What follows is a list of the 21 games that should be installed on every iPhone. As exceptional games continue to be released on the iPhone, we will expand this list. And we will create a similar list dedicated the the iPad and games that make the best use of its larger screen.
Please let us know what treasures you've found in the App Store. Because no matter how hard we watch the ceaseless stream of iPhone releases, great games sometimes slip past us.
And so Bounden feels like the culmination of years of experimentation by its creator. The key difference between those early games and Bounden is cooperation. Bounden is a dance game. Two people hold opposite ends of one smartphone, moving together to guide a cursor over a three-dimensional ball.
Bounden is simpler than it sounds, the sort of game that trains you to be an expert, as long as you give it the time. But more importantly, it's one of the very few mobile games that forces intimacy with another human. Beautiful and affecting, Bounden is a masterpiece.
Download Bounden here
Download Bounden on Android
At one point, a cactus appears. At another point, the game unlocks GameCenter connectivity. Sometimes the courses are extra hilly; sometimes they're extra flat. The game just keeps going.
You begin to ask questions. The game tracks your score, but does the score matter if the game never ends? If the score doesn't matter and the game never ends, why play? And why play video games? Here you are on the 400th hole in a 2D mobile golfing game and the big question hits you: Why do anything?
Download Desert Golfing here
Download Desert Golfing on Android
In short, the player drops chips labelled 1 through 7 into a 7-by-7 grid. Aligning for chips horizontally or vertically removes those chips to the board and does one unit of damage to unmarked chips, which gradually rise from the bottom of the screen. After a gray chip has been damaged twice, it breaks, revealing a numbered chip. Chips continue to rise and fall and you do what you can to trigger chain reactions and keep the screen clear. It's not easy.
Drop7 is the ideal game to pick at throughout the day. Waiting for the elevator to arrive or the coffee pot to fill? Drop7. Have a couple minutes before the football game starts?Drop7. Can't sleep? Drop7.
Download Drop7 here
Download Drop7 on Android
Now Angry Birds is a franchise and a phenomenon. There are plush toys, brand partnerships, and a feature-length film. You can play pseudo-sequels like Angry Birds Seasons, Angry Birds Rio, and Angry Birds Star Wars. And its sequel Angry Birds Spaceis perhaps a more enjoyable game than the original.
But Angry Birds is the most approachable game in the franchise, and after all those updates, it's humongous. Costing 99 cents, Angry Birds is one the best deals in video games.
Download Angry Birds here
Download Angry Birds on Android
Eliss is actually easy to learn. Using all of your fingers, you split, combine, and move planets, so that they align with targets that appear on the screen. As the game progresses, the playspace fills with planets and you must be careful to avoid traps. It's a test of digit dexterity. Developer Steph Thirion released an update, Eliss Infinity, in early 2014. Infinity has better image resolution and widescreen support, and also includes a sandbox mode, a nice place to pretend you're in the sci-fi movie of your dreams.
Download Eliss here
Download Eliss Infinity on Android
Frankly, I hate to call it a game. Specific goals are available for the player, and there's an imperative to scoot an adorable, plump bird up and down the game's two-dimensional hills before night falls. But for me, Tiny Wings is best enjoyed as a meditative tool. The wavy motion of the bird, its soft caws, the gentle children's song gently bouncing in the background: every component merges together into this blend of sound and color, putting me into a relaxed trance.
Sometimes I want my iPhone to be an escape from stress. I don't want something frenetic or an event that challenging. I want peace. How appropriate, then, that Tiny Wings ends with the moon rising and the bird gently going to sleep.
Download Tiny Wings here
In early 2014, one man accomplished the feat on his own. Kero Blaster is the best action and platforming game on the iPhone because it controls so well. And though it's graphics are simple, Kero Blaster is one of the most "console"-like games on the device that wasn't originally designed for another platform. Which is to say its adventure is so smartly designer that you'll actually want to play until the very end. As a frog, you unlock and upgrade weapons, fighting bad guys that look like dustballs. The game doesn't play like an original Nintendo game. It plays like those rose-colored memories of playing original Nintendo games.
Download Kero Blaster here
Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars
On the iOS version, the player can hotwire a car or break a window by twirling or tapping a finger against the screen. Rockstar designed Chinatown Wars for the touch-friendly Nintendo DS, and it shows.
Chinatown Wars also has one of the more interesting and controversial mini-games, a drug-selling simulation. It's the closest mainstream games have come to playingDrugwars on my TI-83 in the back of trig class.
Download Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars here
Dodonpachi Resurrection HD
Dodonpachi Resurrection HD, and the rest of Cave's mobile releases, play as if they were designed for touch controls. In fact, I find them easier than their arcade counterparts, perhaps because I can hold them a couple inches from my face without attracting judgemental looks. They're beautiful — the dense, colorful animation gradually taking over the entirety of the iPhone's glossy, high-definition screen. So yes, this genre, the shoot 'em ups, is notoriously difficult to get into, but the option to play Dodonpachi Resurrection HD, whenever and wherever, makes it an ideal entry point.
