modern culture since 1991

Wings over Sealand


This is why you’re probably an idiot

Posted on September 01, 2011 by RevStu

If there's one thing we all love here at WoSland, it's a good old-fashioned All-Time Top 100. And from a critic's standpoint, we've long thought the gold standard was the 1991 Your Sinclair chart for the ZX Spectrum. Not for its writing, or even (so much) the games themselves, but because the list showcased an incredible breadth of game types, such as we never thought we'd see again in mainstream commercial gaming.

That was until iOS arrived, of course. Now, for the first time in 20 years, it's once again possible to create a legitimate one-format Top 100 in which there are barely any two games in the same genre. And to prove it, that's just what we've done. But there's something even more special about this particular list.

It's not the fact that it's ordered by alphabet rather than merit. (That's just because we didn't want to have a massive week-long argument with ourselves trying to somehow compare PicoPico Fighters to Broken Sword Director's Cut and rank them against each other.) And it's not that there are probably even more genres represented here than in the YS chart, on account of the touch-sensitive screen of the iThings making whole new kinds of play possible.

It's not even that all these games have arrived in barely two years of the App Store, a pace dizzyingly faster than that with which any other format has ever managed to accumulate so many quality games. Indeed, were we judging on quality alone we could have knocked out a top 300 or 500 with little trouble. But therein lies the secret, because we're not judging on quality alone – as well as demanding that all the games are really good, we've applied a strict extra qualifying criterion to this particular chart.

The truly spectacular thing about the WoSland iOS Top 100 is that every single game in this list has been available for free within the past year.

Gathering together 100 great games for your DS or your PSP (let alone your PS3 or Xbox 360) – even if you bought them preowned or in bargain bins – would set you back a hefty four-figure sum. But if you had an iThing, you could have got yourself all 100 of these games, entirely legally, for a total outlay of zero.

(In fact, you didn't even need an iThing. Even if you were just idly contemplating the possibility of getting one in the future, you could have downloaded the games at no cost through iTunes on your PC or Mac while they were free, and then fired them over to your device if and when you got one.)

Think about it like that, and the cost of a contract-free iPhone 4 or an iPad 2 – even taken purely as gaming machines – starts to look like a very different value proposition compared to a 3DS or a Playstation Vita. And that's why anyone dismissing iOS as a serious modern gaming platform is a fool, whether they're doing so from the perspective of a gamer or that of a businessman.

Because these games aren't skimping anywhere down the line. When compiling the list, we consciously left out most of the "shallower" titles that adolescent dimwits with low self-esteem often dismiss as "casual five-minute Flash games". However much we love the likes of Angry Rodeo, Robot Dogs, Finger Sling, X-Baseball, Need For Cheese, Junny, The Rainy Day, Planet Protector, Get Lucky or High & Low Extended – and we love them a lot – they didn't make the cut here, because we wanted to make a point. (Those are all still free at the time of writing, so check them out for yourself.)

Most of the games in this Top 100 are totally mainstream in design. Most of them usually cost money. All of them are made with high production values, and love and care. There are 3D racers, overhead racers, classic platformers, platform puzzlers, logic puzzlers, action puzzlers, real-time strategy, turn-based strategy, tower strategy, casino games, jumping games, dodging games, stunt games, adventure games, sandbox games, word games, tilting games, swiping games, pinball, football, baseball, RPGs, rhythm-action, space trading, dungeon-crawlers, line-drawers, tile-matchers, endless runners, twin-stick shooters, horizontal shooters, vertical shooters, static shooters, tap-shooters, trajectory shooters, retro remakes, object-spotting, object-finding, object-slashing – well, you get the idea by now, right?

It's not that we're saying the iOS platforms are the only places in the modern-day world of gaming where you can find imagination, originality, variation and invention, you understand. There's some in the world of PC indie, quite a bit on XBLIG/XBLA, and a smattering on PSN (sadly, the DS's time has passed). We live, beyond any rational dispute, in the Second Great Golden Age Of Gaming. But nowhere else are the barriers to entry for a creator with a good idea as low as they are with iOS, and they're pretty trivial at the consumer end too.

A cheap second-hand iPod Touch will get you in, and from there you need never spend another penny. You should, of course, because there are hundreds and thousands of amazing games available for the price of a Twix, but even if you restrict yourself completely to free stuff you'll find more great games than you'll ever have time to play. (WoSland's own quality-freebie-filter, Free-App Hero, has already featured more than 1000, ten times as many as are listed here.)

Prove it, you say? We present our evidence below.

 

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100 Rogues

If you've ever fancied trying out a Rogue game but were put off by all the nerdery, prepare to be happy. Most versions of the classic PC dungeon-crawler are swamped in unbelievably complex rules and controls, but 100 Rogues cuts through all that to present a super-accessible and funny take on the genre.

Falling halfway between the traditional ASCII Rogue and the slick and arcadey interpretation of the splendid Sword Of Fargoal, 100 Rogues offers very simple touch-and-drag controls alongside a streamlined inventory that still allows for lots of choice and depth in how you tackle the many-floored dungeon. (Fargoal has been free too, but we very narrowly prefer 100 Rogues for being a smidgen tighter.)

You can fight as either a warrior savage or a wimpy wizard with powerful magic abilities, with a third character available as an in-app purchase, and there are countless weapons and items to equip until you find the ones that suit you.

The game itself is exactly what you'd expect, ie a more strategic, fast-moving turn-based version of Gauntlet, in which you always have to be careful not to bite off more than you can chew, because if your hit points get to zero there's no way back.

It's all presented with a gentle sense of humour and retro-styled graphics full of personality, and it's incredibly hard not to start another game when you die. If you've ever even thought that you possibly might enjoy a Rogue-type game, you owe it to yourself to get this now.

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1000 – Find 'Em All!

1000 – Find 'Em All looks like a Zelda clone (yawn) based around GPS tracking (snore), collecting pointless trinkets (gah) and interacting with other people (yuck). In fact it's none of those things.

It's barely even a game, to be honest. You have a Link To The Past-style map to explore, and your task is to wander around it at your own pace until you've found all of the 1000 objects which are concealed in its various nooks and crannies.

In addition, the game generates 'gifters' from places your iThing finds wifi spots, turning them into characters populating the map who also give you objects. So if there's a McDonalds near you with wifi, for example, the game translates that hotspot into a person on the game map who'll give you an object if you walk up to them.

(You do NOT have to actually connect to the wifi hotspot, your iThing just has to detect it. You only get a handful per location per day, so you'll actually find more objects in the game more quickly if you get out and about in the real fresh air and visit new places, although it's not compulsory.)

There are more things to discover in 1000 – Find 'Em All than we have room to describe here, but the best thing about it is that most of them are funny. Download it and find a few for yourself and you'll see what we mean. The game was clearly a labour of love, and you'll feel that love when you play it.

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2XL Fleet Defence

A super-intense blend of line-drawing, castle defence and chaos management on the high seas. You control what appears to be the single surviving jet fighter on an isolated aircraft carrier under siege from enemy jets, bombers and ships. Using your long-range radar you have to plot a flight path to intercept and shoot down all enemies before they can attack the carrier.

So far so simple, and control couldn't be easier – you tap to toggle between the main view and radar screen, tap to pick an enemy and wait for your jet to automatically fly to it, fire a homing missile and await your next orders. Every enemy despatched into the drink powers up your carrier's superweapon, which can clear the entire playfield in an emergency but needs a lot of charging.

The challenge comes from the speed with which the map becomes overwhelmed with enemies. By the second or third level you'll be in a panic, certain that it's just not possible to take out every enemy before they get off a shot at the carrier (whose energy bar doesn't replenish between stages).

Eventually you come to realise that your only hope is to plot the most perfect course possible – because even wasting two seconds turning round to target a bomber you overshot while tackling another enemy means disaster for the carrier – and soon you'll start to inch past levels that seemed completely unsurvivable.

It's a beautifully put-together game, with excellent use of audio cues to let you know when a missile's on its way and you can safely attack your next target. It's very well-balanced, and lets you get straight into serious action without several minutes of boring easy stuff first. It's not for wimps or the easily flustered, but we're rock hard and we love it.

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6th Planet

This is a beautiful story-based Lunar Lander game, with a comic-strip story that's actually vaguely worth following for once.

The creators of the game are a cast of stars, with the cartoon that's interspersed between the 50 levels written and drawn by the team behind a couple of Oscar-nominated animated movies. It tells an intriguing and zeitgeisty tale (there are even Wikileaks references) of political and moral intrigue that's centred around the sudden and inexplicable terraforming of the gas giant Saturn, and it's got us pretty gripped. (We're only about halfway through the game so far.)

To move the story along you have to beat a series of fairly short but gorgeously implemented lander levels, guiding a lunar module with simple, elegant controls (left and right buttons, and press both together for upwards thrust) safely to its pad past rocky outcrops, volcanoes, space station exhaust ports and a few surprises we won't spoil for you.

Beating the Story mode unlocks a bunch of extra Master stages, and every level has an individual leaderboard recording the smallest amount of fuel used to reach the pad, so there should be plenty of replay value even after you've gone through the entire story, but you should really play 6th Planet at least once just to admire the sheer class with which it's been put together.

In terms of production values it's in a different league to 99.9 percent of other iOS titles, but unlike a lot of more 'art'-type games the creators haven't forgotten about gameplay or metastructure, and we're going to stop writing now before we use too many more words like 'metastructure'. Just don't miss this one, okay?

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Airport Madness Challenge

It might look like yet another Flight Control knockoff, but this game is something much more hardcore altogether. Airport Madness Challenge presents you with the challenge of managing both landings and takeoffs, via a multi-stage procedure where you have to taxi each plane out to the runway, line it up and then take off.

At the same time, however, other planes are coming in to land, and you have to make sure they've got somewhere to go and then taxi them back safely to the terminal, which invariably involves crossing over the active runways. (If you ask us, whoever designed the layout of these airports needs a slap.)

What seems like a sedate game as you send your first jet on its way turns amazingly quickly into a terrifying frenzy of activity, and by the time you start having to cope with clouds partly obscuring the runways and night flights where everything's even harder to see, you'll be wondering why air traffic controllers get paid less than football stars.

There are some very ugly buttons in Airport Madness Challenge, which might lead you to dismiss it as the work of slapdash amateurs. Don't be fooled – this is one of the most excellent chaos management games we've ever seen.

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Alien Swarm

A lovely Galaga derivative that's far superior to Namco's official Galaga Remix. It's smooth and fast and tough and has been much better fitted to the iOS machines than Namco's game, in large part thanks to the automatic firing which leaves you able to concentrate in comfort on moving your ship via slide controls.

Other than that this is a fantastic classic 80s-style arcade shooter, with two difficulty settings and a cunning central mechanism whereby you have to keep collecting 'S' icons in order to maintain your double-rate fire. It previously had (and currently has) a ridiculous $5 price tag, so being able to pick it up for free was a real treat.

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Angry Honey
(still free)

A simple but brilliant music-action game that's quite reminiscent of parts of Rhythm Tengoku / Paradise / Heaven on the GBA and DS, in which you play the part of an unfortunate big lug who's committed some unspecified marital faux pas, and resultingly is under a barrage of crockery and other household items from his better half.

All you have to do is tap anywhere on the screen to smash the incoming objects in time with the music (while avoiding punching the baby, just like in real life), but Angry Honey is so beautifully made that even the most savage temper will be soothed in a matter of seconds.

The music is just one tiny loop, but clever changes of pitch and speed and timing provide for plenty of variation, and the fusillade of furnishings soon gets very tricky to maintain your combos in. It's without doubt our favourite iPhone music game.

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Aqua Moto Racing

Splishy-splashy jetski racing with stunts. It's not quite Wave Race 64 (come to that it's not quite Aqua Moto Racing 2), but then what is?

What you do get are pretty graphics and very smooth control (tilt-only, but with adjustable sensitivity so you don't have to wrench your iPod around like a deranged tanker captain trying to do a three-point turn in a paddling pool), and 18 courses across three settings, with Championship and Time Trial modes.

There's nothing too sophisticated going on here, and having to sign up to yet another proprietary score-ranking service to use the online functions (or just call your character something other than "Guest") is irritating, but the game does what it does really pleasantly and you'll get plenty of fun out of it.

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Arachnadoodle

One of those games that's just so enjoyable to play you don't even care what your score is. It's not that Arachnadoodle doesn't have plenty to offer points-hunters, because it keeps OpenFeint high scores for every one of its 32 levels and each one is bursting at the seams with opportunities and bonuses. But the core gameplay mechanism is just so lovely to play with that you won't mind if you rack up a world-beating total or not.

You're an extremely cute boggly-eyed spider, and your job is to build a web, which you do by catapulting yourself all over the screen (with a limited number of shots) and joining up pegs by passing over them. There are juicy bugs to catch along the way and increasing numbers of hazards to avoid, and when you've used up all your shots an army of flies sweeps across the screen accompanied by the stirring strains of 'Ride Of The Valkyries'. The more complex and interconnected the pegs of your web are, the more will be caught and the more bonus points you'll grab.

The game is basically a cross between Peggle and Angry Birds, but with almost none of their reliance on luck. The graphics are cartoon-sweet, the sound is superb and it's just glorious to play no matter whether you're any good at it or not. If you've got an iThing, you absolutely must have Arachnadoodle, unless you're some kind of idiot.

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Ash

An epic Japanese-style role-player with that rarest of things in RPG games – a snappy sense of humour. (At least, we THINK it's a snappy sense of humour – it might just be mistranslation, but we're giving it the benefit of the doubt.)

This is role-playing in the classic style of the SNES Zelda games or the early Final Fantasy titles, full of castles and knights and monsters and swelling orchestral music and interminable intro and dialogue sequences. But when it finally actually lets you play, you'll find a compelling adventure with excellent touch controls (there's also a d-pad option if you prefer) and sharp, funny writing.

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Astral

Gorgeous re-interpretation of the 'Pacifism' mode from Geometry Wars, only with more sitars. Everybody loves sitars, right?

We're heartbroken that Astral doesn't have online leaderboards yet, because it's our favourite game of this week (at time of writing). It's a beautiful-looking take on Pacifism, in which you weave your way around packs of chasers in a small arena, with no weaponry other than the ability to break booby-trap tripwires and thereby cause explosions behind you to consume your pursuers, from whose bodies you can loot tons of treasure.

It's lightning-quick, incredibly smooth, and almost as pretty on SD displays as it is on Retina ones. You get two modes, although one of them's just a Zen practice mode with no scoring – surplus to requirements because this is a game that needs no training, and which is plenty gorgeous in combat.

Most art games are high on art and low on game, but this hits both nails squarely on the head – it's totally focused on play, right down to the way it just starts a new game right away the instant you get killed. The music works far better than you might expect, and the whole experience is a joy from start to finish. It's even a teeny tiny 5MB download to squeeze into the fullest iThing.

The developers promise GC and OF leaderboards are on the way, so if you only download one game today, make it this one.

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Axe In Face

Of all the hundreds of line-drawing games in the App Store, our money says this is the cutest one. You play an adorable Yosemite Sam-ish viking who's had enough of all his Viking buddies trampling over his beloved daffodil patch – yep, it's yet another Vikings-and-daffodils game.

