Mobile gaming has long been the redheaded stepchild of the gaming industry. Considering how there hasn’t really been a star-studded lineup of amazingly popular and successful mobile games, for a long time, mobile gaming came down to a choice between Snake or Solitaire. To be fair, cell phone gaming had a lot going against it. Multiple cell phone carriers, hundreds of handsets, differing chipsets, and no common point of purchase fragmented the market into hundreds of pieces. Tiny, low-resolution screens and a keypad meant for dialing phone numbers certainly didn't help the cause.
The iPhone's arrival changed everything. Calling the iPhone's App Store a success is an understatement. In just under nine months, Apple is close to announcing more than one billion downloads, with the total application count rising every day. According to the mobile analytics company Mobclix, there are almost 37,000 applications in total and more than 8,000 games currently available for the iPhone.
Unlike other cell phones, the iPhone has a lot of big advantages. The clout of Apple's iTunes install base certainly doesn't hurt it. Many customers are already familiar with the platform and comfortable purchasing music and videos through it. Adding the App Store to iTunes opened up one more avenue that customers could now travel. Low price points and free trials for applications definitely encourage users to experiment and purchase. Apple also made application installation on the iPhone very easy. After finding a game, you're no more than two button presses from having it automatically load onto the phone. It also doesn't hurt that anyone with an iPod Touch can join in the fun.
On the development side, the barrier to entry on the iPhone is absurdly minuscule: $100 gets you in the door and running with Apple's iPhone developer kit. Anyone with some spare time and a computer can effectively make applications for the iPhone. Independent developers like Ethan Nichols, who made the tremendously popular iShoot, have a better than usual shot at success. That's not to say that big companies haven't gotten in on the action. Heavy hitters like EA and even Kojima Productions already have games on the iPhone. Both companies released games based on existing franchises like Metal Gear Solid, Spore, and SimCity.
An added benefit of a totally digital distribution model and games made by individual developers, and companies alike, is responsiveness. Many gamers have left comments and found that their changes were later incorporated into the game. Tons of games have gotten better after their initial release, and quite a few get additional features like extra levels tacked on as time goes by.
With such a large base of applications, the App Store has had its fair share of growing pains, but it has chugged along this far without the wheels completely falling off. Before March, browsing the App Store through iTunes was akin to surfing the Web with a dial-up modem. Finding good applications without knowing the name continues to be difficult. Sorting apps by rating has yet to appear, and review sites struggle to keep up with the pace of development. In spite of whatever problems Apple has with the setup, the App Store continues to be the best game in town by a wide margin.
With more than 8,000 games in the App Store, you'll find games from just about every genre: puzzle, arcade, action, casual, educational, board, strategy, simulation, word, sports, trivia, adventure, role playing and more. Looking a little deeper, according to Mobclix, a little over 2,000 titles are free, which generally means they are trial versions of existing titles. Within the remaining 6,000 titles, almost 2,000 of them classify as puzzle games. A further 1,300 a piece fall into the arcade and action categories. The remaining 1,400 split between the other genres.
Control schemes on the iPhone make use of both the accelerometers and infinitely configurable touch screen. Some games make use of basic tilt functions and others incorporate virtual D pads and buttons. Between the thousands of games out there, chances are good that we haven't seen everything yet. The large high-resolution screen and hardware powerful enough to run 3D graphics give the iPhone visuals that one up the Nintendo DS, and at times rival the Sony PSP. Many games also make use of the built-in Wi-Fi and data plan to provide multiplayer gameplay. We've also seen a few games take advantage of the GPS unit within the iPhone.
But even with all this variety, you're going to have to wade through a whole lot of junk. As of right now, finding the best games will take some work. Click on the wrong link and you'll be left staring at a gigantic list of Sudoku clones. And yes, there's a clone of just about everything. Some "games" barely classify as games at all. In a manner of speaking, the App Store is about as “Wild West” as it gets, but this has its advantages. The low barrier to entry means we could see tons of experimentation with different kinds of games, and if even one good game evolves out of it, maybe 8,000+ games will be worth it sometime in the near future. For now, you can use this story to help figure out what the most popular kinds of games are, as well as find some of the better ones available now. The list here is by no means comprehensive--consider it a taste of what the App Store has to offer.
