From retro-oriented jumping fare to games designed specifically with a touchscreen in mind, these are our picks for best iOS platformer.
Bubbles the Cat
At first, Bubbles the Cat feels familiar - derivative, even. You control a furry critter, who bounds about multi-screen side-on levels. The visuals echo old-school pixel art, and the auto-running hero can double-jump, and bounce off walls like a feline ninja. You've seen it all before - except you actually haven't, because this cat stays aloft until your bubble collection runs out.
You get six, meaning your cat can leap in the air half a dozen times before plummeting groundwards. On touching down (assuming your landing wasn't on something deadly), the mighty bubble power is replenished for more airborne leapy antics. This freedom upends everything you've previously learned about level design in this kind of game, and makes it all feel fresh.
Bubbles the Cat isn't done, though. As you progress, the bubble types vary - sometimes several times within a level. You contend with bubbles that create walls or act as wrecking balls, and those that hurl you through dimensions. It's a good example, then, of a game where you must take a leap of faith, rather than making too many assumptions at the outset.
£3.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Bubbles the Cat
We recall once laughing at a games reviewer's observation that an RPG with a jump button is "rarer than a badger in a Ferrari". Well, this is that even rarer thing: a platform game without one.
In Drop Wizard you can't jump; all you can do is move left or right (it's one or the other - you can't stand still) and fall off things. Fortunately the hole at the bottom of each level, unlike those in most platform games, leads not to death but to the top of the screen again.
Dropping is thus centrally important, as the name of the game suggests: as well as your primary way of navigating each level, it's also your only way of attacking, as each time the wizard drops on to a new platform he shoots a little star that can stun enemies and allow you to walk into them for the coup de grâce.
The graphics are sweet and cheerful, the levels are fiendish, and the gameplay is beautifully polished. Drop Wizard is a simple game, but one that comes highly recommended.
£1.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Drop Wizard
Gris shows how conventional gaming structures can combine with an emotionally charged narrative (or, rather, lack of narrative - but we'll get to that) and beautiful visuals to create something beguiling and fresh.
The game starts out with Gris losing her voice. She falls into a crumbling, ruined world of towering stone structures, colossal statues, and angular woodlands. A stirring score plays as you examine your surroundings and explore this strange world.
From a gameplay standpoint, Gris echoes side-on platformers of the kind that have been popular since the days of Super Mario Bros. - perhaps even Pitfall 2, if you're old enough to remember that. In short, you run, leap, and search for items to unlock new areas of the map.
It's the emotional core that sets Gris apart. There are no words, and so you must infer what's happening. However, elements of struggle and emotional distress are painfully obvious - and obviously painful to Gris - as you battle a morphing black blob that transforms into a shrieking giant bird, or face watercolour splats that paint the gaming canvas red.
That's not to say this game is without hope. From the off, there are grin-inducing moments, such as when you first grapple with the transformative powers of Gris's dress, or spot a tiny apple-munching stalker tracking you through the woods. A bittersweet tale, then, and one you absolutely should take, if you hanker for games that aspire to transcend the medium.
£4.99/$4.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Gris
Icycle: On Thin Ice
From the off, it's pretty clear Icycle is like no other platform game, as the worried-looking Dennis cycles about naked across a precariously disintegrating landscape. By equal measure beautiful and deeply weird, Dennis's surroundings are a post-apocalyptic nightmare as envisaged by a top-quality graphic designer. Half the time, as you battle to bounce his bike up a slope, or use a handy umbrella to break a fall, you can't help but coo as the hero is impaled by a particularly stunning piece of extremely sharp scenery.
The 80 short missions pelt so much imagination your way that it's difficult to take in at first. And although each of the scenes is very much choreographed, this doesn't hamper repeat play. In fact, you'll happily drag Dennis through his madcap ordeal several times, to revel again in the crazy brilliance of it all, and also to ensure you grab all of the ice, so you can grab Dennis some much-needed clobber in the in-game shop.
£2.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Icycle: On Thin Ice
Linn: Path of Orchards
Most platform games are reassuringly and resolutely solid when it comes to the actual platforms. When you're sprinting along, grabbing bling, and hopping on enemy heads, there's a good chance any platform you land on will stay there. Those that vanish are the exception, rather than the rule. Linn has no truck with that, instead having apparently decided its levels are crazed clockwork contraptions harbouring ambitions to become a deadly fairground.
Your very first experience finds you already running towards the level's exit, and you watch as the platform starts to tip before Linn reaches her goal. Soon, you face much tougher tests. Levels spin and wheel. Exits appear nailed to ceilings that seconds later become floors, while you leap into the abyss, trying in a split-second to figure out where you should land.
It's dizzying and confusing, but you soon recognise there's a mechanical logic to everything on the screen. Each level can - if you get your timing precisely right - be completed in a set number of moves. Gold shards that appear impossible to reach can be collected - if you crack the sequence required for doing so.
Linn can frustrate, not least when the slightly twitchy controls fail you. But restarts are swift, and this is a rewarding game when you crack a particularly bonkers level, and then spare yourself a few seconds to breathe in the lush audio and minimal visuals before tackling the next challenge.
£2.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Linn: Path of Orchards
Something terrible's happened in the world of Mushroom 11. The scarred landscape - peppered with pools of toxic liquids - provides only glimpses of what once was, in a few twisted scraps of metal and damaged structures. Life barely clings on - although not necessarily in the forms you'd expect.
One such survivor is a green blob, which comes under your control. It has a thirst to explore its ravaged world, gobbling up bugs, flowers, and surprisingly psychotic plants. And the way in which it does so showcases the wonderfully tactile, intuitive nature of the best iOS games.
