The 25 Best iPhone Games

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The 25 Best iPhone Games

When we started thinking about the best iPhone games, we were surprised to realize that the iPhone is almost nine years old. We’re just about a year away from celebrating a solid decade of finding new ways to connect to people who live far away, while ignoring people sitting directly across the table from us. The iPhone has been a crucial driver in game development over the last nine years, introducing videogames to a broad new audience while providing designers with new tools and opportunities to explore. Paste has been there the whole time, covering the growth of iPhone gaming and the rise of the touch-screen interface. We’ve gone back over those nine years to find 25 games that perfectly sum up the breadth of iPhone gaming, from quick burst pick-up-and-play time killers, to visual novels, to unexpectedly thought-provoking celebrity tie-ins, to arty explorations that question what it means to be a game. We’ve only considered games that were originally conceived for devices like the iPhone, and that weren’t ported from other systems or based on preexisting boardgames. (Yes, Superbrothers came out for the iPad first, but we’ll let that one slide, as it only took a month to pop up on Apple’s smaller screen.) And to wrap it all up, we ranked them in no particular order. This isn’t a countdown, but an overview of what iPhone gaming has meant over the last nine years.

Threes

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Threes is an elegant finger-slider for the discriminating player. The goal is to combine tiles on a four by four grid by sliding them into other tiles with the same numbers on them. Two threes combine to form a six, two sixes form a 12, and so on. You don’t slide individual tiles or rows, though—you slide every tile on the board in the same direction whenever you swipe. The game starts with nine tiles on the board, and a new one appears every time you swipe. Once the board is full and there are no possible combinations left, the game ends and your score is calculated. It might look complicated in words, but it’s a simple concept with a surprising amount of personality.—Garrett Martin


Year Walk

You’ll get lost really quickly in Simogo’s sinister Year Walk—which makes it that much creepier when you stumble across one of the game’s many eerie puzzles and frightening creatures. I can’t remember the last time a game gave me the intense feeling of being completely lost and alone the way Year Walk does.—Luke Larsen


Downwell

Downwell is a crunchy, rapid-fire “Spelunky-like” (are we at that point already? Are we prepared to start describing games as “Spelunky-likes”?) but, instead of side-scrolling, Downwell occurs vertically, in a procedurally-generated dungeon that the player falls down through. The player’s sprite will often fall right past powerups, enemies, and treasure rooms, making the game wonderfully frenetic torture. Fortunately, the player is equipped with a pair of goddamn gun-boots—making you, the player, feel incredibly powerful for every second you’re not staring in shock at the Game Over screen. —Jenn Frank


Jetpack Joyride

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Videogames used to exist solely to suck up every quarter of our baby-sitting and paper route money. They offered short bursts of play with a goal no greater than making the high score board. Mobile games often share the same sensibility today, and Jetpack Joyride fulfills its end of that bargain better than most games. Few games stunned me more with “just one more time” paralysis than this infectious one-finger pursuit. No matter how far I fly with that jetpack (or dirtbike, or mechanical dragon) it will never be far enough.—Garrett Martin


Hitman Go

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Hitman Go transposes Hitman to the context of a board game, and in doing so makes every aspect it touches smarter. Guns and weapons are no longer tools of reckless aggression, but board tactics for puzzle solving and path opening, used only in careful consideration of cutting through the ranks of the other player’s men. People have always been pieces, and Hitman has always been about manipulating them to accomplish a grisly deed. Go focuses more on the former than the latter, to the effect of not burying itself in needless pulp.—Matt Akers


Drop7

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Drop7 was an early and essentially perfect puzzle game for the iPhone. The interface is slick and uncluttered, the controls are dependent on nothing but a slide of the finger, and the rules are immediately understandable. It’s not easy, though, offering up the kind of constantly escalating challenge you expect from classic puzzle games. It’s been seven years since Drop7 came out and it’s still the best example of this type of game for this type of device.—Garrett Martin


