While not all of the titles I’ve featured below were ones selected by Apple to feature, many of them are and the others were unfortunate oversights that are worthy of your attention.
First up is Colin Lane’s (Dunkers, Wrassling) latest offbeat offering, Golf Zero. It is an odd mix of platformer, golfing and bullet time physics, where players are jumping around golf holes, avoiding spikes, spinning blades and other pitfalls before leaping and slowing down time to fire off a golf ball (or 3) like the climactic scene in an action movie when the hero lets loose his final bullet toward his arch nemesis. Whether you are attempting a speed run or just trying to get the ball in the hole, this one can definitely be a challenge.
Ever since Hearthstone’s launch, clones have been coming out fast and furious on the App Store. Some are just outright copies or nothing more than re-skins or re-themes. However sometimes th devs take the time to introduce new elements which help drive the genre forward and earn these titles some solid attention. Faeria is one of those interesting titles. Obviously influenced by both Hearthstone and Magic The Gathering, the game offers up a rather neat board-building mechanic, where on each turn the player may elect to build one or two hexagonal plots of land which act as place where they may either spawn new troops or which can act as a pathway for either player to move their existing troops. This one little element makes for a much different, almost more strategical feel to the game. Unlike traditional CCGs, now characters cannot simply attack any other characters they want, they must take board positioning into consideration, same goes for attacking the boss. Deciding where and what type of land (if any) you want to build on a turn is crucial because, like magic, some cards require x number of a specific land type to be under your control in order to field them. Running low on cards or are your cards too expensive? You may forgo building land in favor of drawing a card or gaining mana. This too is an awesome little touch as it helps keep the player from feeling like they’ve wasted a turn. If it weren’t for the need for an internet connection and the fairly frequent app crashing I would be playing a ton of this.
Next up, from Zach Gage (creator of SpellTower) comes an inventive new wordsmithing game called TypeShift. It is a really cool concept in which players are given this sort of alphabetical luggage lock of letters; Each column has a specific set of letter which you can slide up and down to form words in the center row. You must use one letter from each column in each word, so all words in a given puzzle are the same length. Each time you craft a valid word (verified against the Merriam-Webster dictionary) those letters change color. The goal to to keep making words with different combinations of letters, until you’ve used each letter in the puzzle at least once. If you can figure out a few core words, then you can blow through the puzzle quickly, but odds are you probably find other words and slowly chip away at the puzzles a few letters at a time. There are a couple of different puzzle types, with varying lengths of words to make it more and more difficult. My favorite puzzles are definitely the “clue puzzles” which are sort of like crosswords. You are given a list of clues and when you find a word that satisfies that clue, you tap the clue and then it crosses it off an any letters used in that answer which will not appear in any of the remaining clues are removed from the board, making it easier to find an answer for the clue(s) that may be giving you the most grief. TypeShift includes over 100 free puzzles as well as daily challenges and purchasable IAP puzzle packs. Purchasing any puzzle pack removes ads, and unlocks themes & detailed statistics. If you are a fan of word games, you are definitely going to want to check this addictive little game.
The spiritual successor to Card Crawl (my 2015 Game of the year) TiNYTOUCHTALES’ highly anticipated new stealth solitaire game, Card Thief has finally arrived on the App Store. Playing with elements of light and shadow, players are trying to help a thief navigate an entire deck of cards which form an enemy and treasure-filled castle, pilfering as much treasure as possible and escaping the castle unseen (hopefully with a chest in hand). The board is laid out in a 3×3 grid of cards, one of which is the thief. The thief starts out with 10 stealth points. In order to move, the player must select at least two adjacent cards (starting with one touching the thief) to create a path (which cannot cross itself). As your path intersects with cards that are not adjacent to the thief’s starting point, the difficulty of these cards will increase by 1 (further depleting the thief’s stealth). As long as the thief hs 1 stealth point remaining, he is invisible to enemies. Fear not, there are ways to replenish stealth like special sneak and hide cards. Sounds simple right? However, the light and shadow elements of the game elevate the strategy to a whole new level influencing card values, enemy strength and even the ability to use certain cards. The thief must always be aware of the direction guards are look and avoid raising alerts Treasure cards may be picked up and the coveted chest card, appears once half of the deck has been dealt. The longer you leave the chest on the board, the better it’ll get, but more stealth will be required to capture it creating a great press your luck scenario. Unlockable and upgradeable equipment cards may be added to the thief’s tool belt before a heist and have special abilities that may be called upon once per game. One thing I really like about the UI is that you can freely draw and undo your path selections as much as you’d like, allowing you to play out several scenarios and commit to the path only when you are ready. The game features the same gorgeous art style as Card Crawl. This is certainly a much deeper game than its predecessor (with layers and layers of strategy) and the more and more I play the more little nuances I discover and the more I love it. Card Thief was well worth the wait and an absolute MUST HAVE title.
