Every year, with thousands more apps and games being released on the App Store, it becomes increasingly difficult to single-out just which are the crème de la crème of this ever-growing iOS market – and more specifically, which of them truly set a higher standard in terms of innovation, uniqueness, and individuality. Be it a game designed for the iPhone or iPad, anything developed and released on the iOS market in this day and age has to have that special something to grab our interest and retain it for months to come. In no particular order, here are a selection of the most notable games and apps of 2013 that raised the bar in one way or another.
Morphopolis – Quite possibly one of the most visually stunning games I’ve seen all year, Morphopolis‘ astounding presentation and imaginative world designs are what truly sets this hidden object puzzle game apart from those of a similar style. The beautiful hand-drawn watercolor hues bring every aspect of the game’s artwork to life, while the folksy ambient soundtrack sets a beautiful and warm tone to suit the mellow and relaxing pace. What is so immensely likeable about the puzzles in Morphopolis is that each of them is original, unique, stylish, and distinctive in nature, with every single one utilizing the environment in some manner to build upon the atmosphere.
Whoever said perfection is overrated obviously never got a five-star review on 148Apps. It doesn’t happen often. Just take a quick look through our reviews and you’ll see lots of well-deserving Editor’s Choice winners, but most only reach four-and-a-half stars. In fact, in all of 2013 there have only been ten five-star reviews. Take a look at some of what we considered the best of the best this year.
It’s easy to look at mobile and see it as a wasteland for content; particularly with all the casual, free-to-play games, and especially the ones that seem to de-emphasize actual gameplay in favor of stronger monetization. That’s only if you’re not paying attention. Serious, core games – some even free-to-play – had a great year on iOS.
Oceanhorn was hyped for a good reason: it was beautiful and ambitious. That ambition didn’t entirely pay off in my opinion, but for the game to have succeeded financially is a huge step forward for gaming on mobile.
It also felt like the barriers between mobile and PC/console games started to blur a bit. Frozen Synapse, Mode 7′s highly acclaimed PC strategy game, landed on iPad at last. Limbo received an excellent port. Leviathan: Warships brought cross-platform online play – and the best trailer of the year. Space Hulk was not perfect, but it made for an exceptional transition.
But perhaps few did it as spectacularly as XCOM: Enemy Unknown. That game proved that it was possible to take a massive console and PC title – a fantastic modern take on one of the greatest strategy games of all time – and put it on mobile without losing any of the experience. Firaxis also absolutely stuck the landing with Sid Meier’s Ace Patrol and its Pacific Skies followup; original games that went to PC later.
2013 is rapidly drawing to a close, and you know what that means: tons of “Best Of” lists! In fact, the App Store has just released its picks for the year. We even have our own list (we like to call it the Best App Ever Awards) that you can vote on. Everybody loves lists!
For the iPhone, language learning app Duolingo takes the top top spot, with the rather pretty and useful VSCO CAM and super-cute monster alphabet app Endless Alphabet as runners up. On the games side of things, Ridiculous Fishing gets some very well-deserved recognition, while surreal and clever puzzler Device 6 and the much maligned/celebrated Plants vs. Zombies 2 are close behind. That, my friends, is a pretty solid group.
The iPad has its own list of awesome, of course. The remarkably slick and gorgeous Disney Animated has managed edge-out Traktor DJ‘s remixes and WWF Together‘s cuddly animals. Meanwhile, super-atmospheric pseudo-platformer Badland has been selected as 2013′ iPad game of the year, with the shockingly well-made port of XCOM: Enemy Unknown and the infuriating but addictive Impossible Road right on its heels. All fine choices, although my own personal love/bias would probably have put XCOM at the top of the list.
Polygon posted a in-depth interview with Vlambeer, the developers of Ridiculous Fishing. We all (probably) know the story by now of how their game was cloned and sold on the app store prior to them launching the official version. Instead of knowing that story, piece by piece, Polygon has told it in its entirety.
Week-in and week-out, the 148Apps reviewers comb through the vast numbers of new apps out there, find the good ones, and write about them in depth. The ones we love become Editor’s Choice, standing out above the many good apps and games with something just a little bit more to offer. Want to see what we’ve been up to this week? Take a look below for a sampling of our latest reviews. And if you want more, be sure to hit our Reviews Archive.