Vowing never to see another of his delicate blooms crushed by their clumping, blood-soaked boots, our hero takes up his axe (which conveniently has boomerang properties and always finds its way back to his hand) and starts flinging.

The game plays exactly as you'd expect it to, which is to say that it's basically Flight Control crossed with Plants Vs Zombies and a tiny bit of Angry Birds. You start off with simple Vikings walking towards your flowerbed in a straight line, but soon you'll encounter fast-moving ones in sacks, ones carrying pine trees (you have to throw the axe through a fire first to burn through the tree), drunk ones and more, scattered through 32 levels.

Each level is essentially a self-contained minigame, with medals to win for beating it with the fewest throws – there are individual level scores and a cumulative score, but the game is focused more on medals and achievements. It's not the hardest game in the world and it's a little samey, but Axe In Face is such a sheer pleasure to play that it doesn't outstay its welcome.

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Backbreaker Football/Vengeance

One of the first of the real iOS killer apps, BBF still looks great (and plays as well as it always did) despite the old-fashioned non-Retina graphics.

It was Backbreaker that gave the first tantalising glimpse of what the iThings could really do and set us on the road to the likes of Rage and Infinity Blade. Graphically stunning (it came out way back in 2009) but also fast, smooth and responsive, it's a simple dodging game that boils the sport down to its purest essence.

Your customisable player is alone on a field full of enemies, and has to jink and spin and sprint his way to the endzone as a succession of meathead thugs hurl themselves at him brutally. (The game takes particular delight in showing you their bone-crunching takedowns in sickening slow motion replays.)

As you battle through the levels the tacklers get more numerous and the field gets more restricted, with large zones blocked off by red barriers that funnel you down narrow channels towards your opponents, and that's about it for gameplay sophistication, except for the superb Showboating option that gives you the chance to risk all your good work for bonus points by rubbing the defenders' noses in it as you near the line.

Backbreaker works because it cuts straight to the fun stuff without all the boring rock-paper-scissors bits and the constant stoppages. It's all action all the time, and not much in gaming feels better than pulling off a long showboating touchdown after you've had your ribs rearranged several times in a row by hulking goons.

Three difficulty settings provide fun for all the family – Rookie is essentially a simplified version for kids, which you can beat with just the spin buttons, whereas Pro should tax even decent players from very early on and Hardcore is just frightening, so it's perhaps just as well that it's locked until you beat Pro.

If we were being picky we'd have liked to see a joypad-and-buttons control option as well as the tilt-based default (because we hate having to sit up straight and hold our iThings flat – we're not at school), but that's a minor criticism of a bona-fide App Store classic.

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Bad Rabbit

Ultra-stylish Copter derivative starring what must be an extremely dizzy heli-bunny who's on the lam from the law. Lumme!

We don't know what sort of a society is that puts rabbits in jail, but that's precisely the prison-based pickle our pointy-eared pet has gotten himself into in this kerrayzee cartoon caper that owes as much to Gravity Guy as it does to the more traditional chopper-style games in the genre. (We'd have called it The Straw-shank Redemption personally, but there you go. Also, if he was being kept in solitary confinement, would he be called Bugsy Alone? We'll stop now.)

Anyhoo, this is Copter brought bang up to date, loaded with varied obstacles, settings and power-ups that ensure two seconds rarely go by without something new happening. The controls are a bit different to the usual – rather than touching the screen to go up and releasing to fall, here a tap effectively toggles gravity, with our Leporidan lag constantly moving either up or down until you switch his direction.

He spins past walls, guards, electrified fences and all manner of other hazards, with a neat extra touch provided by a set daily challenge – on the day we're writing this, for example, you can get an extra life by surviving 400m without hitting any of the electric beams. The scenery changes every 15 seconds, but the gameplay remains the same.

This is a highly-polished effort with a lot more to it than most of the hundreds of similar titles clogging the App Store, and despite being a one-button game it never gets repetitive or dull, perhaps thanks to the strong difficulty curve. We're snowed under with great games to play as we write this, but we always find a few minutes for Bad Rabbit.

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Beyond Ynth

A top-quality sequel which expands considerably on what was already a fab puzzle/maze/platformer.

Beyond Ynth, like the original Ynth, is essentially about climbing inside boxes and rolling them over in order to get from one side of each level to the other as quickly as possible. But the follow-up diligently improves on all of its predecessor's weaknesses (such as the incredibly annoying and unfair random falling items, which are almost entirely eliminated here), adds excellent new interface features (like the rewind that lets you go back to where you messed things up instead of making you restart the entire level), and sticks a whole bunch of new stuff onto the gameplay too.

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Big Cup Cricket

A full-featured rendition of the world's dullest sport that somehow makes for a fun iThing game. Who could have ever imagined? (And who would have thought Square Enix would be involved, too?)

Big Cup's simple swipe-and-tap-based controls for bowling, batting and fielding probably won't impress serious cricket-heads, but if it was up to us then serious cricket-heads would all be shot anyway, so that's not much of a criticism.

You can play exhibition matches, some training minigames or one of three full-blown tournaments, as one of 20 different countries. (Did you even know that 20 countries played cricket? We didn't, and if you'd asked us to name them we're not sure we'd have come up with Scotland, Uganda or the USA, but they're among the sides you can pick alongside the more traditional cricket nations.)

You play full 11-batsman innings, but can choose 5, 10, 15 or 20 overs in order to make sure that a game doesn't last five days and then finish in a draw anyway. It's fast, slick and cute – three words which have never before in the history of humanity been used to describe cricket – and it could teach many developers a few things about boiling a sport down to its most fun essence for a videogame.

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Blocks Avalanche

Super Mario Bros meets Tetris meets Doodle Jump meets Mr Driller in reverse. We think that's just about everything, but we'll break it down for you.

Tetris is an easy one – it supplies the geometric block shapes that fall from the sky. If they squish you against the floor, you die.

Mr Driller is represented by the monster that's chomping upwards at the same time, forcing you to keep climbing higher – hence 'in reverse'. Fall into his mouth, you die. (The other similarity is the hammer that lets you break blocks to your left or right, A BIT LIKE A DRILL.)

The Mario element is provided by the fact that you smash blocks above you by headbutting them, and by the retro pixel graphics (especially one of the four selectable themes, which is pure Super Mario World) and the 8-bit chip music.

And it isn't really all that much like Doodle Jump, with the exception of the obvious jumping-up-a-constantly-scrolling-screen thing (which we've already covered in the Mr Driller bit). We just put that in to teach a lesson to all the people who automatically skip over any game featuring the words 'Doodle Jump'. We really hate that sort of kneejerk dismissal when there are so many games that clearly borrow heavily from Lima Sky's megahit, but do all sorts of clever new stuff that makes them worthwhile in their own right.

So now they've gone, Blocks Avalance: Bob Jump (to give it its official name) is brilliant. The Tetris comparison is about more than the superficial visual connection – they way you have to very quickly assess and react to each incoming block, and in particular the way it's going to interact with the ones that are already there, is very similar. But it really does feel a lot like Mr Driller too, most noticeably in the way you progress by rushing from safe spot to safe spot.

It's challenging from the get-go, and just when you think you've started to get the hang of it it'll crank the speed up a little bit more. You're rarely more than one badly-judged headbutt or hammer-blow away from catastrophe, which of course is true of real life too.

You get OpenFeint leaderboards to test yourself against, which adds the final buff of polish to this fantastic arcade game.

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Boggle

It's Boggle. You know what Boggle is, yeah? Well, if you don't, this is it now. This is Boggle. Boggle Boggle Boggle. It's Boggle. That picture down there? It's a picture of Boggle. Being all Boggle-y and doing that Boggle stuff it does. Understandably, because it's Boggle.

(PS: Weirdly, Electronic Arts habitually operates a policy of having different prices for its games in Europe and the USA, so Boggle is often at different prices in different places, or even free in one territory and paid in the other. We don't really understand why EA does this. It makes our mind do something, but we can't quite think of the right word for it at the moment.)

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Bonsai Blast

A gorgeous Puzzloop/Zuma clone, but this one's loaded with plenty of original ideas of its own too. The core marble-matching gameplay is exactly how you'd expect, but there are all sorts of well-thought-out additions, like being able to switch between multiple shooter positions and bounce marbles off walls.

There are 90 levels (none of which outstay their welcome) in Adventure mode, and you can play an endless Survival game (with Facebook leaderboards) in any one you've beaten, so the game expands and contracts to fill however much time you've got to spare. Control is by fast and precise touch aiming, and some inventive level types and satisfying powerups keep things fresh and well balanced.

Despite dating all the way back to 2008, this is probably still the best game in its genre on any format. (Just nudging out the awesome Magnetica/Actionloop on DS by virtue of not having any levels where you have to blow on your console.)

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Braveheart

Ever played Robotron and thought 'This doesn't have enough RPG elements for my liking'? Then it is the time for you to rejoice, bold hero!

We are outraged that this completely unrelated game has hijacked the name of the famous movie about the rebellion of the proud Scots against the murderous English, but everything else about it is pretty tremendous. You'll spend most of your time swinging a mace around your head and smashing the skulls of various evil types who are obstructing your quest to avoid being executed for sexual harassment, which is a bit of an unusual plot for a videogame but who are we to ask questions?

Excellently, while there's a not-so-great option to play with twin virtual sticks, your hero Richard (you can enter your own name instead if you like, but the cutscenes will still refer to you as Richard) can also be controlled via a splendid and intuitive tap-and-swipe interface which centres mostly around drawing circles on the screen to keep your mace dealing out its spiralling trauma.

As you wade thigh-deep in blood and entrails through 20+ stages, each with multiple waves and with boss fights every few rounds, you'll have to keep on top of all manner of weapons, abilities, 'perks' and skill points, but really Braveheart is barely any more complex than Williams' classic arcade robot war and almost as entertaining. A constant diet of new enemies and powers keeps it fresh, and the action rarely lets up.

In addition to the main Story mode there are three minigames – a time trial, a 60-second score attack and a boss rush – with OpenFeint leaderboards if you fancy a quicker session, and the main game has leaderboards and achievements too. The presentation is flawless and the graphics and sound are beautiful and meaty, in that order.

And best of all, at least you know there's definitely no way Mel Gibson is making any money out of it.

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Broken Sword Director's Cut

One of the all-time greatest point-and-click adventure games, except now in an even-greater form. The Director's Cut adds full-speech audio to the original version, as well as a whole new story arc, and brings even more atmosphere to the superbly-written modern-day tale of the ancient order of Knights Templar.

It's been fantastically ported to the touch-screen format with ultra-intuitive controls, and features an excellent hint system that ensures you should never get too stuck, but without handing you the answers on a plate the first time you ask.

The gorgeously-painted graphics and quality voice acting immediately tell you Broken Sword is a class act, but it's playing it that really reveals its beauty. It needs a hefty chunk of space, but if a game was ever worth deleting some of your less-used apps for it's this one.

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Burn The Rope

We don't quite know how it ever got to No.1, but this twisty physics puzzle is still fun, even if its focus on pyromania and insect murder marks it out as a warning flag for sociopathic tendencies.

112 levels of wanton arson each present you with a tangle of ropes and just one match. You can choose where to set light to the structure, and from that point the flame will always try to travel upwards (while never leaving the ropes). You have to twist and turn your iThing so that the flame's path consumes the rope, and if you don't keep it moving upwards it'll gutter and die.

After a couple of introductory stages things rapidly get more complicated, with branching paths which split the flame into two whereupon you have to juggle (not literally) to try to keep them both alive, and coloured ropes which need to be burned by coloured flames, created by guiding the flame into bugs of various hues.

The levels have to be unlocked in sequence, which always strikes us as stupid and pointless in a game like this where each level has a separate high score and gives you bronze, silver and gold medals for burning higher percentages of the ropes. If we'd like to try a tougher level, why force us through 20 boring ones first? It's not like it's going to mess up the storyline.

But it's the level design that's key in games like this, and luckily Burn The Rope doesn't have many boring ones. From early on you'll really have to think about your plan as well as execute it smartly, and the stages are inventive and varied enough to keep the game fresh even though you're doing the same thing over and over again.

We'd never bothered with BTR previously as it looked as if it was one of those annoying games that demand you sit up straight and hold your iThing out totally flat like you were in church or something, but in fact it isn't – since all the rotation is in one plane you can play the game happily even if you're lying flat on your back, so it's ideal for long-haired student layabouts everywhere.

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Car Jack Streets

Grand Theft Auto-style crime thrills, from the people who brought you the original Grand Theft Auto. This is a game much more like the first GTA, with overhead-view graphics rather than down-on-the-streets 3D, but the gameplay is much the same.

CJS is an old game by App Store standards (it dates back to April 2009), but it's still an impressive piece of work that gives the lie to the notion that the iPhone is all about five-minute bursts of casual Flash-style gaming. There's a big map, sharp graphics with real-life day/night cycles, a great radio soundtrack and a lot of mischief to get up to. For free, it was criminal not to.

(Honourable mention: the terrific iOS port of PS1 classic Driver, which has been free a couple of times and has far better controls than you probably imagine.)

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Chainsaw Zombie Slaughter

Really entertaining tilt-dodger, except that you don't dodge anything. And why would you? You've got a chainsaw.

You're stuck on the ground during another of those pesky zombie apocalypses, and the only possible route to safety is a helicopter perched on top of a skyscraper. You can't go up the stairs, sadly, as the building is so infested with zombs that they're plummeting out of the windows (in fact they're falling directly out of the sky, but we're having trouble justifying that plotwise), so what's a dude to do?

The solution is, of course, obvious – get out your chainsaw, move left and right to slice up the falling zombies as they plunge to earth, and use their dismembered corpses as a ladder to reach the chopper. Genius! Unfortunately, it seems the pilot may be in the early stages of Zombie Plague Virus too (or maybe just very drunk), as every time you reach the helicopter it takes off and ploughs straight into the next tower block, putting you back where you started.

So that's the story. Every building features new kinds of zombie, and you're also equipped with a variety of guns (with very limited ammo) to shoot any zombs that make it to the ground in one piece. It's as brainless as you'd imagine, but also as fun, and it's nicely made. You get three continues, which return you to the start of the level you died on (and reset your score to where it was), and you always want to see what's coming next.

You didn't actually read this far, did you? You mean you didn't see the name and the screenshots and just download it instantly? You're WEIRD.

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Chess – The Speedgame

In this fast-moving modern world of ours, nobody has the time for full-size chess any more. So it's lucky that we have Chess – The Speedgame. You can probably glean everything you need to know about this one from the picture, but we'll spell it out for you anyway. It's something to do.

Chess – The Speedgame (we don't know why they changed it from the much snappier previous name Speed Chess, or why they didn't bother making a new icon) gives you just five pawns and one of everything else. You can play against a human or three levels of CPU opponent, and even the stupidest (of the latter, that is) puts up a scarily tough challenge.

You can set the move clock to 20 seconds, 60 seconds or off (which rather defeats the object of the exercise), and it's so completely marvellous in every regard that we'll even let it off for saying 'Times Up' if you let the clock run out.

