The 12 Best Games On The iPhone [Updated]

You've got yourself an iPhone and you want to play some games on it. You might not want to just plunge into the iTunes App Store. It's a jungle, and it is full of bad games. Let us help you.

UPDATED 6 DECEMBER 2012

What's on top of the iPhone charts may not always be the most cleverly designed experiences. But we think the ones below show off the appeal of iPhone gaming in the best possible light. And these games should make your commute and your line-waiting just a little more fun.


Angry Birds Star Wars

As brutishly mercenary as a Force-enabled version of Angry Birds might seem, the newest variant of Rovio's mobile juggernaut is actually pretty good. The standard Birds gameplay gets bolted onto iconic sequences from the Star Wars saga and players will be able to deflect lasers with a lightsaber and use Force Push on the franchise's rickety environments.

A good match for: iteration addicts. We've reached the point where each new AB release shows interesting tweaks to a core formula. The smash-it-all gameplay has moved from a see-what-happens model to one where various abilities exist to help you force the outcome you want. The Star Wars-centric skills in ABSW aren't going to replace careful aiming and application of momentum but they make it so you won't need as much luck as in the past.

Not for those who want: their childhood memories unsullied. If you break out in hives at the mere mention of Episodes I through III, then you should probably act like this game doesn't exist. Your younglings, though, may not give you a choice.

Here's how it looks in action:

Free from the iTunes App Store.


Bad Hotel

Bad Hotel is a comedy. And a tower defence game. And the most stylish game about building a hotel that shoots ice at monsters that we've ever seen. It's an unusually well-rounded iPhone game that looks, sounds and plays superbly. You stack rooms upon rooms to build a hotel while enemies attack. Some of your rooms can shoot them, others repair damaged rooms and others collect money from guests. None of this is played straight, as levels are packed with absurd monsters and narrated by the kind of people one might occupy Wall Street to protest against.

Oh, and this is also a music game, because, as you build your hotel, it pulses with music that is shaped to match your tower. Each room you add contorts the soundtrack. Yes, this is for real. The creators of the game explained it all to us.

A good match for: those looking for something more artsy and musically-interesting, as well as those looking for a game with jokes written for
grown-ups.

Not for those who want: the world's most precise controls, though a recent update did improve them a bit.

Here's how it looks in action:

Purchase from the iTunes App Store ($2.99).


Drop 7

AreaCode's numerical puzzle game may be the most perfect short-session game ever created. As falling numbers land on a 7×7 grid, you need to make them disappear by matching the number of vertical or horizontal spaces match the digit. Yes, it sounds tedious but when the rules finally click in your head, it's a lifetime addiction.

A good match for: anyone who spends a lot of time waiting for things or people. Whether it's stuck in traffic or waiting on a queue at the bank, a few quick levels of Drop7 will make any kind of stationary drudgery more bearable.

Not for those who want: Productivity. It take superhuman willpower to resist the siren call of Drop7 and if you want to get anything done after installing it, make sure your iPhone's out of reach.

Here's how it looks in action:

Free from the iTunes App Store.


Ghost Trick

Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective was a triumph on the DS, a super-cool story/puzzle game drowning in great style, cool animation, and a funny, truly touching story. It makes the transition to iOS even better than you'd think, and many of the Rube Goldbergian puzzles work even better with the iPhone or iPad's touchscreen.

A good match for: people who like jokes, animation fans, music buffs, pomeranian owners.

Not for those who want: a lot of gameplay, a non-linear story, a game without any pomeranians.

Here's how it looks in action:

Free from the iTunes App Store.


Hero Academy

The developers at Robot Entertainment must know that friends don't always get along. That might be a reason that they made Hero Academy, a turn-based competitive strategy game that pits two people's virtual squads of fantasy adventurers against each other. The grid-based battlefield tempts you with loot that can power up characters and you'll find yourself . Much of Hero Academy's appeal comes from its asynchronous game design, which gives you time to plot out the perfect turn. And the waiting to see what your opponent sends back? That's almost as good as making your own move.

A good match for: Tolkien-loving chess players. Like the classic board-game simulation of war, specific units have different abilities. So, the a Dark Elves can leech energy and other warriors can force enemies back a square. And it all unfolds in a milieu that owes much to the Lord of the Rings mythology, which means you'll shout out "You shall not pass!" a lot.

Not for those who want: no microtransactions. Hero Academy isn't the worst kind of pay-to-win game but the temptation to plunk down some cash for deeper and more varied reserve of troops is strong.

Here's how it looks in action:

Free from the iTunes App Store.


Horn

An Unreal Engine 3-powered adventure, Horn is the closest thing the iPhone has to a ‘triple A' console title. A young boy awakens to find the land overrun by gigantic stone creatures—creatures that were once human. Discovering the means to forge magical weapons to break the crystal curse, the boy embarks on a quest to restore fleshiness to humanity.

A good match for: action role-players. This is the iPhone's The Legend of Zelda, only without the Zelda.

Not for those who want: bite-sized game sessions. Though a good portion of Horn is broken up into shorter, easy-to-digest levels, your digestive system would need to be in trouble for you to get much done in the game during a bathroom break at work.

Here's how it looks in action:

Purchase from the iTunes App Store ($2.99).


Infinity Blade

Players who enter Chair Entertainment's medieval epic get embroiled in an endless skein of mano-a-mano duels with giant ogres and demonic knights. The combination of treasure grabbing, loot acquisition and slash-and-dodge combat will keep players glued to their tablet for hours.