A feline-filled, charming tilt-based platforming adventure, Armor Games’s latest publishing effort, The Big Journey should have broad appeal. In gameplay that echos back to an early iPhone smash hit Rolando, players tilt their devices to guide the circular and rotund Mr. Whiskers on a casual and whimsical journey as he travels through spooky caves, across scorching deserts and deep into lush valleys and he quests to find the lost maker of his favorite dumplings. While cats may have nine of them, this game eliminates them, making it easily approachable by both young kids (my 9 year-old really loved this one) and experienced players alike. There is a three-star goal system as well as unlockable characters, and secret pathways, so whatever your level of engagement, there is plenty to explore. While tilt controls are really the way to go on this one and what adds to the charm of the game, there is an optional virtual on-screen control system as well.
An engaging puzzle game which combines elements of a Rubik’s cube with the turn-based strategical gameplay of something like Hitman GO, Euclidean Lands is a delightfully thinky and challenging puzzle game. A battle it playing out atop one or more cubes and the player must shift and rotate these cubes to position their hero so that he can defeat the evil forces and its minions. It requires a different sort of approach and the player has to think in multiple dimensions to avoid accidentally rotating their hero right into the path of an enemy. The great thing about the game is that as soon as you are comfortable with the basics, new elements start getting layered on adding portals, boss battles, automatically shifting cubes and loads and loads more enemies. A real stand-out mobile puzzler, Euclidean Lands utilizes touch perfectly to create an immersive and challenging experience.
Originally a pint-and-play solitaire historical wargame, Boardnaut Studios (Land 6, Maquis, Castle Builders) has ported Constantinople Board Game into the digital realm. The game simulates the millennium-long history of the Byzantine Empire, from the foundation of Constantinople in AD330 until its fall in AD1453. Using a combination of military force, diplomacy and palm greasing to help keep the city of Constantinople from either destruction or collapse by the time the Draw Pile is exhausted (up to 30 turns). Turns consist of multiple phases starting with the revealing of an Event card. This card shows what will happen in the current turn and lets the player know how many actions they may perform. Then it’s time for the Opponent to advance one or more of their armies, possibly initiating a siege. Then there is the Administration phase where adjustments are made to the player’s various resources, based on the current Event Card. Next is the Action phase where the player can perform from 2-4 actions. These can be used to build up resources or push back opponent armies. The player also has the option of 1 Destiny resource to get a sneak peek at the next Event card (this does not count and one of their actions. Finally, the player resolves any special events. The player’s final score is calculated based on a number of conditions. The app offers three different difficulty levels which vary the number of wall, armies, dynasty, economy and religion you start the game with. There is also a “Historical Mode” in which the Event cards are revealed in historical order instead of being randomized. It is a clean interface which uses the original art assets from the physical game, the full rules are available within the app, the only thing I found lacking was that there wasn’t really any sort of tutorial.
For those of you who like puzzle games, then Pavilion: Touch Edition may be right up your alley. Designed exclusively for 64-bit devices, it is the mobile version of last year’s well-reviewed PC fourth-person atmospheric puzzle adventure game from Visiontrick Media. Players are tossed right into the story with no tutorial or instructions and have to work their way through the mystery, just like the main character. Instead of controlling the main character directly, all movement is initiated by interacting with the environment itself; tapping ringing bells or other objects to catch the protagonists attention and guide his path and more. I found the indirect interaction to be an interesting and refreshing departure, giving Pavilion a unique feel and texture. The game features a lovely ambient soundtrack and nice artwork throughout.
One of the real standouts at PAX East this year, Ticket to Earth is an impressive feat considering that developer, Robot Circus is a small Australian studio of about only 6 people. It is a sci-fi, narrative tactical RPG game that will be told across four episodes. Set on the distant and dying planet of New Providence a criminal group has brutally and systematically wiped out nearly the entire population and only a few survivors remain. Rose, a fighter, is forced into the position of a Peace Keeper in order to survive. However, it grants her access to special skills which can be activated through a discipline she trained in during her youth called The Movement. She can see grids on the ground and by walking on paths of like-colored squares, she can charge her attacks as well as her special abilities. The combat portions of the game are turn-based, with player and enemies swapping turns. On the player’s turn, their character(s) can perform two actions (either a move or attack) or some combination of these. Sometimes there will be certain missions to complete like taking out X number of enemies or all of the enemies, other times the player will have to survive a specified number of rounds, or just escape. Take on the role of Melee and Ranged Peace Keepers, armed with a huge variety of over one hundred Combat Powers. There is also a nice variety of enemy types each with their own tactics and skills who will require a different approach to defeat. In some levels, the player can choose which character to play with, others require the player to control multiple characters. New skills can be unlocked and weapons can be upgraded. At this point, I’ve pretty much had my fill of match-3 games and generally I find them to be fairly uninspired, with just a new IP tacked on to help drive sales. What I really like about Ticket to Earth’s implementation of this (arguably overused) mechanic is that it is utilized as a tool for both movement and resource management. As such, it feels much more tactical and thoughtful than the usual mindless distraction associated with match-3 games. TtEme offers a deliberate blend of mechanics, married perfectly with comic book style cinematics and a well-written narrative. Well done!
