Part One: Games 16 - 25
Part Two: Games 6 - 15
In what was another fantastic year in the world of iOS gaming, we are here to bring you the titles that we, the staff of 148Apps, thought were the best of the year. Here are our top five picks for the Best Games of 2011:
5. Tiny Tower: Listening to some of the most prominent voices in gaming journalism right now, so-called 'social' and 'free to play' games are the scourge of the industry, and will bring forth the end of gaming as we know it, or at least a cowpocalypse. Of course, the problem is more that these games tend to be designed for nefarious purposes, to try and suck every last penny out of players' wallets. Tiny Tower was one of the few to not do this. It does a lot of the little things right - from giving out its credits through completing in-game actions, to providing things for players to do while actually checking in on the game, to feel compelling yet fair.
I spent weeks on end compulsively checking my tower, managing where my little bitizens should be working, and making that building go higher and higher. I eventually stopped - my tower was very large, and I didn't necessarily feel the need to make it bigger, and I had other ways to spend time when on my iPod. But there's just a satisfaction in knowing that a game is designed in a way that if I wanted to get back in, I could, and wouldn't have any negative effects waiting for me if I did so. This is a shining example of what the industry needs to do with their free to play titles, as it is infinitely more satisfying than the ones that make me feel like they just want my money.
4. Tiny Wings: This wasn't supposed to happen. A game made almost entirely by one guy in Germany, with no promotion whatsoever, shooting to the top of the charts? Sure, in the early days of the App Store, back in 2009, it would seem believable; but here in 2011, for this to happen? It seems impossible. But it's clear to see why it did just that: its watercolor graphics, adorable bird protagonist, and simple-yet-unique gameplay mechanic all combined to make a hit game that just happened to be picked up by people...then by a few more...then a lot more...then suddenly everyone was talking about this ingenious little game made by some unknown developer that now everyone was playing. I still don't know how it happened, but I'm sure glad it did.
3. Infinity Blade 2: There was one iOS game that made me cry this year. This was not it. It should have, though. Due to glitches with iCloud, I lost my built-up characters twice. On consecutive nights. A lesser game would have made me throw it down in frustration, delete it, and never speak of it again. I guess it says a lot about a game that I could pick it up again for hours on end, after any practical benefit to playing it had eroded, whether it had been to simply review the game or even after I had beaten it. There I would sit on my couch, continuing to hack away at enemies, managing my equipment to keep mastering it and improve my stats. I've lost a lot of time to this stupid game, and though it may be inherently repetitive, and largely only iterative on its well-known prequel...it was still some of the most fun I've had this year.
2. Where's My Water? - Physics games can be distilled down to a pretty easy formula these days: combine an endearing protagonist to create an emotional connection to the player with gameplay that uses the physical interaction of objects in a simple enough way that even casual players can become hooked to for great success. Combine these two things, and profit is the hopeful result. Plenty of games attempt this. Very few succeed at it, though. Where's My Water did just that.
The goal of the gameplay, which is simply to cut through dirt to guide water to Swampy's bathtub, hits the notes of being deceptively simple with added complexity. Soon, dangerous substances are added, along with pipes, bombs, moss and other hazards. But that simple mechanic of cutting through dirt to guide the water with understandable physics, remains the core.
Of course, the fact that Disney makes Swampy come alive doesn't hurt at all. Swampy is fantastically animated, as one would expect from, well, Disney. His worried and pained expressions while wearing his shower cap and waiting in his empty tub for his bath water causes that hook to sink in; I'm not just doing this for myself, I'm doing this for that little guy! He gets so happy when he gets his water that it becomes difficult to not become attached, to want to keep trying to get that water to him.
Disney found a way to create that kind of emotional connection to players, and look where they sit on this list. They earned it.
1. Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP - In reality, a lot of the hype for this game was in part due to its visual style: sure, retraux pixel art is en vogue among a lot of games this year, but it was the detail, the usage of it to become something more than just imitation of the good ol' days of gaming. The mystery played a large part of it too - we knew how it looked, but how would it play? What was the setup for this game? What will happen?
What we got was a truly beautiful experience. The combat is simple and somewhat repetitive, sure. But everything else about it raises the experience to another level. The art and animation are splendid, of course. The music, composed by Jim Guthrie, is an incredible feast. The writing is at times humorous, but helps to set up a scene of a world with mystery and wonder, explaining only just enough when it needs to. The ending is so powerful it brought me to tears. It takes a powerful piece of art to do that, and it is something that few games have ever done to me. As a pure game, it is imperfect. But as an experience - I can't say I experienced anything greater on iOS this year. This will stick with me for a while, and it is an easy choice for our game of the year.
That's it, there's our list of the best of the year in iOS gaming. Did you have a preferred title? Let us know in the comments! We look forward to another great year of iOS gaming in the year 2012!