Of all of the lists we’ve had to write this year, none have proven as difficult to compile as this. Not because the iPhone has been lacking in great games – quite the contrary, in fact. There have been so many great games that it’s been practically impossible to narrow it down to just five.
In an attempt to help me focus the results a bit, I reached out to Gamezebo’s writers, as well as some family and friends, and asked what they felt the best iPhone games of the year were. I received plenty of responses, but like snowflakes, no two were alike. With thousands of games to choose from and dozens upon dozens worthy of accolades, it seems like I had my work cut out for me. So I played their suggestions. All of them.
When you combine those new play experiences with the hundreds I’ve gone through myself this year, and scrutinize until you simply can’t scrutinize any more, you get this – our picks for the Best iPhone Games of 2011.
#5 – Tiny Wings
Sometimes it’s the simplest things in life that take up the vast majority of our attention. Like, in the case of Tiny Wings, gravity. A game that’s exquisitely simple in design – you just touch the screen to make a bird dive towards the downward slope of a hill in an attempt to get him to sore back up at greater speeds – Tiny Wings probably accounted for more productivity hours lost in the first half of this year than we’d care to admit.
With gorgeous visuals and almost Seussian environments, Tiny Wings was both a joy to play and an addiction that I personally had a hard time walking away from. In fact, just writing about is getting me excited. Maybe I could go back and play just a little when I finish writing this list…
#4 – Spy Mouse
Firemint is a developer that never fails to wow us. When they invented the line-drawing genre with Flight Control, we were wowed. And while everybody else was copying that, they went ahead and defined what driving could be like on the iPhone with the Real Racing series, and we were wowed again. This year they re-visited the world of line-drawing with Spy Mouse, and… well, you know what we’re going to say already, don’t you? Wow.
Spy Mouse took line-drawing mechanics and applied them to a stealth/puzzle title that was – quite literally – a game of cat and mouse. Players guide “Agent Squeak” to the cheese and then have him carry it safely back to the exit, all while avoiding detection by some militant mice catchers. With great level design, plenty of variety, and oodles of charm, Spy Mouse proved that line-drawing games can be a lot more than simple Flight Control clones.
#3 – Squids
An amazing underwater adventure with Disney-quality cuteness, epic storytelling, and stunning visuals, Squids is just about everything you could ask for in a game. Oh – and did we mention it plays like a cross between Final Fantasy Tactics and Angry Birds? Yep – this is pretty much the greatest game you didn’t play all year.
It’s a shame too, because Squids is really deserving of the attention. How this one failed to crack the overall top 10 on the App Store is completely beyond me. If you’re looking for a great hidden gem that you’ll be telling all of your friends about even months after you’ve played it, this is it.
#2 – Where’s My Water?
Whenever you hear of a film company that decides to dip its toe in gaming, it’s hard not to groan. Almost every time, they make big promises of something magical but end up delivering little more than trite movie tie-ins aimed at little more than increasing their box office revenue. But in 2011, Disney bucked this trend, and bucked it hard.
We’ve spoken at length here about Disney’s potential in the world of video games, but rather than repeat myself, it makes a whole lot more sense to discuss what make their best game of the year so good. Which, I suppose, is everything.
Where’s My Water? is a game that bangs on all cylinders. It has a great gameplay concept – clearing a path for water to reach a pipe, outstanding level design, and tons of Disney-level polish and charm. Swampy is as cute as his game is addictive. And it’s really addictive. If you’re a fan of the quick pick-up-and-play puzzle games that the iPhone has become synonymous with, Where’s My Water? is easily this year’s best.
#1 – Order & Chaos Online
Of all of the titles released in 2011, none managed to deliver the seemingly impossible quite as well as Order & Chaos Online. Ever since the dawn of the App Store, a small but vocal group of MMO gamers have moaned “yeah, but it’s not like you could play World of Warcraft on it.” How vocal? Well back in 2009, it seemed that everyone was either trying to find a way to get it working on the iPhone or trying to create a clever hoax of it working of it working on the iPhone – but nothing ever seemed to really materialize.
So what did Gameloft do? They stepped in and said “we’ll do you one better.” Not only did they create an exquisite clone of the World of Warcraft formula that ran flawlessly on the iPhone, but they did it all for the ridiculously low price of 99 cents a month (compared to the $14.99 Blizzard charges for Warcraft.)
Order & Chaos Online isn’t just a great MMO – it’s a great MMO with PC quality visuals, an expansive world, and plenty of support and fresh content from its developer. It’s something that shouldn’t be able to exist on a mobile phone, but it does so majestically. If you’ve ever spent an afternoon slaughtering undead creatures in the woods east of Bellshoal, you’ll know why our pick for the best iPhone game of 2011 couldn’t have ever been anything else.
Wondering what other great iPhone games almost made the cut? Be sure to read our reviews of Zombie Gunship, 1-bit Ninja, King of Dragon Pass, ZONR, Infinity Blade II, Scribblenauts Remix, The Sims Freeplay, Tiny Tower, Dead Space, Angry Birds Rio, and Cut the Rope: Experiments.