Best iPod Touch and iPhone Games: 2009 Buyer’s Guide

ta_logo_whiteWhile the App Store had clearly been a huge success in 2008, the continued growth and explosion of iPhone game releases in 2009 was beyond everyone’s expectations. The number of apps in the App Store soared past 100,000 with hundreds of new games being released every day.

We sat down trying to figure out the best iPhone games of 2009 and found the task of narrowing down the list to a select few to be near impossible. Instead, we’ve organized our year in review into categories with what we feel is an excellent cross section of games from 2009. If you just got an iPhone or iPod Touch for Christmas, this list is an excellent starting place to catch you up.

2009 iPhone Game of the Year

Spider: The Secret of Bryce Manor – We choose Tiger Style Games’ Spider: The Secret of Bryce Manor for our 2009 Game of the Year first and foremost because it’s a great game, but also because it perfectly represents the promise of iPhone gaming. Spider is an original concept built specifically for the iPhone by a small self funded team. It’s this low barrier to entry which provides customers with a huge selection of games including unique and polished gems like Spider. You really should experience this one. (Review, App Store)


Doodle Jump – While we have to give props to PapiJump as the clear inspiration for Doodle Jump, Lima Sky has managed to take the game to a whole new level and succeeded in creating a true iPhone classic. Doodle Jump has sold over a million copies to date and even been casually referenced on primetime TV sitcoms. Every day we hear from up and coming developers who claim they have come up with “the next Doodle Jump" but so far Lima Sky’s title hasn’t truly been dethroned. (Review, App Store)

Flight Control – Another iPhone game that will go down in history as one of the classics for the platform. Firemint’s CEO Rob Murray took some of his free time during last year’s Christmas break to whip up a prototype of a game that eventually became Flight Control. The game has single handedly defined a genre on the iPhone of “line drawing" games and has been endlessly imitated throughout the year. (Review, App Store)

iDraculaiDracula was one of the original dual-stick survival shooters. It wasn’t the first, but it’s the one that popularized the concept and opened the doors to a ton of play-alikes. (Article, App Store)

Only on iPhone

Zen Bound – Ok, technically this started life as a PC Game, but Zen Bound didn’t really come into its own until it became an iPhone game in 2009. The game just came to life on the iPhone with multi-touch and tilt controls along with mood and music to perfectly and completely engross you as a player. An experience as much as a game. (Review, App Store)

Eliss – A multi-touch masterpiece. Eliss delivers a unique, challenging and undeniably iPhone experience. Pinching and combining on-screen planets without letting them touch make for some frantic and riveting gameplay. (Review, App Store)

Sway – The unique multi-touch “swinging" controls of Sway may have ultimately been its downfall. If you can master the steep learning curve of the game’s controls, an amazing iPhone platforming experience awaits. (Review, App Store)

Space Ninja – A great use of the iPhone’s accelerometer that allows you to dodge enemy fire and invoke slow motion “bullet time". Unfortunately, a recent 3GS update adds some strange and distracting visual effects, though the developer is said to be working on making those optional in a future release. (Review, App Store)


Meteor Blitz – This is the best space shooter we’ve seen for the iPhone. It delivers 6 unlockable worlds with a good variety of enemies, perfect dual stick controls, and a lot of fun. The art and animation are top notch with all the flourishes you’d expect. (Review, App Store)

Space Invaders Infinity Gene – A really fresh and amazing modernization of the classic Space Invaders formula. Great controls, plenty of unlockables, as well as a unique music-based level generator. (Review, App Store)

Pac Man CE – Developed by the original Pac-Man designer, Tōru Iwatani, Pac-Man Championship Edition succeeds in breathing new life in to this arcade classic. With great controls, colorful graphics, and fast-paced game modes, Pac-Man Championship Edition is by far the best Pac-Man game on the platform. (Review, App Store)

