Monday, December 21, 2009

Five Great iPhone Games from 2009

By Kirk Hamilton

2009 was a pretty huge year for the iPhone, no question about it. Between the billion and one games that came out, the billion and one that were already out, and the launch of the 3GS, it would appear that mobile gaming has a new king.

A bunch of cool games came out this year, and five actually caught my attention enough for me to play them for an extended period of time (I even finished a few!). Here goes, my top 5 iPhone games from 2009:

5) The Secret of Monkey Island
I don't know what it was that possessed Lucasarts to begin re-releasing the games they put out during their classic adventure game heyday, but whatever it was, I am thankful for it! TSOMI is one of my favorite games of all time, and while the iPhone port lacked the polish and graphics of the updated version that came out for consoles and PC, it made up for it by fitting in my pocket. I'm not sure I made a lot of friends by cracking up as much as I did on the bus, but re-living Guybrush's adventures was worth it. It was, however, good that I mostly remembered the gist of the puzzles, because some of them are obtuuuuuse.

4) Battle Bears
I think I found Battle Bears through some "20 Best iPhone Games for $1" post somewhere... the game is cheap as hell, simple as can be, and ridiculously fun. From the hilariously weirdly voice-acted cutscenes to the extreme stress you start to feel around level four, as the cuddly pink bears begin to truly overwhelm your position, the game is worth a buck and then some. Extra points for being able to break off a unicorn's horn and launch it from a crossbow.

3) Beneath a Steel Sky
Another re-release, Beneath a Steel Sky was another point-and-click adventure, and one that used the same SCUMM engine that Monkey Island did, but beyond that, the two couldn't be more different. BASS is sort of cyberpunk-as-imagined-in-1993, with weird voice-acting and similarly obtuse puzzle-solving to TSOMI. What sets it apart is that it also features original cutscene art by Watchmen's Dave Gibbons, and for whatever reason, I keep coming back to it every so often. A few plane rides from now, I'll know the whole story, and I'm glad to get to see a bit of gaming history that I missed.

2) Bookworm
I considered putting Peggle here, instead, but then realized that I actually got that game last year, and besides, everyone knows everything there is to know about Peggle.  What some folks probably haven't played is Bookworm, which was also made by Popcap games, and also features weirdly charming, addictive-as-hell gameplay, as well as the most insidious, quirky/annoying/catchy music, like the Jeopardy theme on happy pills. In the game, you try to line up letter tiles to create words, all while also trying to eliminate burning tiles before they get to the bottom of the line. My longest word was the eight letter monster Vagabond, which I know I will only be proud of until I look up the all-time Bookworm high scores, but just let me have this until then, okay?

(edit: okay, someone allegedly spelled "corresponding," which is pretty damn impressive, but I require photographic proof).

1) Spider: The Secret of Bryce Manor
Other than point and click adventure games, this is the sort of game that the iPhone is made for. Rather than trying to impose an analog control scheme on the touch screen (a practice that, no matter the game, give me hives), Spider implements a touch- and swipe-based control scheme that works brilliantly. You use your finger to flick your spider around each level, building webs and trapping flies and ladybugs, which in turn give you more web. What puts this game over the top is its ambiguous, melancholy story, and the fascinating way it tells it. The "Secret" of Bryce Manor is one that you'll uncover as a spider really would - you may be crawling over clues that point to a story of domestic heartbreak, but your creepy little avatar is as indifferent as the bugs, dishes, and furniture surrounding her. (Michael at The Brainy Gamer wrote a really nice piece about this back when the game launched). The truly groovy soundtrack gives the game a further boost, and when all is said and done, Spider is probably the most distinctive iPhone-only game I've ever played.