BESTOF2013While many unsavory trends in mobile gaming – such as aggressive IAPs and Pay Walls – continued entirely unfettered throughout 2013, the year still managed to be a mind-boggling smorgasbord for iDevice owners everywhere. This year I’ve been asked to prepare a list of my top ten favorite apps that I tackled during the course of 2013, and – while attempting to do this – I quickly came to the realization that this was no easy task. What follows are the lucky few that I managed to single out – after much internal agonizing – listed purely in alphabetical order, as attempting to put these into any form of hierarchy would likely explode my mind.

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Combo Crew

“In a world where a fist to the face is a perfectly viable solution, one man has everything.”

Thus went the hilarious intro to The Game Bakers’ ultra stylish beat’em up challenge, wherein players are tasked with taking on hordes of enemies via perfect combo finesse. Thanks to a control scheme that went entirely outside the box of normal design theory, The Game Bakers were able to give players instant access to a wide range of well animated moves at any given moment. While not exactly a traditional beat’em up in the conventional sense, fans of classical fisticuff action will certainly be right at home when they attempt to pummel their way out of Mr. Boss’s tower.

However, while merely making a great game would be more than enough for some, the Game Bakers then had to go and do something no one would have ever dared hope for: they actually got permission from Capcom to use a plethora of iconic characters. For the first time in nearly a decade players could once more punish evil with the stylish fist of Viewtiful Joe, not to mention Street Fighter favorites such as: Ryu, Ken, Chun-Li, and Blanka. They even found time to include Lester Knight Chaykin, from Eric Chahi’s famous Another World, while actually giving him a move set that paid homage to his original appearance in various ways.

Furthermore, thanks to a variety of gameplay tweaks that they implemented since the original release, the game now plays better than ever. [our review]

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Fist of Awesome

For those of you out there seeking something that paid a more direct homage to the gameplay of beat’em up classics, such as Double Dragon II (NES) and Golden Axe, there was no need in 2013 to look any further than Nicoll Hunt’s Fist of Awesome.

When Earth’s history is suddenly threatened by time travelling bears, the fate of the world rides upon one lumberjack – named Tim Burr – and his possessed talking hand. Utilizing innovative touch based controls – which flawlessly provide old-school beat’em up style action – players must punch, kick, uppercut, and stomp bears everywhere across the time stream. Doing so will earn experience points that can be used to upgrade various stats, enabling both Tim Burr – and his Fist of Awesome – to slowly become an even more powerful force of bear-stopping justice.

Furthermore, ensuring that gamers with an insatiable appetite for challenge don’t go home feeling empty, completing this bear punching journey unlocks New Game + style access to harder difficulty settings. Add to that a separate arena mode where players can take on endless hordes – utilizing any character, or enemy, from the entire journey – and the resulting gameplay potential is virtually endless.  Lastly, I would be utterly remiss in my duty if I didn’t take a moment to remind everyone about the completely awesome theme song – chronicling the game’s plot – that plays during Fist of Awesome’s credits. [our review]

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Gemini Rue

Joshua Nuernberger’s critically acclaimed Graphic Adventure title – Gemini Rue – was recently brought over to iOS users everywhere, courtesy of Wadjet Eye Games. Gemini Rue features of all the graphical panache – quality writing – and impeccable voice acting that gamers everywhere used to expect from early nineties Lucasarts titles, which are often considered by many to be the genre’s finest examples. The inherently point-and-click driven nature of such games has often made them a perfect fit for mobile devices, and now gamers can finally tackle this neo-retro classic no matter where they are.

In order to solve the mystery of the infamous Center 7, where detective Azriel Odin thinks his brother has been taken, players will have to explore two intertwining plotlines in this Sci-Fi Noir adventure. However – if Azriel is to learn Center 7’s clandestine whereabouts – players will have to first explore the mining colony of Baraccus, which has  been under the control of the Boryokudan since the end of the Gemini Wars. It certainly doesn’t help any that our trench coat wearing gumshoe used to be a professional hit man for the local mafia, a job which he didn’t exactly leave on the best of terms.

This all makes for a thrilling story, positively guaranteed to keep players glued to their iOS devices, wherein things are slowly revealed to not be quite as simple as you might have first thought. While the game does come with a price tag that is quite a bit heftier than some other iOS titles, I can assure you that Gemini Rue – which contains absolutely no IAPs – is worth every last cent of what is being asked. The only minor downside is that the tiniest bits of scenery – if you’re using one of Apple’s smaller devices – can sometimes be difficult to tap, but even then the game is still finishable. [our review]

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Lost Echo

Where as Gemini Rue was an iOS port of an already existent Graphic Adventure, Lost Echo is a completely original experience made exclusively for mobile device users.

