The past 12 months won’t go down as a landmark year for Mac games development. The residual effects of Apple’s switch to Intel-based processors continue to dampen some developers’ enthusiasm for making games for the Mac. Still, a few skilled game creators overcame the odds to produce offerings that were memorable, visually stunning, and cracking good fun.
So just as we honour the top products in the rest of the Mac market, it’s time to make more room inside the Macworld Game Hall of Fame for the eight games, one software add-on, and one piece of furniture that reminded us there’s plenty of Mac gaming potential just waiting to be unleashed.
Best reason to brush up on your history - Age of Empires III
What it is: Explore and colonise the New World as adventurer Morgan Black and his family. You must populate settlements, raise legions of soldiers and fleets of ships, and battle your enemies on your way to victory.
What makes it a Hall of Famer: Bringing this game to the Mac was a struggle, but MacSoft persevered, replacing the physics engine with more Mac-friendly technology. But this is no slapped-together conversion – its stunning graphics engine will pull you into the action.
£39.99; MacSoft, www.macsoftgames.com
Best way to flex your Sudoku skills - Big Bang Brain Games
What it is: Freeverse’s puzzle-game collection, all ensconced in a gorgeous 3D graphics engine, tests your ability to solve problems.
What makes it a Hall of Famer: Brain games that test your IQ, not your reflexes, have taken the Nintendo DS handheld world by storm, so it was inevitable that the Mac would get its own version. Who better to bring Brain Games to the Mac than Freeverse, the king of casual thinking games. Freeverse has added some fine touches such as .Mac score sharing, so you can tell others how skilled (or not) you are at everything from call-and-response memory games to Sudoku.
You’ll also find some unique twists, such as Fallacy, a game that tests your knowledge of logical fallacies. If you’ve spent any time in Internet chatrooms over the years, you’re probably an expert in this field without even knowing it.
£19.95; Freeverse, www.freeverse.com
Best hookup between your Mac and your game console - Connect360
What it is: For people who turn to consoles for their fun and games – and to Microsoft’s Xbox 360 in particular – the Connect360 software makes it possible to stream all of your Mac’s unprotected audio, video, and photos to the Xbox.
What makes it a Hall of Famer: Still harbouring a grudge against Microsoft for operating system shenanigans that took place back when the Mac topped out at 16MHz? Get over it – gamers looking for a rocking good time with their home-entertainment centres certainly have.The Xbox 360 really does have a broad and entertaining library of games to choose from, and it even makes a halfway-decent media server for connecting the entertainment system and networked computers that host music and video content. Unfortunately, Microsoft makes it a plug-and-play arrangement only for Windows-based PCs. Enter Nullriver’s Connect360 to bridge the gap. You can use it to serve music playlists, photo galleries of recent events, and video stored on your Mac. And it’ll cost you a lot less than Apple TV to do the same thing.
$20 (£10); Nullriver, www.nullriver.com
Best reason to break out the game pad - Lego Star Wars II
What it is: It’s a story from a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away – only with Lego-based characters replacing the Wookiees, droids, and Jawas.
What makes it a Hall of Famer: Some people dismissed the original Lego Star Wars as too child-oriented. No one’s dismissing the sequel, which has solidly established this Lego-based franchise as a real boon to the Star Wars gaming universe. Re-creating the events from the original movie trilogy, Lego Star Wars offers a lot of authentic Star Wars gaming, and even involves a certain amount of Lego-brick building (and bashing) fun. And Feral has been careful to provide good game-pad support, so if you’re looking for a Mac game that offers a great console-style experience, then this is the title for you.
£30; Feral Interactive, www.feralinteractive.com/uk
Best throwback to school - SketchFighter 4000 Alpha
What it is: Hark back to those idle school days, when you spent spare moments in class scribbling drawings in your notebook. That’s the inspiration for SketchFighter 4000 Alpha, a shoot-’em-up game that uses that hand-drawn look for some crazy, crazy fun.
