The front page of the App Store is the easiest way to find new iOS games - but you’re only selling yourself short if you settle for all those naff movie adaptations and remakes.
Games have forever been bought in droves based on what's on the cover of the box, but with the move to mobile it's no longer a matter of a browsing the top 40 shelves at Woolworths (God rest its reasonably-priced soul). The App Store may be many wonderful things, but a separator of wheat from chaff it is not. Flicking through its charts or its featured titles entails being advertised to, and your biases as a consumer being coolly appealed to.
As someone reasonably well-versed in gaming for a good couple of decades now, to gaze at the games section of App Store charts is to gaze into the face of a business gone horribly wrong. A spew of hollow licensed titles, clones of clones of clones, quick'n'dirty remakes of retro titles and sinister exploitations of the currently-prevailing free-to-play model - it's a cesspool of companies trying to take advantage of you. So many bad games, either functionally or morally. And it's not a fair representation of what's really going on in iPhone and iPad gaming.
iOS has become a second home to some of the most talented and imaginative game developers in the industry. Low cost of entry, no necessity for complicated 3D graphics, anything-goes controls and, of course, an audience of such a colossal size that traditional games console-makers must be tempted to give it all up and go live in the woods. These guys are doing great, boundlessly creative things. Trouble is, if they don't have a known brand in the title or big backers who can market their way to mass awareness, they'll struggle to be noticed. The App Store featured content and charts have become the first port of entry to finding new games for so many of us - how many times have you idly flicked through pages of it, looking for something to help kill time *right now*? How many times have you clicked on something purely because it's associated with a film you enjoyed or a game you played decades ago? That's how lousy games shoot to vast success. That's how simply ordinary games - Angry Birds being the ultimate case in point - become unassailable juggernauts.
This month's iPU games reviews highlight the problem inherent in this - The Dark Knight Rises piggy-backs the cinematic zeitgeist of the hour, but is a flashy death march of a game, while Spy vs Spy preys on nostalgia without meaningfully updating what's become a hollow, awkward game over the years. Both are hugely profitable. Neither deserve to be.
The problem is not a deficit of greatness, but one of discovery, of how to help players hear about the games that are designed to entertain rather than exploit. A Waking Mars, 100 Rogues or Eufloria will lodge in your brain that much more, give you stories to tell and novel challenges to crack, but they simply don't have the marketing budget to brute-force their way into the world's consciousness.
What's the answer? Ah, therein lies the rub. The App Store is as democratic as it is capitalist, so Apple isn’t ever going to interfere with sub-standard, lowest common denominator games ruling its electronic shop. It's the same reason why Adele and Coldplay albums have a stranglehold on Amazon. Salvation lies in consumers wanting more and better, and thus striving to research unknown pleasures. The sea change necessary is enormous, and perhaps impossible. But baby steps can make a difference. The next time you have time and a couple of quid to spare, don't default to the App Store best sellers. Demand more, because better games from better creators are out there - and I promise you they're not noodling, navel-gazing nonsense.
Think carefully about what sort of thing you'd really like to play, rather than what will simply make bus journeys quicker, browse third-party magazines (hello!) and websites to find reviews of games both present and past, ask friends for recommendations, and for heaven's sake don't buy something just because it's named after a superhero.