Editor’s Note: Distilling the ridiculous amount of iOS game releases down to a game of the year, a runner up, and 25 other “bests" takes a lot of hacking and slashing of titles off a massive list of games we considered. This year’s initial list was among the biggest I can remember of all the years we’ve been doing this, so, like previous years, the TouchArcade staff weighs in with lists of their own personal favorites which might not have made the overall best list for one reason or another. We’re going to drizzle these out over the next couple days while we wait for iTunes to thaw out.
As a very, very long-time reader of Touch Arcade, it was an absolute thrill to start writing reviews here this year. Not only has it been a blast getting to shove my brain-thoughts into the internet machine for your reading pleasure, it’s also been super interesting getting a peek behind the scenes of how the website is put together every day. (Basically, everyone sits around smoking cigars and giggling while trying to decide which free-to-play game to give 5 stars to — all except Carter “3.5” Dotson, of course). We laughed, we cried, we got mad about Confederate flags. It’s been a great year! Without any further ado, here is my favorites for the year of 2015 (in order of release):
Alto's Adventure, $4.99 Toward the beginning of the year my ladyfriend and I took a trip to Leavenworth, which is kinda like a weird little Bavarian town in the middle of Washington State. Two things are burned into my memory from our vacation: #TheDress, and Alto’s Adventure. My girlfriend saw white and gold while I saw blue and black (the true colors), but luckily we were both able to agree that this brand new little snowboarding game from developer Snowman was incredibly fun (and surprisingly fitting for our faux-Alpine surroundings). We played it nonstop, and I still think it’s one of the best (and most beautiful) endless “runners” on the App Store.
AG Drive, $2.99 I love me some WipEout. It’s probably my favorite racing series of all time, and unfortunately there aren’t a ton of similar future-y racing games on the App Store. Alright, there are actually quite a few at this point, but almost none of them come close to being as great as the classic Playstation series. Repulze ($0.99) is probably my favorite overall, but AG Drive sure came close to taking its place in my heart this year. The game is gorgeous, fast, and controls shockingly well with tilt. Plus, there is a ton of content, with a fairly lengthy career mode and a super fun upgrade system to keep you progressing through the game. Hey, App Store! More games like this, please!
Pocket Mine 2, Free Here’s a game I was entirely not expecting. I had never even heard of the first one, and had basically zero faith in the sequel to some random free-to-play mining game being good. I’m not even sure why I downloaded it at all. Slow week, perhaps? Much to my surprise, though, I ended up falling completely in love with the game and becoming hopelessly addicted to all the digging, card crafting, and loadout building. In fact, it’s probably the game I played most out of any this entire year. You really never know what’s gonna grab you, eh?
Capitals Battle, Free Every time a fun new word game comes out, I get my dad hooked on it and we end up playing for months or even years. This past year, the main one we played was Capitals. Despite the fact that I’m pretty sure he’s cheating (“PANDIT"? “JEUX”? Really?) we still play every single day. The beauty of it is that it’s almost more of a strategy game than a word game, as each side has a base they need to protect by carefully choosing which hexagonal letter tiles to use. It’s the best kind of strategy game, too: Incredibly easy to learn, and surprisingly deep and nuanced when you really get into it. Best of all, you don’t really need to come up with super long, obscure words to win, since positioning is more important than any “score” you might find in a lesser word game. Good news for those of us playing against friggin’ cheaters, right dad?
Xenowerk, $0.99 Earlier in this list I mentioned the fact that 2013’s Repulze is my favorite futuristic racer on the App Store (though AG Drive is very, very close). It should be no surprise, then, that Repulze developer Pixelbite created one of my favorite games of this year as well. Of course, Xenowerk wasn’t the first dual stick shooter they released in 2015 (that would be the also-amazing Space Marshals ($3.99)), but out of the two of them Xenowerk is definitely my favorite. It may not be as original, varied, or strategic as the stealthy Marshals, but it’s exactly the sort of game my short attention span loves. Lots of guns, aliens, and upgrades. Perfection!
The Executive, $2.99 I got into this one a few months late, but man was I glad when I did. Not only is it a super fun and unique touch-based brawler, it’s also a clicker. It’s a potent combination that sucked many, many hours from my life. The fact that the game has an incredibly weird corporate-life-meets-monsters theme that makes it feel even more original is just icing on the cake. A very strange, very delicious cake.
Race The Sun, $4.99 One of the few games I gave 5 stars to, Race the Sun is a stunning little game. It has a unique visual style, incredibly satisfying just-one-more-go gameplay, and plenty of things to unlock and keep you progressing. Tons of games have come out since then that have pretty closely aped some of its best ideas (though it’s not terribly difficult to think of a few games that it was inspired by, too), but Race the Sun is still my favorite out of all of them. It just feels great to play, and the daily environment change does a great job of keeping things fresh all these months later.
Guitar Hero® Live, Free As a huge fan of previous games in the franchise (and the Rock Band series as well), I was incredibly stoked for this to hit iOS. And it was supposed to be exactly the same version as the one on consoles (and even released at the same time)! Did it live up to the hype? Well… almost. It was missing a few features from the other versions, and launched with a major bug that made the game unplayable for a lot of folks (including me and Eli). Furthermore, the promised Apple TV version was nowhere to be found for those first few weeks. Thankfully, all of these issues have been remedied as of this writing, and the game is now even more amazing than when I first reviewed it. If the current version is what had launched all those weeks ago, I would have 5-star’d the crap out of this game. It’s amazing, and I’m still playing it almost every single day.
Crossy Road, Free (Apple TV Version) I know, I know. Crossy Road did not come out in 2015. But the Apple TV version did, and while it’s almost identical to the fantastic iPhone and iPad version, it’s got one killer feature: multiplayer. It’s not just a silly gimmick, either; playing two-player Crossy Road with family and friends is some of the most fun I’ve had with video games all year. It doesn’t seem like it should be that amazing since it’s so simple, but being able to push your opponent into oncoming trains and whatnot just never gets old. Ever. Brilliantly, the game tracks the scores of both players and the combined score so you can play against each other or help each other without ever changing modes or anything. It’s seriously the best.
BADLAND 2, $0.99 Where the hell did this one come from? I didn’t even know Frogmind was making a sequel to their hit Badland ($0.99) in the first place, but here we are. I mean, they’ve been so good with updates to the original that I guess I assumed they’d be doing that forever. I’m glad they aren’t, though, because Badland 2 improves upon the original’s formula in a number of clever ways that wouldn’t have really worked as an update to the first one, not least of which being the ability to move backwards. It sounds incredibly simple and minor, but it actually opens up each level considerably, allowing you to travel up and down through long vertical spaces rather than just left to right. Plus, it’s every bit as jaw-droppingly gorgeous, fun, and challenging as the original.