I’ve been following TouchArcade since the inception of the App Store back in 2008, and it’s still somewhat surreal to see articles, reviews, and most importantly controversial hot-takes written by myself show up on the front page of the best mobile gaming website on the internet. I’m forever indebted to Eli, Jared and the crew for giving a relatively inexperienced university student the chance to write for the site and for making the last six months so enjoyable, as well as grateful to the community for reading and interacting with articles I’ve posted (and not pointing out too many grammatical errors along the way). However, the most fascinating part of becoming a games journalist is being able to experience one of the best calendar years for mobile gaming from a completely different perspective – having to discover and play new apps on my iPhone on a daily basis has given me an even greater understanding of the sheer strength of content that the platform has seen in 2016. After a lot of deliberation, here are the ten App Store releases that have been the most captivating and compelling over the past calendar year.
Pokémon GO, Free It’s hard to compare Pokemon GO to other mobile games, because over the summer it managed to transcend the shackles of video games and become its own all-encompassing phenomenon that reached all the way to the very corners of the globe. After the release of Pokemon GO in July, the streets of London were littered with both hardcore fans of the series, and people who may have never played a video game in their life, all sharing the common goal of trying to capture digital creatures on their phone. Back in my more modest hometown, vast groups of us went on excavations to locate that elusive Dragonair near the local lake, and explored around town on an unprecedented scale until only limitations of phone battery stood in our way. Pokemon GO got people outside who may have hidden inside their homes without it; Pokemon GO caused strangers to help each other out and ironically connect through a mobile application in an era where smartphones have made real-world interactions borderline irrelevant. As a mobile game, Pokemon GO is flawed and may not be particularly deep, but it’s still the most fun millions – including myself – have had playing a video game in years. And yes, people are still playing it.
Crashlands, $6.99 Bizarrely, I didn’t end up playing Crashlands until relatively recently, and managed to avoid the vast majority of pre-release hype and successive critical acclaim after its launch on the App Store. Despite this, Crashlands still managed to be one of the most engrossing and enjoyable games I have had the pleasure of experiencing on any platform this year, let alone on iOS. Through escaping the pitfalls of its sprawling scale with an abundance of charm, some extremely intuitive touchscreen controls that just work, and a crafting system that managed to defy my incredible cynicism towards such a mechanic, Crashlands is a deserving winner of the overall TouchArcade Game of the Year for 2016, and I’d implore anyone to play Butterscotch Shenanigan’s stunningly enthralling opus.
Human Resource Machine, $4.99 I have zero background of coding or programming; I spend the majority of my life reading dusty old books from days before the dystopian reality that Human Resource Machine depicts would even be considered a possibility. On paper, Tomorrow Corporation’s latest App Store release should simply not be a fit for my tastes, but the abundance of humor and charm coupled with a unique and thought-provoking approach to the puzzle genre meant Human Resource Machine took over my life for the months around its launch. Even when I was not playing the game, I would still be thinking around logical solutions to problems that had stumped me. To randomly experience that ‘Eureka’ moment when a previously impossible level in Human Resource Machine suddenly makes sense is easily one of my most satisfying gaming moments of the year.
RollerCoaster Tycoon® Classic, $5.99 It’s a bit strange saying that a game that first released all the way back in 1999 has finally found its perfect platform, but that is exactly what has happened for RollerCoaster Tycoon Classic. Being an amalgamation of the first and second titles in the series, both of which, with their old-school isometric perspectives are generally renowned as the best entries in the franchise, it was inevitable that RollerCoaster Tycoon Classic would be a vital release for any fans of similar simulator titles. However, it still surprised me how well the games play on the touchscreen of the iPad (and even the iPhone, to a lesser extent). Whether it’s the surprise release right before the iTunes freeze, the fantastic porting job that Chris Sawyer personally oversaw, or the overpowering allure of childhood nostalgia, RollerCoaster Tycoon Classic really took me for a ride in 2016.
