The gaming industry has definitely experienced its highs and lows throughout the years, but the most encouraging trend has been the acceptance that gaming has found in players from every walk of life. From executives to soccer moms to executive soccer moms; from kids to adults and back again, gaming is as ingrained in our culture as social media. But there are so many games out there that it’s almost impossible to tell a good game from a bad game.
And that’s not what we’re going to do. Picking out a favorite game for one person won’t work for others. If you were a die-hard Tetris fan back in the ’80s, you’ll probably gravitate toward Candy Crush Saga. If you loved Legos, Minecraft is your game. If you grew up learning the intricacies of seven-card stud poker, well, you just have issues, and probably very interesting stories to tell. It’s not that there is no creativity in games today; it’s just that we’ve seen a lot of these before, in different iterations, and people tend to play games with which they’re familiar. It’s why Pac Man is still a favorite after 35 years.
Instead, we’ve picked out seven of our favorites on iOS devices (although these might also be found on Android or Windows tablets). Since the choosing of favorite games is as subjective as picking out the seven best songs of all time, I feel these are a good representation of a wide gamut of styles and mechanics.
And one more thing—we tried hard to include only free games, but there is an increasingly disturbing rise in games that seem “free” but require paid content later, down the road. The first taste is free, but they make you pay for the main course. Gaming can be as addictive as gambling, so make sure you game responsibly.
So, here’s a list of games for iOS devices that have caught my attention in the last year or so. If we get a lot of feedback about games we’ve forgotten, maybe we’ll try to expand this list or make this a monthly feature. So many games. Such limited thumb strength.
If you are a fan of the animated prime time show, you will instantly become a fan of this touch-based game, which straddles the sim-city-building genre and resource play as various Simpsons characters build, grow, and destroy familiar areas of the Simpsons’ beloved hometown of Springfield. One of the joys of the game is aimed directly at fans—you’ll see almost every minor and major Simpson’s character come to life, and enjoy missions that involve one or more characters at a time. A lot of work went into this game, and it shows. It’s almost as much fun to play even if you don’t know the TV show, although a brief and fleeting knowledge of the show will go a long way toward enjoying this game. You even get to build your own Krustyland amusement park. If that piques your interest, download this immediately. If not, let’s move on.
Based on last year’s Jurassic Park game, this new game makes tons of references to the upcoming Jurassic World movie. Spoiler alert: don’t play unless you want spoiler alerts thrown at you. If you do play, what you get is a park-building game that involves raising and hatching dinosaurs, cultivating forests to raise dinosaurs, and feeding and evolving dinosaurs. Oh, yeah—there are a lot of dinosaurs in this game. If you don’t like dinosaurs, then take a hard pass on this. But if that part of your childhood where you thought great big, rambling prehistoric behemoths was the coolest thing, you may like this game. It also includes a battling element that pits dinosaurs against each other, which is kind of cool in its own right.
Plants vs Zombies
Yeah, I know, Plants vs Zombies 2 is out, and has been for a while, But the original game was so much fun, I’ve played it through to the end multiple times (on multiple systems). The iOS version is so colorful and detailed, though, that no matter where you are—doctor’s office, DMV line, waiting for pizza delivery—when you pop this game on your screen it will immediately bring a smile to your face, and a cramp to your thumbs. In short, suburbia has been overrun by garden-invading zombies, and you have to use a variety of powered-up plants to keep them at bay. Pairing up which plant is useful against which zombie is most of the fun. Watching the hilarious and engaging cut scenes and notes left by the mad zombie Dr. Zomboss rounds out the hilarity. The zombies and plants are cartoonish, as is the mild violence. Kids can enjoy this just as much as adults. It’s Looney Tunes on the lawn.
Although Clash of Clans (made by the same company) started the ridiculous tiny terror war sims that are now everywhere in apps stores, there’s something about Boom Beach that is extremely satisfying. Basically, you take cartoonish soldiers of various strengths and with varying capabilities, load them on pontoon boats, and travel from island to island in a fictitious ocean and try really hard to blow things up. Some of the levels are challenging, and there is an element of resource gathering, but for most of the game, you just want to see bases and ports fall to your guns. This is one of those games that will ask you to pay for resources to speed things up, and you will be tempted to do so as the game progresses. Proceed with caution.
I included this not because I think it’s fabulous or technically amazing, but because it is very addicting. Although the original (like Plants vs Zombies) is still viable, playable and fun, the sequel adds levels of gooey sweetness that make it twice as addicting—and challenging. It’s a form of Bejeweled—also very addictive—except it uses forms of candies and sodas to achieve its match-and-drop game-play style. The candies themselves sometimes have their own extraordinary powers, like explosive capabilities, and the levels will change shape or parameters for extra challenges. At one point, this game consumed my commute so much that I missed train stops. Let’s hope it doesn’t do the same for you.
Imagine a game where city planning (à la Sim City) and Tetris got married. Their kids would look like Subaru City (or horribly disfigured 100-stories-tall, block-like creatures) and the game play would follow both classics. You match up people and trees of the same base color, and when you click on a building, person or tree, all the other blocks in that color make a new building. The goal is to make the tallest buildings you can, and then connect them together to make mega buildings. Your timer consists of the years you spent building, and the population you achieve. There’s no waiting around for building contractor or zone approvals—you just link buildings and watch your city grow. Super simple and addictive, trust me. How to fail? Blocks must be linked; you’ll soon find yourself with multi-colored pavement and no way to connect them. This game needs a mega-monster to help sort out that fiasco.
Why did the chicken cross the road? Apparently, the chicken doesn’t have a clue, and neither will you. Slyly based on the perennial favorite (and all-time classic arcade game) Frogger, you help a hapless hen cross a busy highway, and try to avoid getting squashed by traffic, or drowned when miscalculating the leap to a safe log in the river. How does it keep things fresh enough to keep your interest? The first way is by introducing new characters that you can win by collecting coins, the second way is by not over-thinking the concept. Remember Frogger 2: Swampy’s Revenge for the Dreamcast and PlayStation 1? If you don’t, you’re lucky—if you do, then you’ll be happy getting the cluck out of here.