Arcade and action games
A grab bag of gems, from fighting games to strange journeys through gorgeous digital worlds.
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
Does Not Commute
Does Not Commute starts you off with a simple challenge: get a car from point A to point B before the time runs out. (The car runs automatically: you just tap the left or right side of the screen to steer.) Once you achieve this, the game rewinds time and asks you to repeat the trick with a second vehicle on the same course. Only now you must contend with another driver on the road: yourself, screaming recklessly across the map in the first car. This repeats until the screen is chock full of high-speed illustrations of your own inability to drive.
There are so many neat touches: funny snapshots of each commuter’s life and why they’re in a hurry; dangerous ramps, jumps and shortcuts that you’re encouraged to use in order to avoid traffic, but which nearly always end in disaster; the desperate rush to beat the clock and grab extra-time power-ups; and, best of all, the challenge of adapting to a vehicle that handles completely differently within a space of seconds.
It’s free, too, although you can only use checkpoints when you upgrade to the premium version, which costs £2.99. We think it’s worth it, but have a try and see for yourself.
£free | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Does Not Commute
You might be of the opinion videogame protagonists are usually a bit two-dimensional and featureless – and in Donut County, you actually play as a black disc. More precisely, you’re a hole, into which things fall, sucking them deep underground.
In each scene, you’ll start as a tiny hole, barely able to swallow anything bigger than a teacup. But everything you take in makes the hole get a little larger. Eventually, you’re rampaging about, gulping down cars, houses, and even mountains, until the scene before you is as minimal as Jony Ive’s desk.
The reason behind all this wanton destruction is explained – *sort of* – in ongoing cut-scenes involving a bunch of friends trapped underground. It turns out a local racoon, BK, has been sending people these deadly and ravenous holes whenever they’ve ordered a donut from his store. As odd as that might sound, the story gets much weirder.
As for the gameplay, that doesn’t get switched up very often. Occasionally, you’ll get a new mechanic, for example using a frog to belch from your hole, or figuring out how to dislodge something atop a nearby hill that clearly needs eating. Mostly, though, this is a relaxing cartoonish experience that’s about the sheer joy of mopping up the scene before you – and seeing what happens when, say, a massive hole in the ground munches corn and then fire. (Hint: it creates something that’d be perfect fodder for the movie-like sections in the game.)
£4.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Donut County
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
The polar opposite of stereotypical videogame heroes (you know the type: gruff muscle-bound hulks, armed to the teeth), the protagonist in Flower is a petal. You tilt your device and press the screen to control the wind, propelling the petal about tiny worlds. As it passes other flowers, they bloom into life, bestowing a petal of their own to join what becomes a flying snake-like conga of colour, bringing vibrancy to initially dull, grey worlds.
There’s an immediacy here and an artsy feel that suggests Flower could be a crossover game that appeals to those who usually avoid the App Store’s Games tab. But even for gaming veterans, Flower is a breath of fresh air - a stress-free, visually lush, exploratory affair that’s beautiful, simple and finite.
Originally blooming into life on Sony consoles, Flower is nonetheless one of those titles that only really seems like a properly good fit for iPhone. Our only complaint - despite the game’s brevity - is it doesn’t tend to save progress very well, notably if you exit halfway through a level. Still, it’s little hardship to repeat part of a journey through such a gorgeous virtual world.
£4.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Flower
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.
Whatever catastrophe happened in the world of Power Hover, it’s left only scattered tribes of robots in a desolate world – along with quite a few contraptions all too eager to smash said robots to pieces. And that’s a problem for the game’s hero, pursuing a dastardly criminal who’s pilfered his village’s batteries.
Strapped to a hoverboard, he scythes across stunning, minimal landscapes, following a trail of dropped batteries, in an effort to capture his quarry. The scenery varies from crystal clear seas peppered with tiny islands to giant stompy drilling machines that march across a barren desert. All of it is gorgeous.
Levels are heavily choreographed, which may seem limiting – but this turns out to be a good thing. There are routes to figure out and master, and perfection to shoot for. But even if you merely want to work your way through the journey, there’s lots to love here, from the elegant, inertia-heavy controls to a head-bobbing soundtrack that urges you on at every moment.
£3.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Power Hover
Solar Explorer: New Dawn
Humans have sucked the Earth dry. Naturally, they’ve now decided to inflict their awfulness on the rest of the solar system. Unfortunately for said humans, they’ve done this during a technological age that’s barely moved on from our own. So instead of zipping to Mars in a sleek spaceship, you instead hurl colonists and equipment at planets and moons using tin cans with boosters.
The three-part journey is two-parts terrifying roller-coaster, and one-part terrifying modern-day Lunar Lander update. In the first two bits, you’re mostly screaming along at ridiculous speeds, trying to keep your ship within an ideal landing path. Stray too far and you gather unwanted speed. Plenty of asteroids rock up in these sections, to make your life a misery.
Then it’s time to land – or at least attempt to. Doing so on some celestial bodies isn’t too tricky. On others, though, you’ll be far away from the landing zone, and discover just how difficult it is to accurately manoeuvre when there’s a lack of atmosphere. Still, atmosphere is something the game itself has in spades; and although it’s inevitably repetitive, New Dawn is a smart update on a much-loved classic that’s great for playing in short bursts.
£2.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Solar Explorer: New Dawn
Spaceteam is perhaps the ultimate iOS party game. It’s certainly the best iOS game if you enjoy shouting nonsensical phrases at your friends.
Each player’s screen shows a spaceship’s dashboard, peppered with absurd dials and controls, and shows the ship itself at the top. The monitor periodically demands that you adjust one of the controls or dials to a specified setting, and the speed with which you respond dictates how successfully the ship escapes the fiery explosion on its tail.
Except that quite often, the setting you’re supposed to adjust isn’t on your screen at all - it’s on one of your friends’. Which means you end up yelling nonsense like “turn on the dangling shunter” and “won’t someone please turn the spectrobolt to three?” All this while the other players are trying to be heard with their own commands. It’s an utterly stupid and totally wonderful experience.
£free | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Spaceteam