skill, you can put this game’s fun physics to the test. Plus, Punch Quest offers multiple abilities and challenges so that each run-through feels a little different.
Our Bottom Line: Whether you prefer old-school platformers or the new genre of auto-running games, Punch Quest is a magical, endlessly fun combination of the two.
In Lili, you play as a student who’s trying to complete her thesis on the island of Geos. The thing is, Geos isn’t a typical island. On it, Spirits control wooden servants, and the servants are starting to demand their freedom. Caught between the two factions, you find yourself battling the Spirits by hopping on their backs and yanking out flowers. Lily isn’t a complicated game, so it’s welcoming to the casual crowd. But even if you’re a hardcore gamer, don’t let that put you off this gorgeous, unique adventure.
Our Bottom Line: Lili is an excellent and creative game that takes a casual approach to open world role-playing.
#11: Devil’s Attorney
We’re always glad to see a game with a sense of humor, and Devil’s Attorney is downright hilarious. You play as Max McMann, a sleazy defense attorney who gets his clients off scot-free by lying, tampering with evidence, and manipulating the jury. The action plays out in Final Fantasy-style turn-based battles, where you can destroy the credibility of evidence by using fancy rhetoric. Devil’s Attorney really shines in the game’s cutscenes, where McMann engages in a little smack-talk with his fellow attorneys.
Our Bottom Line: Devil’s Attorney is a hilarious spoof of courtroom dramas, with a roguish hero who wins every case by being unscrupulous.
#10: Bladeslinger Ep. 1
As much fun as ports and remakes can be, we love a good, original game. iOS has already been the launching pad for original IPs like Angry Birds and Cut The Rope, but neither of those series are as dark and edgy as Bladeslinger Ep. 1. Inspired in part by Devil May Cry and Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series, Bladeslinger tells the story of a cowboy with a robotic arm and a gunblade who arrives in his hometown, only to find it overrun by monsters. Bladeslinger’s freestyle combat system, which is much more fluid than Infinity Blade’s, lets you pull off impressive rolls, slashes, blocks, and shots, while the game’s expansive card system encourages you to save up for special attacks. This is just the first part of a promising new series, so we can’t wait to see what Episode 2 has in store.
Our Bottom Line: Bladeslinger is one of the best new iOS games of the year, due to its polished combination of action, exploration, and narrative.
#9: Metal Slug 3
Metal Slug 3 is the best example this year of an arcade port done right. Not only does this classic 2D shooter support the iCade Bluetooth controllers, but you can also use Bluetooth to play cooperatively with a friend. The game itself is a classic– you’ll have to shoot down zombies, aliens, giant crabs, mummies, submarines, and so much more. Brilliant animation will let you see the expression on every terrified enemy soldier’s face, and transformative power-ups (like obesity) can change the game in a second.
Our Bottom Line: Metal Slug 3 is the killer app for Bluetooth joysticks like the iCade, but even without physical controls, it’s practically flawless.
#8: Puzzle Craft
Chillingo’s addictive Match-3 game puts an added spin on a fairly ordinary genre, by letting you build up a town with the resources you gain in the fields and mines. Matching crops, stones, or animals will create new, rarer tiles, so you’ll have to plan ahead to get the goods you need. When the harvest or expedition ends, you can build structures that will provide you with even more tools and resources until your small town becomes a kingdom. Be warned, though: Puzzle Craft is easy to start playing, and very hard to put down.
Our Bottom Line: Puzzle Craft is a joy to play. You’ll be farming, mining, and crafting for hours at a time.
#7: Fairway Solitaire
Videogame versions of solitaire have come a long way since the game became a Windows pack-in. The best incarnation is Fairway Solitaire, a game that brilliantly combines the classic time-waster with the game of golf. Like in solitaire, the goal is to play all of your cards, but here some cards represent sand traps, water hazards, or swappable golf clubs. It all comes together with a humorous presentation, and leaves players with the persistent urge to play just one more game.