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Chevy Baseball
(still free)

This fantastic interpretation of America's national pastime is all the baseball game you'll ever need. It's an extremely professional job with impressive 3D graphics, and it lets you play either 3 or 9 innings as one of two teams representing different Chevy vehicles (the muscle-sports Camaro and the SUV-pickup Silverado).

The controls are perfect, easy to both grasp and execute. You tap to select pitch types and aim, to catch and to throw to bases, while batting is handled by a straightforward tilt-and-tap. There's no complicated stuff to worry about, but there's still room for considerable skill and it'll take you a fair while to beat Normal mode, never mind Pro.

The game does feature advertising, but it's incredibly subtle and integrated so seamlessly into the gameplay that it just adds to the realism – no tacky AdMob banners or iAds here, just a superb game that makes no compromises on gameplay even though it's a free promotional tool.

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Chu Chu Rocket

A brilliant puzzler with a fairly rubbish online multi-player game tacked onto it, if you're asking us. We've never been fans of the 'main' mode in Chu Chu Rocket, a battle game that's way too frantic and random for our liking. But when Sega brought it to the Gameboy Advance they loaded it with thousands of fantastic pure-logic puzzle stages which turned it into something far better than the original Dreamcast game.

Freed from the constraints of having to be an action game, the challenge of working out where to place a limited number of direction arrows on a grid to guide your mice safely to their escape ships fulfils all the criteria of a great puzzler – it's got really simple rules and very few elements, it's easy to grasp straight away, and yet there are so many possible permutations of those few elements that a single level could have you stumped all day.

The first iOS release was disappointingly light on puzzle levels, but several subsequent updates have beefed it up massively, and although it still doesn't have the GBA's gargantuan roster it now contains a more than acceptable 500, which is enough to last you for weeks on end.

The execution is great too, with pin-sharp Retina graphics and a perfect swipes-and-taps control system, and if you really must you can of course play the multiplayer battle game too. (There's now, belatedly, online support as well as local, and four players on one iPad – though it's not a Universal app – is admittedly a bit of a riot).

Now vastly better than the anaemic initial release, iOS Chu Chu Rocket is now almost as big a must-have for your iThing as it was for your GBA.

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Coin Drop

This Pachinko-derived game (that's also not a billion miles away from Peggle) rocketed up the App Store charts at the time of its release, and it's easy to see why.

It has gorgeous Retina graphics, a simple concept and it's easy and pleasing to play. You get 75 levels in which to drop coins into a pinboard grid and try to get them to hit a variety of things, and new elements constantly keep the stages fresh.

Each level records a three-star rating (with the stars used to unlock new coin designs), but in truth there's a limited amount of skill involved in the game – if you just spang all your coins in at random you'll probably get two stars on nearly every stage. But conversely, even if you deply them all with the maximum of strategy and forethought you'll still need a huge amount of luck to grab the elusive third one.

With a tiny play area compared to Peggle it's considerably more reliant on luck than its illustrious inspiration, but if you treat Coin Drop as an enjoyable diversion rather than a hardcore gaming challenge you'll have a very nice time.

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Dark Nebula Episode 2
(Episode 1 has also been free)

The best way we can think of to describe this game is that it's sort of like Marble Madness in 2D, crossed with the 8-bit classic Bounder. (And obviously Labyrinth.)

Each of the 19 levels is a sizeable scrolling maze which you have to roll some sort of marble-type thing (actually it looks more like a puck) through. Naturally the levels are full of gaping chasms and deadly spikes and suchlike, and the object is to get gold-star ratings by completing each stage in a quick time, while collecting all the bonus items and not losing any lives.

(You have an infinite supply, but getting killed sends you back to the last checkpoint and costs you a lot of time.)

So far so ordinary, then, but the execution of Dark Nebula is something special. The terrific graphics hit you immediately, but it's the constant invention and imagination of the levels that makes the game enthralling. Each new stage is bursting with new ideas and hazards, or old ones used in clever new ways, and you'll never feel like you're repeating yourself (because you won't be).

With infinite lives you'll see all the levels pretty quickly, but earning the gold stars is a different matter entirely, and after that you've still got the global leaderboards to beat. The tilt control is sensitive and excellently flexible – you calibrate by double-tapping the screen at any time while holding the iThing in your desired zero position – and the whole thing is such a joy to play you'll be quite depressed when you finish level 19 and realise there's nothing else left to see.

Assuming you think you can handle that, get on this one sharpish, if not sooner.

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DexIQ

The unwieldy name is a disservice to this elegant, stylish play-two-games-at-once action challenge. DexIQ offers 32 short timed minigames, ranging from tapping bugs to squish them and a simple car-dodging racer to mental arithmetic puzzles, keeping a hula-hoop spinning around a bear and bouncing a watermelon on a pig.

The twist is that you play them two at a time (one thumb for each side of the screen), and try your best to manage each one successfully enough that your cumulative skills will score enough points to unlock the next stage. Currently there are 16 such stages, split into two sets of eight tests each, which each comprise increasing numbers of rounds. Once you've beaten a stage you also unlock its component games for Practice mode, in which you can tackle any combination you choose.

(Though sadly there are no goals in Practice. Each combination has three difficulty settings, with only Easy available at first, but while we'd hoped beating target scores would unlock the others it doesn't. It appears you'll have to do that in the main game.)

The minigames have been really well designed to present different kinds of challenges, and some combinations will really have your brain in knots trying to do two fairly incompatible things at the same time. While there are only two sets of tests, they get pretty hard by halfway through, and just finishing them is pretty tricky, before you start to worry about the global leaderboards.

(High scores are recorded for each test and for each set, and while it's a pity that DexIQ uses the rubbish Plus+ score network rather than one of the big two, it's at least better than nothing.)

The visual style is very attractive, control is flawless, and overall this is one of the most original and thoughtful minigame compilations we've seen.

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Drop7

One of the App Store's most iconic titles, now with a new daddy and cosmetic tweaks.

Drop7 is digital crack. Standing on the exact dividing line of the logic puzzle/action puzzle divide, it's a simple game with complex strategies that digs its hooks deeper into you the more you play it. Now its developers Area/Code have been bought up by social-gaming kingpins Zynga, and to celebrate they've brushed the graphics up a little (you'll struggle to notice on an iPhone or iPod, but it's now perceptibly sharper on iPad), just to be nice.

To be honest they've made a bit of a hash of the update, which nags you to login to Facebook after every single game even when you've already given it your details and (on iPhone and iPod) won't let you use the Shift key when you're entering your name on the high score table. But such minor annoyances aside (which will hopefully be swiftly fixed) this remains one of the definitive iOS games, and if you don't grab a copy then someone should lock you up for your own safety.

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Dropship
(still free)

Brilliant and gorgeous-looking Thrust derivative with stunning neon graphics and hardcore physics. Excellent twin-stick controls and a handy radar set you up for dozens of challenging missions rescuing stranded pilots from hostile worlds. (And if you ever exhaust Campaign mode there's the extra-intense randomised high-score Freeplay game.)

One of the App Store's oldest releases (it came out way back to 2008, but it hasn't dated a bit and the sweeping, zooming 3D is still fabulous) and formerly a paid game, it's been free for well over a year now, and it was excellent value when you had to pay for it. (We do wonder why you can still download the Lite version.) No ads, no restrictions, just a fantastic game for no money.

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Evolution Tennis

Alert viewers will doubtless recall a recent piece in which we praised the toweringly magnificent gameplay engine of this game, while savagely attacking its awful, unbelievably user-hostile metastructure. As ever, though, WoSland's nudging secured tangible and thrillingly awesome results where others merely flail around impotently.

An update to the game retained the same brilliant engine but now also allows the player to have a single quick game for fun rather than forcing them through an entire career season at a time, with no means of exiting other than completely deleting and reinstalling the app.

There's a whole new front end on the latest version, which provides a "Practice" game at one of three difficulty levels (you can play as long as you want up to three sets) in addition to the full-season option. There's also now the option of a tidy exit from a Season game (you can leave any time between points, with the state of the game saved), and you can also reset a season in progress without deleting the whole app. And finally, you can now enter your name rather than being called "PLAYER" the whole way through.

With these simple improvements, Evolution Tennis has become one of the best tennis games we've ever played on any format. If you don't get yourself a copy, we're going to kill you in the face.

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Exexe Rebirth

A well-kept App Store secret until now, this is an A-grade hardcore bullet-hell shmup.

We've been playing Exexe Rebirth for a few weeks now, and despite the unassuming graphics (what you see in the screenshot is all you'll ever see – there are no bosses, no distinct levels, no scenery other than an infinite starfield) it's one of the very best all-action shooters you can get for your iThing. (It's not actually a Universal app, but it looks good and plays excellently in 2x mode on iPad, as well as iPod and iPhone.)

It's retro in style but modern in design, with combo-based scoring and bonuses for dodging large numbers of enemy bullets, and while it has well-implemented dynamic virtual pad controls, you can choose (as with the classic Cave shooters on iOS) to either play full-screen or zoom out to 75% so that you never have to risk your finger covering anything you need to see.

While it's easy to survive in the early stages, it's hard from the word go to build up an unbroken scoring combo (for which you have to collect the stars released from destroyed enemies without missing any), and despite appearances there's quite a bit of tactical depth to mine.

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Flick Football

Excellent multi-mode free-kick game with a great risk-reward balance to tempt you into trouble at almost every turn.

The basic game is the usual 'swipe and swerve' sort of affair, and the three variants are all pretty standard too – there's a sudden death round, a timed mode and the main game where you get three lives. Where Flick Football is a cut above most of the opposition, though, is the clever addition of special bonuses.

As well as just having to get the ball in the net, each shot gives you an extra target in the form of an icon positioned somewhere within the goal. Hit a gold or silver medal and you'll score points, while cards make your next shot easier – a yellow one removes all the defenders in the next shot, leaving you only the goalie to beat, whereas a red one wins you a penalty kick that's much easier than the normal shots from outside the box.

The reason the bonus icons are so valuable is that scoring works on a combo system, whereby each consecutive goal you score without missing one increases your multiplier, up to 10x. Normal goals score between 1 and 100 points, so a 250-point gold medal on a 10x multiplier is a very juicy prize and anything that can help you nail it is a pretty big deal. That leads you to take on riskier shots to get the bonus rather than going for a simple goal, and there's no more classic dilemma in gaming.

There are also achievements to aim for along with proprietary global leaderboards for every mode, and you get the iPad-native version thrown in too in just 11MB. And we haven't even mentioned the fun commentary yet, which is something we feel pretty bad about. Sorry about that.

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Flying Hamster

An absolutely terrific and gorgeous-looking horizontal shooter that's packed to the throat with vomiting cats, boomerang bananas and much more.

The most obvious frame of reference is Parodius (though it also reminds us of an old Amiga game called Apidya), and Flying Hamster is every bit as mental as Konami's classic. We won't spoil any more of the surprises for you here, and will instead just note that the game controls very well, with options for fixed joypad, two types of touch steering or tilt movement, and all manner of other helpful features like auto-fire and the ability to customise button maps and positioning.

(Excellently, as your powerups have limited ammo, the autofire only actually shoots when there's a target in its line of sight.)

It's pretty tough, but you can practice any level you've reached and you get more credits the longer you play for, so anyone should be able to reach the end eventually. The high score tables, however, are strictly for the skilled, with all your points lost if you continue – the way it should be.

We'd tell you more, but we don't want to take up your time with reading when you should be off downloading the game right this minute. This is the best sideways-scrolling shmup we've seen on the App Store to date (with the possible exception of R-Type), and we love it even more than we'd love an actual flying hamster.

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Fragger

Enormously successful trajectory game that's a bit like Angry Birds except for the minor improvement of having some skill in it.

Your task is basically the same – set angle and power to throw things at other stuff and smash it to bits – but here you're armed with a pocketful of grenades with which to neutralise some lurking terrorist types across an impressive 300+ levels in a wide array of settings. (You can start on any of four worlds, including three that are free but which oddly have to be downloaded from within the game rather than being there from the start.)

While you still have to judge the settings visually it's a significantly more precise game than Rovio's all-crushing pig-killer, not least because you don't have to zoom out to a distance of three miles just to see what you're aiming at – every level is a single screen. It also helps that you can touch anywhere onscreen to aim, rather than obscuring the thing you need to see with your finger.

The level design gets extremely clever and more puzzley as you progress, and while there's still a mildly annoying element of working out the solution but having to doggedly trial-and-error your way to actually executing it, Fragger feels a lot fairer than Angry Birds does in that respect. (We still don't know why there can't be numeric readouts, though. Puzzle or physics, make your mind up.)

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Fumes Stunt Racer

If you're old enough to remember the legendary Amiga game Stunt Car Racer, this is it. If you're not, you probably still won't need very much explaining, because it's pretty easy to see what's going on. (If you do want some more modern points of reference, it's sort of a cross between Trackmania and Rollercoaster Rush.)

FSR is a time-trial racer on a variety of "stunt" tracks, which essentially means they have banks and jumps and dramatic up-and-downs. There are no other racers to worry about (on the track, anyway – there are OpenFeint leaderboards to challenge), just the ever-ticking clock.

It's very fast and very smooth, the graphics are lovely and the controls excellent, with dynamic touch steering or tilt options and a range of optional braking assists. None of that makes it easy, though – this is a demanding and moderately technical kind of racer, and at first you'll struggle just to stay on the track.

With each of the 22 tracks needing to be unlocked in turn, and three grades of medal to be won on each one, it's going to be a very long time before you can say you've mastered it. But it's one of those games whose difficulty makes it incredibly rewarding when you finally pull off a gold run.

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Galaxian 30th Anniversary
(still free)

A brilliant modernised remake of Galaxian for absolutely nothing, so long as you don't mind giving up half of your iThing's memory for it.

G30thC is actually a four-game compilation featuring updated versions of all four of the series' classic arcade shooters – Galaxian, Galaga, Gaplus and Galaga 88 (though sadly there's no Galaga Arrangement). The last three are all available as rather pricey in-app purchases, but you get the whole remade Galaxian for free, and it's a fantastic reboot of the 1979 coin-op smash.

Apart from more complex scoring (which we haven't fully figured out yet, but seems largely to be based on shooting aliens lower down the screen for vastly more points), the only real change to the core gameplay is a clever shooting system. When you start a wave you can unleash a barrage of rapid-fire at the enemy formation, but after a couple of seconds you're back to your old single-shot laser. Hold your fire briefly, though, and the turbo gauge powers up and you have a machine-gun version again.

It's a genius change which revolutionises the rather sluggish speed of the original game without affecting the balance, and allows for great tactical flexibility. You can save up for a full-on fusillade, or stop shooting for just a moment and get off a little burst, or even just fire constantly in a classic-Galaxian style, relying on precision and skill rather than heavy weaponry.

The control methods are also superbly thought-out, in marked contrast to Namco's abysmal previous attempt at an iOS Galaga release. You get three to choose from, including a rubbish fixed virtual stick and button, but also two much better options. One gives you a Move slider along the bottom of the screen and shoots whenever you tap anywhere else onscreen with a second finger or thumb, while the other gives you twin sliders – one that moves, and one that moves AND fires.

