I’ve never embraced the mobile revolution. I have a piece of crap Virgin Mobile cell phone that I use mostly to store my friends’ and family’s phone numbers. I once had a Gameboy Color, made it a few hours into a Final Fantasy Legend game (I don’t even remember which one), and then never used the system again. I have no desire to get a DS, and I only want to borrow a PSP long enough to play the God of War and Final Fantasy games on it.
About a month ago, I got an iPod Touch, because I needed to redesign my work website to display properly in its browser. I figured I might use the Touch to check my email, and I knew I’d transfer some songs to it for a vacation Kathy and I were taking. But I didn’t think I’d be sinking any money or time into games from the iTunes App Store.
I was so, so wrong.
The iPod Touch has become my (and my wife’s) main gaming platform. We already own more games for it than we do for the PS3. It’s just so easy to get addicted to churning through iPhone games, both free and paid. And there really are some great apps out there.
Here are quick thoughts by Kathy and me on the best games we’ve tried, so far. Though, at the rate we’re downloading new ones, they might be replaced by next month.
Favorite Game (Greg): Galcon
This is, easily, my favorite app on the platform. I downloaded it within a week of getting the Touch, and it’s still my go-to game.
Galcon is like a high-speed version of Risk, only with planets instead of countries. In the basic game (included in the free Lite version), you and an enemy send fighter ships from your respective home planets to take over other planets on the game map. Once you’ve taken over a planet, it starts to manufacture fighter ships of its own, for you to take over more planets — or to defend your own. The game continues until one player has taken over all of the other’s planets.
Gameplay is simple, and the interface is perfectly designed for the iPhone. Touch one (or more) of your planets to select its ships, and then touch (or swipe toward) a neutral/enemy planet to send those ships to attack it.
Games are quick — usually just a couple of minutes. And, should you fail, you can always try a new map or switch to another of the game’s dozen or so difficulty levels. So, frustration is kept to a minimum.
The paid version of the app ($4.99) includes multiplayer support and several other game variations, all of which are great.
Favorite Game (Kathy): Drop7
I’m our home’s resident puzzle game fanatic, and Drop7 is the best the iPhone platform has to offer. It’s a mobile version of the online Flash game, Chain Factor (which developer Area/Code originally created as part of a promotional experience for the CBS show, Numbers).
The creators wisely eliminated some nonessential features from Chain Factor, resulting in a game that’s perfectly sized for the iPhone. Unlike some iPhone games that require pixel-perfect fingers, the spaces on the Drop7 grid are large enough that you’ll never catch yourself saying, “No, that’s not what I meant to hit!” Games can be as long or short as you want, depending on which gameplay method you select. A strong game concept makes even short games satisfying, and the comparatively large graphics make Drop 7 less frustrating than many other iPhone games.
You can learn the basics of Drop 7 in about a minute, but — well over a year after discovering Chain Factor — I still play it as much as any other game. There isn’t a Lite version of Drop7, but you can always try Chain Factor before buying the iPhone version ($4.99).
Honorary Mention (Greg and Kathy): Distant Shore
Distant Shore is hardly a game at all; it’s more of an anonymous messaging system. But it’s definitely fun.
By touching the screen, you guide your avatar (who appears only as a set of footprints) across a beach, picking up shells and glass bottles. When you pick up a bottle, it contains a short text message from someone else who is currently playing. Sometimes, people will just tell you how they’re feeling or what they’re doing. And other times, the message will be a question (e.g., one player recently asked if I liked Chipotle). Once you’ve received a message, you can respond, and a lengthy bottle-mail conversation will likely ensue.
For every five shells you find on the beach, you get an empty bottle of your own, so you can send new messages to random players.
The game is addictive. Whenever I think I’m about to quit, I comb the beach for just one more bottle, and then another, and so on. And when I’m not playing, I can’t wait to log in again to see if anyone’s responded to one of my own messages. I think I’ve become much better at writing to random people than I am at responding to emails from friends and family.
One thing I love about Distant Shore is how nice all the other players are. I’ve received (and sent) some goofy messages, but I have yet to see anything mean or stupid. All the players seem to be invested in the virtual world they’ve created. I suspect things might be different if it were a free app, but Distant Shore’s minimal price ($0.99) seems to be enough of a barrier to keep the riff-raff at bay.
Distant Shore will be great so long as there are plenty of people playing. And, for now, it seems to be going strong.