What makes it a Hall of Famer: The charmingly unsophisticated graphics might fool you into thinking there’s not much to this game other than blasting your way past other spaceships. But it also offers phenomenally fun co-operative and competitive multiplayer gaming with a built-in game finder and the ability to share your scores with other players online. And if the whole pen-and-paper look isn’t do-it-yourself enough, SketchFighter even includes a level editor that lets you create your own missions. At around a tenner, this game is a steal – download it now and re-live the good old days of school without the threat of detention.
$19 (£9.54); Ambrosia Software, www.ambrosiasw.com
Most gratuitous use of acid-spewing alien sphincters - Prey
What it is: Fortunately, the only game to feature acid-spewing alien sphincters, this first-person shooter puts you in the shoes of Tommy, a disenfranchised young Cherokee, who’s trying to rescue his girlfriend and grandfather from a biomechanical alien spacecraft.
What makes it a Hall of Famer: Prey looks great and plays beautifully. It also incorporates some really unusual game play, thanks to a prolific use of dimensional vortexes that will spit you onto the walls and ceilings of the rooms you’ve just left. Jumping from one part of a room to another, walking on walls, and otherwise thumbing your nose at gravity can be disorienting – but this game is unlike any other you’ve seen on the Mac. For mature gamers – and Prey is not intended for the whole family – this is an adventure worth taking.
£39.99; Aspyr Media, www.aspyr.com
Best way to feel like an outlaw from the safety of your armchair - Need for Speed Carbon
What it is: You’re an underground outlaw racer who’s just returned to town after a lengthy hiatus, and it’s time to recapture territory, win cash, and buy new wheels and then customise them.
What makes it a Hall of Famer: Decent auto-racing games are few and far between on the Mac, so it was with relish and gusto that we tore open the packaging on Need for Speed Carbon, part of a long-running game series from Electronic Arts (EA) that has only now found its place on the Mac. It’s one of the first half-dozen titles EA has released on the Mac independently – up to now, the company had been content to let other partners, such as Aspyr, publish Mac versions of its games. Need for Speed has never been on that Mac-compatible list, which makes this release even more special. Need for Speed Carbon runs only on Intel-based Macs, but don’t hold that against it – it’s a fun game to play, and worth checking out if you’re looking for console-style racing fun.
$40 (£20.11); Electronic Arts, www.eagames.com
Best reason to get a second job to pay for your gaming obsession - World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade
What it is: The expansion pack to World of Warcraft adds two new playable races, an entire new continent to explore, and other enhancements to the massive multiplayer online game.
What makes it a Hall of Famer: World of Warcraft isn’t an easy habit to shake – different playable races in the game and different character classes give you a lot of options to explore. And the Burning Crusade expansion pack adds even more options than before, making that burning sensation to play – and pay World of Warcraft’s £9 monthly service fee – stronger than ever
£10; Blizzard Entertainment, www.worldofwarcraft.com
Best way to practice your hustling skills - The Sims Pool
What it is: Head on down to the local pool hall and take on your fellow Sims, one would-be hustler at a time – using nothing more than your fifth-generation iPod’s Click Wheel.
What makes it a Hall of Famer: The iPod isn’t an ideal gaming platform – the device’s size can work against it, and its tiny screen can cause eyestrain. Still, some developers have managed to make the most of the iPod’s capabilities – The Sims Pool is easily the best example of that. As in other Sim-based games, the better your Sim does on the felt, the better your Sim feels. And the pool part of the action (Eight Ball and Nine Ball) is a lot of fun.
£3.99; EA Mobile via the iTunes Store, www.macworld.com/3039
Best floor’s-eye view of your games - TreyChair
What it is: With the TreyChair, gamers finally have a seat that eschews some of the sillier touches in favour of more practical features.
What makes it a Hall of Famer: We’ve parked our behinds on a fair number of game chairs over the years, and most have been variations on the same theme – chairs with embedded speakers or lights or some other gadget you have to plug in. The end result was usually cables getting tangled in the legs and bound up in the casters of rolling chairs. The makers of the TreyChair took a different direction. You can take off the top and set it on the floor, rocker style, using the base as a tray table. The tray’s also handy for keeping a bowl of crisps and a can of cola at the ready if you’re just a spectator.
$239 to $269 (£122 to £138); TreyChair, www.treychair.com