It's easy to nudge your finger between the two sliders in order to stop and start your laser, and this option ('A-Type') is by far our favourite when playing on iPod or iPhone, because in the later stages (the game speeds up rapidly around Wave 14) you can't really afford to have your firing digit obscuring part of the screen. On iPad, however, there's plenty of spare room and we prefer the move-and-tap alternative, 'B-Type'.

You can also configure the look of the game, adding or removing an 'arcade' filter that sort-of simulates the scanlines of an arcade monitor, and you can disable the HUD markings on the screen if you want a cleaner style. (We like HUD on and Filter off, which are the defaults.)

The only downside is that to enjoy this great little game you'll have to sacrifice a ridiculous 135MB of storage space on your iThing, most of which we're sure has gone on the long, pointless intro movie. There's no place for this sort of rubbish in iOS gaming where memory is at a premium, and sadly it stopped us from buying the three add-on games, because we just can't afford to have the app hog that sort of room.

If you've got the virtual estate, though, don't hesitate to grab this one. It's a shining example of how remakes should be done.

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Galaxy On Fire

This is an epic 3D space shooter that'll have Elite fans cooing with nostalgic delight even before they see the awesome graphics. Galaxy On Fire unarguably takes its cue from the 8-bit legend, even if the balance here is less on trading and more tilted in favour of the interstellar dogfighting.

It wastes the minimum of time in dropping you straight into a shooting war, and after a brief tutorial intro and a couple of simple milk-runs you'll find yourself in the midst of chaotic space dogfights with enemies small and vast. It's a very simple game to play, with excellent tilt controls (and less-good, over-sensitive touch ones) and helpful features like autofiring lasers and coloured trails so you can focus entirely on the battle and not on wrestling with your steering.

For something that came out way back in early 2008 it looks incredible, especially if you're lucky enough to have a Retina display (irritatingly, if you do have an iPhone 4 the screen is upside down, muffling the sound with your hand), but it's the combat that's the thing.

Smooth, perfectly paced, easy to follow but totally uncompromising, you've got a real scrap on your hands if you want to live long enough to upgrade to bigger ships and better weapons. Somehow it's even all been packed into a 3G-friendly download, too. An absolute must.

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GeoDefense

The tower-defence game that kick-started a whole enormous genre by itself, despite being spelled embarrassingly wrongly.

Geodefense's 38 levels all belong to the fixed-path branch of the TD family, which is our favourite one. (We can't be bothered having to effectively build every level before we set about defending it.) Even the tutorial stages put up a fight, and by the time you reach the Medium and Hard levels you'll be tucking into a lot of hat sandwich.

We have no doubt that the glowing neon vector graphics and loud, sci-fi sound effects played a sizeable part in making the game such a hit, but it's the level designs that are the real stars. 38 might not seem like a lot (and we're surprised there's only a single six-level pack of DLC available to buy), but it's going to take you many, many hours to beat them all, and even then there are always the global leaderboards.

(If we were going to criticise, the way you're wrenched out of Geodefense's world every time you beat a level to be nagged about the leaderboards and posting your score to Twitter and Facebook is the game's worst feature, and we have no idea why unlike every other game in the App Store there isn't a "shut the hell up about this forever" box you can tick.)

Almost two and a half years after its original release, Geodefense is still our favourite tower-defence game. It's perfectly balanced between strategic depth and accessibility, it teaches you how to play without you even noticing, and every level feels like a separate game in its own right. If tower-defence has never appealed to you before, try this before you give up entirely. It just might change your mind.

(The open-field sequel GeoDefense Swarm has also been free, and still is at the time of writing.)

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Geofighter: Light Wars
(still free)

Uncomplicated but thoughtfully-designed arena shooter deserving better than its generic style. Unlike PewPew with its numerous inventive modes, Geofighter – Light Wars is just about as basic as Geometry Wars clones come, offering only Waves and Survival modes that are essentially the same.

But it's smooth and enjoyable, picks up the difficulty swiftly after a gentle starts, and has a clever auto-centering system that minimises the problem of enemies being hidden behind your thumbs (and which really ought to have been copied by everyone making twin-stick shooters). That simple piece of platform-focused design hugely enhances the experience of playing the game, and actually lifts it above the one it's so slavishly copying – GFLW is more fun than Geometry Wars Touch, because you can see what you're shooting.

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Goals Pro

Until such times as someone brings the real Sensible Soccer to iOS, this is about as close as you can get to the legendary 16-bit classic. It's nothing like as comprehensive as Sensible's iconic effort, but it plays a pretty decent game.

If you jump into a match at the default options you're probably going to find Goals Pro a bit slow and a bit easy, but fiddle with the extensive menu settings, bump everything up to Normal/Medium difficulty and you'll find yourself with much more of a contest on your hands.

The game's customisation facilities are one of its biggest strengths, and you should be able to find a setup that suits you. The teams are made-up, but you can change the names and edit the kits to turn them into whoever you like, which is a lesson for the many, many App Store developers who inexplicably put out footy games with anorexic team lists. In addition to skill and speed settings you can also decide match length (from 1-minute halves to 10-minute ones), how many tournament rounds you want to play and so on. Bluetooth multiplayer is supported, and there are even replays.

All this would count for nothing if the controls weren't up to scratch, but despite featuring a virtual stick and buttons on a portrait-mode game (usually a recipe for cramped disaster) Goals Pro is smooth and responsive and as comfortable as you could hope for in the circumstances.

It's no FIFA, but for some people that's a recommendation. Certainly, if your football tastes have a more old-school flavour this is currently the best game you can find.

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Great Little War Game

Presumptuously-titled but polished, professional Advance Wars-alike that manages to live up to its ambitious and immodest billing.

Not only do you get a substantial 20-mission Campaign mode of turn-based-strategy action, but now there are also 20 Skirmish maps, in which you simply have to wipe out the enemy forces rather than achieve specific objectives. You can play these either against the CPU or another person via pass-and-play, although annoyingly the game doesn't keep track of which ones you've beaten.

Despite the occasional weakness in the CPU AI this is one of the App Store's best TBS titles. With a huge catalogue of extra downloadable maps available it could keep you busy for months, but the 40 missions included in the base version are a very hefty game in themselves.

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High Tech Racing

Excellently-made Scalextric clone that also comes complete with a track editor to keep you happily racing forever.

HTR comes with 18 tracks of its own, which have to be unlocked in sequence by beating some CPU opponents. (You can choose from one, two or three, and also give them one of three difficulty settings.) The track designs themselves are splendidly entertaining, with loops, crossovers, banks, chicanes, jumps and everything else you'd expect, and you can play from a traditional racing-game chase cam, an in-car view or a lovely 'real life' zoomed-out perspective where the course rotates so you can always see what's coming up.

The only control is a sensitive and responsive thumb slider which governs your speed, and there's very little in the way of game structure – it's basically all about setting time trial records. Indeed, the only real purpose of the CPU opponents is to serve as a sort of Story Mode, a one-time obstacle to unlocking all the tracks. Once you've done so you really ought to set the game to one Easy opponent, because the course records take no account of difficulty and you'll just be making life unnecessarily hard for yourself.

(You can of course also set the difficulty to one Easy opponent while you're unlocking the tracks, if you're THAT much of a wuss.)

There are no online leaderboards, though, so you've got nothing to lose by keeping things a bit more manly and challenging yourself to set your times against a full complement of skilled racers – it's entirely up to you. (More opponents are more fun, because the CPU drivers are pleasingly fallible, crashing regularly and getting in the way before they're reset on the track, and it's a lot more entertaining having to dodge pile-ups in chicanes and crossovers.)

HTR is really more of a toy than a game in the traditional sense. It's basically a pocket-sized version of the sort of top-of-the-range slot-racing set you couldn't even dream of affording as a kid, along with an official timekeeper and a guaranteed room full of friends to play it with. It's a pity there's no Bluetooth multiplayer, but the built-in tracks and the easy-to-use track editor will give you hours and hours of pleasure regardless.

The official Scalextric app has multiplayer via Game Center, but it's not as pretty as this, the tracks are boringly flat and plain, and you can only ever race against one opponent. HTR leaves it choking on dust in almost every respect, and you can have it for nothing. It's daft not to.

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Highborn

One of the finest Advance Wars-type games in the App Store, and in a league of its own when it comes to being the funniest.

To be fair, it's not like there's an especially large amount of competition in the comedy sub-genre of turn-based strategy games, but Highborn got a genuine chuckle out of us a few times with its gentle and loving mockery of the form, and not a lot of videogames manage to pull that off.

The game itself is extremely polished, as you'd expect from some highly experienced developers with a proud track record in the Command And Conquer line, and Game Center-based multiplayer enables you to battle your chums when you've exhausted the very considerable story mode. If you ever enjoyed an AW game, you absolutely don't want to miss this.

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Inspector Gadget's Mad Dash

Fab running-man game with some hook-swinging and Copter action thrown in. Plus, of course, THAT inimitable theme tune.

You play the heroic plain-clothes officer, whose niece Penny has been kidnapped by the evil Dr Claw. (We're not sure the word 'evil' is strictly necessary there. If you're calling yourself Dr Claw and you're kidnapping little girls, the "evil" bit probably goes without saying. But anyway.)

You do this by firing up your go-go-Gadget skates, go-go-Gadget grappling hook and go-go-Gadget umbrella hat to help you through a semi-randomised endless level of rooftop leaping and hazard avoidance, parts of which invoke gameplay nicked from Hook Champ and Copter as well as the basic Canabalt japes that form the core of the game. Collecting coins (or buying them via IAP) as you go lets you unlock all manner of goodies, from entire episodes of the cartoon to pages of a comic strip, a Gadget ringtone and more.

Slightly annoyingly there are also lots of powerups you can buy, from extra lives to speed skates and a double jump, which means you have no idea if you're competing on a level playing field with other people, although the Game Center leaderboard is infested with tedious cheaters anyway. (You can always just use the Friends one.) And at least they're quite pricey.

None of that gets in the way of the game itself, though, and the game itself is top-notch fun. Control is super-responsive, the graphics (even without the Retina upgrade), animation and sound are all brilliant, and there's clever use of visual, sonic and vibration cues to help you know what's coming up next as the constant switching of styles keeps you on your go-go-Gadget toes.

In any case, though, you'll be perfectly content just playing the game and singing along with the music. A little tiny download of pure happiness.

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iSlash

Incredibly simple but tough and addictive action puzzler that's a bit like Qix in reverse.

Each of the 100 levels presents you with a wooden platform (they look like tangram shapes, and after you've been playing for a few minutes you find yourself wondering if this is how tangrams were invented), on which a handful of metal shuriken are gambolling around randomly. Your job is to swipe away at the platform by making straight-line cuts, hacking bits off until all the stars are trapped in the smallest possible area.

(After the first few levels, platforms usually also have some metal edges that can't be cut through, although you can chop off the bits containing the edges to make your life somewhat easier.)

The only rule is that you can never divide the playfield such that the shurikens are separated by a gap, and if you touch any of them while cutting you instantly lose and have to start the level again. You get a star ranking according to how small an area you can confine them in (and also the speed and number of slashes), and you have to slice off a minimum of 75% from each platform to progress to the next one.

Frustration is the fiendish heart of iSlash. It's so enraging to hack a stage down to about 27% and then nick a shuriken while trying to pare off the last tiny sliver, or to have all but one of them in a tiny corner but with a solitary pest bouncing around elsewhere and stopping you from ending the level in a single cut, or to just catch a tiny metal edge at the end of a dramatic slash that you just HAVE to try again, and there goes your day.

The rankings ensure replay value, OpenFeint leaderboards and achievements provide diversion, and the presentation is lovely. It's a perfect little iThing game, and your iThing should have it.

 

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Lane Splitter

Simple tilt-steer dodge-racing game set apart from the crowd by its gorgeous graphics and speed, not to mention a heart-rendingly tragic storyline and an unusually high level of respect for road-traffic laws.


       
As you've probably gathered from looking at the screenshot, it's a standard race-up-the-screen-dodging-the-traffic affair, and while the pics are quite nice the game looks absolutely stunning in the flesh, especially on a Retina display. It zips you through a wide selection of varied landscapes with faultless smoothness, and the control sensitivity is perfectly judged.

Your motorbike steers very well in normal mode, but if you're a daredevil with an unquenchable thirst for points you can also hold anywhere on the screen to perform a wheelie, which makes you go much faster and boosts the score you get from passing cars, but at the price of making the bike monstrously over-responsive. To be honest we wouldn't bother, because progress through the levels is based on score rather than time, so all you'll achieve is to get to the harder levels faster.

As you race the speed picks up anyway and the roads become more congested, until you reach a stage where you slow back down but the highway gets packed solid with traffic, which forces you to delicately pick your way between cars along the white lines rather than merely switching lanes to dodge them. After a level of that you revert back to normal-style rounds, and we imagine the cycle repeats but we haven't actually managed to get to a second traffic-jam section yet.

What we especially love is that unlike most games full of rush-hour idiots, every driver in Lane Splitter has the courtesy to indicate before changing lanes, giving you a fair chance at swerving or wheelie-boosting out of their path. This joy is balanced, though, by the melancholy knowledge that since this is an endless game, its star Jake Melton is never actually going to make it to his wedding (for such is the plot).

So as you battle your way across the local and Facebook-derived global and friend leaderboards, spare a thought for his soon-to-be widow weeping inconsolably on the steps of the church, eh?

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League Of Evil

One of the finest classic-type platform games we've played in recent years, whether from the App Store or anywhere else.

We tried to get along with the much-hyped Super Meat Boy on XBLA recently, which we'd expected and hoped to enjoy – hard oldskool platformers with teeny graphics are right up our street – but it just didn't click. The physics felt too loose, the palette is horrible and the scale seemed to be all wrong. We didn't even finish the demo version.

League Of Evil, on the other hand, is just lovely. The graphics and colours are pure 8-bit pixel joy, levels are ultra-short and punchy (you'll be a third of the way through the game before you encounter one that takes more than 20 seconds), and the controls are perfect, once again destroying the myth that the iThings can't do virtual joypads. With just left, right and (double) jump you can zip around the gameworld with incredible speed and agility.

It's basically the game we wanted Super Meat Boy to be – a superfast, stripped-down Super Mario Bros. There are no lives, your job is simply to clear all the levels, ideally with three-star speed ratings and collecting the briefcase hidden somewhere in each stage. (Speed ratings and briefcase collection are independent, so you can grab the case on a slow run then do a fast one to get the stars.)

With well over 100 levels ranging from very easy to absolutely brutal, you'll be playing this for weeks, and if you have any taste you'll be loving every minute.

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Mad Skills Motocross

Terrific Moto-X game with an enlightened game structure, online ghost racing and no compulsory tilting. We approve.

Mad Skills is a fairly straightforward Excitebike derivative which pits you (most of the time) against a single CPU-controlled rider across 52 levels in five divisions. (Except it's really 104, as you can switch between Amateur and Pro difficulty at any time, and the game tracks your rankings on each separately.) It's got simple controls (gas, brake, lean forward, lean back and special power), and you can choose tilt or buttons for the leaning.

