Until Apple released its iPhone in 2007, mobile gaming was a very specific category of technology dominated by handheld video game systems like the Nintendo DS and the Sony PlayStation Portable. For most of the 90s, the Nintendo Game Boy dominated the market, and its successor, the Game Boy Advance, was equally popular. Then things changed: The rise of smartphones introduced a new platform for mobile games. Touchscreen games on the iPhone weren't as long or complex as games on the Nintendo DS or the PSP, but they didn't have to be. People played them in short bursts -- they always had their phones with them, after all -- and average prices of $1.99 or even 99 cents made impulse purchases an absolute breeze.
iPhone game developers quickly learned to design games that were fun in short play sessions, and their focus on simple but addictive mechanics (like the quest for the high score) ensured that even cheap games could provide hours of entertainment. When Apple released the iPad in 2010, those same games were suddenly available on an even larger touchscreen display. Since then, tons of games have been released that capitalize on that bigger screen -- here are 10 of the best and most addictive games every iPad owner should spend an hour or two (or 20) with.
"Peggle" maker PopCap Games excels at developing incredibly addictive casual games in longstanding, established game genres. The company hit it big with puzzle games "Zuma" and "Bejeweled," and followed up with "Peggle" in 2007. "Peggle" follows the essentials of pachinko: Players bounce balls around a playing field to eliminate pegs and earn points. Clearing out all of the orange pegs on a stage finishes the level, but PopCap added in a huge amount of variety by including a selection of Peggle Masters with unique powers that offer the player bonuses.
Bjorn the Unicorn, for example, provides a guiding line that shows where a ball will bounce. Claude the Lobster adds flippers to the bottom of the screen that can launch balls back into play, pinball style. Master Hu tweaks shots for "Maximum Zen" (i.e. maximum points). "Peggle" strikes the perfect balance between randomness and strategy, and its huge selection of stages and challenges give it replay appeal. Multiplayer duels seal the deal.
Plants vs. Zombies
PopCap strikes again. Deviating from their typical small puzzle games, PopCap released the critically acclaimed tower defense title "Plants vs. Zombies" in 2009 and gradually brought it to multiple platforms, including the iPhone and iPad. Players defend their backyards with a range of plants, like Peashooters that fire pea bullets, Wall-nuts that block off the zombie hordes and Melon-pults that hurl giant watermelons as catapults would. The zombies come in all shapes in sizes -- Pole Vaulting Zombies can leap over the first row of defensive plants, Football Zombies rush in and take a pounding and Zomboni zombies can mow over almost anything in their path.
Tower defense games are notoriously addictive, and "Plants vs. Zombies" offers a longer campaign and a more complex experience than the average mobile game. At $7, it's also pricier than most other games, but tower defense lovers will find few games more charming than "Plants vs. Zombies." And if you've never heard of tower defense, this is a perfect entry point into the genre.
"Plants vs. Zombies HD" currently sellsfor $6.99 in the iTunes App Store.
"Tiny Wings" exemplifies easy to learn, difficult to master game design. Players control a small bird whose wings are too small to keep him in the air. Tapping on the screen keeps him aloft, while holding down on the screen makes him dive towards the ground. And here's the hook: The landscape consists of wavy hills and valleys, which can be used to build up speed and shoot off into the air at breakneck speeds with the right timing. Players try to outrace the sunset by maintaining a steady speed and advancing from one island to another.
Learning "Tiny Wings" takes only minutes, but mastering the timing of when to dive and when to soar makes "Tiny Wings" addictive for anyone who loves replaying games to achieve better and better scores.
"Tiny Wings" sells for 99 cents in the iTunes App Store as of August 2011.
World of Goo
The amazingly innovative "World of Goo" deserves credit for drawing gamer attention to the burgeoning independent game developer scene in 2008. The physics-based game challenges players to build structures like towers and bridges out of goo balls to herd their goo family to an exit pipe at the end of each level. Gravity, and the terrain itself are the only enemies in the game -- each stage in "World of Goo" is a logic puzzle in gooey architectural design.
"World of Goo" oozes style and charm and actually has a plot tying together its delightful puzzles. The real draw here is seeing your precarious constructions hold together or sway back and forth as goo girders struggle to hold together. While plenty of "World of Goo" levels can be completed in just a few minutes, it's definitely more challenging (and rewarding and creative) than the average iPad game.
"World of Goo HD" currently sellsfor $4.99 in the iTunes App Store.
As its name implies, "ChuChu Rocket!" is one weird game. Sega's manic puzzle game won a cult following when it was originally released for the Dreamcast in the year 2000. Puzzle games typically rely on patience and strategy, but "ChuChu Rocket!" is one of the few to offer a strategic single-player mode with 145 puzzles and a multiplayer mode that's pure chaos.