Our Bottom Line: Fairway Solitaire is a must-have puzzler for anyone who likes card games or golf.
#6: Total War Battles
If you felt like testing your strategy skills this year, there was no better way to do it than by playing Total War Battles. Although it’s based on a PC series, Total War Battles was designed from the ground up for touchscreen devices. In it, you control an army of archers, riflemen, and cavalry as you battle it out on a hex-based grid in feudal Japan. The game comes with a meaty campaign, but it also has a single-device multiplayer mode that lets you play against your friends in the same room. Short of graduating from West Point, there’s no better way to feel like a real-life general.
Our Bottom Line: Although it’s not much like the superb PC games and has several noticeable flaws, Total War Battles is a surprisingly beautiful and engaging mix of war gaming and puzzles.
Horn is a console-sized action RPG that will appeal to anyone who enjoys the Zelda series. In it, you play as a boy who wakes up one day to find that his village destroyed by mysterious forces, and every person and animal turned into a giant monster. Your job is to explore the decimated world, solving environmental puzzles and fighting the creatures to turn them back into their original forms. It’s an eery, beautiful game that will stay with you long after you’ve beaten it.
Our Bottom Line: Horn is an enormous, beautiful, carefully-constructed game that shows off what iOS devices can do.
#4: Fieldrunners 2
Fieldrunners 2 manages to do the near-impossible: It takes the tired tower defense genre and makes it feel new again. It does this by offering a little bit of everything, and executing it with style to spare. The game looks drop-dead gorgeous, with colorful, detailed environments, and tons of enemies onscreen at a time. Some levels come with pre-made pathways for the enemies to take, while others let you build your own routes by planting rows of towers. Any way you look at it, Fieldrunners 2 is a best-in-class game, with enough content to keep you busy for a long time.
Our Bottom Line: Fieldrunners 2 takes the cartoonish tower defense fun of the original and expands it for even more fun.
Lots of ports landed on iOS this year, but our favorite is Bastion, an action RPG that originally came out last year on Xbox Live Arcade. Many things stand out about Bastion, like its vibrant watercolor art and seriously cool narrator, but none of those things touch its extraordinarily fun gameplay. The game throws tons of enemies in your way and gives you a variety of awesome, upgradeable weapons to fend them off. The result is one of the biggest, best games ever to land on iOS.
Our Bottom Line: Bastion is simply astounding. This is an action RPG that deserves a spot on every gamer’s iPad.
#2: Air Mail
Air Mail is a flight combat game that couldn’t feel more distinct from the machine-gunning Sky Gamblers series. Instead, Air Mail is bright, cheerful, and colorful, like a Miyazaki anime. You play as a mail carrier who gets swept up in a war. Instead of shooting down enemies, you have to perform nail-biting moves like stealing crates of ammo, or cutting the tethers on enemy zeppelins. Without firing a single shot, you can win the war for your island community, and then celebrate by lighting off fireworks. Air Mail is a gorgeous game with an inspiring message at its heart.
Our Bottom Line: Air Mail is a delightful flight sim with broad appeal. It’s about the precise controls and engaging story, not locking on with missiles or machine guns.
#1: Rayman Jungle Run
Our top pick for 2012 isn’t a port, though it uses graphics and audio from Rayman’s recent console adventures. Rayman Jungle Run is an original platformer that more than any other game, feels perfectly suited for the iOS platform. With one touch, you can jump, float, punch, and wall-jump over twisting vines and volcanic vents. Each level lasts only a few minutes, but replaying each one for all 100 lums is a challenge that will take hours. We loved every second of Rayman Jungle Run, and in our view, it’s the best-designed game of the year. Apparently Apple agrees– while we were in the process of choosing our picks, they announced that Rayman Jungle Run is also their pick for iPhone Game of the Year.
Our Bottom Line: Ubisoft delivers a top-of-the-line experience by working with the touchscreen rather than simply porting to it.