80 Days

Not only is 80 Days a near-perfect travel game, but it’s also a near-perfect game about traveling. Think Jules Verne meets a visual novel meets Oregon Trail and that should put you somewhere in the right neighborhood. On top of being beautifully illustrated this is also easily one of the most well-written games available on the App Store. The downside? If reading while you’re in a car (bus, plane, train…) often makes you nauseous, 80 Days should be the absolute last thing you reach for.—Janine Hawkins


Love Live: School Idol Festival

If you have access to a Japanese iTunes account, you might already be familiar with the vast world of “idol games.” Half collectable card games, half rhythm games, Idol Games are a slightly creepy offshoot of the Anime Industrial Complex. But if you’re just looking for a fun and challenging rhythm game you can play on the bus you can’t really go wrong with Love Live: School Idol Festival. Packed to the brim with personality, Love Live just wants you to collect and get to know these teenage girls, (yes I know how that sounds), but it really wouldn’t mind if you spend money on its many currencies. But no matter how exploited I feel, I’ll still fire up the game whenever there’s an event going on or a new SSR card to collect. I just really love those girls.—Gita Jackson


Alto’s Adventure

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Consider this like Canabalt with snowboarding, llamas, breathtaking mountain vistas, a day-night cycle, and cranky old people who will toss your ass down a hillside if you disturb them. So maybe not much like Canabalt after all.—Janine Hawkins


Ridiculous Fishing

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Ridiculous Fishing is a story about a man’s attempt at becoming one with nature in an attempt to settle a personal vendetta against the ocean. It is a story about a world that exchanges fish that have been liquified by gunfire for surprisingly large amounts of cash. It is a story about birds making fun of each other on the internet. Ultimately, and in a pretty roundabout way, it is a story about coming to terms with the infinite.—Joe Bernardi

A Dark Room

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This text-only experimental RPG reminds you that words can be more powerful than any high-tech graphics or fast-paced play. Part interactive fiction, part strategy, and entirely unlike other games, or even what you might expect, A Dark Room is a mystery worth getting lost in.—Garrett Martin


Desert Golfing

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I can go on about how Desert Golfing is a knowing deconstruction of the mobile game, how its series of simple and repetitive swipes boils the entire form down to its most basic parts, with barely any embellishment at all. I mean it looks like an Atari game, just a two-tone background with a white dot for a ball, blocky white numbers and a small yellow flag. I could talk about how it locks us into our failures, preventing us from restarting and replaying levels. About how it pretty much never ends. But in that time I could add like another thirty strokes to my total on hole 2000 and something, so I’ll just go do that instead.—Garrett Martin


Super Hexagon

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Disclaimer: Paste Games Editor-at-Large Jenn Frank did voiceover work for this game. Other than a few previously published entries for other games, she was not involved in the decision making process for this list at all.
Super Hexagon is incredibly challenging , but it understands to a remarkable degree how players progress to that tipping point. This continuous point of revelation—that place where the player and the developer have a real honest moment of communication—is what Super Hexagon gets right.—Luke Larsen


868-HACK

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868-HACK is a turn based trainwreck—a meticulously ordered, predictably random and nearly always solvable trainwreck of exploding and overwhelming complexity. On its own, each individual element of 868-HACK is deceptively simple. When everything is combined, though, playing 868-HACK is like slowly managing every single particle flying about in a tornado, one turn at a time.—Aevee Bee


Letterpress

Letterpress is a shining example of minimalist game design that is incredibly easy to pick up, but deeply layered in strategy. Players take turns choosing from the group of 25 randomly-generated letters to create words—each attempting to create longer and more strategically selected words than the other. When you make a word, the tiles you use turn light blue, adding points to your score. As players claim the board for their own, deeper levels of strategy arise. Resources become increasingly scarce and competitors are forced to become more and more creative in their word-making. It’s as different from Scrabble or any word puzzle game as could be, while still keeping the knowledge of a large vocabulary at the center of the game’s required skillset.—Letterpress


Hundreds

Hundreds is about the distance between objects. It’s about making circles grow as much as they can without impeding the progress of others. It’s about coexisting peacefully in a cramped, indifferent world that we have minimal control over. Mostly, though, Hundreds is about touching.—Garrett Martin