Although this is a platform/puzzler, you at no point press left, right or jump. Instead, you use a finger to 'erase' chunks of the blob, which then grow back. Sometimes, you blaze through tunnels, Sonic-style. Elsewhere, you carefully mould your creature into a pole to activate a set of buttons, or split it in half, so one part can trigger a switch while the other sneaks through a door.
Whether you tackle the adventure by slowly picking your way along or treating it as a manic speedrun, Mushroom 11 is a unique, engaging experience that only really makes sense on the touchscreen.
£4.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Mushroom 11
Oddmar has the horned helmet of a cartoon Viking, but in every other way he's not cut out for the job, being lazy, oafish, selfish, and totally against burning down a nearby forest after an ultimatum from his clan. Fortunately (for the forest and Oddmar - if not the other Vikings), his tribe is mysteriously zapped away, shortly after the titular protagonist is bestowed with special powers after snarfing magic mushrooms.
You might wonder whether ingesting such dodgy substances accounts for the strange nature of Oddmar's quest as he strives to find his tribe. He bounds around on giant mushrooms like a bearded flea, grabs levitating bling, and frequently finds himself in ethereal auto-scrolling lands after having purple dust blown in his face (uh-oh).
That said, it's not like cartoonish adventures are rare in the world of platform games. What is rare - especially on iOS - is a platform game this good. Oddmar looks superb - akin to an animated cartoon, with distinctive characters and painterly backgrounds. Most importantly, it plays brilliantly.
The touchscreen controls are tight, and the levels are superbly designed. There's thought in the placement of every obstacle, and the manner in which the game's pace ebbs and flows. Only occasionally does it stumble, with the odd section where you smack into a wall of awkward. Mostly, though, Oddmar is a gem - a magical, console-like experience that's a joy, whether tearing through the forest to escape a giant troll, or picking your way through a level to find its many hidden secrets.
£4.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Oddmar
Rolando: Royal Edition
The original Rolando was an early App Store darling. Fully embracing the then-oddball nature of an iPhone (at least from a gaming perspective), it was a gem of a platform-puzzler. From a quality standpoint, it stood shoulder to shoulder with handheld console games of the era - a step up from mobile phone fodder of the day. Arguably, it put iPhone gaming on the map.
When Apple nuked support for 32-bit games in 2017, Rolando was a victim, but Royal Edition brings it back in remastered form. If nothing else, this revamp shows that Rolando was always about quality gameplay rather than gimmickry, given that it still shines.
The storyline is thin, involving The Kingdom, populated by ball-like Rolandos, being invaded by shadow creatures. In every multi-screen level, you need to trundle to an exit, avoiding enemies and hazards. Success often involves prodding switches, flinging Rolandos into the air using catapults, and bundling snoozing regal Rolandos along - trying to avoid sending them into a lava pit.
Royal Edition's visual update looks very smart indeed, but the game also plays well. Levels have been optimised and tweaked, and the controls - tilt to move, drag to select, and physically manipulating things like lifts - still feel just right on your device, rather than being gaming conventions (or even an entire game) beamed in from another platform.
£2.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Rolando: Royal Edition
The time is fast disappearing regarding the need to narrow eyes on hearing of a console-style platform game on iOS. Suzy Cube adds another dimension to proceedings, too, regularly switching up your viewpoint into 3D for a range of thrilling leapy escapades.
If you need a backstory, rotters have nicked Castle Cubetron's gold, and you're tasked with getting it back. Being that this is a platform game, the pilferers have littered their spoils about the landscape, and now roam about, ready to duff up anyone audacious enough to reclaim their property.
With slick two-thumb controls, Suzy Cube feels the part. Only occasionally do you feel the game rather than your thumbs lets you down as Suzy Cube plunges into the abyss or gets walloped by a nasty. Mostly, you'll gleefully blaze about the blocky landscapes, and revel in the way the game keeps trying new things.
There are relatively free-roaming 3D bits, where you'll find secret rooms. Vertigo-inducing overhead sections have you carefully leap between moving platforms suspended high in the air. Auto-scrolling third-person scenes find you sliding down snowy mountains. And then there are 2.5D miniature adventures set within maze-like pyramids.
The pace feels urgent, even if the timers are fairly generous. And although the game occasionally falls flat, notably with some oddly dull boss battles, Suzy Cube is mostly a superbly designed iOS platformer. Most importantly, it also does something different, rather than being yet another glossy but stripped-back Super Mario Bros. clone.
£3.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Suzy Cube
Platformers with both feet planted in the retro-gaming era tend to have a shaky time on iPhone and iPad. Slippy controls are a problem when pixel-perfection is the order of the day. Witcheye gets around this by removing the need to run and jump entirely.
Instead, Witcheye finds you controlling a witch who, for some reason, has decided the best way to get back some ingredients stolen by a thieving knight is to transform into a levitating eyeball. You swipe to hurl said peeper about, and tap to stop it dead. Hit anything dangerous and one of your five lives will vanish; but smack into an enemy when they least expect it, and they're satisfyingly bumped off of the screen.
It's fair to say that Witcheye has an eye (oho!) on the past in another way: a lack of evolution as the game progresses. It's resolutely old-school in giving you a setup and a range of level types (including inevitable floaty underwater bits), and letting you get on with it. There are no power-ups, and the biggest diversions are the entertaining boss battles - which can be played back-to-back when you complete the main quest and unlock Boss Rush mode.
On an iPad in particular, though, Witcheye does the business. It's simple, sure; but pleasant visuals and straightforward gameplay prove a compelling combination. One to feast your eye(s) on, then.
£2.99/$2.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Witcheye