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Big iPhone games from small developers

by David Lister

Kairosoft has been making games since 1996, but is far from a household name in the U.S. gaming market. The same can be said about developers such as Mika Mobile and Thunder Game Works, though in their case it has more to do with only having a few games available.

Though these companies may lack name-recognition, they easily make up for it with quality games. Just because you’re not on a first-name basis with the makers of Game Dev Story, Battleheart and Trenches doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the games.

So put away the next big thing from Chillingo and stop devoting hours to that console-style app from EA or Gameloft, because today we’re celebrating the little guy.

The Trenches Franchise

Trenches ($0.99 from Thunder Game Works) is by no means a new title, but it remains a top iOS game because of regular, relevant updates. The latest of these offers GameCenter global multiplayer with Voice Chat, and adds another reason for you to revisit this World War I-themed tower defense game. There are achievements for you, whether you use OpenFeint or GameCenter, and fortunately the game still boasts top-notch visuals, solid gameplay and an impressive amount of attention paid to the game’s audio. For those of you who have inexplicably missed out on this game, there’s a free demo called Trenches Boot Camp. If you have grown tired of the original, try Trenches with a zombie spin by downloading Stenches: A Zombie Tale of Trenches ($0.99).

Battleheart

You may not recognize the name Mika Mobile, but if you’ve dabbled in enough iPhone gaming chances are you’ve played one of their games. 2009’s OMG Pirates! was a legitimate hit, with its popularity surpassed by the zombie-slayer Zombieville USA. The recently-released Battleheart ($2.99) is the latest offering from the company, and a refreshing reminder that Mika Mobile still knows how to make a really good game. This RPG has a good deal of customizable options, and whether you want to create a party that really captures your essence, or you just want a ton of upgradeable skills, this game will definitely acquiesce. The campaign mode includes boss battles and more than 30 levels, and while the cartoon-style graphics found in OMG Pirates! and Zombieville USA return, they are also noticeably improved. Unfortunately there isn’t a lite version yet, but it’s safe to say RPG fans will want to dive right into Battleheart.

Game Dev Story

As mentioned earlier, Kairosoft is by no means a newcomer to the video game industry, so admittedly it’s a bit silly to call them a ‘little guy’. But they are far from a giant in the industry (on this side of the world at least) and their first U.S. release, Game Dev Story ($0.99), couldn’t be more perfect for a list like this. Indeed, what better way to celebrate lesser-known video game companies then by building one from the ground up (virtually, of course)? This game has you hiring staff, picking the perfect genre as well as console, and generally guiding your development company to the top of the gaming world. The graphics are minimal and it could stand for a little more replay value, but this Sid Meier-inspired game is as addictive as they come.

:Shift!2:

Like Kairosoft, Armor Games is not a newcomer to video games. But while the former has been making waves in Japan, Armor Games has been making waves developing Flash games for the PC. The company’s transition to the iPhone has been fairly seamless, as evidenced by the success of games such as Crush the Castle and :Shift:, which was downloaded more than two million times. The sequel, :Shift!2: ($0.99), brings back what worked in the original – a simplistic black and white presentation, dynamite gameplay and the witty, but slightly offensive, faceless narrator. There are also some additions, including a new gameplay element that will have you rotating as well as shifting and more than 120 levels. While for most the most part this is very similar to the first game, that’s fine given the popularity of its predecessor.

Doodle God

Avallon Alliance’s first few App Store releases were far from successes, a stark contrast to last year’s monster hit Doodle God ($0.99). The game has you combining elements to create new ones, and while it’s an incredibly simple game, it can also be incredibly time consuming. Avallon Alliance has advertised they will be releasing 10 ‘episodes,’ with each adding more combinations and elements, and currently iPhone users have been treated to four of them – no doubt a good sign for the game’s replay value and a reason for its success. The game has already spawned a spin-off, Doodle Devil ($0.99), in which mischievous gamers can tear everything down as opposed to building it up. Regardless of which path you decide to take, know that both will lead to hours of fun.