It's fast and super-smooth, but what we really love about it is the metastructure. Where far too many games obsessively and jealously lock up most of their content and only grudgingly let you play it after hours of boring slog (go and hang your head in the Corner Of Shame, Real Racing 2), Mad Skills takes a much friendlier approach.

Once you've played a level, you can move onto the next one whether you won or lost. You can't move on to the next division until you've beaten a given number of tracks in the current one, but you don't have to clear them all, so if there's a tricky course you just can't conquer, you can move on and come back to it later. (Extra-impressively, unlocking a course in Amateur also unlocks it in Pro.)

This can come in especially handy if you want to skip over the occasional challenge courses, where annoying boggle-eyed boffin Dr Waldo Holschotz sets you targets like completing a track inside a certain time limit while using one of his latest experimental add-ons or performing a set number of stunts over a shortened course.

(The game's attitude to stunts is weird – you can do backflips, double backflips, frontflips and so on during a race, and you can get up to five stars for doing each one repeatedly without crashing, but there's no discernible point to said stars so far as gameplay goes – they don't appear to grant you speed boosts or anything. All they seem to be good for is picking up OpenFeint achievement points, but that's fine with us as we HATE racing games that force you to do stunts.)

The physics are a delight, the graphics are crisp and beautifully-animated, but the most awesome feature of Mad Skills MX is the online ghost competition. There are OpenFeint leaderboards for every track and difficulty, but they do a lot more than simply letting you look at other people's times. If you click on the little arrow beside each OF record, you can either just watch the run in question, or you can race directly against it in the form of a CPU ghost rider.

It's a superb feature that more games should copy and it'd make MSMX worth downloading by itself, but the fact that it's attached to a game that was already great makes it just the icing on a very delicious cake. Fantastic stuff.

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Mechanic Panic

Fantastic action game that's a lot like a more involved and addictive version of the already pretty spiffy Ninjump.

It's a one-finger game, in which tapping the screen makes your grease-monkey leap from one side of an elevator shaft to the other in a burning building. You need to time your jumps carefully to avoid lifts which are both falling to the bottom and exploding upwards (it's probably best not to look too closely into the game's core-premise physics), but if you're good you can actually grab onto the side of a passing one and get a free boost up the screen.

There are plunging civilians to rescue and various hazards and aids on the shaft walls, but since half the joy of the game is in discovering new features and tactics for yourself we won't spoil them for you. The only flaw is that it can take an irritatingly long time to restart after you die, but when that's your biggest complaint with a game you know it must be doing something very right.

This one's gone straight into our favourites folder, and if it's not in yours you need to take a serious look at your lifestyle, to be honest.

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Mecho Wars

Calling this game the iPhone's most direct clone of Advance Wars is easy and obvious and lazy, but also true. Because developers Oyaji surely can't be trying to keep it a secret that their goal is to replicate the appeal and success of Nintendo's barnstorming series of DS turn-based strategy titles.

Apart from the hackneyed fantasy-world setting (whose main drawback is that it isn't easily possible to identify at a glance which enemy units are the equivalent of your own, or which ones can attack each other, until you've played for a while) this is a very faithful clone of its inspiration, with near-identical structure right down to the slightly excessive tutorial – your first mission, for example, requires you to do nothing more than move a character a few squares to the right.

There's no option for anyone familiar with the genre to skip ahead a bit, and several of the early instructional missions are sloppily constructed in such a manner that if you impatiently skip through the dialogue to try to get on with the game, you might miss what's being expected of you (the second mission's unobvious goal of drinking from a cactus, say), and you never get told again on subsequent turns, so you have to quit out and start the mission from scratch. Sometimes you're simply never properly told at all, and have to figure it out from knowledge of Advance Wars.

But such irritations are few and minor, and worth suffering in order to learn about some of the game's original features (like water that freezes at night and can be walked over, and the limited army numbers you can support, forcing you to destroy damaged units to make room for new ones rather than repair them) and get to the meaty 20 Campaign levels proper and 10 dual-goal Challenge stages.

When you do, you find a completely absorbing tactical timesink of a game that captivates much like its adoptive parents.

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Meganoid

Yet another welcome addition to the App Store's ranks of superb retro-styled 2D platform games. Fans of old-school platforming with iThings are pretty spoiled these days, having already had the likes of League Of Evil, Pizza Boy, Robot Wants Kitty, Ready Action, Mos Speedrun, Storm In A Teacup, Soosiz, Qwak and several more to enjoy, and now there's another excellent addition to that list.

All of those games had the wisdom to reduce their controls to three or four virtual buttons (left, right, jump, attack) in order to eliminate the problems posed by iOS's all-touch interface, and Meganoid has been sure to learn the same lesson. You'd have to be very ham-fisted indeed to get yourself in a pickle that you could blame on the controls

That's not to say you're in for an easy ride, though. Meganoid has 90 distinct levels to battle through, and while they're all very short they're no pushovers by any means. The game was partially inspired by Capcom's infamously hard Mega Man series, and after the opening few stages you'll quickly see its unforgiving character start to show through.

Each level has two goals – get to the end quickly enough to win the Time Star, and collect every diamond in order to win the Diamond Star. Many of the latter objects are hidden in secret passages and rooms, some of them visible and some not, and you'll have to do a lot of exploration to track them down. (Fortunately you don't have to earn both stars in the same run.)

You're always sent right back to the beginning of a stage if you die, but in a small concession you get three lives per level – any diamonds that you've collected are retained until you run out of lives, so you don't have to re-gather them all repeatedly. Beaten a stage and you'll unlock its much harder Sarge version, giving you a total of 180 levels and many hours of play before you've finally defeated whoever it is you're nicking these diamonds from.

Meganoid is perfect snack-sized iOS platforming fodder, happily offering up a few quick levels when you've got three minutes to kill but nothing to boil an egg in. And like all the best modern platformers you have a double-jump from the off, which pretty much ensures it's great fun all the way through.

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Meteor Blitz

Meteor Blitz is basically an unashamed tribute to the wonderful Super Stardust HD on PSN, and plays very similarly, with multiple upgradeable weapon paths and lots and lots of asteroids and space baddies.

Control is very well thought-out (we particularly like the instant auto-pause if you lift both of your thumbs off the screen), and while it could perhaps be a little tougher, even if you only play through it once it's a snip at the price. (And most people like their games a bit easier than we do anyway.) One from the top drawer, this.

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Minigore

Probably the App Store's most popular character-based twin-stick arena shooter, very likely its cutest, and certainly its most hyped.

There isn't a great deal to Minigore – it offers precious little in the way of depth, almost zero variation and not a great deal of originality. This is a straight-up Robotron clone with adorable monsters, but if that ever becomes a bad thing you have our official permission to sigh wearily and obliterate the planet. Honestly, you can tell them we said it was okay.

Minigore has a whole cast of characters – some of them guesting from other games, some the result of design competitions, some of which can be unlocked via play, and some purchasable. But you'll probably want to stick with John Gore, an exasperated little square-jawed chap who can't quite believe the pickle he's somehow got himself into in a forest full of hideous furry beasties.

Fortunately you're there to help him out, with the benefit of outstandingly good controls (with auto-aim and manual options) and the usual arsenal of shotguns and grenades that some careless idiot seems to leave lying around in every videogame ever made yet surprisingly infrequently in real life.

Excellent restart options let you jump straight in to the bloodier stages of the game if you find the early phases too tame, and turning yourself into a gigantic flaming were-monster just never gets any less fun. An unmissable iOS classic.

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MotoTrialz

The closest thing you can currently get on your iThing to the great Xbox Live game Trials HD. In fact, it was so close they had to pull it from the App Store and make it a bit LESS like Trials HD on pain of death by lawyer.

Fortunately they took the opportunity to make it an even better game at the same time, tweaking the already-good controls and smartening the graphics up, so that the 27 taxing levels of inexplicable motorbike obstacle-course action (seriously, how did this sport come to be invented?) are even more enjoyable.

MotoTrialz is far and away the best trials game ever made for a portable games console, as well as the best-looking.

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Multipong

This is easily the loveliest derivative of Pong that we've seen since Hasbro's brilliant remake for the Playstation 1 way back in 1999.

As the name suggests, Multipong primarily wants to be a multiplayer game (two players can compete on a single iPhone or iPod, and up to four on iPad), but it's got plenty to offer the solo Ponger too. There's an Adventure mode which basically has the CPU simulate some human opponents, but also a Competition mode which offers four (on iPhone) or five (iPad) variants on a score-based survival game.

All modes play in the same basic way – you have to knock the ball past the other players' paddles to win, helped or hindered by a variety of obstacles and powerups which make the ball bigger, split it into two (only the last one counts), extend or shrink your paddle and all manner of other effects. The default visuals are gorgeously retro, with shiny silver balls bouncing around lovely wooden playfields with pinball bumpers on them, but you can select from several alternative graphical themes too.

We don't have a great deal else to say about this, because it's basically just Pong. But it's an uncommonly beautiful and well thought-out evolution of the old girl, and if you can spare the rather whopping amount of space it takes up it should be a fixture on any kind of iThing.

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Operation Wow
(still free)

Uncompromising remake of the classic Taito arcade gun game Operation Wolf, with a handful of fun minigames thrown in as a bonus.

Operation Wow is a very faithful replication of its grandparent, with more cartoonish graphics but otherwise sticking very closely to the template and level design of the original. Like the Taito game it's extremely hard even on Normal difficulty, and we're not sure that compensating by using multi-touch was the best idea, but you can always swallow your pride and start off with Easy.

You also get lots of extra content, in the form of two minigames – the Fruit Ninja knockoff Meat Ninja and the short time-attack Targets game – plus two endless survival modes. Even now we're still surprised that there aren't more decent touch-based shooting gallery games in the App Store (we live in hope that Namco will bring out a new Point Blank), and right now this is probably at the top of the tree.

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Parsec
(still free)

Brilliant old-skool single-screen vector-graphics Space Invaders action with 20 varied and inventive levels.

You start off with five lives and a fairly weak laser blaster than can be upgraded both permanently and temporarily via powerups that drop from defeated enemies. The aliens line up in excellent new formations for each level, moving sideways or vertically or pulsing in and out or spinning round or all sorts of combinations of those. At first you'll have your work cut out just surviving more than a few levels, but eventually you'll start to make progress and work out the combo-shooting system that's central to the game's high-score challenge. (GameCenter achievements and leaderboards are supported.) Beat all 20 levels and you get sent round again with more fearsome invaders this time, and if you clear the whole game twice – well, we're not that good yet.

Parsec is an absolutely terrific shooter that would have wowed 1980s arcade audiences, and we can't help but fear it's been released for free due to some terrible administrative error. Don't hang around waiting for them to change their minds. 

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PicoPico Fighters
(still free)

Fantastic, incredibly hard, 8-bit-style retro shmup we just can't seem to stop playing. It's from the people who brought you the splendid PicoPico Games compilation, but this is something that was too good not to stand alone in its own right.

PicoPico Fighters isn't a huge game – it features just three normal levels and a boss-rush stage, and crams itself into a microscopic 1MB download – but it's one you won't be seeing the end credits of for a long time. With teeny pixel graphics it can pack a lot onto the screen and shift it around at great speed, and even with automatic rapid firing and the excellent virtual trackball controls you'll be getting your component atoms scattered across the infinite void from pretty early on in Stage 1.

There are no instructions, so we'll take a moment to tell you some fairly vital things it took us a little while to figure out. Destroyed enemies sometimes drop yellow blocks, either blank or with a 'P' on them. Collect 10 of any type of these blocks and you'll get an extra life (important because you get a huge 10,000-point bonus for every life remaining at the end of a stage), while five 'P' blocks powers up your laser to a maximum of five further levels. (It can also drop by two from its starting strength.)

Get hit and you'll lose one life plus all your current unused 'P' blocks (ie a maximum of four). Get hit without any 'P' blocks equipped and your laser power will drop one level, which can be somewhat hazardous because your new life starts instantly with only the briefest period of invulnerability, and you can easily get hit three or four times in about five seconds if you're not careful, leaving you not only short of lives but with a near-useless gun for dealing with the relentless hordes of enemies.

A ferocious boss lurks at the end of each stage, but to even see it you'll have to survive wave after wave of peril, from cannon-fodder squadrons to large battle cruisers, hails of indestructible blocks and more. There's barely a moment's respite in the entire game, and you'll need to learn to move with enormous precision and steely calm if you're to avoid the blizzard of incoming fire without getting your fingers in the way.

You can start from any level you've reached, and awesomely the game stores full replays of both your last attempt and your all-time best, which is pretty damn impressive in 1MB.

PicoPico Fighters is a simply magnificent game, easily capable of holding its head high among the App Store's very best shooters like Espgaluda 2, Alien Swarm and Phoenix. That you can have it for the price of nothing but one unobtrusive banner ad on the menu screen (none during play) is little short of a Grade-1 miracle.

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Piyo Blocks 2

The zippiest match-three game of them all on the iPhone, with gorgeous graphics and game modes a-go-go. In addition to an excellent wifi or Bluetooth two-player battle game with powerups, there are no fewer than six different single-player modes, with something to cater for every taste.

Our favourite is Three Seconds mode, which does what it sounds like – gives you exactly three seconds to make a match. Find one and the clock resets to three seconds, fail and it's Game Over. It's the perfect antidote to match-three games that go on for days on end without ever feeling like you're in danger of losing unless you fall into a coma, but if it's a bit too intense there are plenty of alternatives.

Piyo mode is the classic Zookeeper game – match a certain number of each type of block to move onto the next level. Hyaku mode is similar, except to progress you have to get 99 of any one block type. Time Attack gives you 1, 2 or 4 minutes to score as many points as possible, and Endless is a single level that goes on forever with no time limit of any kind, and in which the only way to fail is to run out of matches.

The last mode is the most original. In a Disco game you have a two-minute clock, but every few seconds all the blocks change colour, throwing your carefully-laid plans out of the window (along with any unused special blocks you've earned).

OpenFeint leaderboards and two different graphical skins round off a super-polished package, and although the real Zookeeper has now shown up on the App Store and is the same top game it always was, Piyo Blocks 2 takes the form several steps forward.

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Prism: Light The Way

Lovely light-manipulating puzzler transported across from the DS, only with its hefty price tag missing. The game comprises 120 levels in which you have to reflect, redirect, split and tint beams of light around different-shaped arenas with the use of mirrors and various types of prism.

Like all the best puzzlers the rules are simple, and there aren't too many elements to get to grips with. The key is to keep a clear head and somehow persuade your brain to think in about eight different directions at once. The controls are great, the presentation is first-class and the puzzles will have you hitting yourself in the face with a hammer. What more do you want?

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Push Panic

Beyond any reasonable doubt the finest action-puzzle game in the entirety of the App Store catalogue. Push Panic is an absolutely fantastic game that you'll pick up in two seconds flat and then not put down again until paramedics drag you onto a stretcher with a feeding tube down your throat.

If you've played any of the Zepi games you'll have a head start in figuring out what's afoot here, but even if you haven't it could barely be simpler. Coloured blocks fall into a pit and rapidly form a higgledy-piggledy pile. You have to clear them out before they break through the safety line at the top, which you do by tapping blocks of the same colour to highlight them, then tapping a highlighted block to destroy the entire group.