The first of two adventure games I’m going to mention in this post is OXENFREE, a really rad looking supernatural thriller from Night School Studio, which follows a group of friends who “unwittingly open a ghostly rift”. Players take on the role of Alex, a smart, yet rebellious teen who decides to have an overnight party on a spooky military island with her best friend Ren and her brand-new step brother Jonas. Unfortunately, as one can imagine with a setup like this, things don’t go as planned and soon the evening takes a terrifying and supernatural turn. I’ve just started the game, but it features some really nice voice work and there is a neat word-balloon dialog tree system where you select your responses to the other characters and your decisions affect your relationships with them. Alex has a special radio which allows her to communicate with mysterious spectres and manipulate her world. There are some impressive credentials on this one with art from Disney alum, an original soundtrack by scntfc (Sword & Sworcery, Mr. Robot: Exfiltrati0n) and voice talents from The Wolf Among Us, The Walking Dead and more. OXENFREE racked up some nice review scores when it launched on consoles and PCs last year and is currently available at a special launch price of 20% off.
The developers of the late 2015 puzzle game A Good Snowman Is Hard To Build are back with another cute puzzle game, Cosmic Express. The train system in a quaint little space colony is in absolute mess and in each level of the game it is up to the player to correctly lay down the tracks such that each of the various alien beings are picked up and delivered to their correct stops. A nice clean presentation, players simply drag their fingers around the screen to lay down (or erase) tracks and then set the train in motion to start its route. However don’t let the its charming looking graphics fool you, players can expect a nice little challenge from this one as figuring out the correct path is never quite so simple and often requires a bit of trial and error.
This next title took me by surprise in a really good way. Set in a beautifully rendered post-apocalyptic world, in Mushroom 11 players take control of a strange new, gelatinous lifeform. It is a puzzle platformer in a similar vein to those games where you are shifting liquid around to trigger switches and move through winding levels, avoiding traps. Though several aspects of the game elevate it into a wholly unique feeling experience, the first of which is movement. Instead of tilt-based controls as one might expect, players use a finger to erase one portion of the fungus, which causes that same amount of mass to grow on another part of its body. This allows them to shift the creature around, alter its shape, grow it taller, shrink it and more. It is an odd physics effect which takes a moment or two to grasp, but then you quickly realize how totally awesome and game changing it is. Players can also tap and drag behind the creature to get it to move forward (as a somewhat speedy clip). These give Mushroom 11 a much different feel and one of the highlights is that rather than just being a puzzle game, players will also use these same mass-shifting mechanics to fight enemies in grand, thematic boss battles. If you are looking for a fresh, fun and unique puzzle platforming experience this will definitely fit the bill.
Ever since discovering Gemini Rue four years ago on the App Store, Wadjet Eye Games has continued to impress me with release after release of their iOS-ported PC adventure games. Every title in their growing catalog has the look, feel and hand-crafted quality of the Sierra Online and Lucas Arts titles that occupied so much of my youth. Whenever I hear that Wadjet Eye is releasing a new game I get just as excited as I did as a kid, walking into Electronics Boutique and seeing a new adventure game on the shelf. Last year they entertained us with Primordia and now Dave Gilbert and his wife are back with Shardlight, an adventure set in world ravaged by disease, hunger, death. Only five years old when the bombs fell, now twenty-years later, a young mechanic named Amy has live nearly her whole life in this ruined place. And now she is dying of an ostracizing plague, called Green Lung, which is rapidly wiping out the population. Vaccines are hard to come by and residents are forced to risk their lives taking n dangerous government jobs in exchange for just a mere chance that they’ll win one in a corrupt state lottery. Without the means for a ticket, Amy is determined to save herself and find a cure. Wadjet Eye Games has once again put together a polished and engaging package with some superb voice acting, classic feeling art, and a well-written narrative. This one is a real treat for fans of classic point and click adventures.
Finally that brings us to the final title, another PC port, in this rather long post…
Another PC/Console port, this time from the team at Raw Fury, is the IGF-nominated, PC/Console pixel -art strategy game, Kingdom: New Lands. A quest of survival and discovery, KNL deftly blends elements of a defense game with an RTS. Players must guide their steed to the left or right, scrolling the content as they survey their lands. During the daytime, the player must rule, gather coins, recruit beggars, construct tools, purchase weapons, build grand ships (which can be used to discover new islands) and more. At night you must try to defend against greedy creatures intent on pilfering your gold. Kingdom: New Lands is an App Store treat; it is easy to lose oneself in the game and your expanding and evolving land.
I hope you found at least a few titles tat interested you on this list.