Aurora Feint II bills itself as "the first casual asynchronous MMO for the iPhone." We're inclined to call it a really fancy Puzzle Quest type of game. The game's innovative new feature is the ghost multiplayer functionality, aka the asynchronous multiplayer functionality. Using ghosts, you can fight friends or random folks from the game's network at your, and their, leisure. Much like with Mario Kart's ghost racer functionality, you record a copy of your gameplay that the game then exports to fight on your behalf. When you want to play against a friend, you're actually competing against your friend's ghost. It sounds odd, but it makes perfect sense considering that the game is on a phone. The chances of your getting a call midmatch are pretty high.What's your favorite iPhone game? Drop us a comment.
Blue Attack/ Blue Defense
Decidedly in the action category, Blue Attack and Blue Defense are both space based shooters. In Blue Attack, you're plopped into a little blue spaceship and tasked with protecting your base ship from hordes of red geometric attackers. The guns fire automatically, and you control the ship using either the tilt functions or the touch screen. You can upgrade your ship with more bombs, a bigger complement of wingmen, powerful guns, and much more. Blue Defense places you in a stationary planet with a rotating gun that swivels as you rotate the iPhone. As with Blue Attack, the gun fires automatically so all you have to worry about is mowing down scores of red squigglies, balls, and mean looking faces. With every level you pass, the game changes orientation occasionally placing you at the bottom of the screen to take out enemies from one side, or in the middle where you have to fend off attacks from every side.
Enigmo is essentially a game based around Rube Goldberg devices. The goal is to get various fluids into buckets using an array of bouncers, diverters, shooters, and more. Once you've figured out how you're going to get the contraption to work, you'll have to do it quickly to get a higher score.
Flight Control brings all the thrills of air traffic control onto the iPhone. The game makes use of the touch screen to draw flight paths and land incoming jumbo jets, helicopters, and small aircraft. Gameplay starts off slow enough, but the routing gets hectic mighty quick as more aircraft fly onto the screen from all sides. Standing in line at the grocery store was never this much fun.What's your favorite iPhone game? Drop us a comment.
Continuing the interplanetary geometric domination theme, we have Galcon. Using the touch screen, you send forth your little triangular fighters to capture neutral gray planets and your opponents colored planets. Attack a planet until it has zero fighters to capture it, with the final goal being to wipe out your opponents colored planets The game is about speed, strategy, and even a little trickery. Play against the computer or go online to duke it out with up to four other people simultaneously.
Geo Defense is your standard tower defense game with a few twists. Enemies march out from one side of the screen and travel along preset paths. Your goal is to set up offensive towers to mow them all down before they reach the end of the map. Each enemy you kill yields money, which you then spend to upgrade and buy more towers. Lather, rinse, repeat. Although the closer you let the enemies get closer to the end of the map, the higher the score multipliers go.
Tron brought to the iPhone. Race your lightning quick bike in straight-line paths while tapping the sides of the screen to make 90-degree turns to cut other players off and make them crash into the colored wall you leave in your wake. Hit the middle of the screen to boost forward if you need that extra bit of speed. Light Bike even supports two-player split-screen play. That's right--split-screen on an iPhone. And if that wasn't enough Light Bike has Wi-Fi play for up to four people over two iPhones.What's your favorite iPhone game? Drop us a comment.
Ngmoco's Rolando plays and feels like Loco Roco for the PSP. Cute little blobs roll around trying to save other little blobs. You use the tilt functions to move Rolandos across the screen and the touch screen to interact with onscreen elements. The music from Loco Roco is decidedly more cutesy, but Rolando certainly holds its own.
Yes, that SimCity. EA released a version of the game on the iPhone, and it's about as complex as the original SimCity, but that's not necessarily a bad thing considering the horsepower and screen size of the iPhone. Using the touch screen, and some very forgiving tools, you can lay down roads, zones, and just about everything else.
Zen Bound is one of the oddball games for the iPhone. We're not sure what genre the game belongs to. With slow languid gameplay, Zen Bound acts like the proverbial rake in the sand. Using the touch screen or the tilt function of the iPhone you wrap rope around wooden bunnies, dogs, and more. Everywhere the rope touches the object it paints it. Your goal is to paint the object and tie off the rope on a nail.
With a backlog of thousands of games, and more coming out everyday, we're barely scratching the surface here with the few we've chosen. There are many more quality games on the iPhone in virtually every genre. Feel free to call out any of the great games you've experienced on the platform in the comments.What's your favorite iPhone game? Drop us a comment.