Grayout

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Prepare to have your mind BLOWN. Billed by its creators as a “prequel” to 2013’s Blackbar—itself a dark, dystopian look at censorship and thought-policing—Grayout is both mechanically and thematically veeeery similar to its excellent predecessor. Without giving anything else away: It’s also better, richer, more intuitive. We’ve already said too much! Watch for it.—Jenn Frank


Device 6

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Device 6 has good taste. That’s evident from the start, with its Saul Bass-style intro and an aesthetic cribbed from cult ‘60s British shows like The Prisoner and The Avengers. It’s a swinging slice of interactive fiction that uses the tablet platform in clever ways, and it’s also classy enough to respect our patience and intelligence. You should play it, which means you should also read it, which means you should let it squat in your iCloud until computers turn to dust. Go.—Garrett Martin


Eliss Infinity

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Playing Eliss Infinity feels like juggling. While you’ve got one ball in the air, you need to be thinking about the one you are catching, as well as the new ball that is about to get thrown into the routine. In Eliss Infinity, you’re tasked with the mission of combining planets of the same colors that pop up and “scoring” them in same-colored portals, all while keeping them from touching other planets of different colors. It’s a simple idea, but things get hairy really fast—especially in the high score Infinity mode. The Infinity mode really is the big new thing here, and the classic Eliss gameplay absolutely shines in this new mode. Not since Super Hexagon have you had so much fun while being so utterly stressed out.—Matt Akers


Monument Valley

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Monument Valley is a brief, wondrous piece of art about structure and perspective. Technically it’s a puzzle game, available now for iOS and coming soon to Android, but its puzzles serve less as brain-teasers than as a vehicle to explore Ustwo’s beautifully crafted environments. The game’s artwork, which unfolds across ten succinct chapters, borrows heavily from the works of M.C. Escher, the Dutch graphic artist known for his “impossible constructions”—grand rooms filled with infinite staircases, balconies simultaneously above and below one another, spires at once in the foreground and background. Monument Valley isn’t entirely about optical illusion, but its pastel stages consistently channel this brand of imagination.—Matt Akers


Her Story

If the mark of a successful game is maintaining a set narrative course even as it bolsters the illusion of players’ agency, well, that’s exactly the knack of Her Story. Mechanically, this full motion video game is very simple—it’s almost perilously linear, if you look too close at it—but it encourages player exploration and experimentation like nothing else this year. And although the game relies on the player typing cues into a search bar, Her Story is nonetheless an unexpectedly good fit for tablet devices.—Jenn Frank


Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery EP

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Sword & Sworcery’s most awe-inspiring moments take place when it allows us to forget about ourselves, our world, our iPhone and our Twitter followers for long enough to take in the wonders that it presents. Danger feels imminent and foreboding, and the animal and plant life seem organic and ethereal. While performing the “Songs of Sworcery” our fingers seem to trigger magical wonders and beautiful music. The story itself is beautiful in its simplicity, and it is so effective because it lingers on implications rather than literalities.—Richard Clark


Infinity Blade II

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Infinity Blade II doesn’t fundamentally alter the formula that made its predecessor so successful, but it does add some welcome refinements like new weapon sets, an expanded story, and varied enemies. Its stunning visuals and responsive controls make it one of the best-looking and best-playing games on iOS, even if its repetitive structure isn’t entirely compelling over the long haul. In a franchise based on iterative gameplay, this sequel is an interesting study in iterative design.—J. P. Grant


Kim Kardashian: Hollywood

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The greatest asset for videogames as fiction, one that it holds over other forms of media, is the immediacy with which you can identify with people and experiences that are not your own. While books and movies allow you to observe, videogames really allow you to be someone else. With each little tap on my tablet’s screen, I feel like I am closer to experiencing Mrs. Kardashian West’s world, though with less pressure, and the ability to turn it off. If there’s any reason or purpose for this game other than to put more money in Kimberly Noel Kardashian West’s pocket, it’s this: You want to know why Kim Kardashian is famous? It’s because she works.—Gita Jackson

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