In single-player, gamers place arrows on a small grid with the goal of directing a group of ChuChus (mice) from one side of the stage to the other. KapuKapus (cats) roam the levels in predictable patterns and must be avoided with proper arrow placement. In the multiplayer version, gamers simultaneously place arrows on the stage in an attempt to guide as many ChuChus as possible into their own rockets and as many KapuKapus as possible into their opponents' rockets. "ChuChu Rocket!" supports up to four players in multiplayer mode via a wireless connection and also supports four players head-to-head on a single iPad.
"ChuChuRocket! HD" is currently available for $4.99 in the iTunes App Store.
The title "Fruit Ninja" conveys almost everything you need to know about this game. There is fruit. You cut it, like a ninja. The gameplay for this addictive title consists of little more than players rapidly sliding their fingers back and forth across the iPad's touchscreen to slice fruit and earn points for each melon or berry cleaved into little pieces.
Hitting multiple pieces of fruit with one slice is worth more points, but three misses will end the game. "Fruit Ninja" follows the classic score attack formula: Short sessions for high scores keep gamers coming back again and again. "Fruit Ninja" supports local competitive multiplayer on a single iPad in addition to online multiplayer.
"Fruit Ninja HD" currently sells for $2.99 in the iTunes App Store.
Words With Friends
"Words With Friends" earns its place in this list because for many people, it's very addictive to prove just how clever you are to your inferior friends. "Words With Friends" is essentially competitive Scrabble, but its asynchronous gameplay makes it easy to have multiple matches running at the same time.
Players take turns placing letters on a board filled with bonus tiles (like double letter, triple word, etc.) and can go hours or days between plays if they so choose. Designer Zynga, the company that's also behind the wildly popular "Farmville," knows all about creating addictive experiences. "Words With Friends" may play at a leisurely pace, but don't let that fool you -- you'll be embroiled in ferocious competition before long.
"Words With Friends HD" costs $2.99 in the iTunes App Store as of August 2011.
Geometry Wars: Touch
"Geometry Wars" kicked off the launch of the Xbox 360 as a $5 Xbox Live Arcade download. The game was a massive success and helped usher in a renaissance for top-down twin stick shooters, in which players use one joystick to control a ship or character and the second stick to fire in 360 degrees. "Geometry Wars" married that tried-and-true mechanic to a unique graphical style that mixes waves of brightly colored fireworks-esque explosions and simple geometric shapes. The background grid pulses and distorts as waves of energy pass by -- pure visual eye candy.
A game rarely lasts more than a few minutes, and "Geometry Wars" is fun enough to keep gamers coming back time and again to improve their scores. There's variety, too: Like "Geometry Wars Retro Evolved 2" on Xbox Live Arcade, "Geometry Wars: Touch" on the iPad offers Deadline, King, Evolved, Pacifism, Waves and Sequence modes. They all offer something different, and "Geometry Wars" is a rare game in that it's fun to play for five minutes or two hours at a stretch.
As of this writing, "Geometry Wars: Touch" will cost you 99 cents in the iTunes App Store.
Puzzle Quest 2
Two genres are known for being devilishly addictive: puzzle games, which are easy to play for hours on end in the quest for the high score, and role-playing games, which some gamers sink hundreds of hours into while leveling up their characters. When the two come together, the combination may best be described as dangerous.
"Puzzle Quest 2" sets classic "Bejewled"-style puzzle game play (matching rows of colored blocks) against a fantasy backdrop and integrates role-playing game (RPG) mechanics like learning new spells and leveling up character hit points and attributes. If you like puzzle games at all -- even if you've never played an RPG -- "Puzzle Quest" may well have you grinding out battles to upgrade your attack spells. The most addictive elements of two separate genres come together to make "Puzzle Quest 2," a game that can easily occupy hours and hours of your time. And when you get tired of leveling up, there's a multiplayer mode, too.
"Puzzle Quest 2" currently sells for $4.99 in the iTunes App Store.
If you own an iPad or an iPhone -- or any kind of smartphone or tablet -- you've probably already played "Angry Birds." The most ubiquitous mobile game on the planet had been downloaded more than 200 million times as of May 2011 [source: TechCrunch]. "Angry Birds" hits all the basic points of an addictive mobile game.
It makes simple use of the touchscreen: Players fling birds from a slingshot like projectiles, trying to cause as much destruction as possible before advancing along to the next level. The game's rudimentary physics and the different types of birds add just enough variety to keep the formula interesting. There are 120 levels, making "Angry Birds" a fantastic value proposition. "Angry Birds" addicts can download "Angry Birds Seasons" and "Angry Birds Rio" for even more levels.
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- Lacy, Sarah. "Angry Birds Tops 200 Million Downloads; More Than Double Its "Crazy" Forecast (TCTV)." May 18, 2011. (Aug. 8, 2011). http://techcrunch.com/2011/05/18/angry-birds-tops-200-million-downloads-more-than-double-its-crazy-forecast-tctv/