Before settling on your New Year’s Resolutions for 2010, resolve to catch up on some of the best iPhone app games of 2009 -- It’s a lot easier than quitting smoking. This year has seen a lot of great games hit the iTunes App Store, but this short list is a great place to start sampling some of the cream of the digital crop.
Canabalt ($2.99) was one of the most surprising sleeper hits as a freeware indie game earlier this year, but the delightfully no-frills platform gets beefed up a bit with the hike in price in coming to the iPhone. You still simply must traverse rooftops by only controlling when to jump, but the difficulty has been ratcheted up: Random occurrences like missiles making rooftops crumble when you least expect make climbing up the leaderboard much more rewarding. There isn’t much to the game, but why mess with perfection?
At first, playing Eliss ($2.99) is instantly confusing, and then suddenly very revelatory in a great way. There hasn’t been a game like Eliss before, and that’s because it’s brilliantly inventive and obviously crafted with the iPhone in mind -- it wouldn’t be possible on any other format. You must make randomly generated suns go into a black hole of the same color, a simple task complicated by the fact that suns can absorb suns of the same color, and should they touch suns of another color, it’s game over. You can peel apart suns to make them smaller to more easily navigate the screen, and a few levels in, you’ll need to have about five fingers going at once just to stay afloat. It’s maddening, but also magnificent.
The Secret Of Monkey Island ($7.99) isn’t new, but the Lucasarts classic point-and-click puzzle-adventure has been transported to the iPhone, lovingly restored after nearly 20 years, with voice acting and graphical upgrades giving a more user-friendly face to what, at its core, has always been an enduring and snarky take on pirate life. While the series has seen a resurgence on the PC and Wii with a series of episodic downloadable games, longtime fans will have mixed feelings about how this iPhone port holds your hand through some of the more challenging puzzles. Still, for what it represents in the step towards reviving a sadly forgotten genre, the higher price tag on this iPhone app is actually quite a swashbuckling bargain.
Drop7 ($2.99) has no qualms about aping two highly successful games: Tetris and Sudoku. In a way, there’s no need to apologize, as both are highly viable and are household names even among non-gamers. In a seven-by-seven grid, you’re given an endless stream of numbered discs. Whenever the disc matches the amount of discs in the row or column it’s dropped into, that disc disappears—but the Sudoku half of things comes into play with the grey discs, which actually contain hidden numbers. There aren’t a lot of fancy special effects, but the catchy music and simple game mechanic can make for some unintentionally extended play sessions.
Space Invaders Infinity Gene ($4.99) will make you forget everything you think you knew about the late ‘70s arcade classic. The odd Charles Darwin quote that flashes onscreen early on serves as a thesis statement for the game, as the more you play, the more it evolves. The first level is the most the game will ever resemble its starting point—a few levels later, the space invaders hop around like fleas around the screen or swarm like angry bees, emerge onscreen in random positions, or even have shields. Your ship also parts with tradition by eventually being able to move in all directions and automatically shoot. Though it isn’t too challenging, the sheer variety and inspiration illustrated in this re-imagining of the iconic game makes this one a no-brainer. There’s life in the old girl yet.