2013 was an insane year for me. Not only did I fulfill a recent dream of becoming a game reviewer, but I also became something even better: a dad. And as it turns out — before I start gushing about my adorable baby boy — 2013 was a pretty crazy year for iOS gaming as well. I mean, the App Store is only five years old and has already seen the rise and/or fall of huge studios, entire game genres, and even whole payment models. There have been no signs of slowing down, either. This year saw an absurd amount of massive, genre defining games like Real Racing 3, Asphalt 8, and Infinity Blade III. It hasn’t all just been big sequels, though. Ridiculous Fishing, Badland, Oceanhorn, Year Walk… the list goes on and on.
For my personal Best of 2013, though, I tried to stick with games that meant a little more to me. I mean, IB3 and Ridiculous Fishing are amazing games and all, but you already knew that. With my list I wanted to draw attention to 10 phenomenal games, in alphabetical order, that you might have heard of but not jumped on quite yet. Without further ado…
Breach & Clear
2013 turned out to be a pretty spectacular year for tactical strategy games, with the release of Frozen Synapse, X-Com: Enemy Unknown, and Call of Duty: Strike Team. However, the one that truly hooked me was Gun.’s Breach & Clear. Strategy games tend to be rather hit or miss with me, but B&C somehow hit on the exact right amount of accessibility and fun that had me playing for months. Plus, the developers have released an insane amount of content post-launch, which is always an awesome thing. [our review]
Crabitron by Two Lives Left is without a doubt one of the most original games I’ve ever played. First of all, it’s a game that could only exist on a tablet (in its current form, anyway) due to its unique touchscreen controls. Also, it features a giant space-crab, so there’s that. Your task in the game is to directly control a set of claws by pinching the screen with your fingers in order to destroy everything in sight. What really grabbed me, though, was the variety of things you could do with those claws. You can chop things in half, smash things together, shake people out of their cars, whip trains around like a chain, and shovel objects into your gaping maw. Creatively clearing a screen of enemies using the game’s wacky physics in whatever way you see fit is absurdly satisfying and makes this one of the easiest choices on my list.
I have a special place in my heart for Spacehopper Studios’ Delta-V Racing. It’s not just that it’s one of the best and most unique racing games on iOS, with fantastic controls, perfectly-sized levels, and some incredibly competitive ghost racing against friends. It was also the review I submitted when I first became a contributor here, and I specifically chose the game because I felt it was extremely under-rated at the time. Well, it still hasn’t recieved the popularity I think it deserves, but that isn’t a reflection of anything other than how crowded the App Store is with great racers. [our review]
Kumobius’s Duet is the perfect example of one of my favorite trends of 2013: the rise of the “hexlike”. Coined by Kumobius themselves, the term refers to the minimalist, hard-as-nails score chasers inspired by Super Hexagon that kept popping up all year. And though there were a ton of great ones (Boson X and Octagon nearly made this list), Duet is the only one I still play every week. There’s just something hypnotising about those circles, as you spin them around and around while avoiding obstacles and listening to the excellent soundtrack. Plus, you can think about life and death as you make your way through the stages of grief that serve as the game’s levels. Yay?
Melodive from developer Johan Gjestland seemed to come out of nowhere earlier this year and quickly became one of my favorite iOS games ever. It was unlike anything I’ve ever played before, to the point where it’s actually kind of difficult to describe. You take control of some unnamed, unseen craft (or being?) and dive as deep as you can through a psychedelic system of caves that glow and beep as you go. Also, there are little sprinkles of… confetti? to collect that refill your energy as you dive, along with shiny rocks that multiply your score. Also, the bizarre soundtrack is generated based on how much stuff you collect. It all comes together in an incredibly strange and surprisingly exhilarating little game that I couldn’t put down for months.
It could be the somewhat generic name, but I don’t remember hearing anything about Phenomenon Games’ Meltdown before it launched several months ago. That feeling of been-there-done-that might extend even to your first play session, with its familiar dual stick controls and man vs robots gameplay. Stick with it a little longer, though, and you’ll find one of the best shooters on iOS. Not only is there a well-implemented cover mechanic that adds a small layer of strategy to the combat, but there’s also a nice variety of weapons and skills with surprisingly deep upgrade trees. Best of all, the online co-op is seamlessly integrated into the “single” player campaign and almost always has tons of people around the world to team up with. [our review]
Developer Whitaker Trebella is a rock star in my book. The dude started out creating music for other people’s games before deciding to teach himself to code from scratch. After a few years he released his first game, Polymer. It was a fun little puzzler, but his next offering completely blew it out of the water. Pivvot is flashy, frantic, beautiful, and alive. The conceit is simple: you just move along a white line and avoid obstacles by tapping left and right. Maybe it’s the way the visuals pulse to the beat of the music, or the fact that you can watch replays after every run, but Pivvot absolutely slaughtered my free time for weeks. If you’re into hexlikes, this is another must-have.
Oh man. Repulze. Where to begin? When I learned that the developers of my favorite iOS racer — Reckless Racing 2 — had made a new racing game similar to my favorite console racer — WipEout — I was over the moon, and a little skeptical. Many others had tried to bring futuristic racing to iOS, and while some of those games were okay, none of them felt quite right to me. Until Pixelbite’s Repulze. It just nailed everything right off the bat: insanely tight controls, an incredible sense of speed, awesome tracks, and beautiful visuals. I try not to use the word “perfect” too much when describing games, but Repulze is about as close as it gets. Plus, a pretty quick series of updates tripled the amount of content, even adding weapons and combat. Sadly, there hasn’t been anything new added in what seems like forever, but Repulze is still easily one of the best racing games on the platform.
Table Top Racing
And speaking of WipEout, some of the ex-developers of that game created a brand new studio in 2012 called Playrise Digital. Their first release? Table Top Racing. Rather than sleek hover-ships and neon courses, however, TTR is a humble kart racer. And unsurprisingly, given the studio’s pedigree, the game is fantastic. You play as a toy car racing against other toy cars — offline or online — on a variety of surfaces, from picnic tables and kitchen islands to workbenches and playrooms. It’s not just a cutesy kids game, though; the difficulty scales perfectly as you go and there are tons of upgrades and modes to keep you happy for weeks. At first blush it may look a bit generic, but stick with it — Table Top Racing is up there with the Sonic and SEGA All-Stars series as one of the few great kart racers on iOS.
Touchgrind Skate 2
I’m really not sure what to say about this game beyond what I already wrote in my gushing review a few weeks back. Illusion Labs basically took the pitch perfect physics and revolutionary hold-and-swipe controls from their original Touchgrind and spliced it with the phenomenal level design and vastly improved camera perspective from rival True Skate and ended up with the best skateboarding game on iOS, period. They didn’t just stop there, though; they also threw in a huge list of missions to complete, multiple parks (with more on the way), a simple replay editor, and even multiplayer. It may not be quite as huge as the console big boys of years past, but it’s every bit as satisfying to play. [our review]
Related reading: Best iOS Games of 2013: Clovis’s Picks