Well, that’s another year just about in the books. This was a strange year all around, and it wasn’t until we all started to deliberate on the end-of-year stuff that I truly realized how many awesome, fun, and unique games hit iOS in 2017. Sure, there were some amazing ports, and I think those have commanded a lot of attention as the year has come to a close. But there were also a lot of cool mobile originals, many of which came from developers new to the scene. I had a hard time carving this list down to just ten games, with the last couple of cuts taking an awful lot of deliberation. As usual, I’m not going to rank these in any order beyond the alphabetical. All of them are equally worthy of consideration.
Card Thief, Free I think a lot of people who loved Card Crawl didn’t get into Card Thief quite as much. It’s not surprising because it has a very different sort of appeal to it. It’s not as immediately accessible as that game was, but in exchange it’s a much deeper game mechanically. I love the way it manages to pull off stealth in a card game, and it’s really great about daring the player to push themselves past their comfort zone. And of course there are all the little touches that make this developer’s games come to life. You’ll have to stick with it a bit to get the full effect, but it’s well worth the investment in the end.
Cat Quest, $4.99 I have a feeling Cat Quest is going to show up on a lot of our staff Top Ten lists, but there’s a good reason for that. Simply put, this is an outstanding action-RPG that has something to offer you whether you’ve got a whole evening to sink or just a coffee break. It looks great, plays well, and has a ton of things to do in it. I particularly like how even though it has clear influences, the game truly feels like its own thing. Simply a grand adventure.
DANDY DUNGEON Brave Yamada, Free Dandy Dungeon is such an odd little game. The unlikeliest of heroes embarks on a story quite unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. The dungeon-diving is quick, somewhat unique, and requires a clever eye. The RPG mechanics are well-realized, though there are occasional bits where things drag due to the game’s free-to-play nature. I’d strongly recommend buying the permanent shop items that cut back on that stuff if you really mean to fully enjoy this game. And you should; it’s a great panacea for a case of the same-olds.
Danmaku Unlimited 3, $4.99 There have been a lot of great shoot-em-ups released over the last couple of years on the App Store. This is one genre where I firmly believe an indie has a shot at competing with the big boys, and one of the main reasons why I believe that is the Danmaku Unlimited series. The previous game in the series was incredible, and this third game easily stands alongside it as one of the finest shoot-em-ups you can get on your iOS device. It’s a tough game that rewards mastery and courage, making for a thrilling experience that keeps you coming back for more.
[Premium] RPG Djinn Caster, $4.99 A Kemco release? On Shaun’s Top Ten? It’s more likely than you may think. I think Kemco must have finally been getting diminishing returns on their near-monthly cookie-cutter JRPG releases, because this year they demonstrated a clear effort to work with new developers and publish some games outside of their usual input. They’re all nice, but the best of the lot is easily Djinn Caster, an enjoyable Arabian-style fantasy that combines a strong story with solid action mechanics. If you miss the days when games like Zenonia and Inotia offered up fun action-RPG adventures without a free-to-play shakedown, you’ll definitely want to check out this game.
Empyrean, $6.99 Choice of Games puts out a lot of releases in any given year. So many that even I can’t keep up, even though I wish I could. As usual, there were a lot of great games in their line-up this year, but for my money, the most enjoyable was Empyrean. The setting is great, a sort of dieselpunk pulp hero world where a foppish wealthy socialite can secretly become a flying ace purveyor of justice at the drop of a hat and the donning of a mask. With great characters, an intriguing plot, and an excellent branching narrative, Empyrean is one gamebook you won’t want to miss.
Fire Emblem Heroes, Free Those who know me well know that I am a total Fire Emblem nut. It’s one of my favorite series of games, and as such, I looked forward to the release of this game with equal amounts of anticipation and trepidation. When it finally came out, I was pleasantly surprised at how much of the core gameplay it was able to keep while still making it suitable for quick play. But Fire Emblem Heroes isn’t here because of how it was at launch. It’s here because the developers have significantly improved the game with a bunch of thoughtful updates that came about from listening to the community’s feedback. The game it is now, after all those updates, more than deserves its spot.
Million Onion Hotel, $3.99 Typically, I try to avoid including more than one game for any given developer on my list. But I really couldn’t choose between Dandy Dungeon and Million Onion Hotel, and given that they are very different games, I think it’s probably okay. This game calls back to classic game design, where you were told nothing directly and had to figure out how things worked by messing around and paying attention to the results. There’s more going on here than you might initially expect, and the way it fuses its bizarre story to the gameplay mechanics is excellent. Also, Space Cows.
Thimbleweed Park, $9.99 There are two important ways that Thimbleweed Park succeeds. First of all, it’s a great point-and-click adventure game in the classic Lucasarts style. That’s no surprise given that the people who made it are the very folks behind that classic style, mind you. But the other way it succeeds is somewhat more surprising. All too often, when legendary creators return to the genre or style that made them famous, the result tends to come off like a simple throwback or perhaps a victory lap. Thimbleweed simultaneously manages to pay its respects to the genre while also deconstructing it in a clever way. It’s a game that only its creators could have made, and only at this point in their lives and careers. You may not necessarily be pleased with how it all turns out, but you’ve got to respect it, if nothing else.
YANKAI'S PEAK., $3.99 Many people are obsessed with geometric shapes, but it’s a rare talent to be able to use that obsession to entertain others. Kenny Sun is one such talent, and his favorite toy this year was the humble pyramid. Yankai’s Peak is an unusual spin on block-pushing puzzle games like Sokoban or Boxxle, swapping out easy-to-predict cubed crates in a warehouse for trickier pyramids on precarious platforms. You control one pyramid and need to use it to push the others into their proper positions. Once you suss out the solution, it can be a surprisingly simple process, but getting there is a lot of puzzling fun.
This has been a challenging year for me, both personally and professionally. If nothing else, the beat of the App Store drum is a steady one, ensuring that no matter how many breaks I need to take, there will always be some great games to fill them with. While I don’t really know what to expect specifically in 2018, I suspect at least that fact will remain true. Here’s to the year, friends, and may it find you in good health and happiness!