I Dig It / I Dig It Expeditions – Take your tractor turned subterranean digger underground to search for valuable diggins to save the family farm. In the sequel, you take your digger on the road and search for lost treasure in several different environments including the antarctic and even underwater. Both games in the series are worth owning, although Expeditions does offer improvements over the original. (Review, I Dig It / I Dig It Expeditions)


Rolando 2 – Sequel to one of the iPhone’s early original games, Rolando 2 did great justice to the series with 3D level effects, more great music and larger levels. (Review, App Store)

Soosiz – This game adopts the usual trappings of a traditional 2d platformer but perfectly mixes in a gravity defying mechanism that turns out to be a lot more than just a cute gimmick. Combine that with great controls and a ton of content, and you have one of our favorite iPhone games. (Review, App Store)

Hook Champ – Take the same swinging gameplay mechanics popularized by other games, add an RPG style equipment upgrade system, seamless online leaderboards, and fantastic pixelated retro graphics and you’ve got Hook Champ. (Review, App Store)

Retro Games

Saucelifter – A wonderful Choplifter-inspired action shooter with great controls that should appeal to both retro and modern gamers. (Review, App Store)

Rogue Touch – The definitive version of Rogue on the App Store. Consistently updated throughout the year based on community feedback, and enhanced for the iPhone. All the brutal difficulty of the original remains, and there’s even online leaderboards tracking the wealthiest saviors of the Amulet of Yendor. (Review, App Store)

Sword of Fargoal – By far the most approachable roguelike, Sword of Fargoal is a classic dungeon crawler with randomly generated levels which provide nearly infinite replay value. Aside from being a fantastic game, Sword of Fargoal also serves as an excellent example of how retro ports should be done. The iPhone version preserves the look and feel of the original while adding new OpenGL effects and other modern graphical flare. If you’ve never played a roguelike before, Sword of Fargoal is a great introduction to the genre. (Review, App Store)

Beneath a Steel Sky – An iPhone adaptation of the classic point and click adventure. While we loved the compete overhaul of Secret of Monkey Island which is absent from this release, Beneath a Steel Sky delivered something even better: great iPhone controls. A classic adventure game that is worthy for both fans and newcomers to the series. (Review, App Store)


Real Racing – Perhaps we should have categorized this as a “classic", but Real Racing was the first iPhone racing game that really blew us away. The great graphics, perfect controls and AI all combined to make this one of the best iPhone racing games that still holds up today. (Review, App Store)

Need for Speed Shift – EA’s latest entry in to the genre can easily stand next to the best racing games on the platform in terms of the amount of included licensed materials, different game modes, and overall fun-factor. With control settings and driving assist options that range from the game practically playing itself to a competent racing simulation complete with a manual transmission mode, Need For Speed: Shift is a must-have for any fan of racing games. (Review, App Store)

2XL ATV Offroad – We described this as a “console quality" iPhone racer. The game is technically impressive with beautiful graphics and manages to combine it with varied tracks, a proper career mode and Wi-Fi multiplayer to deliver one of the best racers in the App Store. (Review, App Store)

Jet Car Stunts – A remarkably fun jet car racer/platformer that had us coming back again and again due to its great controls, fresh visual style and mind boggling levels. The only real complaint we’ve seen voiced has been the relative difficulty of the game, but, honestly, that’s what made it so addicting. (Review, App Store)


Toki Tori – A cute and challenging puzzle platformer that has been excellently adapted to the iPhone. Beautifully animated and ramps up nicely to provide plenty of gameplay. (Review, App Store)

Bobby Carrot Forever – Another excellent level-based puzzle game that requires you to navigate obstacles in order to collect all the carrots and reach the exit. 60 levels provide a refreshingly challenging puzzle game that offers well over 15 hours of gameplay. (Review, App Store)


Canabalt – This isn’t a particularly deep game. In fact, the average gaming session is probably measured in seconds rather than minutes. But with its simplicity and style, it managed to keep us coming back again and again. You can try out the identical Flash version for free at (Review, App Store)