I never would have thought that carpet could be so much fun when incorporated into a game. This mind-bending puzzler may be one of the most innovative iOS games I’ve played in a long time. For those who don’t know, Farsh is persian for carpet. The game was created by award-winning indie game developer Mahdi Bahrami and it is port of the free PC version. Although it’s based off the PC game, there have been a few improvements to make it even better on iOS. –Angela LaFollette
Ridiculous Fishing from Vlambeer, Zach Gage, and Greg Wohlwend as well has been on a long, strange journey to the App Store, with one major pratfall in particular: Gamenauts’ 2011 title Ninja Fishing, which Vlambeer describes as an outright clone of their original Radical Fishing Flash game. Being cloned it distressed Vlambeer enough that the studio considered shutting down at one point. However, a year and a half later, the studio’s own version is finally out, and it was worth the wait. –Carter Dotson
The in-built Mail app is useful but it’s far from essential or visually pleasing. It does the job and nothing more than that. This is where apps like Incredimail come swooping in, demonstrating how the experience can be so much better and, no doubt, saving the regular iPad user plenty of time. Things immediately start out well for Incredimail, thanks to its start up screen making it a breeze to set up. There are options for things such as Gmail, Yahoo! and AOL but it’s also possible to add any account, providing one knows the relevant IMAP settings. It takes a little while for the app to import all the emails, especially if there are plenty available, but it’s a one time thing. Future loading takes a lot less time. –Jennifer Allen
The RockSteady XS is a portable, micro Bluetooth speaker designed for use with any audio source that supports the Bluetooth 3.0 protocol, including iPads, iPhones, and other mobile or computing devices. It also includes a audio port for a line in, and a full-sized USB port for audio in and device charging, as well. There are a host of buttons on the front of the unit, which can be used to play, pause, forward, or reverse playback with many audio apps, like Pandora, Music, or Rdio. –Rob LeFebvre
Other 148Apps Network Sites
If you are looking for the best reviews of kids’ apps and/or Android apps, just head right over to GiggleApps and AndroidRundown. Here are just some of the reviews these sites served up this week:
The Adventures of Sophie the Sweater is a gem of an app, an interactive storybook which allows children to make choices that will affect the direction this tale takes, as this is the story of Sophie, a sweater who experiences many different lives with a varied group of people as they re-use and re-cycle her into other garments, craft ideas or other objects which illustrate how to use her material. I did enjoy a great deal the Choose Your Own Adventure or Which Way books as a child, and I have begun to read these titles to my son as well. I do love this app as I think it brings an intuitiveness to these kinds of books… –Amy Solomon
Bugs and Numbers is a delightful universal application – a collection of bug-themed mini-games that re-enforces beginner math concepts as well as other subjects such as understanding one’s left and right, shape matching, sorting, sequencing and tracing of numbers and shapes. Each one of these 18 mini-games includes a bright and engaging look, oftentimes including bug elements as well as an interesting dichotomy as some of these sections are quite beautiful to look at, while others include distressed qualities that show bugs in less than pristine conditions that children may also find interesting. –Amy Solomon
Fey Mouse is an interactive picture book based on the title of the same name, developed by Blue Quoll as the first in their series of Australian Vintage Picture Books, adapting out-of-print titles and making them accessible to children from around the world. Fey Mouse is the story of a cat born into a mouse family, misunderstood by distant relatives and living in the shadow of their successful lives. –Amy Solomon
It’s a New Year. Resolutions abound. Fitocracy might just be the tool to help folks keep the ones related to healthier living. It’s an app that uniquely melds excessive with a competitive process that “rewards” completion of tasks. In doing this, it looks to avoid being just another fitness application, and to potentially become a full-fledged life coach. The app itself comes with a mature, clean look, with trademark purple hues making a starring appearance. The app is made up of three main pieces, accessible via the left side pane: Feed, Track and Your Profile. The Feed maintained my interactions with other “Fitocrats” all around. I could talk, encourage and request feedback from Fitocrats. –Tre Lawrence
This is a special edition of our Kickstarter Spotlight column, because a promising turn-based strategy game that is planned to release on Android has just launched its Kickstarter campaign. Sinster Design’s Telepath Tactics is taking a second shot at getting funded on Kickstarter, and there’s plenty of reasons to care about this throwback to the days of 2D grid-based turn-based strategy games like Shining Force and Fire Emblem. The game has hopes to be a deep single- and multiplayer experience, but it needs the help of backers in order to reach its goal.
As the title intimates, telepathy plays a big part, as the game takes place in Sinister Design’s Telepath RPG series, full of characters with powerful mental abilities. These not only represent the standard magical ability tropes such as healing and ranged attacks, but it’s also possible to do things like push and pull enemies into water or lava, which will do damage to them. It’s also just funny to push an enemy into a fiery grave. It’s also possible to do things like build bridges (or destroy them), freeze water to walk across, and set traps to help keep enemies away, or to draw them in to a strategic disadvantage. –Joseph Bertolini
Good racing games need not require the fastest, most realistic cars. Sometimes they don’t even require cars with engines at all. Meet Slingshot Racing from Bolt Creative and publisher Crescent Moon Games. These cars are propelled by slingshotting around grappling points spread throughout the tracks, trying to jostle with other cars, hit speed boosts aligned on the tracks, and just finish as quickly as possible. The controls are simple: tap and hold on the screen to latch on to the nearest grapple point, and release to let go. The controls work 99% of the time, though rarely a different grapple point will be hit than what the player expects, but it’s otherwise easy enough to pick up on. –Carter Dotson
Lots of independent games get shown off at the Games Developer Conference each year. Some of them are entered in the Independent Games Forum, a special competition for indie games releasing on console, Mac/PC, or iOS. We were able to visit a few of these, listed below, and wanted to tell you all about them.
