Arcade and action games
A grab bag of gems, from fighting games to strange journeys through gorgeous digital worlds.
ALONE… has you zip along a procedurally generated landscape at ever-increasing speed, trying your best to avoid the obstacles in your path and using the bare minimum of controls (just up and down) to preserve your little spaceship.
It's an incredibly simple, stripped-back game, but this style of game lives and dies by its speed; or rather by the sensation of speed that it's able to produce. And ALONE… is brilliant at this. The hectic soundtrack, the speed lines and space detritus flying past you, the barely controllable boost you get whenever you're winged by a small piece of debris, and the gradual acceleration as the game progresses - all of this contributes to a tightly focused thrill-ride of a game.
This isn't to say the creators have ignored the game's cosmetics: there's some great mysterious background imagery (reminiscent of Canabalt) and the shifting colour schemes are undeniably lovely. You just might not get much of a chance to appreciate them.
£1.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download ALONE…
In iOS gaming's early days, Canabalt stripped platform gaming right back. The leaping protagonist flung himself into the air whenever you prodded the screen, the aim being to survive for as long as possible before he inevitably plummeted to his doom. Alto's Odyssey showcases how such simple mechanics can be used to create a surprisingly complex, deep experience - even though your interaction remains limited to using a single digit.
The game features Alto (and - when unlocked - friends) exploring a vast desert. Setting off on his surfboard, Alto scoots across gigantic dunes, regularly soaring into the air to perform fancy tricks that provide a handy speed boost when completed.
This isn't a game for the impatient. Alto's Odyssey slowly but surely reveals its hand, as you discover new environments, hazards and moves, such as bouncing on balloons and wall-riding cliffs. The achievements system can at times be a bit frustrating - some requirements are very specific and tricky to pull off. But mostly, this is a meditative, hypnotic game - not least when you fire up the zero-risk Zen mode and let your eyes take in the gorgeous day/night cycle while your ears are serenaded by serene audio.
£4.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Alto's Odyssey
The first thought that pops into your mind as you're dumped in Atomik: RunGunJumpGun's crazed world of shooty madness is "AIIIEEEEE!" The second is, "slow down, you massive idiot". And that's because your heavily armed hero belts through this game at a rate of knots.
To be fair, this is broadly out of his control, because everything you do in the game is a result of the massive gun he carries. Point it downwards and the hero is temporarily propelled into the air. Point it forwards and he blasts everything in his path. Even if you've the most basic grasp of logic, you'll spot the tiny flaws in this system.
When you're shooting downwards, you may end up smashing into obstacles in your path. But when you're shooting forwards, you rapidly plummet towards the ground, which tends to be covered in massive spikes. To complicate matters further, the corridors you zoom through are snake-like and winding, and occasionally full of alien craft firing back, because of course they are.
Fortunately, the levels also happen to be short. So although you're rewound to the start when you impale yourself, it doesn't feel like a huge loss to try again. And if you're of the opinion this is all somehow not tough enough (in which case, congratulations in your other career in breaking blocks of concrete with your head), there's an optional additional challenge of grabbing all the spinning orb things as you fly.
£2.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Atomik: RunGunJumpGun
Beat Sneak Bandit
Now and again, developers gleefully mash genres together, resulting in some of the more interesting games on the App Store. On that basis, you'd expect Beat Sneak Bandit to be very interesting indeed, given that it combines rhythm action, platforming, stealth, and pathfinding. That it manages to do so with one-thumb controls and bucketfuls of humour should be considered nothing short of astonishing.
The backstory is that evil Duke Clockface has stolen all the clocks and the world is in chaos - no-one knows when to brush their teeth, or what time Doctor Who's on! So a friendly thief, the Beat Sneak Bandit, resolves to heroically scoot about the Duke's fortress, scoop up all the clocks, and save the day.
Each level is a single screen, and everything moves to the beat: guards bob and turn; searchlights flick on and off; doors open and close; and you'd swear even the clocks are nodding along to the soundtrack. The trick is to always tap on the beat to move (rebounding off walls as necessary), while figuring out how to get at all the clocks and avoid being spotted.
It's not easy, but it is artful and delightful - a true App Store original.
£2.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Beat Sneak Bandit
The original Eliss was one of the first iPhone games that really nailed the potential of a multitouch device. Each level featured coloured planets, which had to be torn apart or fused together to fit inside matching wormholes. Easy at first, but not so much when the things started popping up everywhere, draining your energy when planets of different colours collided.
Eliss Infinity remasters the game for modern devices, and then throws a new Infinity mode at you. Rather than the considered and broadly choreographed levels of the original, this mode provides a deranged panic-inducing finger-Twister, of the kind likely to give more nervous players a minor breakdown. But when Eliss Infinity clicks and you're totally in the zone, there are few better gaming experiences, especially on the iPad.