Boost 3D – We might not have been too over the top about the game when we first reviewed it, but over time we realized that Boost 3D is a game that we love to play. There’s something hypnotic about this tunnel runner that had us coming back to play it again and again. (Review, App Store)

Harbor Master – Among the first of the avalanche of Flight Control inspired games, Harbor Master mixes things up by having the player dock cargo ships and send them back out to sea on a variety of different levels– Each with a different layout and some with additional gameplay elements such as pirate ships to shoot or sea monsters to fight off. (Review, App Store)

Labyrinth 2 – The sequel to the game that pioneered the marble rolling genre on the iPhone before the App Store even existed, Labyrinth 2 takes the standard wooden labyrinth game and adds even more obstacles, fantastic 3D graphics, and a full featured online level editor. The user created content community has already exploded and you can load up Labyrinth 2 every day and have a new batch of levels to play through, all of which download almost instantly inside of the game. (Review, App Store)

First Person Shooters

Eliminate Pro – We know some readers were unable to get past this game’s pay model, but we’ve logged more hours in this game than almost every other… and we never paid a single penny for it. Online FPS deathmatch with our friends and quick sessions throughout the day kept us playing this regularly. (Review, App Store)

N.O.V.A. – Drawing inspiration from Sci-Fi console classics, NOVA is a surprisingly complete and full featured iPhone first person shooter. With an epic single player campaign that will take you several hours to complete, graphics which are among the best currently available on the platform, and four player online deathmatch modes, NOVA has successfully lived up to the insane amount of pre-release hype. (Review, App Store)


Bookworm – A game that should need no introduction, Popcap’s word searching classic fits great on the iPhone. The touch controls work effortlessly, and the gameplay is perfect for the casual play style of many iPhone gamers. (Review, App Store)

Words with Friends – Asynchronous online multiplayer not-quite-Scrabble that can either be played for free with in-game ads or without for a couple bucks. A recent update added push notifications to tell you when it’s your turn and according to Newtoy, the average player spends 1.5 hours each day playing. (Review, App Store)

Weird/Funny Games

Enviro-Bear 2010 – The best bear driving a car simulator available on any platform. Aside from just being a really crazy game, Enviro-Bear 2010 features some really clever interactions between items and if you survive long enough you’ll even earn yourself a slick coon skin cap. (Review, App Store)

Must Eat Birds – This simple slingshot-powered pastry defense game is delightfully Japanese, its ridiculous premise is rivaled only by “maximum bake" mode which must be experienced to truly appreciate. (Review, App Store)

Hi, How Are You – A wonderful tribute to the life, music, and art of Daniel Johnston– And a fun puzzle platformer game with great cell shaded graphics to boot. If you’ve never heard of Daniel Johnston, Hi, How Are You is a good place to start. (Review, App Store)

Battle Bears – The ridiculous premise of this survival shooter involving a bear commando mowing down swarms of pink bears that spew rainbows when they die is worth the price of admission alone. As if the game couldn’t get more silly, a recent update added a Colbear boss, zombie bears, and even a rap theme song.
(Review, App Store)

Cult Classics

Minigore – This dual stick shooter isn’t necessarily any better than other dual stick shooters on the platform, but the extent that it has managed to captivate our community is rivaled by very few games. Stricken by problems with Apple’s approval process, MiniGore is only now beginning to see the features Mountain Sheep intended on implementing long ago. (Review, App Store)

Pocket God – It’s hard to even categorize or summarize Pocket God. Existing somewhere in between a entertainment app and a collection of mini games, Bolt Creative has managed to amass an army of millions of fans worldwide by consistently releasing free content updates and making players feel like they’re a part of the project by constantly interacting with and implementing ideas generated by the community. You KNOW you like Pocket God. (Review, App Store)


geoDefense / geoDefense Swarm – Whether you prefer open field or fixed path tower defense games, the geoDefense series are among the best available on the platform. Featuring difficulty levels that range from difficult to really really difficult, geoDefense is balanced in a way which will always keep you on your toes. (Review, geoDefense / Swarm)