It's extremely easy to keep the pit clear, because you can eliminate groups of as few as two blocks, but of course it's not that simple. If you build bigger and bigger groups of blocks before detonating them you get far more points, and various special blocks enable you to pump that score up to stratospheric heights by multiplying the block value, building chains of more than one colour, and more.

That's all there is to the core gameplay – it's the classic balance between playing safe and taking risks for massive payoffs. But to keep things interesting Push Panic offers four different modes – a levels-based Classic game, a three-minute time attack, an endless survival mode and a quickfire game where you instantly lose if more than eight blocks of the same colour are onscreen at once, regardless of the height of the pile. All four are fantastic in different ways, and all four monitor your OpenFeint rank in realtime while you're playing, for extra excitement.

We'd wax lyrical about Push Panic in a lot more depth, but we're off for another game. 100 percent bona fide solid gold.

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Rappin' Granny

Short-lived but tremendously entertaining lyric-interpreting gift-giving transgender hip-hop grandparent simulation.

Your sexagenarian super-mom (who has a suspiciously male voice) street-shuffles her way through a very large crib, rapping about all the gifts she's bought for her many grandchildren. Your simple job is to interpret the words of the rap in order to hand each present to the right kid. (Because hey, people separated by two generations these days might as well be speaking different languages, right?)

That's all there is to it, and the rap is the same every time so once you've got it all memorised there's very little replay value (there are no online leaderboards, though you do get a single local highscore), but Rappin' Granny is great while it lasts and delivers an infinite fun-to-cost ratio, and who can complain about that?

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Rat On A Skateboard

The latest outing for Donut Games' adorable verminous mascot is perhaps his best yet, and maybe his trickiest too.

Rat On A Skateboard follows the same basic running-game template of its splendid forebears Rat On The Run and Rat On A Scooter XL, but this time Ratty's mode of transport enables him to pull off a few airborne tricks while he leaps across gaps and picks up cheese. You get three modes – two endless random games and a 40-stage challenge mode with Donut's usual three-star ranking system.

To be honest ROAS doesn't add a huge amount to the previous formula, but it does offer a little more sophistication and depth. The developer has also finally embraced the modern era by implementing Game Center support in place of its previous terrible web leaderboards, and updating the game with Retina graphics and native iPad mode. It's as lovable as all Ratty's games and it's a very small download, so we can't imagine why you wouldn't.

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Ready Action!

High-speed all-action platformer that sits proudly alongside Pizza Boy and League Of Evil at the very summit of the genre.

Ready Action! boasts 55 levels split between three worlds (more are promised), and in each one you're racing against the clock to film a movie scene. Usually this just involves getting to the end of the stage, but sometimes you'll have to collect certain objects or defeat a given number of a particular enemy.

The problem is that you only have 30 seconds to complete each take, and after the handful of introductory levels that's almost never enough. So you have to gather gold coins that are either just lying around or looted from baddies, and take them to phone booths where you can exchange them for extra time. But you have to be careful, because your coins are also Sonic The Hedgehog-style protection, and if you hand them all over a single hit from a monster or one tumble onto some spikes means instant death.

That's the heart of the game, but there's more depth to it too. Between scenes you can use your saved gold (every coin you hold at the end of a scene is doubled) to buy extra costumes, each of which grant you differing abilities, such as double-jumps and guns to use against the baddies rather than your fists. You can carry up to three costumes at once, and switch between them during a stage at the touch of a button. (As the costumes range from Cupid to a wolfman to a Gremlin to a robot to Satan, we REALLY want to see this movie.)

The whole thing is executed with enormous verve and polish (so long as you can forgive the Japlish text, anyway), and the pace never lets up. Each level has a three-star ranking, and you can go back and replay them any time you like to gather some more gold and buy extra costumes. Which you'll probably want to, because after stage 10 or so the game gets seriously challenging and you'll be in a constant panic of trying to stay alive while finding your goals and keeping the clock running.

Control is flawless, and Ready Action! is a game that'd honour any format past or present.

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Red Conquest

Beware – this epic RTS is much more complex than iOS gamers are used to, but it rewards the effort. Boasting all the gorgeous (and high-definition, for Retina display users) graphical flair of the Blue Defense games that it's narratively connected to, Red Conquest offers gameplay vastly more complicated than their simple target-prioritising laser carnage.

You'll need patience to get to grips with a lengthy tutorial and a daunting interface that borders on byzantine – certainly by App Store standards – and you'll have to employ some pretty sophisticated strategy if you're going to make any headway as the evil Red side of this particular cosmic conflict.

In truth, Red Conquest will probably be too much for most people's attention spans. But if you've been yearning for something with tons of style and a bit more depth than another Doodle Jump or Flight Control copycat, all your Christmases just came at once. It's a real pity it's not a Universal app to take advantage of the iPad's greater screen area, though.

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Robot Wants Kitty

This excellent Metroid-style platformer only has six levels, but it's great while it lasts, and at up to half an hour per level you'll still get a very respectable chunk of fun out of it before you're done. Hey, it's still longer than Pilotwings Resort, and that costs 40 quid.

The sweet plot sees you take the role of a lonely robot who wants to rescue a cute pussycat that's been cruelly imprisoned in a laboratory, so that he can have some companionship. He starts off each level almost powerless, but with a bit of exploring you can quickly find various 'apps' that enable him to jump, dash, fire a gun and lots more. Using these powers he can negotiate locked gates, blocked walls and countless monsters and bosses to reach the kitty and make a happier life for both of them. We don't know where he's going to buy milk, but we're sure he'll figure something out.

The simple, responsive controls make the game a pleasure to play – we're so happy to see so many traditional-style games finally mastering the art of making a good virtual pad, with the likes of League Of Evil and Pizza Boy and now this one consigning the awful controls of early iOS platformers to the dustbin of history.

The maps get increasingly large, and you can refer to them at any time with a quick tap on your 'bot. (Missus.) You have infinite lives, restarting at handy checkpoints when killed, and each round is a race against the clock.

Obviously the main issue with the game is the lack of levels, though the developers promise that 'Kitty Connect', a currently-disabled mode allowing the building and sharing of user-designed levels, will be live soon. We always take such promises with a pinch of salt until we see them with our own eyes, but even with only the couple of hours of content that it currently offers, Robot Wants Kitty is a delight that you'd be a fool to miss out on.

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Run Like Hell Deluxe

At last, the long wait for a Deluxe running game featuring a chasing pack of hungry cannibals is at an end. This is a superb evolution of the form, with gorgeous graphics and animation and a wide variety of interesting obstacles to jump over, slide under or clamber across as you run for your life from a variety of baddies with one common goal – having you for dinner. And not in the nice way.

This is the same game as normal Run Like Hell!, and still comes with a hefty chunk of the content locked at the start. However, with Deluxe you get more to play from the off, and you can unlock all the various stages comparatively easily by playing Story mode (which is now available straight away), rather than having to either slog for dozens of hours earning enough in-game points or pay real money to open them up with in-app purchases

The four Endless levels and the pair of Time Trials that are open inmmediately are essentially all complete games in themselves, and even if you never care about unlocking the rest of the game they're tremendous fun in their own right. The first Endless stage (Beach) is a simpler version of the game where you never have to use the duck button, whereas the second (Jungle) is for more advanced players and calls for much quicker thinking, and in general things get slightly more complicated the further you progress.

There's also a new Valentine-themed standalone level, a shopping mall where our hero is pursued by a pack of love-crazed hot girls, and a variant of it called Heartbreaker where you have to take the right route to collect love-hearts rather than playing for distance. In all cases, though, you'll need fast reactions and lots of the powerups that slow down the enemies or grant you a speed-boosting adrenaline burst.

Meanwhile, the Time Trial stages take place on fixed levels (whereas the Endless ones are all randomly generated) and have no chasers, tasking you only with reaching the finish line as quickly as possible. The nature of the game is such that there's vast scope for variation in your time, and putting together a run with the minimum of tripping and time-consuming climbing and the maximum of adrenaline-fuelled running and precision leaping is enormously satisfying.

There are OpenFeint achievements to harvest and leaderboards for every Endless and Time Trial level, and basically enough game here to keep you occupied for weeks. And for some reasons it's also 8MB smaller than the non-deluxe version, so you can save a little bit of space too.

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Sentinel: Mars Defense

It might be a pensioner by App Store standards, but this is still one of the definitive tower defence games. (And at just a tenth the size of the rather bloated third game in the series, it's a lot less space-hungry too.)

We're going to presume we don't need to explain tower 'defense' games to you, as they're one of the defining forms of iThing gaming, but all you need to know is alongside the two GeoDefense titles the Sentinel games are still the champions of the genre, and the chance to pick up the original for free isn't one you should pass up.

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Shift

Highly inventive monochrome platforming genius that works far better on iOS than the original Flash-based PC version did, largely due to the far superior and fantastically clever control method it employs on the touchscreen machines.

You have to reach each level's exit not only by the usual running and jumping antics, but also by strategically 'shifting' the single-screen levels, which flips the screen upside down and inverts the colours so that what was once solid wall is now empty space, ceilings become floors and so on.

After being led very quickly through the basic mechanics of how the game works you're left to get on with figuring your way out through dozens of fiendishly-designed rooms. It's a beautiful piece of work, minimalist and hugely accessible yet taxing enough to have you scratching your head like a cat with fleas.

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Sliding Heroes

A most odd little hybrid of RPG and multi-ball wooden-labyrinth game from your pals at Square Enix. It's not that it's complicated, just that it's really quite weird.

The action takes place on a series of single-screen maps, littered with a variety of enemy creatures. You can summon up to eight fighters of your own at a time, taken from one of four character classes with the usual RPG variety of characteristics like strength, attack range, defensive power etc.

Having done so, you tilt them around the screen so that they collide with the baddies and hopefully kill them, opening up the next of 30 stages, and that's pretty much all there is to it. The trick is in using the tilt controls to control multiple characters at once so that you can use them to simultaneously attack enemies with more than one of your own fighters. (Individual enemies quickly become too tough for a single one to handle.)

It's not the fastest game in the world and the controls could do with a calibration option (going up the screen can be a bit of a trial, and you can adjust sensitivity but not the zero angle), but it's incredibly absorbing and extremely satisfying when you defeat a big monster by distracting him with a warrior while your fragile witches zap him from a distance, or lancers circle round behind and drive him into an acid pool.

The lives system is also clever, giving you a set number of 'spawns' but adding one every time you defeat an enemy, so you have to decide whether it's worth wiping out the lesser monsters (risking losing more lives than you gain) or just going straight for the bosses.

In addition to the story-based main game there's the more arcadey Endless mode, where you have a single very powerful character type and 99 lives with which to clear 100 screens of enemies. (So 'Endless' isn't a very good name for it.) The main danger, though, is probably the greatly increased number of deadly pits (both static and moving) littering each stage, which really show up the game's wooden ancestry.

Sliding Heroes is a real gem of invention, and for free it's an absolute must-have for any self-respecting iThing.

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Slingo Supreme

A terrible game of pure luck, that for some reason we're pathologically unable to stop playing even when our house is on fire and full of wolves.

If you have an addictive personality, then whatever you do don't download Slingo Supreme. It will eat your life. It's basically a bingo game with power-ups, and there's more or less no skill whatsoever involved in it – you just spin some reels and try to fill in all the numbers on a grid. But it's… well, we're not even sure what it is.

All we DO know is that once you start playing it, odd things happen to time and the next thing you know you've got 84 bottles of milk stacked up on your doorstep and an nine-inch beard. (Even if you're female, which is the really freaky thing.)

The Devil does appear in the game, which may have something to do with it. Man, we hope we haven't accidentally sold our soul or something. SLINGO SUPREME IS EVIL. DO NOT DOWNLOAD SLINGO SUPREME. ALL MAY DIE.

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Solomon's Keep
(still free)

Twin-stick Gauntlet with fairly minor RPG complications and almost countless hours of replay value. Evil wizard Solomon Dark is lurking on the 13th floor of a dark tower and your job as an apprentice spell-caster is to fight your way up from the ground floor and defeat him and his many minions yada yada yada.

At first Solomon's Keep seems pretty slow going, with numerous levels of plot blurb to skip through and a fairly sluggish initial pace, but when you've cleared a few rooms of monsters the game offers you a choice of powerups as a reward (faster movement, more powerful weapons, bigger energy bars and the like) and things start to get more fun.

On your first run through you'll have to play pretty carefully and tactically, adopting a hit-and-run approach where you take out a few baddies and then have to run away to recover your strength, but by the time you've beaten the game once (and enjoyed the funny credits sequence) you'll have a pretty impressive armoury and be well-placed to tackle the many new challenges you can choose from.

You can simply step up a difficulty level (retaining all your gathered powers from the previous run), or try to beat Solomon Dark without using magic potions, or in less than an hour, or any of several other challenges, all of which earn you achievements. On top of that there are three save slots (so you can try all three of the main weapons you get to choose from before entering the fray), gold to collect and new powers to buy with it, magical objects to find and equip, and a well-named Hardcore mode where no continues are permitted.

The game is full of unforced humour, with knowing references to Gauntlet and others (particularly C64 classic Impossible Mission), and it's beautifully atmospheric, with the evil wizard offering frequent interjections in a demonic, booming voice and rain lashing down constantly on the tower. (A really clever touch ambience-wise is the way you occasionally have to venture outside onto the battlements to move between areas of the tower. The gameplay doesn't change but it does wonders in terms of breaking up the endless dungeons and corridors and making the tower feel like a real place.)

It's hard to attribute too much weight to the RPG element – because the skills you're offered when you level up are random each time – and it's a pity Hardcore mode doesn't have scoring for when you feel like a quicker game rather than a full 13-level slog (the only wider goal in Solomon's Keep is to earn the achievements by repeatedly completing it), but there are plenty of other games to play if you want those things.

This is a fantastically engrossing game with plenty of payoff for all your hard work, and you'll happily fight your way through the 13 levels time and time again. (The tower's layout is randomised for each play, but you can access a Doom-style overlay map so you don't waste time getting lost.) Frankly you really should have bought it long before now, but for free it's a gold-plated steal.

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Soosiz

'Super Mario Galaxy 2D' is the shortest way of describing the fantastic Soosiz, which might be the single finest game in the App Store ever to have gone on a free promo.

With 66 increasingly-taxing levels spread across 7 worlds, it’s a platformer designed from the ground up for the iThings, and everything about it is gorgeous, from the buttery-smooth rotating graphics to the perfectly-weighted controls and the expertly-judged difficulty curve. If you didn’t download this while it was inexplicably available for absolutely nothing, you might as well shove your iPod into the dark parts of a Cocker Spaniel for all the good it’s doing you.

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Speedball 2 Evolution

The best version yet of the finest future-sports videogame ever made in human time. We had plentiful fears about Tower Studios' porting of the legendary Amiga and Atari ST title (which, if you're THAT young, is basically handball with violence), but they all proved unfounded. The controls – either dynamic virtual pad or tilt – are superbly done, the revamped graphics are sublime and the game plays just like it used to. (Albeit somewhat easier, but that's wimpy modern gamers for you.)

