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Best iOS games for new owners

Wait, what?

How did I get stuck with the primer on iOS? I'm supposed to look back over all the iOS games released since TWO-THOUSAND AND SEVEN and tell you which ones you should play if you just got an iOS device. There are 1.2 million apps on the App Store. 1.2 MILLION. Also, the story where I got that figure is from 2014. So, basically, there are infinite iOS games. But please, let me distill that for you. Allow me.

Do you realize that other people on the Polygon staff get to write a primer on which games to buy if you just got an Xbox One? There are like ... four good Xbox One games. Maybe. Tops.

I have got to pay closer attention to my email. Shame on me for setting up a filter that sends all of Crecente's emails to spam I guess.

OK. So. iOS games. Damn it, OK.

Recent games

Let's talk about a few more recent games first. I am not even gonna pretend that this list in any way is in the same galaxy as being comprehensive, these are just a few of the stunning experiences from recent months that you could go have right now on your phone.

I'm also not gonna say a ton about any of these games because I literally have like a hojillion games to talk about so what do you want from me? Just trust me, these are all great.

Progress to 100 ($2.99): This is actually a perfect iOS game to start with, because it really takes advantage of the platform in ways that practically no other game does. One-hundred little puzzles, each designed to make you use your phone in unconventional ways.

Attack the Light ($2.99): I love Steven Universe a lot, so I was delighted by this surprisingly deep little tactical RPG that is often way more challenging than you'd expect. Also: Cookie Cat is a power-up.

Downwell ($2.99): It's like Spelunky with worse graphics. It's one of the best games of the year.

The Executive ($4.99): Oh god, The Executive. This is a fighting game where you play a businessman who has to do flaming kicks to werewolves while he keeps his mining company afloat. It's got some cheap addictive hooks, but it's mechanically deep enough that you don't feel too guilty about it.

Card Crawl ($2.99): It's a dungeon crawler/collectible card game that was great when it came out, but has really been beefed up recently with new modes and abilities. I've been playing for a while and still improve my skill set with every run.

Lifeline... ($0.99): An astronaut is stranded on a remote moon. His only hope for survival? You. This game is all text-based, but uses the passage of time and iPhone notifications to draw you into the game even when you aren't actively playing it. Laura Hudson described Lifeline as "texting with an astronaut" and I think that nails it.

You Must Build a Boat ($2.99): Match symbols to cast spells, fight monsters and unlock chests as you explore dungeons and try to, as you may have surmised, build a boat. A sequel to an equally great game, the title of which is a "1" with a number of zeroes after it that I can never remember.

Perfect puzzle games

Some of the best puzzle games ever released are available on the iPhone. Seriously: Most of them cost basically nothing, and make Tetris look like total garbage. And they're in your pocket. Why haven't you bought an iPhone before now?

I'm not really going to describe these games, because what could be worse than someone describing a puzzle game?

Drop7 (Free): This is a game about stacking numbers. Zynga ruined its look for a while, but it's a little better now.

Chip Chain (Free): This is a game about stacking numbers. It's got a casino aesthetic and sounds so good that I would like to eat it.

Threes! ($2.99): This is a game about stacking numbers. Threes! got ripped off by 2048, so buying this amazing, perfect game also allows you to feel like you're righting a grave injustice.

Square Enix

Lara Croft Go/Hitman Go ($4.99): Action game classics are mechanically boiled down to their basest concepts and the result is brilliant. Also, a super tactile board game aesthetic that feels genuinely novel.

Alphabear (Free): Take a jumbled grid of letters and turn it into words in order to turn the board into adorable bears and then collect those bears to give yourself persistent powerups for future runs. Delightful.

The Room series: Use the iOS touch screen to uncover the secrets of increasingly intricate puzzle boxes in an attempt to escape the titular room. Tommy Wiseau is, sadly, not involved.

Telling stories

iOS isn't just for quick-hit puzzlers, it's also loaded with games that explore narrative in non-traditional ways.

device 6

Device 6 ($3.99): There's no description I could give that wouldn't sell Device 6 short. Crudely: It's sort of interactive fiction that is enhanced with some multimedia elements. It's also got one of the best songs from any game ever.

A Dark Room ($0.99): What begins as an unbelievably simple text game evolves into adventure about resource management and difficult choices.

80 Days ($4.99): A wonderful, steampunky retelling of Jules Verne's classic that seems endlessly deep and really rewards repeatedly plays. Wonderful, evocative storytelling you can get lost in.


Here's where I dip into the back catalog of eight freaking years of iOS releases and pretend like I come up with the absolute best available games and not just random ones I really liked.

Infinity Blade series: Some of the best-looking games on the iPhone that'll have you compulsively trying to collect all the pieces of armor and weapons while you try to level up the gear you already own. Carrots on top of carrots, sure, but also an extremely solid combat system that makes the games a constant delight.

Ridiculous Fishing ($2.99): It's fishing, but with guns. It's perfect.

Tilt to Live/Tilt to Live 2 ($2.99): Use the iPhone's tilt sensor to pilot a little ship around picking up power-ups and avoiding the deadly red dots that are hunting it. One of the best score chase games in iPhone history.

Tiny Wings ($0.99): Tap the screen to send a little bird sliding down hills and soaring into the sky. This is the chillest game that has ever prompted me to throw my phone across the room.

Nimble Strong ($3.99): Play as a bartender, talk to patrons and actually learn how to make a whole bunch of drinks. It's educational!

Chess (Free): Imagine a world in which you can use your phone to play chess against a Romanian guy. You are also probably both on the toilet. You live in this world.

Duolingo (Free): Play fun little games and learn another language. This app is astounding and it is also free. Like, why didn't you have an iPhone before now, seriously?

Super Crate Box ($1.99): Blast enemies with a wide-variety of weapons in this fast-paced, 2D shooter. Even with virtual buttons, SCB is completely unmissable, which is a pretty stunning achievement in and of itself.

Evil Games to Avoid

Spider-Man Unlimited (Free): Spider-Man Unlimited is a free-to-play endless runner where you collect Spider-Mans. I repeat: Spider-Mans are a collectible. I have spent more money on this game than I will ever admit to anyone, including my wife or priest. And yes, before you ask, it's got Spider-Ham.

Game Dev Story ($4.99): This is, literally, the most addicting game I've ever played. I've played it to completion twice and both times it has rested control of my life until I had seen it through. It's a game development simulator. It's genius. It's evil.

Trying to List All of the Great iOS Games (An Unconscionable Number of My Precious Life Minutes): OK, I've listed like a hundred iOS games and they're all totally great. I could keep going until the end of time, but I have so much I still want to achieve with my life. I have other things to write for Polygon. I have a daughter I want to watch grow up. I'm still pretty dead set on finishing The Wire, I think. Please, for the love of god, tell me I've listed enough iOS games for you.


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