A good match for: console game players. Infinity Blade raised the bar on the level of persistent visual detail developers could accomplish on iOS and its swipe-and-tap controls make each swordfight immersive in way that button-pressing on a gamepad can't match.

Not for those who want: variety. Infinity Blade doesn't over-reach in terms of what it offers. It does what it does well, but you'll get the entire gist of the game in about 15 minutes.

Here's how it looks in action:

Purchase from the iTunes App Store ($1.49).


Letterpress

Most word games feel polite, don't they? Sure, you may gnash your teeth when you lose in Scrabble but you never feel like throttling your opponent. When you play Letterpress, you'll feel like punching the person you're playing against. That's because Letterpress is actually a ground war in word-game form. Each word you spell is a daring grab for letter-filled real estate and every advance can get repulsed by an opponent's clever coinage.

A good match for: Risk players who love to read. The strategy at work in Letterpress is of a more rapid-fire nature than in other digital word games. You'll need to figure out how to secure and hold territory while figuring out which words you can make form the jumbled-up letters on the board.

Not for those who want: quick games. Though Letterpress can be fast-paced, some games can see-saw back and forth for a while, even with a clear end in sight. A good fight is its own reward but sometimes you just want the other guy to fall over.

Here's how it looks in action:

Free from the iTunes App Store.


Need for Speed Most Wanted

The folks who already make the best racing games for the iPhone get their hands on EA's premier racing franchise and knock it out the park.

A good match for: speed demons. Need for Speed Most Wanted feels fast in a way that you can't pull your eyes away from. The experience is smooth and shiny, putting every other iDevice racing title to shame.

Not for those who want: customisation. The cars you get in Need for Speed pretty much stay the same. It's great that the simulated physics make various classes of cars feel different from each other, but can't do anything visually to make them feel like your own.

Here's how it looks in action:

Purchase from the iTunes App Store ($7.99).


Plants vs. Zombies

The cartoony garden-defence blockbuster soars on iPhone thanks to touch inputs and a port that sacrifices very little from other versions of the game.

A good match for: urban gardeners. PvZ's all about cultivating flora to stave off hordes of the undead, something that anyone trying to grow tomatoes in a windowsill planter can probably relate to. Those would-be farmers probably need a bit of digital payback.

Not for those who want: top-down tower defence. PvZ doesn't deliver the general's-eye view of the battlefield that you get in games like Fieldrunners, so you may not feel quite as god-like when killing zombies.

Here's how it looks in action:

Purchase from the iTunes App Store ($1.49).


Super Hexagon

Super Hexagon is a game that will kill you in seconds. A pattern of geometric shapes flow towards the center of the screen to the beat of the music, and your task is to dodge them. You won't. You'll die in seconds. If you get really good, you'll die in minutes. And you'll love every minute.

A good match for: eye-hand coordination masters. Seeing the path your little dot needs to be in is one thing. Getting there is another thing entirely.

Not for those who want: lengthy gameplay sessions.

Here's how it looks in action:

Purchase from the iTunes App Store ($4.49).


Temple Run 2

Maybe you were a Temple Run sceptic, someone who thinks that a game as obscenely popular as this one can't be any good. But chances are that once you started swiping through the infinite escape of the runaway hit's , you'd find it hard to stop playing. Temple Run 2 keeps the first game's simple control scheme and eminently approachable premise and layers on improved graphics that make idol theft look a lot prettier.

A good match for: travel magazine subscribers. The additions of zipline, minecart and more fantastic locations make Temple Run 2 feel like more of a globe-trotting adventure than its predecessor.

Not for those who want: huge iterative leaps between sequels. The core experience remains the same in this follow-up, so if you were hoping for fancy new ideas in Temple Run 2, you're out of luck.

Here's how it looks in action:

Free from the iTunes App Store.


NOTE: This list will be updated if and when we discover better games. We will only ever list 12 games at most.

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Comments

    What's with the Kotaku graphic between every game?

      Sorry about that. This article got published before I had a chance to look at it. It should be fixed now.

    Flight control was pretty awesome

    I thought Welder would get a mention also. Word games for word nerds

    I'd have to suggest sonic cd. Good, solid port, filled with some extras, and I never played it before.
    I'd also say some kairosoft games for those that like sim games.

    Super Crate Box must be added, try it out if you like pure arcade action and absolute frustration.

    What about Real Racing 2 or GTA3? Full blown console quality games on your phone.

    The game i like at the moment is "Hero Academy". Got onto it via Penny Arcade. Good turn based strategy, plus its free*. So there's no excuse not to try it out.

    * They make their money with in app purchases of extra armies etc.

    Age of Zombies! Why is it not on this list? It's brilliant!

    wind up knight
    muffin knight
    spy mouse
    flight control
    battle heart
    dungeon defenders 2nd wave

    What about game dev story?

    The list should've just been every single Kairosoft game out there.

    Here's an idea, how about you call this Evan's picks ( which you may not agree with ) instead of best iPhone games, since this is clearly subjective.

    Fucking Game Journalists ( facepalm )

    Where is the list for 2013????
    I got a new game I like. It's here --- https://itunes.apple.com/app/dragon-tear/id589367593?ls=1&mt=8
    I am checkout others as well, but this list is too old. I need something for 2013

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