£2.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Eliss Infinity
When you return to ancient games, they often seem pedestrian. Jumpgrid takes two such classics - Pac-Man and Frogger - strips them right back, adds a swig or two of rocket fuel, and then flings them at your face with the kind of menace that will leave you a gibbering wreck. And it's great.
The entire game plays out on a three-by-three grid. Along the edges are spinning cubes. Munch all the cubes and a teleporter appears in the centre, allowing you to escape to the next level. But there are no ghostly adversaries or trundling traffic in Jumpgrid's world - instead, your foes are lurching, wheeling chunks of geometric doom.
In being infused with the sadistic edge of a Super Hexagon, Jumpgrid immediately throws down the gauntlet, and can feel overwhelming. But stick with it, and you'll start to learn the patterns, giving you a fighting chance of victory in speedruns or the gaming perfection that is its endless mode.
Getting there will require lots of patience, quite a few deaths, and a steely nerve; but this is one of those titles that when mastered makes you feel like a gaming god; it's well worth the effort.
£2.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Jumpgrid
Osmos was originally a highly regarded 'ambient gaming' PC title, but the touchscreen suits it perfectly. It's a tranquil experience, with trippy visuals and music.
You play a pulsating ball of light. The aim is to work your way up the food chain by moving around and absorbing smaller balls of light (making you expand) and avoiding bigger ones. Yet this simple concept produces an engaging experience like no other.
Despite remaining utterly serene, some levels can get fiendishly complicated, with different balls of light acting in dramatically different ways. Some echo a kind of gloopy Petri dish, whereas others have you battle physics as you orbit a central 'planet' at insane speed. It's a classic that deserves a place in every iOS gamer's collection.
This game is like being plunged into a vat of lurid animated GIFs. It's an assault on the senses, packed full of eye-searing colour, looping glitch animation, and cats temporarily on loan from the latest memes. Oh, and there's a game buried in there, too.
Said game is the digital equivalent of wire loop challenges where you carefully thread a ring along a winding pathway. Here, the path instead comprises a top-down maze, and you direct a cat's head. Obviously. Also, the path unhelpfully shifts and changes as you battle with controls best described as slippy. Touch an edge and the screen glitches; fail to quickly course-correct and you'll lose one of your nine lives.
It's fair to say the experience is divisive. The semi-random nature of level ordering means you can smack hard into a wall of pain after breezing through several simpler tests. The boss battles will push you to your limits. And if you're not careful, the psychedelic visuals will leave you in need of a lie down.
There's more here than masochism, though. Like Super Hexagon's patterns, PUSS! levels can be committed to memory. Control sensitivity can be tweaked. On a larger display, there's more margin for error. Especially on an iPad, then, PUSS! should click; and when it does, you'll be gripped by a compelling, exhilarating game that never ceases to be deeply strange.
£2.99/$2.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download PUSS!
In this side-scrolling game, you hold the screen and a little bird furls her stunted wings and speeds downwards at a rapid lick. Raise your finger, and she flaps them and soars briefly - if she's gained sufficient momentum to rocket off of the hill she's just slid up. All the while, you're racing against the sun (when it sets your bird goes to sleep and the game is over).
The basic gameplay mechanics are simple but exquisitely crafted, and the game is an aesthetic delight, from the crayony backdrops to the charming music and effects. Alongside this endless mode, the game provides some extra goodies, too - two-player same-device multiplayer, and a race game of sorts, featuring the bird's chicks, desperate to get back to mum to snag the biggest worm.
In all, this is a wonderful, charming, inventive, simple, beautiful, fun game.
£2.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Tiny Wings
From an aesthetic standpoint, Vectronom is all geometric shapes and lurid colours. Initially, it resembles iOS classic Edge, and, indeed, the basics of the gameplay also have you trying to get from A to B. But Vectronom lobs one further challenge into the mix - a demand that you dance to the beat.
We mean this almost literally. Vectronom might look like a speedrun path-finding game, and be controlled with swipes and taps, but it's all about understanding the rhythm. You'll need to move on the beat to avoid getting impaled by marching spikes, and also commit to memory the clockwork movements of the very ground, also synced to the soundtrack. Failure means plunging into the abyss time and time again.
Hence: dancing. Sure, Vectronom isn't exactly a digital Strictly, but as you 1-2-3-4 your way to a goal, carefully matching the required choreography, you'll soon discover whether you've two left thumbs to go with two left feet. And the result is fabulous. There is admittedly the odd level that frustrates, but for the most part Vectronom is a game that'll slap a smile right across your face, as you discover new beats and minimalist landscapes to nod and tap along to.
£3.99/$3.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Vectronom