The structure is identical to the 1990 original, with few additions other than a handful of special stadia to unlock (and the very welcome improvement that you're always playing up the screen). You can play a single Quick Match game, a Challenge tournament (using either preset or custom tourneys) or the full-blown Career mode, in which you have to take your team through a series of cups and leagues to become the world's undisputed Speedball champions.

You earn and pick up money during games to upgrade your players' abilities, which is pretty unnecessary during the early matches but will be needed when the opposition eventually starts to put up a decent fight. Alternatively you can just buy a load of cash via in-app purchase if you want to completely ruin the game for yourself.

Speedball 2 is one of the all-time great two-player sports titles, and the iOS version is no exception to that rule, with both Bluetooth and wifi matches available. Annoyingly, though, you can only challenge other players with the same type of iThing as you – iPad owners can only play other iPad owners and not iPhone or iPod Touch users, for example. One way or another, though, you should be able to find an adversary and enjoy a game that's as great today as it was in 1990.

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Squareball

We laugh every time we play this game, even though there aren't any jokes in it. What's that about? Well, it's because of the sheer, insanely uncompromising savagery of how hard it is.

Squareball will kill you. Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of times. Most of the people who play it will probably never see more than 30-40 percent of its content. But unlike other brutally hard games, Squareball is never less than fun. It's about as simple a game as you could possibly design – bounce a ball to the end of a level without going off the screen – but making it through even one stage is an epic feat that you'll feel deserves a headline spot on the evening news.

It's been toned down a little since its first release, with slightly gentler Challenge stages offering an easier way in, a new Endless game where speed rather than staying alive is the issue, and a new 'Casual' difficulty setting, but don't be fooled. Squareball is still going to kick your head in. No matter how often it does, though, you'll keep coming back for another try, because the fantastic retro graphics and sound, and the simple, flawless controls, make it fun to fail. Iconic and completely brilliant iGaming.

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Star Keeper

This brilliant original arcade game is well named, because it's 60 (or 90) seconds of design genius. (What we're going for there is that it's both a 'star' and definitely a 'keeper'. Pay attention at the back.)

The simplest of premises (it's a little bit reminiscent of Qix, and not just in the fact that you draw boxes – the way risk grows the bigger the area you try to 'capture' is conceptually very similar, as is the simplicity of the gameplay) conceals a game of extraordinary beauty and compulsiveness. The idea is that stars tumble into the playfield from the top and sides, and drift their way towards the bottom, where they disappear. In between those times you can try to draw a box (with a single swipe, the corner-to-corner way you would in a paint app) and capture the stars for points.

You can chain combos, but if a box forms with a star only partly inside it you'll register a 'break' and get hardly any points for it, and you'll also reset your multiplier, which you really don't want to do. There are a few other bonus rules (extra points for capturing several stars of one colour only, or for getting all three colours together), and two types of special star – one you HAVE to 'break' or it'll destroy all the other stars onscreen, and one that creates a gravity vortex that sucks every other star towards it for a couple of seconds, giving you a chance to grab lots at once for big points.

That's about it, but the real joy lies in using this tiny ruleset to work out tactics and strategies, and therefore climb the global leaderboards. Clearly, we're not going to tell you our own methods at this point, but you'll find us up near the very top. And yeah, we ARE looking for a fight, actually.

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Stone Wars
(still free)

A lot like Worms, except with good controls and without the lag and the embarrassing puerile humour. Stone Wars is a beautifully presented projectile-war game, offering wifi, Bluetooth or pass-and-play multiplayer modes as well as a single-player Arcade game and 1P-vs-CPU battles.

We particularly love the Arcade mode – which takes place in a series of cleverly-designed platform-game stages – and although it sadly only has nine levels it'll take you a long time to achieve perfect completions on all of them.

(It's also an excellent and subtle tutorial in the use of the game's various weapons, if you don't want to trek through the vast Training section. But you should want to, because the Training section is a huge game in itself, with dozens of unique stages for each individual weapon, with rankings to attain on each one.)

The sheer volume of content in Stone Wars is staggering, with hundreds of levels distributed amongst the different modes. It's also one of the only iOS online games we've always been able to find an opponent in within seconds. But even by yourself there's an incredible amount of play to be had.

Control is perfect, with incredibly easy item selection, movement, aiming and shooting, and everything about Stone Wars oozes quality. It's the only turn-based trajectory battle game you need.

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Stoopid Sandwich
(still free)

Ingenious take on tower-building physics, where you draw your own blocks and have no excuses.

Stoopid Sandwich plays very similarly to games like Topple, where your objective is to build a tall column of something (in this case, a sandwich Scooby Doo would be proud of) before gravity inevitably asserts its authority and brings it crashing to the ground. The twist here is that while the fillings are dealt out at random (although you do get to see what's coming next), every second item in the sandwich is a piece of bread and you draw those yourself, enabling you – in theory at least – to compensate for any wobbles or lean in your tower by adding exactly the right-shaped object to get it back in balance and provide a stable platform for lots more tasty fillings.

(You don't even have to draw all four sides – if you want a wedge-shaped piece, say, just draw two of the edges and the game will connect the corners for you automatically.)

There's no time limit as such on drawing your slice (except that sometimes you'll have to rush to drop it as the tower sways alarmingly to one side) and you can make it as big or small as you like, but the game is deceptively tough even before it starts dropping awkwardly-shaped objects like chicken legs or mushrooms, and you'll be startled how quickly you keep losing.

The cartoon graphics are full of character and you're accompanied by a never-ending cheesy song ('Yummy yummy in your tummy') which helps the atmosphere no end, although on the downside it may cause you to have a nervous breakdown when you can't stop singing it on the bus, at a job interview or during a romantic dinner with your significant other.

An update has added two new shorter-play modes since we first wrote about SS, and if you were smart enough to download the game when we originally featured it then you get them for free. Latecomers can pick them up via a low-priced in-app purchase.

A Game Center leaderboard guarantees lively competition, but the physics in Stoopid Sandwich are what'll keep you coming back to it.

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Strimko Gold

Probably our favourite iOS logic puzzle game ever, seen here in its super-deluxe version with over 300 levels. Strimko is a completely original type of puzzle, which is like Sudoku in so much as you have to arrange numbers in a grid so that each number only appears once in each line, but unlike Sudoku in the sense that it's hugely enjoyable rather than hideously dull and awful.

Levels range in size from 4×4 to 7×7, and you have to arrange the numbers by horizontal and vertical lines, but also by irregular-shaped ones (known as 'streams') that snake through the grids and must also only contain one of each number. And those are literally all of the rules.

The interface is simple and intuitive, allowing you to indicate either 'definite' numbers or multiple 'maybes', and you can select from three different colour themes or let the game pick one at random. The puzzles themselves are the stars here, and they're perfectly judged, starting off with easy ones that you should be able to knock off in under a minute and leading you up a gentle but tangible difficulty curve into a world of mental torment.

There are 329 puzzles in all – arranged into various groups – and 309 of them are unlocked from the start, with the other 20 requiring you clear all 100 of the 'Core Pack' to access them. (Those 120 are in fact the contents of normal Strimko, with the other 189 being made up of its three IAP packs plus the 9 levels from the Lite version.)

It's hard to convey exactly what separates run-of-the-mill logic puzzles from great ones (because it basically comes down to the kind of thinking you have to employ, and that's something that's not easy to explain), but take it from us – Strimko is a game that absolutely belongs in the latter camp, and Strimko Gold is about as good a Strimko app as you could hope to find. A nailed-on must-have.

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Super Marble Roll

There are surprisingly few Marble Madness (or for younger viewers, Super Monkey Ball) clones on the App Store, perhaps because this one's so good. That was all we said about SMR when we first featured it, and we're tempted to stand by it. You know what Marble Madness is about, you can see what the graphics look like, and it's free, so what are you waiting for?

But such a superficial summary would be doing the game something of a disservice. Super Marble Roll plays beautifully, with smooth movement and configurable tilt control, and it's pure arcade highscore gaming – you get three lives and then it's back to the start (or continue, but with all your points lost). There are three difficulty levels – unlocked in sequence – each of which has the same 14 courses but with increasingly tricky object placement and tighter time limits, offset by higher scoring. (There's a single leaderboard covering all three difficulties.)

We like the way you're tempted to lunge at the screen to destroy passing UFOs for extra points (inevitably losing your balance and plunging to a shattery death as you do so), and that while speeding to the end of a level is relatively achievable, you don't feel you've beaten it properly unless you've collected all the bonus gems, something so hard to do inside the time limit that you may very well cry.

The stages are terrifically well designed, with lots of varied and inventive features and laid out in such a way that if you're really good you can pull off all sorts of impressive shortcuts. The presentation is minimal but elegant, with the sound as good as the crisp, evocative visuals, and every facet of the game (except the unfortunate absence of online leaderboards) is of the highest quality.

Far better than the official Super Monkey Ball titles for iOS, this is tilt-based gaming at its very best.

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Super Mega Worm

By far the least boring of the games in which a gigantic worm eats devours trucks, cows and babies in prams. (And we know – in theory it shouldn't be possible to make that boring, but you'd be surprised.)

Part game, part low-cost distraction therapy for the sociopathic, Super Mega Worm gives you control of some kind of hideous monstrous annelid probably created by radiation or pollution or something (sorry, we always skip intros), afflicted with a ravenous and insatiable hunger. Much as you'd like to make friends and live in some sort of symbiotic eco-harmony with the citizens walking around on the surface, you have to eat them instead. That's just the way it is.

The developers of SMW have gotten almost everything right. There are control options to suit pretty much everyone, the retro graphics and sound are perfectly pitched, and the screams of your victims add lots of character to a game that already has an abundance it. (Our favourite is the heart-rending 'Please! I just got my nails done!')

It's a hugely fun game to play, but Super Mega Worm's only failing is that it's a bit easy. It's a cinch to just skim the surface gobbling up a string of stupid humans, so even your constantly-emptying stomach takes a long time to become a problem, particularly as you automatically evolve new attacks as the game progresses. Eight or nine levels in it does start to put up a bit of a fight, and you'll need to master trickier stuff like combos if you want to challenge the stratospheric high scores on the Game Center leaderboard, but if you're used to your iThing gaming coming in 60-second bursts you're going to be a bit thrown by SMW's altogether more traditional pacing.

(In fairness there's a two-minute Time Attack mode too, which cranks the difficulty up to the max straight away, but even then you can pick up frequent 15-second extra-time icons and a game can still last a long time.)

Mostly, though, you'll just want to keep playing to see what's coming next. The game throws new stuff at you thick and fast, whether it's hazards, powers or food, which is one of the reasons it never gets dull like certain giant-worm games we could mention. Super Mega Worm is an endlessly enjoyable diversion, plus it keeps you off the streets, you psycho.

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Super Stickman Golf

A golf game crossed with Angry Birds and a 2D platformer, but much better than that sounds or has any right to be.

Super Stickman Golf has been one of our favourite iOS sports games for a long time, and the screenshot should tell you almost all you need to know about how it works. There are 29 nine-hole courses divided into three groups, and you have to beat the first course in each group to unlock the second and so on. You can play them on your own for the lowest number of strokes, or against up to three human opponents either online or via Bluetooth for a race to the pin regardless of shot count.

In essence it's more of a puzzle game with aiming and timing elements than a sports one, but you could say that about most golf sims if you think about it. The courses are many and varied, there are various powerups to earn both during play and by achieving particular tasks (eg beating two courses under par), and there's always plenty of replay value thanks to the online leaderboards.

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Supremacy Wars

Insanely large and in-depth castle-attack that's the grandest we've seen of the genre.

The best-known examples in the App Store so far are probably still Galcon and Galcon Labs, which set the basic template for a game type that can be fairly well summed up as 'Risk in real time', but Supremacy Wars puts some serious meat on the bones of the style, with a range of power-ups which can be extended and upgraded as you progress through the dozens of levels (spread over three campaigns) and numerous unlockable modes.

It's got an excellent interface whereby you can send troops out from multiple fortresses at once, and also adds a little dash of tower-defence to the mix with different kinds of dedicated installations that serve specific purposes (like acting as gun towers or resource mines), but it never overcomplicates matters, with the gameplay core always the same simple line-drawing mechanism.

If you get a kicking on a map you can go back and reallocate all your skill points and try some different strategies, and there are vast numbers of permutations of both abilities and other game variables. You're looking at hundreds of hours of content, which probably explains the enormous file size as well as the fact that we can't do Supremacy Wars justice in this small review space.

This is a 'proper' game that would be at home on any platform.

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The Creeps

The iThings aren't exactly short of tower-defence games, but The Creeps! is one of our favourites. As well as having a cuter premise than most (keep monsters from waking up your sleeping form by zapping them with torches and toy guns and the like) and high production values, it does a few interesting things with the genre's gameplay too.

As well as the usual finite-waves and endless modes you get the novel 'Door Busta' game, in which you have to attack as well as defend, making your way across the landscape to blast the door through which the monsters are entering.

And that landscape is the other novel thing. In all modes, the ground starts off with only a few clear spaces for you to place your turrets on – the rest is cluttered with obstacles that you have to blast away in between fighting off the monsters. Clearing obstacles generates extra cash and also gives you more room to put turrets down. Particularly in Door Busta mode, this feature adds a whole extra level of strategic depth to the game, and ensures you're never short of something to do.

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The Deep Pinball

The very best of the three individual pinball tables making up the 'Pinball HD' compilation. The Deep offers a table design that's basic but well-balanced, with the ball spending the minimum of time either ricocheting around uncontrollably or drifting across empty space.

Like all the games in the series it's extremely smooth, slick and polished, with proprietary online leaderboards to rank your skill against. You can play in a fullscreen portrait mode showing the whole table at once or a zoomed-in version showcasing the 3D construction of the tables, but sadly the fullscreen landscape option present in Pinball HD isn't available, so if you've got great big paws for hands you might find things getting a little cramped.

For the dainty of appendage, though, this is some of the App Store's best pinball. (It got the nod over the superb Pinball Dreams – also a former freebie – purely for being an iOS original, and was narrowly preferred to Pinball Ride Free for some small interface niggles with the latter.)

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Time Geeks
(still free)

A very pretty object-spotting game with lovely neo-retro eBoy-style graphics for you to swoon theatrically over.

Lots of modes and minigames cater for fast high-intensity arcade-reaction thrills or gentle, thoughtful scrutinising alike, and scrolling around the beautiful pixel landscapes just admiring the art is a joy in its own right. There's even a construction kit to build your own 8-bit scenes with. (Though sadly you can't make playable levels.)

The king of the iOS object-spotting genre, though you should definitely also check out the splendid Say What You See.

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Top Gear Stunt School

TV spinoff that's a sort of cross between Hard Drivin', Track And Field and Jackass. And being at school.

The game comprises 60 stunt challenges divided into various categories, but always involving doing something stupid with some kind of vehicle. You might have to repeatedly drive it around a loop-the-loop, or navigate an obstacle course without setting off the explosives on the roof, or stick a javelin on the front and leap off a ramp to land nose-first in a giant dartboard. You get the tone.

