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Holiday Buyer's Guide: App Store Games


From the conceptually insane Solipskier to the "you're clearly insane if you don't like this" Cut the Rope, 2010 saw the release of oodles of excellent and wildly divergent iOS games for iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad. These are our favorites.

To begin, click one of the links below to jump to a category or simply head on past the break to peruse the guide form top to bottom.

Click on a game title to view its Joystiq game page and see more news and information about it. The download links direct to the games' iTunes pages to purchase them from the App Store.

Note: [GC] = Game Center compatible (Apple's iOS cross-game network that supports friends, leaderboards and achievements)

The Game For Everyone
Cut the Rope [GC] - $0.99 for iPhone (Download) | $1.99 for iPad (Download)
There's a reason Cut the Rope is consistently among the Top 10 games on the App Store, and it's not just because it's so very, very charming. This game is the epitome of "pick-up-and-play," containing levels with a simple premise (get the candy to the critter) and simple controls (swipe to cut the candy off the rope). The magic is in the way various other mechanics, like bubbles, star collecting and even enemies, come together to create devilish puzzles that require a well thought out plan and perfectly timed execution before you can earn a three-star rating on them. Cut the Rope's single-level approach means you can attempt a puzzle (or ... 50!) anytime, and you'll undoubtedly be trying to find the time to solve as many as possible. –Randy

The Game For the Hardcore
Tilt to Live [GC] - $2.99 for iPhone (Download) | Free (w/ in-app purchases) for iPad (Download)
It's possible I've spent more time with Tilt to Live than any other game this year -- not any other iPhone game, any other game. TTL is "Geometry Wars" on your mobile device: an already addictive problem that's exacerbated by the fact that it's always with you. Add to that a persistent leaderboard with your friends' best scores and you've got a combination that can't be topped. –Ben [Review]

Console Quality On the Go
Editor's Pick

Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars - $9.99 for iPhone (Download) | $9.99 for iPad (Download)
Consider this the ultimate version of Rockstar's excellent portable GTA, originally released for Nintendo DS and also available for PSP. True to the console series, Chinatown Wars brings a huge, crime-filled sandbox gameworld to your iOS device, along with a solid story, crisp graphics and ample use of touchscreen mechanics. –Randy


Rock Band Reloaded - $4.99 for iPhone (Download) | $9.99 for iPad (Download)
It's Rock Band! ... Minus the guitar controllers. Otherwise, this is a solid version of the hit rhythm-music game, complete with local multiplayer in which each device owner handles an instrument, including vocals. Yep, you can sing using any iOS-compatible headset with microphone, with your your vocals mixed into the song just like in the console versions. The track catalog might be nowhere near as deep as the console library, but Reloaded is ready-made to go on tour with you! –Randy

World of Goo [GC] - $9.99 for iPad (Download)
This indie favorite by 2D Boy has been available on PC, Mac and WiiWare for a while, but has been totally reworked for iPad -- very much for the better -- with multi-touch support. Every level is a puzzle that's solved by arranging a group of living globs of goo into towers, bridges and other structures, so that a certain number of them reaches the goal. This title oozes personality, and its gooey gameplay will have you stuck playing for hours. –Randy [WiiWare version review]

Look At This, On My Phone!
Editor's Pick

Infinity Blade [GC] - $5.99, universal app (Download)
Once you stop staring at its gorgeous graphics -- okay, you never really do -- you'll discover that Infinity Blade, a sort of Punch-Out with swords, is a truly triple-A experience on your phone or iPad. You guide multiple generations of warriors through the castle of an evil god-king in an attempt to slay him, battling his minions along the way and using loot to purchase better equipment which can, in turn, be leveled up. The clincher is the swipe-based sword combat, with a deep system of blocking, parrying, dodging and magical enhancements. –Randy [Review]


Rage HD [GC] - $1.99, universal app (Download)
Rage HD is a little slice of id Software's upcoming sandbox FPS for PC and consoles -- specifically the FPS portion without the sandbox (and racing), which is presented on iOS devices as an on-rails shooting gallery of sorts. But oh what a lovely, scary and nuanced point-and-shoot it is! In three stages of the game universe's bloodsport, "Mutant Bash TV," you, um, kill muties using a variety of guns, while grabbing cash bonuses and trying to hit every bullseye in the stage to maximize your score. Here's the thing: It's so well done, you'll keep coming back for more and more, and more and ... –Randy

