When I started going back through my 2011 reviews to prepare this article, I quickly knew I was in for trouble. We’ve seen great accomplishments in every imaginable area over the past year, with perfect-scoring games like Anomaly: Warzone Earth, Contre Jour, and Squids tallied on my own list of knockouts. We’ll have to put on an Oscars-sized production to honor more of what deserves honoring, and we’ll be ushering in the New Year with that right after our regular contributors have had a chance to pick out three favorites.
It’s been a great year not only for iOS games, but for games as a storytelling medium, and it’s this aspect of the mobile gaming industry I’m tapping into for my own favorites list this year. These are the games that stuck in the back of my mind long after I set them down to review others. While they all have excellent gameplay in their respective genres, the running theme is that a great story on top of that can really increase a game’s impact — leaving a cultural impression that exceeds its mere entertainment value, as it were.
Ravenmark: Scourge of Estellion
by Witching Hour Studios
Freshman developer Witching Hour Studios turned in a massive – and massively good – first outing with this isometric Turn-Based Strategy title. Ravenmark can ride on its gameplay merits alone thanks to wheeling and unit linking systems that make you feel like you’re really in charge of a Roman legion. It isn’t just a game, however; it’s a fine piece of storytelling, weaving one of the richest tapestries of characters and intrigues I’ve seen since Final Fantasy Tactics. Don’t forget that there’s an entirely new campaign scheduled to land in the first quarter of 2012! Could it be the first time the same game lands on two years’ favorites list?
When a game has a strong plot backbone, you usually expect major story advancements as part of your reward for surviving the most harrowing boss battles. In this gripping whodunit by 4:33, the best story bits are the boss battles! Nearly half a year has passed since I played Chateau but I still vividly remember the game’s first interrogation sequence, how I broke into a cold sweat while sifting through my inventory of evidence to save the main character’s hide before a timer could run out. Does it take more than a little inspiration from CAPCOM’s Phoenix Wright series? You betcha, but I, for one, am not complaining. Chateau‘s semi-Victorian setting lends it a comparatively subdued atmosphere, allowing it to capture that classic whodunit feel with a style that’s well distinguished from Phoenix‘s over-the-top courtroom mayhem.
Chateau is also a great example of just how much an excellent character artist can do for a game. It’s impossible to appreciate from screenshots just how animated and downright charismatic the portraits are in-game. These really solidify the player’s impression of each suspect and carry the story past the occasional translation quirk.
50 100+ level take on Lunar Lander gets everything right that the genre can: smooth controls, some interesting twists on the usual formula, and satisfyingly complex and evolving level design. To top it all off Monkube teamed up with Vivi Film, Glass House Graphics, and Ape Entertainment to produce an entire comic book’s worth of story, and it turned out to be a downright interesting one thanks to an intriguing premise and an unlikely hero. I’ve played many renditions of Lunar Lander, but only one that asked me to step into the suit of a space chimp and tugged at my heartstrings enough to care about the little fella. For that, 6th Planet will always hold a fond place in this gamer’s memory.