Did ya’ll miss me? What? You didn’t even notice I was gone? Well, shame on you. (And me, for not making a more lasting impression.) My last review here was around April, before my life took a different turn and I no longer had time to pump out reviews every week. However, my love of iOS games (and making lists) has lead me back to Touch Arcade Towers to put my fingers to the keys once again and hopefully shine a light on a few more outstanding games that came out this year. I can’t quit you, TA!
Without further ado, and in alphabetical order, here are my top ten iOS games of 2016:
Big Bang Racing, Free I love hill climb-y games, and I also love Trials. How about combine both of those into one game with separate car and bike levels to cater to whatever kind of thing you’re into? And while we’re at it, let’s throw in a stupid-simple level editor as well! Personally, I’m slightly more enamored with Trials, so I spent weeks upon weeks racing through a seemingly infinite supply of bike levels and creating/sharing tons of my own. I couldn’t believe how little traction (heh) this game got when it first launched, and I was thrilled to see it wind up in Apple’s Best of 2016 list. And now it’s in mine, too.
Chameleon Run, $1.99 Ah, here we have that rarest of animals. No, not chameleons. I’m talking about premium auto-runners, and Chameleon Run is worth every pretty penny. Remember back in the day when color-switching runners were all the rage? Polara (Free), Bobbing ($0.99), etc. I’ve always loved that mechanic, and publisher Noodlecake brings it back with style in one of my favorite runners of the year. It may not appear to offer that many levels for the money, but don’t let that fool you. The challenging three-star speedrun system and extra goals for each level has kept me coming back for months.
Cubed Rally World, Free Ever since the first Cubed Rally game, I’ve been a bit of a NoCanWin fanboy. Jared Bailey has a knack for making super simple “just one more go" type games that tend to stay on my iPhones for years. I may not be 100% smitten with everything he’s made, but this year he managed to release not one but two ridiculously great games in Cubed Rally World and Rocket Ski Racing (Free). I decided to only include one, though, and after a fierce battle my nostalgia for the Cubed series ultimately ended up winning a spot on this list. In fact, World is not much different from Cubed Rally Redline (Free), but it tightens up the near-perfect mechanics of the previous game and adds an insane number of different land, air, sea, and moon vehicles to unlock that each have their own unique environments to race in. I played this one non-stop the first few weeks after it came out, and it won’t be leaving my phone any time soon.
Midnight Star Renegade, Free For the better part of a decade, developers have been trying to make first person shooters work on touch screens. Most usually end up plastering a bunch of little buttons all over the screen, but a few have tried to make the genre work with a slightly more elegant control scheme. My two favorite examples of this are The Drowning and Midnight Star (Free). Unfortunately, the former ended up being kind of a mess and it never really got off the ground (though I did love the unique controls). The latter was a bit more successful, thankfully, and wound up with a fantastic sequel this year that addressed nearly every complaint leveled against its predecessor. No longer on rails, Renegade cleverly added a bunch of movement nodes around each map so you can go wherever you want, whenever you want–as long as there’s a node there. It’s a system that works shockingly well in practice, and made an already fun shooter about four times better. Plus, the developers did away with most of the clunky free-to-play junk the first game had (while still remaining free) and added in a ton of weapons and gear to collect, craft, and customize. On top of all that, it has multiplayer! We could argue for days whether or not Midnight Star Renegade is a “true" FPS or not, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s the best one to grace iOS since Ngmoco’s Eliminate Pro.
Mini Metro, $3.99 This is probably the game I’ve played least on this list, but not because it’s any less awesome than the others. Rather, it’s because (I’m rather ashamed to admit) I didn’t pick it up until the Christmas sale last week. I had thought about buying it a few times over the past few months since it got so many glowing reviews, but the screenshots never grabbed me and I really had no idea what the game was even about. Thankfully, the absurdly low price finally did push me over the edge and I’ve been rewarded with an incredibly addictive little strategy game that has literally been the only thing on my iPad’s screen all week.
Riff Racer: Race Your Music, $0.99 You may have noticed a lot of racing games on this list. It’s undoubtedly one of my favorite genres, and it works incredibly well on iOS devices. In fact, one of the only genres I might like better is rhythm games. Hey, let’s combine both of them into one thing! It may not be a completely original idea (see: Audiosurf), but Riff Racer pulls it off extremely well. Plus, you can use your own tracks to make new levels (with a global leaderboard auto-magically created the first time someone plays a song) which is a blast. The process is admittedly kind of a pain if you don’t have music downloaded to your device in advance, but it’s downright thrilling when everything comes together and you’re drifting and flipping through something like She Is Beautiful by Andrew WK.
SteamWorld Heist, $9.99 This is another game I was a bit late to the party on. It’s been available on other platforms for quite a while, but I didn’t discover it until it hit iOS a month or two ago. What I found was an incredibly fun and accessible turn-based (and cover-based) shooter that I was recommending to anyone and everyone who would listen. Do you like X-Com, Worms, the Firefly TV series, robots, games, or happiness? Then you need this in your life.
Thumb Drift - Furious Racing, Free If you asked me to come up with a list of “perfect" mobile games, Thumb Drift would easily crack my top 5. That doesn’t mean it’s my favorite iOS game ever, but I’d be hard-pressed to find something that checks more boxes than this one in terms of how people like to play on their iPhones. Portrait? Yep. One handed? You bet. Tons of unlockables? Uh huh. Constantly updated? Yes’m. Free? Of course. And, most important, it’s ridiculously fun to play. I’ve always been a big fan of drifting around corners in racing games, and this one absolutely nails that feeling in a way that’s somewhat hard to master but absurdly satisfying when you finally do.
TIME LOCKER - Shooter, Free Having never played Superhot, Time Locker hit me like a ton of bricks. Here’s a fantastic endless runner with a gorgeous minimalist art style and an incredibly clever gimmick: the action only moves when you move. Stop running, and so do all the enemies and bullets. Sure, it’s the same basic idea as Superhot, but so what? It works shockingly well as an endless runner, and is by far one of the most fun and unique little pick-up-and-play games I played all year.
Train Conductor World, Free I never played any of the Train Conductor series until I reviewed World, but man am I glad I found it. This is basically two games in one, with your typical train routing being the main course while also featuring a surprisingly deep meta-game of collecting different train tracks and creating your own paths to famous cities to unlock new levels. Both sides of the game are equally compelling in different ways, and it almost boggles my mind how they managed to get the whole thing to feel so great together. On top of that, the game has some of the best presentation I’ve ever seen in a mobile game, with vibrant colors and incredibly charming music tying the whole package up in a neat bow. Gun to my head, this might be my favorite game of 2016.
That’s all, folks. You may notice some of the more obvious choices absent here (like Crashlands ($6.99), Super Mario Run (Free), Sky Force Reloaded (Free), Severed ($6.99), Human Resource Machine ($4.99), Reigns ($2.99), etc…). I absolutely adored every single one of those games, but the rest of the staff already did an outstanding job writing about them in their respective Top Ten lists and I decided to take this opportunity to mention a few games that you maybe haven’t read quite as much about lately. In any event, I wish you all the best of luck in the new year, and maybe you’ll see some of my reviews pop up again at some point. Or maybe I’ll be back to begging Eli and Jared to let me make another list at the end of next year. Who knows!