Monday, December 14, 2009

Enduring iPhone Favorites of 2009

Spike TV's 2009 Video Game Awards have come and gone. Despite the sheer number of games produced for the iPhone and iPod touch, no 'Mountain Dew fueled' category praised the efforts of numerous developers trying to find success in an portable market saturated with rubbish. Along with many others, I tend to avert my critical attention towards 'real' games, away from the vast iPhone catalog meant to charm in short easily consumable segment. Despite all the time I put into iPhone gaming, I have not once discussed my habit on Experience Points. This is my effort to amend and understand this oversight. What follows is my top three list of iPhone games of 2009, why I love them, and why I forget the too easily.

Space Invaders Infinity Gene

Developed in Japan by Taito, a subsidiary of Square Enix, Space Invaders Infinity Gene is a scrolling shooter with a very retro appeal. Taito, designers of the first Space Invaders, shows genuine love and enthusiasm for the game's basics, starting the player in the scenario of the original Invaders: a simple ship versus a wave of aliens. From there the game evolves, with each stage earning the player points to unlock new maps, weapons, music and game modes.
The ship is controlled by touching anywhere on the screen, minimizing finger obscuring while utilizing all available play space. Enemies that approach from above or the side, weapons that include lasers and gravity wells, and strange boss battles keep Infinity Gene interesting long after the nostalgia wears off. Infinity Gene will also generate maps based on and set to the player's own music, in case someone fancies Elton John laser battles. Naturally, this game kept my attention for quite some time.

Flight Control

Flight Control is a testament to how enjoyable simple games can be. Filling the role of an air traffic controller, players draw a path to escort various sized aircraft to their appropriate landing strips. There are four types of vehicles with different speeds, jumbo jets being the fastest and helicopters being the slowest. What starts off easy, quickly becomes a frantic and futile exercise in multitasking. Planes will keep coming, filling up the screen, until a mid-air collision ends the game.
Free updates have brought new maps, new aircraft, and the ability to play two player over Bluetooth. With each player routing different planes to the other, two player Flight Control requires a level of cooperation rare in such simple handheld games. It is also the pursuit of high scores that still brings me back to Flight Control - 115 landings is my personal best. The satisfaction of routing and landing a screen full of planes is incredibly satisfying and makes Flight Control one of my most played iPhone games of 2009.

Spider: The Secret of Bryce Manor

Developed over eight months by the small and newly formed Tiger Style Studio, Spider: The Secret of Bryce Manor is about an insect eating arachnid. It is also about a family torn apart by love, jealousy, shame, deceit and suicide. Players control a web slinging spider, trapping and eating various insects, employing different strategies given the species and landscape. The more interesting story, however, is told in the background. Hidden notes, portraits, tombstones and mementos reveal an engaging and woeful tale about the Bryce family. Amazingly, Spider weaves its story more fluidly and organically than many top-tier console games.
I cannot lavish enough praise on Spider's intuitive controls, elegant artwork, clever level design and storytelling. Thankfully, Michael Abbot of The Brainy Gamer wrote an excellent piece on Spider earlier this year, rightfully applauding developer Randy Smith for his insight into game design and outspoken advocacy for the advancement of the medium. While Spider may not make meet Game of the Year criteria, I would include it my top ten games of 2009. When I think of the potential of iPhone development, I think of Spider: The Secret of Bryce Manor.

Poor Judgement

Yet that might be just the problem. These games slip my mind because I see them as early designs of non-existent games. I judge iPhone games on an unfair scale, asking them to deliver an altogether different experience. Infinity Gene is great, but when my finger gets in the way or I think about the visuals, I am reminded of the iPhone's limitations. Flight Control is incredibly enjoyable, but my interest in short gameplay segments, no matter how engaging, is not enough to warrant my undivided attention.

These three games are just a few of my favorites. Rolando 2, Lux, Civilization Revolution and HiHowAreYou all caught my attention this year, but only as supplemental games. While supplemental gaming is still valuable, I may be disregarding these games too quickly. Perhaps the sheer number of games causes me to avert my attention, or maybe the low price ranges misrepresent their worth. In actuality, my favorite iPhone games of 2009 showcase elements of game design that triple-A console titles should emulate. While they may never offer me the operatic story line or intense multiplayer I crave on the console or PC, these few handheld games have earned their place amongst champions. If you have an iPhone, you should give them a try and let me know what games you enjoy that I may have overlooked.


  1. Great picks! I can't recommend Hook Champ highly enough, it's an incredibly addictive swinging platformer. Drop7 and Critter Crunch are also worth a look.

  2. @ Matthew

    Thanks! I just started trying Hook Champ recently, and I'm loving it so far. Drop7 I'm a little weary of because puzzle games on the iPhone tend to bore me quick. As for Critter Crunch, if its anything like the PS3 game of the same name, I'm sure I'll love it.

  3. Great choices and it is good that you wrote what informed your selection process. Spider is another great game that proves that dialog really isn't necessary for video game narrative (even with the existence of things like Dragon Age)

    Might I also recommend a couple of titles as well:
    Canabalt (of course)
    Zen Bound
    Lilt Line

    All are well worth their often tiny asking prices

  4. @ Gerard

    Geospark and Canabalt I enjoy quite a bit. Zen Bound and Shift were new to me, but they have now been added to my repertoire of favorites.

  5. I loved the Critter Crunch demo on PS3. I'd definitely buy that if I had an iPhone.

    However, since I don't have an iPhone, maybe I'll just write a review of all the awesome games I play on my Samsung SGH-a237.

    Yeah, that's right, gentleman: gaze in awe at the epic gaming prowess of the stock phone ATT gives you for activating a plan! Jewel Quest Solitaire anyone? Or how about a really crappy knock-off of Bust a Move? The possibilities are endless!