A hardcore game developer’s favourite iPhone games

As a games developer, I have a rather high standard for games that entertain me. Staring at their inner workings for 8 hours a day has given me the keen ability to spot shallow game mechanics (not to mention lazy bugs) – and having played videogames for pretty much my whole life, I’ve been exposed to a good spread of genres, from twitchy platformers to thought-provoking RPGs.

I have a dilemma: there’s this awesome games machine I usually keep in my pocket – my iPhone (4S). It’s amazingly powerful given its size, yet the software on it is far too often lacklustre. I’ve trawled through The App Store for many an hour only to come away disappointed that there are no epic RPGs, no fantasy worlds in which I can wonder, and no fascinating characters with whom I can interact.

At least, there aren’t many.

Now there are plenty of very polished quick and fun games – Angry Birds, Where’s My Water, Cut the Rope… Games that require no explanation because you finish a level in one swipe and you’re immediately rewarded with glowing stars and growing, throbbing arrows.  I can’t fault them in terms of either presentation or rapid gratification, but they’re never really satisfying on the same level as, say, The Witcher or XCom.

If I was a world-famous chocolatier, these things would be the equivalent of an advent calendar.

Do you find yourself wanting more? Here’s my top 10 list of deep iOS games. It might not scratch the surface of a fully-fledged immersion into PC gaming, but this is the best I can recommend!

10. Words with Friends

The first desynchronised multiplayer game that I remember playing, I chuckled with glee at the thought of sending off my wicked combinations of letters to my fellow players.  It’s basically Scrabble by mail, with a slightly ‘Toys R Us’ feel to the user interface.  Totally compelling if you like word games.

Words with Friends

9. The Lost City

I never really played Myst, but I imagine it’s like this: visually sumptuous views of a forgotten world, and a tiny thread of story which is expounded upon by the clues you discover throughout your adventure.

The Lost City has been lovingly put together and it’s a pleasure to explore and interact with its environment.  Tap on the edges of the screen to move in that direction, or tap and drag on the various puzzles to uncover the next secret.

The Lost City WorldThe Lost City Notebook

8. Geared

An underrated little puzzler, Geared has you slotting, um, gears into place to connect a starting and ending, uh, gear.  They come in different sizes (and later on, with different properties) and you must slide them together and avoid the deadly gearlock.

It looks simple at first but the compulsion to build a machine is quite irresistible, and there’s definitely a wonderful sense of achievement when you slot everything together and the gears turn away.  One level in particular got me stuck for ages and I couldn’t rest until I’d solved it.


7. Spaceteam

Aka ‘Spadetram’ amongst my friends after a cursory typo, Spaceteam requires you to work together with 1-3 other iOS-tronauts, and bark commands at each other.  You’re given a set of controls and must interpret the bizarre words yelled in your direction as you interleave your own requests that appear near the top of the screen.  Above that, your tiny spaceship wings its way through space as you collectively shake your phone to avoid wormholes, and turn it upside down to dodge asteroids.

The tension and excitement that comes with real collaborative gameplay is unique in this game; too many times I’ve nearly missed my stop on the tube because I was too busy refreshing the biotic flange converters.  And when you finally make it to sector 12, you will want to high-five like never before – as a Spaceteam.



6. Crimson Steam Pirates

A tongue-in-cheek story of both male and female pirates stirring up rivalries and disorder with the mighty Queen Victoria, Crimson has you steering your pirate ships around and issuing orders in a Frozen Synapse-style turn-based adventure.  Set up your orders and special attacks at the start of the turn, then see them play out as the cannons fire.

The developers obviously had a lot of fun creating the missions, and as you are dragged through its preposterous and entertaining story, pictures of what appear to be the team and their friends dressed up as pirates do battle and emote towards the screen in stylised vignettes.

This polished and fun adventure might lead you by the nose a little at times, but it’s so much fun dragging your little ships around, ordering them to full steam ahead then lambaste your rival pirates with double powder cannons, you won’t mind in the slightest.

