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Best iPad Games of 2011

by Andrew Koziara

Unlike previous years, the iPad has really taken a foothold as a legitimate gaming device, able to bring us high definition, complex mobile titles that the iPhone simply could not. This year seemed like only the first salvo of an oncoming onslaught of iPad-optimized titles that could change the face of gaming as we know it. Here are the best iPad games of 2011.

Dead Space for iPad ($9.99)

Coming out very early in the year, not too long after the original Infinity Blade, this is one of those apps that really had people sitting up and taking notice, showing that console quality games could be made to work on iOS. This game combined intuitive touch and tilt controls with smart use of the platform’s limited graphics capabilities to really impress us all.

Serving as something of an inter-quel between its console big brothers, this entry in the series comes with all the same bumps and chills; especially when playing in a dark room while using headphones. It would be outshined by even more impressive titles in the coming year, but this game should be remembered for successfully bringing survival horror to the iPad (and iPhone).

Crimson Steam Pirates (Free)

This title remixed the formula of turn-based combat made popular by Steambirds and transformed it into a gorgeous and fun swashbuckling adventure on the high seas. Adopting an episodic format for the content, splitting the story up into chapters, and backed by Bungie Aerospace, this title was sure to garner some attention.

While definitely inspired by Steambirds, this app really took it a step further, expanding on that experience with a storyline and additional mechanics. The story and characters, while full of stereotypes of the genre, were entertaining and quite the fun ride. The art is highly detailed and gorgeous to behold. This game should please any strategy fans.

Infinity Blade II ($6.99)

Of course, the sequel to ChAIR’s “Epic” adventure backed by the Unreal Engine has to make this list. Easily one of the most anticipated titles of the year, it serves as a nice end-cap for a great year of iOS gaming. Guide Siris on his quest to free the world from the “Deathless” and master the swipe-based combat invented by this series.

This game pushed the limits of iOS devices farther than ever with its breathtaking, highly-detailed visuals. It also greatly expanded on the original title, cramming in more content, loot, branching paths, characters and storylines than ever before. The game is nearly perfect, fixing all the replay-ability and repetitiveness issues of the original, and it shouldn’t be missed by anyone.

Related: Best iPhone Games of 2011

Aquaria ($4.99)

This critically-acclaimed and award-winning indie title was very well suited for an iPad port, and apparently the developer thought so too. Explore a strange underwater world as Naija, a mermaid-like creature with a mysterious forgotten past. By singing various ancient songs, she is able to summon all sorts of powers to help her move forward to discovery.

This Metroid-vania style game places a heavy focus on exploration, and it doesn’t hold your hand. Gorgeous art and music set a very memorable atmosphere and make this a truly unforgettable experience. It plays great, looks great and is simply an excellent game showcasing some of the best creativity in gaming today.

Superbrothers: Sword and Sorcery EP ($4.99)

This is a game that takes the idea of being ridiculously original and memorable, and cranks it up to 11. Reminiscent of old school point-and-click adventure titles, this fascinating and surprisingly humorous tale is told through more abstract gameplay ideas. The music and sound design are a heavy emphasis here, occasionally providing clues to the player, and headphones are highly recommended.

This is one of the most visually striking and beautiful games I’ve ever seen. It’s like the pixelated equivalent of Infinity Blade II. This is a true gaming “experience” that needs to be played and enjoyed firsthand to really understand. It’s another example of the creativity and innovation that is flooding out of the indie gaming scene.

Dark Meadow ($5.99)

This is a game in the same vein as Infinity Blade, though morphed into a first-person experience. Unlike Infinity Blade, the emphasis of this title was really on the atmospheric horror elements. The story is something of a dark fairy tale, focusing on a strange disembodied voice on the radio guiding you through a dilapidated hospital to face and kill the “white witch,” though things are clearly not quite what they seem.

The game focuses on exploration, tone and characters more than anything else, and it really shines through. There is plenty of loot to find as you battle hordes of various demons, all representing a kind of “corrupted beauty,” and the Unreal-powered graphics are phenomenal. Don’t let this one pass you by.

Real Racing 2 HD ($6.99)

While there are many different flavors of racing games to be found in the App Store, this one is highly regarded as the best of the best. It really makes use of the hardware and high definition screen to bring us all a comprehensive racing experience equivalent to many console titles.

Packed with various cars, tracks, and game modes, there is plenty of content to enjoy here. The cars and the realistic world they inhabit are detailed and colorful, and the top-of-the-line production values leave the competition in the dust. This already-great game was one of the first to feature the inclusion of AirPlay, courtesy of iOS 5, letting us enjoy iOS gaming in whole new ways.

Machinarium ($4.99)

This is another one of those fancy-schmancy indie titles that I’ve been raving about in this list, once again with a big emphasis on a unique and gorgeous visual style, innovative gameplay and a memorable atmosphere and story. Guide your little robot protagonist through this modern point and click adventure using only picture thought bubbles and context clues.

The elegance of the gameplay and puzzle design really set this game apart from similar titles. Unfortunately, this game is currently an iPad 2 exclusive, though it is also available on the Mac and PC through Steam if you’re really interested. If you have access to this game, definitely let yourself be immersed in its robot-filled world.

Anomaly Warzone Earth HD ($1.99)

And what mobile gaming list would be complete without a tower defense game? This excellent title flips tower defense on its head, putting you in control of the invading units on offense rather than defense. An “anti-tower defense” game, if you will.

Re-designed and optimized for iOS devices from the PC original, this title makes use of innovative gameplay mechanics, detailed graphics and a unique visual style to really stand out from the crowd. Guide a convoy of soldiers into the hearts of alien-infested cities and take our planet back one at a time in this fantastic game.

Death Rally ($0.99)

This game serves as a retro revival of the mid-nineties classic of the same name. It was a fantastic game when it was first released, but then it just got better and better through updates, always bringing in more vehicles, tracks and general content, improving the game all the way. It’s grown into a titan of a title that everyone should try out.

The game is a top-down action racing game, similar to Twisted Metal, but more focus on actual racing. Several different racing modes and a bevy of weapons to choose from are just some of the ways this game keeps things varied and interesting. Add to that guest appearances from gaming icons new and old, and you’ve got a recipe for success.

Related: Best iPad Apps of 2011