Solitairica, $3.99 In retrospect, Solitairica was still all the things that make me skeptical about card games – playthroughs can be extremely long and drawn out, and the reliance on luck can cause a last minute defeat on the final round to be incredibly infuriating. However, the transition of solitaire into a roguelike-style RPG was so well done that such limitations of the format were no longer an issue, and there were countless occasions where a short session before bed had escalated into hour long forays to slay the nefarious Emperor Stuck. With a cast of distinguishable and memorable opponents, a whole host of status effects that forced you to stay on your toes, and six different decks to add hours upon hours of replayability, Solitairica left a profound impression upon me after its summer release, and I’m incredibly excited to see whether the developers add further decks or craft a sequel to this underrated 2016 gem.
Really Bad Chess, Free A few weeks ago, I showed Really Bad Chess to a friend who takes real chess seriously, and he immediately declared that the game looked stupid. I’m not going to outright disagree with him there – when you first see a board where there are four queens guarding your back line, it seems illogical and as if you’re cheating against the opposition. There are better chess simulators, for sure – but Zach Gage’s latest genius concoction manages to stand out from similar games for this very reason. A consistently clever AI opponent forces you to adapt to incredibly unique scenarios in the game, and the randomness of the board prevents more experienced players from falling into the comfort of old habits and routine as they plot their next move. With a dynamic difficulty scaling system and a wide variety of weekly and daily challenges assured that Really Bad Chess would become a mainstay not only on my device, but also on the phone of my friend who previously derided such a bizarre but brilliant concept for a chess game.
King Rabbit, Free Furdemption was one of my favorite games of 2015, so it makes sense that Raresloth’s sequel King Rabbit would be an equally enjoyable experience. However, I was somewhat surprised by how often I kept on revisiting King Rabbit, as while retaining the mechanics that made its prequel so engrossing, the developers were able to further expand the variety of puzzles available while keeping an incentive open for completionists who may be looking for more of a challenge. The inclusion of collectible carats and diamonds within each level added extra elements of timing, planning and sharp reflexes to each puzzle, which coupled with beautiful graphical style and customisation options meant King Rabbit was accessible to casual gamers looking for a slower puzzle game, but also enthusiastic fans of Furdemption. In effect the perfect sequel, and also a perfect example of how the free-to-play mechanic can be a blessing and not just a curse.
Blitz Breaker, $2.99 I’ve been following the development of Blitz Breaker since its initial reveal in 2015, and consistent delays for the mobile release caused doubts to fester on whether the iOS port would be responsive enough to handle the quick reflexes required to solve the game’s rock-hard levels. Thankfully, such fears were quickly quashed upon the game’s release. Blitz Breaker provided fast-paced twitch action that was perfectly suited to mobile gaming, and its interesting endless movement mechanic that was previously done so well in The Last Rocket allowed Reece Kelly to create a number of puzzles that were incredibly varied, all the while relying on timing, reflexes and ingenuity to reach the end before the timer expired. Best of all, the tight controls meant that while Blitz Breaker was admittedly frustrating at times, you could rarely ever blame the game, and as a result made it oh so difficult to put down.
Severed, $6.99 While technically being first released on the PlayStation Vita back in April, the iOS release of Severed felt like the true homecoming of Drinkbox Studio’s slashing epic, as its touchscreen emphasis for exploration and combat was perfectly suited to the platform. A beautiful world with a mysterious and melancholic story and aesthetic design, winding dungeons packed with secrets and surprises around every corner, and a clever use of Metroidvania style progression and backtracking made Severed feel larger and more expansive than adventure titles that had gone before it on iOS. However, it’s the brilliant touchscreen combat against multiple enemies at once that was the most engrossing, and each opponent having its own strengths and weaknesses kept every battle interesting and dynamic throughout the game. Ultimately, Severed ended up being a macabre mobile amalgamation of Metroid Prime exploration with The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword combat, which is quite the compliment.
Reigns, $2.99 Turning the shallow binary mechanics of Tinder into a video game sounds like an absurd idea on paper – after all, how many RPG titles can be reduced to merely yes or no choices? After playing Reigns, however, I can’t believe how ingenious the concept is, and how well it works both from a portability perspective but also the hidden amount of depth the game possesses. Having to balance the church, the army, the will of the people and your monetary reserves, each simple swipe left or right can have far-reaching implications for the future of each monarch. Coupled with some extremely bizarre encounters with crazy characters, Reigns was unlike any video game before it, and stands out as an essential iOS release in an incredibly strong year of releases, and will likely take you well into 2017 to beat the devil without the help of a walkthrough.