Crimson Steam Pirates

5. Carcassonne

After the somewhat inaccessible Xbox version, I was skeptical to see how this might play on iPhone.  But sticking to a classic 2D approach, the developers nailed the deliciously pure puzzle gameplay of the board game and put in a few graphical tweaks (such as an ‘X’ which appears when tiles can no longer be connected) to boot.  Also boasting stable desynchronised multiplayer, Carcassonne makes it easy to have multiple games on the go with your tile-laying friends.

Carcassonne 1 Carcassonne 2 Carcassonne Multiplayer

4. Ghost Trick

One of the first things you’ll notice when you start playing Ghost Trick is that its animations are super fluid, and the entire game oozes style – its polished NDS original shows through here as the experienced hands of AAA game developers have clearly been at work before it made an appearance on iPhone.

You can’t fault it for an original concept – the game starts, and you’re already dead.  By using your ‘powers of the dead’, you can influence the real world, and even travel back in time in small chunks in order to protect the other protagonists, and hopefully recover some of your memories.

The transition to iOS has worked nicely as you swipe to jump between different objects in the world, then interact with them to make your ghoulish intentions known.

Ghost Trick Story Ghost Trick Summary Ghost Trick Jumping

3. Swords and Sworcery

The game itself encourages you to find a comfortable space, relax, and seal yourself into your earphones as you embark on this cheerfully pixel-heavy quest.  The art style works perfectly with its retro-flavoured graphics to pull you into its environment and the characters and you will find yourself quite swept up in its fairytale world.

In what is essentially a side-on 2D adventure/exploration/battling/puzzle/wonder game, you will tap on the screen to move your nondescript character around the world and battle mysterious dark forces.  The rain clunks down beautifully and the combat, although being somewhat of a rarity, offers up some scintillating interactions as you feverishly tap and rotate your way to victory.  The juxtaposition of the epic setting, stylish presentation, and informal descriptions gel together to make something delightfully unique.

This adventure deserves to have been a top 10 stalwart, and not just a top 40 visitor.

Sword and Sworcery Title ScreenSword and Sworcery LakeSword and Sworcery Cave

2. Rimelands: Hammer of Thor

I was so pleased to find Rimelands on The App Store; finally, a turn-based strategy game with real 3D graphics, and an actual story!  Rogue Planet had almost won me over, but the cool setting couldn’t carry its rather mundane combat.  Rimelands’ stat-based battles, spread of abilities and intriguing loot kept me dungeon crawling whenever I could find a spare 10 minutes.

In this adventure you guide Rose, a punky and quick-witted adventurer, through several fantasy lands in search of the titular Hammer of Thor.  The dialogue is hammy and churlish in places, but does serve to move on the story, and some of the characters (such as Rose’s grandma) are quite endearing.

The game clearly services some D&D roots as virtual dice roll across the screen during combat, which I found very well-balanced and entertaining.  I’m still waiting for a sequel, Crescent Moon Games!

Rimelands CutsceneRimelands Navigation Rimelands Combat

1. Civilization Revolution

It’s rare that I get so hooked on a game I count down the minutes until I can play it again, or feverishly check the clock to see how many remain until I have to stop.  CivRev did this to me however, and provided a wonderful gaming panacea while I was travelling across The States and enduring some rather long coach journeys.

It captures much of the satisfying feeling of growth from its PC heritage, from the tense beginnings as you poke around with a few warriors, to amassing tanks outside a city ready for a climactic clash.  The tech tree, advisors, and cloak-and-dagger negotiations with other leaders is all there, ready to be plucked from your pocket and enjoyed on the move.

CivRev Map CivRev Leaders CivRev Technology Tree


So where is Ravensword, Chaos Rings, or Zenonia?  The first of the three could be a good contender for a decent and ‘deep’ RPG on iPhone, I look forward to playing it when I get the chance.  The latter two, though, I have tried and just didn’t find any fun at all.

Do you agree?  Disagree?  Have I forgotten anything?  Do you desperately want to paste a link to where I can buy Viagra online??  Comment below!


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