The first thing that people will probably notice about this title is its unparalleled breathtaking 3D visuals, which are filled with so many tiny details that you’d at first think you must be staring at a static backdrop (a la Resident Evil). However, the most impressive part of all this just might be that the game’s creator – Kickback Studios – accomplished all of this in a title that even runs on the ancient iPhone 3GS. As so few developers these days bother to properly optimize their iOS titles, it truly was refreshing to see someone go the extra mile to ensure that all devices could successfully run their game.

The real meat of the experience – however – is Lost Echo’s intriguing plot, wherein Greg must discover why his girlfriend – Chloe Rieko – simply one day disappeared from everyone else’s memory after a curious flash of light sent him to the hospital. While lacking the amazing voice acting featured in Gemini Rue, solid writing – coupled with a long line of gripping plot twists – will keep people glued to Lost Echo all the same. Furthermore, the inclusion of two separate difficulty modes – comparable in execution to Curse of Monkey Island – will ensure that gamers of all skill levels can fully enjoy this adventure. [our review]

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QuestLord

There was a time – way back in the day – when pseudo 3D Dungeon Crawlers, such as Dungeon Master and Eye of the Beholder, were the kings of the PC-RPG scene. One man, named Erik Kinkead, recently decided to take gamers everywhere back to that bygone era – complete with awkwardly scaling pixelated graphics – via his highly acclaimed release of QuestLord. It all begins when players select from one of three character races, after which they are unceremoniously dumped – sans any explanation – upon a land known as the Shattered Realm.

Thusly it will be up to gamers to explore the pseudo 3D environments – meeting and talking with people along the way – as they slowly piece together the history of the world, not to mention the current political climate. In the process you will help many people – all of whom have epically schlocky stock fantasy names – by resolving the quests they beseech of you, as you are – after all – the Quest Lord. Most useful here is that QuestLord automatically keeps track of all the requests you’ve picked up, the locations of the mission-givers, and even where the assignments’ objectives can be reached.

Featuring a humongous map to explore – with both in and outdoors locations – classical old school style difficulty, and an entire whopping 18 different quests to complete, QuestLord is one meaty adventure that you won’t quickly finish. Add on top of that a randomly generated Roguelike challenge mode, complete with perma-death and leader boards, and the classic Dungeon Crawler fun needs never come to a stop. At least not until Erik Kinkead wows us all once more with the release of QuestLord 2, which he admitted – in an iFanzine exclusive interview – is definitely on his list of future plans. [our review]

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Ridiculous Fishing

I don’t think there’s ever existed a more aptly titled game than Ridiculous Fishing, the latest interactive experience from the fine folks over at Vlambeer. Players will – utilizing tilt based controls – attempt to cast their hook down as deep into the ocean as possible, afterwards trying to snare every last fish they can on the way back up. That alone would be weird, but Ridiculous Fishing then takes everything for the full nine yards by demanding that players – after tossing it all up towards the sky – gun down every last fish that they just caught.

Add to this multiple locations to fish in – a plethora of insane equipment upgrades to purchase, with nary an IAP in sight – and even a bird dominated parody of Twitter, known as Byrdr, and you have endless hours of addictive gameplay. [our review]

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Sage Fusion – Chapter 2: Children of Deceit

What do you get when you combine a Visual Novel’s story telling techniques – a Graphic Adventure’s puzzle solving – and the combat mechanics of Super Mario RPG, all coupled with great writing and artwork? You’d be absolutely right if you happened to guess that the answer would be Kidalang’s Sage Fusion series, both entries of which we already awarded perfect five-star ratings. If – however – I could recommend someone to play just one of those two stellar titles, then it would definitely have to be the second part – Children of Deceit – which is where the story’s real meat takes place.

The first game’s mysteries surrounding Alvonse Brin’s unworldly rage-like abilities – not to mention Marlon Ziglar’s assignment, and even the past of Vientiane Blaise – are all resolved in fine form. Along the way some legitimate philosophical questions will be raised about artificial intelligence, the nature of democracy, the ethics of cloning, the dependability of man, and what exactly right and wrong truly are. Furthermore – while not a 100% perfect replacement for playing the first entry – the sequel makes commendable efforts to bring new players fully up to speed, thanks to intelligently placed flashbacks.