While our reviewer enjoyed the look of this game, she also said it felt kind of short. When I mentioned this to the developer at the demo kiosk, he agreed. He then went on to show me how they put this game together, with hand built sets and hand-held cameras panning through each level to give it the unique visual style it has. In addition, the planned additional levels look nothing short of brilliant and expansive, so this should be one to keep an eye on.
iPad Only App - Designed for the iPad
Released: 2012-02-23 :: Category: Games
Pugs Luv Beats / Pug Synth
File this one under adorable, right next to hilarious. As a pug owner and fan myself, Pugs Luv Beats took my heart away. Each pug in the game represents a specific beat or musical motif, and adding hats and costumes changes the music and allows the pug to go farther and faster towards its goal. The game may be more about music performance with gaming elements, but it’s still a ton of fun to mess around with. Add the spin-off music app, Pug Synth, and I am sold.
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
Released: 2012-02-09 :: Category: Music
One thing missing from modern games, say the developers of Fingle, is touching. And not in a weird way, either. Fingle tasks two players to place their fingers onto an iPad at the same time, and solve puzzles by cooperating and, yes, touching fingers. It’s a unique and real-life-inspired game that’s making lots of waves. Imagine taking this to a party where that cute boy or girl you want to meet is hanging out. Oh, yeah.
iPad Only App - Designed for the iPad
Released: 2012-01-12 :: Category: Games
Developer Vlambeer (Super Crate Box) teamed up with Zach Gage (Bit Pilot) and artist Greg Wohlwend (Solipskier) to create this funky game where the goal is to avoid fish on the way down, and hook as many as possible on the way up, then shoot them all out of the sky. Yeah, it’s wacky. But super fun to play, of course. The couple of minutes I had to check it out made me glad I’d been able to stop by and play this all-star creation.
I have to say that I wasn’t expecting to be emotionally invested in a game that looks like this, but the music and the loneliness of that poor star affected me in a fairly intense way. From Steph Thiron, the developer behind indie-darling Eliss, Faraway is a one-touch controlled, procedurally created game that puts players in the role of a lonely star in an empty universe, holding out hope that its quest will have meaning, in the end. Fantastic score, simple, elegant graphics define this one, and I can’t wait to play the whole thing.
This one caught my eye as I walked by its kiosk at GDC. I was attracted to the clean lines, the happy little faces, and the puzzle look right from the start. Created by Powerhead Games, ASYNC Corp starts off a simple brain teaser, asking players to switch out and connect colored squares to create larger and larger rectangles. The conceit of the shipping center is a good one, and helps get the game idea across to the player fairly quickly.
iPhone App - Designed for the iPhone, compatible with the iPad
Released: 2011-06-28 :: Category: Games
What’s left to be said about this beautiful game from the makers of award-winning Spider, The Secret of Bryce Manor? Quite a bit, apparently, as I stood and talked with the lead art designer for the game. He made sure I knew that he created the concepts behind the art, but the actual paintings were done by “real artists.” Whatever, dude, the game is gorgeous. Also? this is the first time I’ve heard the term “action-gardening adventure.”
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
Released: 2012-03-01 :: Category: Games
Beat Sneak Bandit – Winner of Best Mobile Game
Rhythm games are super fun. Stealth games are, too. Put them together, and you’ve got Beat Sneak Bandit, from Simogo. Our reviewer dug this one, so I gave it a quick try at the conference. Whoo, boy it IS fun. The artwork is stylish and cute, and the music is, obviously, beat heavy and catchy. Tapping to the beat to move my little guy to the clocks in the level was enjoyable and had me feeling pretty talented, two great ways to keep me playing a game.
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
Released: 2012-02-16 :: Category: Games
Two other games that I did NOT have a chance to play (I didn’t see them on the expo floor, really) are English Country Tune and Storyteller, the winner of the Nuovo prize. For more details on all the games entered into the contest, including the finalists and winners, see the main page here.
Host Carter Dotson speaks Dutch independent game developer Vlambeer. They discuss the Ninja Fishing controversy in-depth, as well as what they feel is the difference between ‘iteration’ and just plain ‘cloning’. As well, there is discussion about their upcoming iOS titles: Ridiculous Fishing and Super Crate Box iOS.
Ubisoft has updated its iOS high seas adventure game, Assassin’s Creed Pirates, with some major additions. This refresh brings new maps, as well as one new campaign mission and three new secondary missions among other features. There are also new ships that are available for the all-new Survival Missions. According to the Ubisoft release, each […]