Each stage is very short, but offers four levels of difficulty to unlock, each with high scores and medals to be won by picking them up along the way, and there's lots of other content that we don't have time to go into here. The show's famous presenters don't make an appearance – with the exception of The Stig, who you can send round the Top Gear test track in a customised car of your own design and then race against his ghost – but for many people that'll be a bonus.

There are adjustable touch and tilt control options, it looks great and you can smash into caravans. What more do you want?

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Touch Racing Nitro
(still free)

Fast, cute and original circuit racer that's the Ivan 'Ironman' Stewart's Off Road of this generation. Which, as long-standing WoS readers will know, is about as high as praise can get around these parts.

Touch Racing Nitro caused quite a big stir on its release, not least on account of its inventive and clever control system – you touch on the screen where you want your car to go, and it does its best to head there in a straight line, at a speed determined by how close to it your finger is. (Further away = faster. If you want a feel for how it works, imagine that you're dragging the car round on the end of a quite short piece of elastic.)

It's a method that takes a few laps to get the hang of, particularly if you want to master two-thumb control to avoid ever having your car hidden under your hands, but once you do you can't conceive why anyone would ever have wanted to steer a car around a track any other way.

This is particularly true when you make the slightly counter-intuitive realisation that you don't NEED to actually see your car – drive well and you can just trust it to follow your finger faithfully around the course, whether it's under your thumb or hidden by a tunnel or bridge or whatever.

(In any event, the 1.3 update added an alternative and more traditional joypad-and-buttons control option, although we're sticking with the responsive and highly satisfying touch style.)

There are 18 different tracks spread across three tournaments (at each of three difficulty settings, making 54 races in all), and the course design is brilliant – imaginative, varied and memorable. A single lap will be enough to imprint most layouts on your brain, with or without the lovely pre-race 3D flypast, and you'll soon be zooming around like an expert.

Beginner level is pleasingly easy, the other two offer a much more serious level of CPU opposition, and it'll take you many hours of play to ace all nine Gold trophies in this lightning-quick, super-smooth and all-round gorgeous racer.

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Tower Runner

Aw, we love this. It's an ingenious hybrid of Lode Runner and Nebulus wrapped up in a beautifully-polished package. (If you don't know what Lode Runner and Nebulus are, you're probably not going to be interested. Move on, please.)

The idea, then, is to negotiate your way safely to the top of a rotating tower while collecting all the gold bricks and dodging some of those ever-pesky enemy chasers. There are 40 levels, and you can either play them against the clock in any order (all levels are available from the start in timed mode) or in a more traditional five-lives arcade style where you tackle them in sequence.

Previous attempts at doing Lode Runner on the iThings have foundered on the control issue thanks to the usual problems with virtual pads, but Tower Runner handles the matter so brilliantly it should be teaching the subject in college or something.

There are three variants but all are swipe-based, and we recommend 'Swipe Pro', where you swipe directions to move and tap anywhere either side of your character to make him stop and dig a hole on that side. It's context-sensitive too, so swiping up when you're not on a ladder makes you stop, and tapping stops you if you are.

It feels absolutely fantastic, and you'll be zipping around the levels in no time (we'd recommend choosing at least the middle of the three speed settings, but you can switch them in play as the circumstances dictate) admiring the lovely tower rotation and experimenting with the five levels of view zoom available. You get plenty of opportunity to take in the scenery, because colliding with the chasers doesn't kill you outright, it just knocks you down a few levels (to the nearest monkey-bar, in fact), and you only die if you fall off the bottom of the tower or get stuck in a pit.

(If you've managed to box yourself into a corner, you can still escape by tapping the 'fall' button, which has the same effect as hitting an enemy.)

Perhaps most impressively, you can edit any of the 40 levels into a new one (either by tweaking the existing layout or just blanking it and starting from scratch) and share with other players by the fantastically clever method of simply cutting and pasting it as ASCII data and emailing it or posting it to message boards and the like.

This is an absolutely gorgeous game, a (fairly) conventional platformer where the touch controls actually feel like an improvement on a physical d-pad. It's ideally suited to both long and short play sessions (multitasking is supported), inviting you to either take on a Score Mode marathon or knock off a quick timed stage, and the level editor is the icing on the cake. If you have any self-respect as a gamer whatsoever, don't miss it.

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Truckers Delight

Brilliant old-school race'n'chase capers that we still can't quite believe got past Apple's censors. Maybe somebody knows where some bodies are buried. It's basically Taito's classic Chase HQ with gratuitous naked ladies and a bird-flipping trucker with an implausibly long tongue, but those are just for decoration.

The game itself is a straightforward against-the-clock pursuit where you have to catch up to and repeatedly ram a sports car full of red-hot babes (because hot babes love that – trust us, give it a try!), while dodging other traffic and avoiding the cops who for some reason have taken a dim view of your activities.

It's pure 16-bit arcade fun that looks great, controls immaculately (via perfectly-calibrated tilt) and has regular and varied payoffs to keep you smiling all the way. Global leaderboards round off the package, making Truckers Delight one of the most fun racing games in the App Store.

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Undercroft
(still free)

Classic old-school turn-based 3D RPG in the style of Amiga/Atari ST legend Dungeon Master. It's been the No.1 RPG in 17 different countries (at the time of writing), and for good reason.

As Wolfenstein RPG and Doom 2 RPG have proved, turning FPS games into turn-based ones is a genius way of solving the problem presented by touchscreen controls in first-person 3D games, and it works just as well here. Having as long as you like to make every move eliminates all the frustration of trying to simulate twin joypads (or mouse and keyboard) on a format that wasn't designed for that kind of game, and allows you to concentrate fully on the epic 20-hour, six-chapter quest.

It's a hugely comprehensive game, with a large and varied gameworld, five character classes and a vast inventory of weapons and items with which to battle the hordes of monsters who seek to obstruct your many missions. Goodness knows why a game this big and this well-made (and with no ads) doesn't cost any money, but we're sure as heck not complaining.

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Veggie Samurai

Astoundingly shameless Fruit Ninja clone with vegetables, but also a bunch of new ideas of its own. The main mode is identical to Fruit Ninja except that you get extra points for slicing the veg into four pieces, and occasional giant 'Mega Veggies' that you have to slice multiple times for monster bonuses.

You also get the time-attack Harmony mode and super-intense Chaos mode, but it's the last two game types that set Veggie Samurai apart as a bit more than a high-quality professional knockoff job.

The first is Sort mode, where you have to load a cart with one specific type of veg while hacking down anything else that gets thrown onto the screen. It's a fun variant, but it's really just the main game without bombs and with one type of veg you should avoid chopping.

The last and most interesting game, though, is Match mode (pictured below), which combines Fruit Ninja with a touch of Bejeweled, by having a grid of various-coloured peppers tumble down the screen at uniform pace and demanding that you slash groups of three or more same-colour ones for points. The key to big scoring is to rack up combo chains, but with only 90 seconds you can't afford to wait for easy matches.

Given how amazingly similar they are in most ways, it's surprising how different Veggie Samurai and Fruit Ninja actually feel in play. It's definitely worth having them both, but when one of them is free the decision is a lot easier.

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Virtual Table Tennis Pro
(still free)

A pretty traditional table tennis sim, except with added sex, gruesome violence and laser explosions. Okay, so we're lying about the sex and explosions. And about the gruesome violence too. It's just table tennis. But it's really GOOD table tennis.

We used to feature the excellent Lite version of VTT, and as we never usually include Lite versions that's already an indication of how good it was. But now it's been withdrawn and replaced by this, which is the full game with menu-screen and pause-screen banner ads (but none during play).

There are three difficulty levels, each with an Arcade mode (a single match against one of 20 opponents) and two knockout Tournaments (eight players or 16). The physics are superb, the CPU players put up a good fight, and there's even some 1980s-style electro-disco music to enjoy while you play. (You can switch it off if you like.)

There are multiple tables just to keep the visuals interesting, and for our (no) money this is as good a table-tennis game as any videogames console – handheld or otherwise – has ever seen. (Only the mighty Balls Of Fury on the DS runs it close.)

You can disable the ads via in-app purchase if you like, but we don't really care what happens on menu screens as long as the actual game stays clean, which makes Virtual Table Tennis Pro a necessity on any self-respecting iThing.

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Westbang

If you have fond memories of Bank Panic (arcade or Sega Master System) or West Bank (Spectrum) – which probably depends on which side of the Atlantic you grew up on – get ready to be happy.

Westbang is a brilliant tap-to-shoot implementation of the classic coin-op, where you're a trigger-happy security guard charged with shooting down would-be bankrobbers without causing carnage among your honest customers. All manner of complications arise as over 20 different characters appear behind the bank's doors, and you'll need to hone your wits to razor-sharpness to get through the later levels.

Don't (bank) panic if you're ham-fisted and short-sighted, though – there are difficulty settings ranging from 'small child wearing boxing gloves' to 'can complete Ikaruga on one credit while controlling two ships and once and reading a newspaper, also while wearing boxing gloves.

This one's been on our personal front app pages forever. Unlike the shady hoodlums trying to rob your bank, it's unmissable.

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World Series Of Poker Hold'Em Legend
(still free)

Far and away the finest poker game on the App Store – in fact, one of the best on ANY format. WSOP Hold'Em Legend does away with all the tedious hanging around waiting for CPU players to play their hands – you can watch them if you like, but you can also tap past almost anything so that the game moves at blitzkrieg pace and you can whizz through a whole tournament in about four minutes.

Legend is absolutely packed with content – in Career mode there are 30 tournaments to play across eight venues from a pub backroom to the Rio in Las Vegas, or you can play cash tables to try to boost your bankroll at your own pace, at buyins ranging from $100 to $2.5m. (If you're lazy or just really bad, you can also many add thousands of chips to your stack by downloading and running other Glu games.)

There are also extensive multiplayer options, both via Bluetooth and through Game Center, which also provides achievements and leaderboards. It's hard to imagine a poker game slicker or more comprehensive than WSOP Legend, and the CPU players are far more skilled than you'll be expecting if you've ever played console poker before.

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Yahtzee Adventures

Yahtzee, but featuring exciting international adventures. We're not absolutely sure we accept the core premise of this game, to be honest.

In addition to the basic solo dice game, Yahtzee Adventures includes a story mode in which you travel the world meeting a variety of people who are implausibly obsessed with Yahtzee and itching to challenge you to a game. As travelogues go it's not a page-turner, but it does serve as a sneaky tutorial to the numerous variants that Yahtzee Adventures offers.

As well as a Classic head-to-head for 1-4 players you can play Battle, in which you use dice rolls to attack your opponents' health or restore your own. It's a great mode if you're playing against human friends, with lots of alliances and backstabbing, but rather less interesting against the CPU.

More intriguing for a game against your iThing is Duplicate, in which you both get the exact same dice rolls and where you can see where the AI's strategy differs from yours. And finally there's Rainbow, a simple and clever tweak to the formula in which the dice come in three colours and you can have 'flushes' as well as the usual straights and sets, completing the range of Yahtzee hands analogous to poker ones.

The game records your high scores in each mode as well as win-lose stats and Yahtzee counts, and generally does everything you could hope for from a Yahtzee game, most importantly including the ability to turn off the godawful jazz music on the menu screen.

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Zen Bound

One of the App Store's famously celebrated art games, and definitely not at all sinister or creepy in any way whatsoever.

We're not quite sure how Zen Bound's authors came up with 'wrapping stuff up in rope so that every inch of it is completely covered' as a game idea, and we're pretty certain we don't want to know.

1 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. 08 04 12 17:36

    Game Key

15 to “This is why you’re probably an idiot”

  1. daneel says:

    So no Infinity Blade?
    Got 35/100 here (and mostly for free, thanks to FA Hero). Didn't get on with all of those, they're not all on the iThing still, but most are. Strimko in particular has been a massive timesink for me.
    Speedball 2 is definitely way too easy – I was utterly shite at it back in the day but apparently I'm in the top 50 or so of all time on the iThing? Played through career once, don't feel terribly inclined to go back and start again…
    The games I've spent the most time on apart from the above and accordingly would recommend are Plants vs Zombies, Undercroft, GTA:Chinatown, Pix'n'Rush, Bit Pilot, Hook Champ and Edge (even with stupid o-ho we tricked you with ambiguous isometric view deaths).
    Also, Death Rally could be really good if it only had some structure; the mechanics are all there but it seems to be lacking a point to it.
    Still impatiently waiting for someone to get around to releasing SWOS and Point Blank, and bemused as to why Scribblenauts never got ported.

  2. Tom K. says:

    Stop making me want to buy an iThing.

  3. RevStu says:

    "So no Infinity Blade?"

    Infinity Blade has never been free, so no. But I doubt I'd have included it even if it had. I left out Rage HD, which was free last month, because while it looks absolutely fantastic it's not actually a very good game.

  4. Irish Al says:

    That Fleet Defence has got me thinking that Raid On Bungeling Bay would be great on the iPad.

  5. Blucey says:

    A nice way to kill some of work day there.  Good list.  Also, I didn't realise that GeoDef Swarm is free.  I'll be all over that. 
    Axe in Face and Slingo are probably my faves on there but I'd have thrown in Puckerz and Magnetic Billiards (even if the best part of MB isn't in the free version).
    The one game that BADLY needs some bright spark to port to iOS is Split Personalities.  JUST IMAGINE IT!  That'd be wonderful.

  6. romanista says:

    I'd like an ordered list, and ofcourse knew lots of those due to FAH, but still, great to have them here,,
     
    btw, weird ideaLcould you team up with the speccy emulator on ios, to make a special top 100 speccy edition , with you text and the games of the top 100 they could license, that would be very funny.. (i want splat on my iphone)

  7. PaulEMoz says:

    Big Cup Cricket: Scotland (32-7) win the match by 3 wickets?  Who the fuck were they playing, Angola?
    Got quite a few of these thanks to the essential and splendid Free App Hero, but will now pick up a good few more thanks to this lovely list.  Ta.

  8. GeeZa says:

    Staggering work man. A very awesome read.

  9. romanista says:

    big cup cricket for some reason has only the light version.. and since this probably would have been the only cricket came in the world to feature the dutch…somebody surely must be killed…

  10. romanista says:

    dutch app store, obviously..

  11. elevitate says:

    @romanista Have you tried playing Splat! on a Game Boy / DS? The d-pad suits it *perfectly*
     
    Stu, the comment plugin is knackered if you try and 'reply' to someone, case you don't know. At least for me in Chrome. Looks like a Javascript bug of some kind.

  12. daneel says:

    @romanista
    Stick Cricket definitely features the Dutch.

  13. RevStu says:

    "Stu, the comment plugin is knackered if you try and 'reply' to someone, case you don't know. At least for me in Chrome. Looks like a Javascript bug of some kind."

    Same here. I suspect it's probably a conflict with the fckeditor plugin. Have disabled it for now, ta for the heads-up.

  14. elevitate says:

    No worries. Ta for the list of stuff to get – I've made a note of several. Again, big proper props to 'Astral'.
     
    'Rappin' Granny' I'm treating myself to later. It looks like being possibly both the greatest and worst thing ever.

  15. Coopdevil says:

    This is just brilliant – big list made for later download!



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