Finally, with over twice the content of the series’ first amazing entry, you will truly receive far more than your money’s worth by the time you complete this colossal work of interactive fiction. This is further coupled with far more interesting combat scenarios than Chapter 1 had, such as an entirely optional sequence where you fight a giant mecha statue from the top of an actively moving Ferris Wheel. The only slight downside to all of this is that the content contained within Sage Fusion doesn’t exactly fit well within the confines of a lunch break, being far better suited to the comforts of your own home. [our review]

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Sonic Dash

SEGA and Hardlight Studios recently decided to show people everywhere how the ultimate freemium based endless runner experience should be done, with intuitive controls – great graphics – and unobtrusive IAPs. It certainly didn’t hurt that Sonic Dash was finally the fast-paced – arcade style – pure running experience that fans of the blue blur had been wishing for their entire lives, with Big the Cat nowhere to be found. While that alone would have been truly impressive, they then kept updating their game with extra characters and levels – community challenges – and various game play fixes.

As a result, Sonic Dash is one free title that shouldn’t be missed by anyone who is a fan of SEGA’s blue hedgehog – a connoisseur of endless runners in general – or especially someone who happens to enjoy both. [our review]

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Sonic the Hedgehog 2: Remastered

Sonic the Hedgehog 2 has – ever since it was first released – always been considered one of the all-time platforming classics, thanks to its mixture of fast paced action – a plethora of hidden secrets – and one truly amazing soundtrack. While SEGA had long ago released a rather disappointing port, this sin was only recently rectified when Christian Whitehead – friend to pixels and polys alike – provided iOS users everywhere with an all new update. Not only do mobile users now have a 100% complete version of Sonic 2 – which furthermore plays like a dream – but they can even claim that, thanks to Christian Whitehead’s efforts, they now have the most definitive release ever.

This remastered edition features an expanded widescreen view – a new frame rate that runs at a solid 60 FPS, coupled with reworked smoother animation for the bonus stages – and superior audio processing that lets you hear the classic soundtrack like never before. Even the original’s split screen two-player racing mode has returned, except now played against online challengers – complete with random match finding capabilities – so that Sonic enthusiasts can enjoy competitive ring collecting action everywhere they go. Yet the most surprising update of all is clearly the inclusion of a now finished Hidden Palace Zone, a level that was infamously cut from Sonic 2 at a late stage in the original game’s development.

The end result is that for Sonic fans new and old – as well as genre enthusiasts in general – one of the classical era’s purest moments of platforming bliss has finally arrived on the iOS intact, complete with optional support for all iOS7 compatible controllers. [our review]

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TrouserHeart

What is a Dwarven King to do when a bunch of pantaloon pilfering pirates bust into his castle one night and steal his only pair of trousers? Obviously he must take up sword and shield, embarking forth upon a randomized top-down action filled adventure – replete with beautiful graphics – as he fights against all odds to get his pants back. After all, simply buying a new pair would be the same as admitting defeat to these would be upstarts whom thought they would actually get away with stealing from Lord TrouserHeart.

So went the set up to TrouserHeart, a recent top-down action RPG – featuring Roguelike randomization elements, coupled with an optional perma-death setting – from the fine folks over at 10Tons Ltd. Thanks to impeccably responsive on screen inputs – and optional iOS7 compatible controller support, should a more tactile based method be preferred – this is one adventure where you can’t blame the game when you fail. That’s a good thing too, as many of TrouserHeart’s enemies – especially when the game is played on the hardcore difficulty setting – are fully capable of killing the king in just a few hits.

So while running around slapping things endlessly with a sword – and occasionally stopping to open a treasure chest – might sound overly simplistic at first, the real challenge in TrouserHeart comes from knowing how and when to approach your opponents. This goes doubly so for the game’s various giant boss encounters that can be found at the end of each and every dungeon, all of which are wholly unique challenges unto themselves. Players can look forward to tackling a giant slime blob whom heals itself via absorbing minions – fighting a wizard enclave that fires Bullet Hell Shooter style barrages – and even facing a giant tentacle monster that endlessly spawns lesser helper tentacles.

While all of the above is already a challenge fit to satisfy Action RPG fans everywhere, once you turn on perma-death mode – which can be used in junction with either difficulty setting – TrouserHeart becomes a competitor capable of crushing even the most hardcore gamers. [our review]