Once upon a time, I reviewed a lot of iOS apps, and I grouped them together in a column called “Core Dump,” much like my “Stack Overflow” column for books. But two years ago, I resolved to cut back a little bit, and I only wrote one more at the end of 2013, with just a few mentions of apps here and there since then.
Well, I still play a lot of apps–some were sent to me for review, but others I just grabbed when they showed up as the App Store’s Free App of the Week, and I purchased a few just based on recommendations from friends or because they looked intriguing. Unfortunately, my old iPad 2 won’t run a lot of the new apps, and the iPad mini I’ve got has a small hard drive, which means I have to delete apps if I want to make room for new ones. So, before I say farewell to a few of these apps (at least for now), I figure I’d share some of my favorites from the past year or two.
All of these are available for iOS; I’ve noted if they are also available on the Google Play store or Amazon.
There are three games that have taken up most of my time (and battery life) over the past year: Marvel Contest of Champions is still something I play a lot, even though admittedly it’s a lot of repetition and grinding. (You can read my original review here.) Collecting various superheroes and supervillains scratches my completionist itch, and I really like when new characters appear in the game because it’s fun to watch their super-ability animations. The most recent additions are Jane Foster as Thor, Groot, Miles Morales Spider-man, and Spider-Gwen. You can also join an alliance, with group quests that you work together to explore.
Two Dots is a simple little puzzle game–it’s also free to play, with in-app purchases if you want to buy power-ups or don’t want to wait for your lives to recharge. It’s something I’ll play while standing in line at the grocery store. The basic idea is very simple: draw lines to connect dots of the same color, and they’ll disappear and everything drops down, with more dots filling in. If you manage to close a loop, all of the dots of that color vanish. Each level has certain requirements to fulfill within the given number of moves, and as you progress, you’ll get new types of dots, fires that spread, ice that has to be broken, and so on. The app gets updates from time to time with new levels, and there are already over 500 levels to play, plus timed side-quests with fun themes. (There was a Star Wars-inspired quest in December.) The other thing I really love about the game is the animated menu for the levels–it’s just really well-done, and I’m excited when I see there’s an update.
7 Little Words is another puzzle game I play about once a day–each puzzle has seven words that you have to figure out, using clues that are similar to crossword puzzle clues. The trick is, instead of just typing in your words, you have to assemble them from the 20 letter blocks. There’s a free daily puzzle, and you can also buy puzzle packs in varying difficulty levels. I’ve played these by myself and together with my kids, who also enjoy trying to piece together the clues. (There is a kids’ version of the app, too, but I haven’t tried that.) I particularly enjoy the themed puzzles, where either the clues or the answers have something in common, and I’ve purchased a few packs of puzzles to supplement the daily free puzzles.
After those three, the game that’s been getting the most play by my kids (aside from Minecraft) is Land Sliders from Halfbrick. It’s a funny sort of game: you swipe to slide the land around underneath your character–or reverse the controls if you want to just slide the character directly–to collect items, avoid obstacles and enemies, and reach the big red button to blast off into space to the next level. Part of what makes this so addicting is that you can get new characters, and each one has a different item that they collect on the levels. The Tiny Princess collects unicorns; the Astronaut collects oxygen tanks; the Atari joystick collects cartridges. Plus, a recent update gives the characters abilities. The levels are randomly generated, and there are fun enemies and interesting obstacles to figure out. There’s even a real-life treasure hunt of some sort–I haven’t heard if it’s actually been solved yet.
There are funny references in the game, and one thing I like is that some characters will change the appearance of the game. Old Timey makes everything sepia-toned. Photogenic Tacos puts a bright Instagram-style filter on everything. The Glitch actually makes the screen look glitchy while you play.
Gathering Sky is an experimental game–you control a flock of birds on a long journey. You start with just a lone bird, and you touch and hold the screen to direct its progress. As you encounter other birds, they’ll join you. From time to time, you’ll also see streaks that indicate air currents that sweep you along. It’s beautiful and relaxing to look at, with an orchestral soundtrack, though there are some tense moments, too. You’ll fly through a storm, and dodge birds of prey that dive through the flock. There are “levels” and you progress through different lands and seasons, but for the most part you just watch the birds make their long trip.
Tiny Thief is a puzzle game that got a lot of play a while ago, though my kids haven’t played as much lately. You are a tiny thief in a medieval town, sort of mischievous Robin Hood figure. Each level has a primary objective to steal, and you’ll have to figure out how to get it by tapping the various objects and people in the scene. There are also some bonus objectives, and your pet ferret is hiding somewhere in each level as well. What makes the game so delightful, though, is the animation. There are tons of characters and they all have wonderful reactions. It’s as much fun to see what they do when you mess up as it is when you solve the levels, and my kids played it over and over just to watch them again. It’s free to play, with in-app purchases to buy more level packs (we bought all of them) and hints (which we didn’t buy). I wish there were some more levels to play, but there haven’t been any new ones in some time.
RGB Express is another little puzzle game that I think I may have grabbed when it was free. You have cute little trucks that you need to drive around a system of streets, matching the colors of the trucks to the packages and destinations. The trick, though, is that everything happens simultaneously: you plot one truck’s route, and then as you start another truck, the first truck moves along at the same rate. You’ll need to avoid crashing, and later on there are drawbridges that must be shut at the right times. The other trick is that any given road can only be driven on once, so you have to plot your routes and plan carefully.
Does Not Commute is another puzzling game that actually reminds me a bit of RGB Express, except instead of cute little delivery trucks, you get a more realistic-looking city and cars, and a complex plot with a bizarre cast of characters. Each person has some place to be on their morning commute, so you drive them through the city streets to the destination. But you’re actually doing the steering, and you’re going to have to avoid all those other drivers that you already routed through the increasingly crowded streets. It gets fiendishly difficult, sort of a combination driving game and puzzle game, and the story is really weird. I bought this one on impulse because it was made by Mediocre, which also made one of my other favorites, Smash Hit, and I was really pleased.
Speaking of which, I should mention Smash Hit, too. If you ever feel like smashing things, this is the most cathartic game out there. Basically you fly straight through these gorgeous geometric levels, throwing metal balls at glass obstacles. Break crystals to get more balls to throw, and if you don’t miss any crystals, you’ll eventually get to throw up to 5 balls at a time. There are various play modes, including some new two-player co-op and competitive modes, but really it’s mostly about the look and sound of breaking glass.
Monument Valley is one that I’d heard of a while back and had on my wishlist, and I grabbed it when it was free a few weeks ago. It’s a beautiful puzzle game that plays around with perspective a la M.C. Escher. As Princess Ida, you walk around on impossible structures (sometimes sideways or upside-down) to reach the doorways to the next level. Various switches and levers can control parts of the buildings. It’s a gorgeous game and I love the perspective tricks, even though the game itself isn’t very long.