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2010 saw the iOS marketplace grow exponentially. The platform's brief history is already filled with meteoric success stories and massive reorganizations as publishers adapt to rapidly shifting customer tastes.
Prominent App Store publisher Ngmoco, for instance, completely abandoned its previous publishing model in favor of free-to-play, microtransaction-supported releases.
In another example, Capcom, creator of hundreds of classic arcade and console games, currently finds its greatest success on iOS platforms not with one of its many established franchises, but with the casual-friendly Smurfs' Village.
Regardless of what the current trend may be, however, quality games determine a platform's true success and legacy. Here are some of the best iOS games released in 2010, with the first link to the iPhone version (also runnable on iPad), and additional info if a native iPad version exists:
5. Hook Worlds (Rocketcat Games - iPhone)
The App Store popularized the "autoscrolling platformer" -- run-and-jump titles that work particularly well on iOS devices, thanks to their basic objectives and simple controls. Some of the genre's best-known works to date include Adam Saltsman's Canabalt, Adult Swim's Robot Unicorn Attack, and Mikengreg's Solipskier.
Hook Worlds stands out from the pack with its unique grapple-based gameplay mechanics. Using carefully timed swings from a grappling hook, players must traverse each obstacle-filled level as fast as possible, and escape before a pursuing monster catches up to the player's defenseless explorer character.
The grappling mechanic is challenging to master, and gameplay becomes stressful as players attempt to recover from missteps. Stringing together a series of well-timed swings is extremely satisfying, however, and Hook Worlds remains compelling long after other titles in the genre have lost their initial charm.
Two titles in Rocketcat's Hook series were released this year. The newer Hook Worlds offers greater gameplay variety, while Super QuickHook is a more challenging experience overall. Both games rank among the App Store's best.
4. Zen Bound 2 (Secret Exit - iPhone/iPad universal app)
Few games are as adept at setting a mood as Zen Bound 2. Originally released as an iPad exclusive upon the device's launch earlier this year, Secret Exit's meditative rope-wrapping puzzler soon received a universal update, adding support for the iPhone and iPod Touch. An adaptation for PC and Mac platforms was released recently via Steam.
Zen Bound 2 is equally engrossing on any platform. In the game, players methodically wrap a wooden figure in a single unbroken strand of rope. Rope-covered portions are colored in paint; the object is to paint a given percentage of each object using as little rope as possible.
The easy-to-grasp objectives, down-tempo music, and lack of a time limit work in concert to create a genuinely relaxing experience. Zen Bound 2 succeeds not only as a game, but also as a great stress reliever.
It's rare that an iOS port of a console or PC game can emerge as the definitive edition. Osmos manages this difficult feat in a way that seems almost effortless in its elegance.
Premiering for PC platforms last year, Hemisphere Games' Osmos puts players in control of a small speck of matter that is able to grow larger by absorbing fellow motes that are smaller in size. The concept is well realized, and gameplay manages to stay interesting throughout thanks to the constant introduction of new variations on the formula.
Osmos is a standout on any platform, but its gameplay is at its best on iOS devices. The controls work even better with a touch screen than they do with a mouse; the addition of a tactile element makes Osmos complete.
2. Espgaluda II (Cave, compatible with most iPhones.)
While other publishers struggle to adapt their most popular franchises to the iOS platform -- often ruining beloved classics with the scourge that is the virtual d-pad -- shoot-'em-up developer Cave managed to capture a winning formula with its very first App Store release, and has released hit after hit in the months since.
Espgaluda II is a pitch-perfect recreation of the company's acclaimed 2005 vertically scrolling arcade shoot-'em-up. The release would stand out as a worthwhile play on any platform, but it truly shines on the iPhone and the iPad. An effective touch-and-drag control scheme works flawlessly in the context of Espgaluda II's gameplay, providing enough precision to make the experience fun for both shoot-'em-up novices and hardcore fans alike.
Moreover, Espgaluda II represents an exceptional value for shoot-'em-up fans in North America. The original arcade circuit board costs thousands of dollars. The Japan-only Xbox 360 port retails for around $80. The iPhone version of Espgaluda II -- which includes a new platform-exclusive gameplay mode in addition to the full original game -- is available from the App Store for $8.99.
1. Game Dev Story (Kairosoft, iPhone)
When talking about Kairosoft's Game Dev Story, it's difficult to describe its gameplay in anything other than the context of your own personal experiences.
- "Well, I made a cowboy racing game for the Sega Genesis, but it had a lot of bugs, so sales tanked in its second month of release."
- "I poured so much money and time into my NES golf RPG, and the reviewers totally trashed it! What the hell!"
- "I made a bunch of cash-in sumo wrestling games, which were a big fad at the time. The reviewers hated them. They had no polish. We didn't even hire a sound guy for them. They sold millions."
Game Dev Story's foundation is built on player anecdotes. The gameplay may be standard stuff -- it ultimately boils down to keeping a series of numbers and sliders in check -- but Game Dev Story's lighthearted (and at times scarily accurate) take on game development make it a compelling play even long after your virtual company has established itself as a dominant force in the industry.
Better still, Game Dev Story is a special treat for those who have witnessed decades of industry growth. You'll want to buy a soon-to-be lucrative publisher's license when "Senga" launches its 16-bit "Exodus" console, and you'll have the good sense to avoid investing too heavily in Intendro's headache-inducing Virtual Kid.
On the other hand, there's a lot of fun to be had in attempting to change history. If you want to single-handedly make NEC's PCFX the world's most popular console, you have a tough road ahead of you, but by god, you can try.
- Carcassonne [iPhone/iPad universal app] (Not satisfied with merely producing a great adaptation of the classic board game, TheCodingMonkeys adds a new Solitaire mode and online competitive gameplay.)
- Chaos Rings [iPhone] (Square Enix successfully mimics the depth and spectacle of console RPGs with this graphically rich release.)
- Galaxy on Fire 2 [iPhone/iPad universal app] (Fishlabs' space combat/exploration/trading sim features more depth than one would expect from any App Store release, with potentially dozens of hours of gameplay.)
- Infinity Blade [iPhone/iPad universal app] (Its gameplay may be a little shallow, but Chair Entertainment's satisfying swordplay and impressive Unreal Engine-powered graphics are not to be ignored.)
- Kometen [iPhone/iPad universal app] (Blueberry Garden creator Erik Svedang's interstellar adventure is bolstered by vivid artwork and soothing gameplay.)
- Real Racing 2 [iPhone] (Firemint continues to set new standards for iOS racing sims with the addition of licensed vehicles and new online multiplayer modes.)
- Street Fighter IV [iPhone] (Even though the lack of physical buttons drains a lot of the fun, Capcom's efforts to port its one-on-one fighter franchise to iOS are admirable, and the result is surprisingly playable.)
- Sword & Poker 2 [iPhone] (Like RPGs? Don't hate poker? You'll enjoy Gaia's Sword & Poker series, and probably more than you'd think you would.)
- UFO On Tape [iPhone/iPad universal app] (Challenging players to capture video of a skittish UFO, developer Revolutionary Concepts introduces a unique gameplay mechanic that's a natural fit for mobile platforms.)