Defender Chronicles – This odd hybrid between a tower defense game and an RPG has seen an absolute ridiculous amount of content added to it since its initial release. 20 different types of units, hundreds of items, multiple difficulty levels and game modes along with online leaderboards and voiceovers make Defender Chronicles among the best in its genre. (Review, App Store)

Chess with Friends – The iPhone equivalent to snail mail correspondence chess– You can play the ad-based version for free, or upgrade to the premium version to play without ads. Recently added push notifications that alert you when its your turn and an endless supply of human opponents makes this the best chess game available on the platform. (Article, App Store)

Role Playing

Zenonia – While the amount of grinding to level up may have lessened the experience for some, Zenonia still seems to be the benchmark that most RPG’s are compared to amongst our community. The game will take you around 40 hours to complete, and the five included character classes will tempt you to play through it multiple times. (Review, App Store)

Underworlds – A great dungeon crawler with tons of monsters to slay and loot to pick up. Underworlds was the first of its kind on the platform, and a recent content update made it even better.
(Review, App Store)

Inotia: A Wanderer of Luone – The sequel of The Chronicles of Inotia sports considerable improvements to nearly all aspects of the game. Multiple character classes, a well designed battle system, mercenaries that can be added to your party, and a surprisingly full featured online component combine in to a game that will be hard for fans of roleplaying games to pass up. (Review, App Store)

Ravensword – While this RPG may lack some gameplay elements which have become standard in modern games, it marks an amazing accomplishment in iPhone development. Created by a team of two, RavenSword features an expansive and beautiful open world filled with quests to complete, hidden areas to find, and countless monsters to slay. (Review, App Store)


Peggle – If you don’t know what Peggle is by now, you must have spent the past few years on Mars with your eyes closed and fingers in your ears. Inspired by pachinko and loaded with style, gratuitous graphical effects, and the Ode To Joy, this may be the perfect casual game. (Review, App Store)

Ragdoll Blaster – Fire ragdolls out of a cannon to complete over 100 different levels. Frustrating at times, Ragdoll Blaster is fun enough to keep you coming back for more– Even after you’ve spent the last 15 minutes retrying the same level so many times that you lost count. (Review, App Store)

iBlast Moki – The goal is to get the Mokis from point A to point B through the use of bombs, ropes, balloons, wheels and more as you traverse through the 6 worlds and 70 levels. The overall quality of iBlast Moki as well as the inclusion of a level editor with sharable levels make this game really stand out. (Review, App Store)


Baseball Superstars 2010 – Not only a great baseball game, it is also packed with RPG elements that add an amazing amount of depth. Aside from playing standard games of baseball, both super batters and super pitchers can be leveled up in season modes. These characters can be customized in a number of ways, allowing for hours upon hours of gameplay with each character. (Review, App Store)

Homerun Battle 3D – This one will always be known as Baseball Slugger to us, but since changed its name to Homerun Battle 3D. If you’re not a sports game fan, don’t let the sports theme throw you off, Homerun Battle 3D is one of the best. It also represented the first massively successful online matchup system we’ve seen in the App Store allowing you to easily compete head-to-head against others around the world. (Review, App Store)

Backbreaker Football – While nowhere near as deep as the “full" football games on the platform, Backbreaker is probably more fun. The game is laid out in series of challenges where you guide your player to the end zone, hopefully scoring bonus points by “showboating". (Review, App Store)

Let’s Golf – The closest thing available on the App Store to Hot Shots Golf. This arcade golf game features 63 holes, local multiplayer, and different control modes that appeal to both casual players and those looking for a slightly more technical game of golf. (Review, App Store)


We spent weeks sorting through the hundreds of games we’ve reviewed this year, and found excuse after excuse to keep adding to the list. Even so, there were still plenty of games we quite enjoyed that didn’t make it to this list. Feel free to add your suggestions to the comments if we missed one of your favorites.