Download Dodonpachi Resurrection HD here
Download Dodonpachi Resurrection on Android
Super Stickman Golf
For three years, the most popular game of the week was Super Stickman Golf, played exhaustively in tour buses and hotel lobbies. In single-player, the golfer knocks a ball across a two-dimensional stage, trying to land it in a hole with as few strokes as possible. But in multiplayer, the game becomes a race. Strokes no longer matter. What's important is being the first to finish. This is the anti-Desert Golfing, a gamey game full of power-ups, hats, and level packs. It's an addiction.
Download Super Stickman Golf here
Download Super Stickman Golf on Android
Space Invaders Infinity Gene
The game features many new weapons and abilities, which can be layered onto your spaceship. The art style is monochromatic and gorgeous, like the most jaw-dropping game ever designed for Apple ][. And the music is thumping techno that should be grating and tacky, but somehow it fits. That's the summation of this game, really: a bunch of ideas from across time and space, brought together as if they were always meant to be one holistic thing.
Download Space Invaders Infinity Gene here
Download Space Invaders Infinity Gene on Android
Threes is also an example of a marvelously executed puzzle game. Sort of like those sliding puzzles you'd get as a birthday party favor, the player combines panels 1 and 2 to make 3, then two 3s to make 6, then two 6s to make 12, and so on, with a new panel appearing in the game's grid with each swipe.
You shouldn't just download Threes because it's the original game. You should download Threes because it's the superior option. It's cute and charming, and carefully created so that players have documented mind-dissolving high scores, like this, on YouTube.
Download Threes here
Download Threes on Android
Download 868-Hack here
Plants vs. Zombies 2: It's About Time
Best part? "Free to play" isn't a misnomer. You can play for hours without having to wait for some arbitrary timer. The in-game coins are rewarded in abundance and the things you can buy for real-world money are completely optional to the game itself.
Download Plants vs. Zombies 2: It's About Time here
Download Plants vs. Zombies 2 on Android
The experience involves a lot of phone wiggling (parts one and two) and screen-tapping (part three). The art style is gorgeous and wholly unique, and the power-ups really enhance the game. Before you know it you'll be tying a hair dryer to a chainsaw lure powered by a huge tank of gasoline, only to blast a large squid from the sky with dual shotguns.
Download Ridiculous Fishing here
Download Ridiculous Fishing on Android
Spider: The Secret of Bryce Manor
There's a sense, reading back through this list, that 2009 was a major moment of creativity on the iPhone, and that maybe creativity has dwindled on the platform over the years. That's not so. Developer Tiger Style released its second game, Waking Mars, in 2012. Choosing between that adventure through the Martian landscape and Spider is like choosing a favorite flavor of ice cream. Today it just happens to be Spider. Tomorrow it will probably be Waking Mars.
Download Spider: The Secret of Bryce Manor here
Download Spider: The Secret of Bryce Manor on Android
Download The Room here
Download The Room on Android
Super Hexagon's App Store description defines it as a minimalist action game, but in reality it's an epileptic mindbomb. Your job is to guide a small triangle through an increasingly difficult maze of spinning hexagonal shapes, which conveniently always have at least one side open. The longest I've gone on the hardest difficulty is 92 seconds. When I first started, I lasted maybe five seconds on the easiest difficulty.
The fact that I last less than 92 seconds even when doing my best makes this an ideal iPhone game for the life of a commuter, even if I wind up playing for an extra hour and end up at the final stop of the F train.
Download Super Hexagon here
Download Super Hexagon on Android
Canabalt succeeds thanks to simple controls, killer sound design and a simple narrative hook: you're outrunning the apocalypse across the rooftops of a neverending metropolis. The world scrolls quickly and automatically, with the player carefully timing jumps with a single tap of the screen. Five years after the game's release, many mobile action games still try to replicate complex console controls. The pleasure of Canabalt stems from its simplicity: to get through the world all you need is the power to tap.
Download Canabalt here
Download Canabalt on Android
Each player's iPhone displays a unique set of controls, like a knob, dial, or switch. The screen also shows commands, which may correlate to the controls on another player's phone. To keep the ship together, everyone must learn to communicate in stressful scenarios.
When I say stressful, I mean it. The ships controls break down, requiring players to clean digital gunk off the panels and repair broken boards, all the while keeping the ship from spiraling into a black hole by shaking the phone or flipping it upside down. It's a great game, an excellent ice breaker and a top-notch listening exercise. It should be mandatory for every first day of school.
Download Spaceteam here
Download Spaceteam on Android
Device 6 is, on the most basic level, a text-based adventure. It unfolds, however, into something more unusual. There's a game beneath the text, littered with puzzles and tugged by an engaging plot to a memorable conclusion. Simogo's games are so unique and surprising that they can't be easily labeled or categorized or synopsised, which may be the best praise I can give then. Once you finish Device 6, be sure to try Year Walk, a spooky, chilling adventure game buried beneath an avalanche of Swedish mythology.
Download Device 6 here