Arcade and action games
A grab bag of gems, from fighting games to strange journeys through gorgeous digital worlds.
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. Craig Grannell
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. David Price
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.) Craig Grannell
£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. Craig Grannell
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. Craig Grannell
With its tiny miners digging into the dirt, and levels that rely on precise timing and pathfinding, Micro Miners feels like a stripped-back Lemmings combined with Dig Dug. Your job is to drag a finger through the dirt, guiding miners to underground deposits and buried treasures.
From the off, it’s a surprisingly tense game. The screen auto-scrolls, and you must ensure you grab enough of each deposit, or you’re given a strike. Get three and you fail the level.
As you move through the game, added complications make success a tougher prospect. Miners of different colours appear, which die the second they touch the wrong deposits. Explosive goop, lava, and giant tunnelling worms all lurk, waiting to rapidly deplete your employee count.
Because you spend your time dragging paths and tapping the odd button, Micro Miners is perfectly suited to the touchscreen. Despite its chunky retro graphics, it feels like a properly modern take on old-school digging games. And with plenty of variety and traps across its 40 levels, it proves a stiff challenge if you fancy digging your way to the very end. Craig Grannell
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. Lou Hattersley
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. Craig Grannell
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. David Price