Real Racing 2 [GC] - $9.99 for iPhone (Download)
This follow-up to Firemint's showcase racing game pulls out all the stops. Real Racing 2 not only looks incredible, setting a new bar for visuals in portable racers, but introduces licensed cars (30 of 'em) and 16-player online matches. The technical accomplishments are backed up by excellent control, well-designed courses and a career mode that puts this $10 racer on par with many games five times its price. –Randy

New-School Old School
Editor's Pick

Bit.Trip Beat [GC] - $1.99 for iPhone (Download) | $1.99 for iPad (Download)
I've uttered many an expletive while playing Bit.Trip Beat. Not for lack of love for this game -- it's one of the few tilt games I'd suggest on any iOS device -- but because it's so blindingly difficult. The shorthand description is "synaesthetic Pong." The visuals and music ramp up as you continue to bounce back bits coming from the right side of the screen, making things more hectic the better you do. It's a unique play on a classic gameplay formula, and it's a great, one-of-a-kind experience on your iPhone or iPad. –Ben [WiiWare version review]


The Incident [GC] - $1.99, universal app (Download)
What's a guy to do when stuff -- we're talking everything from potted plants to cars -- starts raining from the sky? Why, climb the ever-growing mountain of junk to survive, of course! The Incident is a visual nod to the 16-bit era with a decidedly iOS-centric control scheme: You move by tilting left and right, and jump with a tap of the screen. It's simple, yet challenging and, most of all, incredibly replayable. –Randy

Super Mega Worm [GC] - $0.99, universal app (Download)
You are a super mega worm! In order to save Earth, you must put an end to the human race by bursting out of the ground and: 1) eating them; 2) blasting them; and 3) knocking their aircraft out of the sky. This is a very simple game with charming 8-bit-style visuals and tons of chaos happening on screen once the military is called in. –Randy

One Minute, Man
Editor's Pick

Solipskier - $2.99, universal app (Download)
First and foremost, Solipskier is fun as hell to play, even for just a minute. That's the most important thing to know about it. That said, it's worth noting the conceptual genius behind the game: Your metalhead skier soars onward, catapulted by the laws of virtual physics over deadly canyons and electric fences, while riding on a mountain that you're creating. When I realized that the game's core gameplay mechanic was level creation, my brain melted a little bit. –Ben


Fruit Ninja [GC] - $0.99 for iPhone (Download) | $4.99 for iPad (Download)
The concept couldn't be simpler: Use your finger to slice the fruit that flies up onto the screen before it falls back off. Of course, this sounds far easier than it is (did I mention there are game-ending bombs in the mix?). Designed for short bouts, this one can be hard to put down, especially when you start playing multiplayer, which supports split-screen slice-offs on iPad. –Randy

Where'd the Time Go?
Editor's Pick

Plants vs. Zombies - $2.99 for iPhone (Download) | $9.99 for iPad (Download)
The second coming of Plants vs. Zombies stood out on iPhone and IPad this year just as much as it did during its debut on PC last year. The new touch controls fit perfectly with the high-speed tower defense gameplay, and the staccato campaign structure is ideal for mobile gaming ... that you'll still be playing when you get home, and go to bed, and wake up ... –Ben [PC version review]


Game Dev Story - $3.99 for iPhone (Download)
Game Dev Story is a sonuvabitch. There. I said it. Any longtime gamers will almost assuredly be into GDS -- it's the classic Lemonade Stand, except, ya know, it's the video game industry. The graphics are adorable and the music is catchy, and the gameplay ... well, that's the part that's a sonuvabitch. Its cyclical, "just one more hit game" setup feels almost predatory now that I've escaped it. But maybe I should check it out one more time ... maybe-- oh no! WHAT HAVE I DONE! –Ben

Puzzle Quest 2 [GC] - $9.99, universal app (Download)
Although it's designed for any iOS device, this touch-enabled version of Infinite Interactive's puzzle RPG is best on iPad -- perhaps better than on any other platform! It looks fantastic, and the gameplay's deep (not to mention unique) and offers countless hours of puzzle-driven questing. –Randy [DS version review]

Shibuya [GC] - $1.99, universal app (Download)
Puzzle games on the App Store are many in number, but often not the most original in concept. Shibuya is slick, fun, quick and unique. The gameplay has you matching falling colored rectangles of two or more to clear the screen as time marches forward. Like Drop7 before it, it's intuitive and easy to pick up, but far deeper should you invest any real amount of time into it. Which, I assure you, you will. –Ben

Ed.'s note: Randy Nelson co-authored this guide.

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