If you sank all the hard-earned money earmarked for your monthly gaming budget into buying a fancy new iPhone and paying for service, fret not.
iTunes is fully stocked with thousands of free iPhone apps that are just a few clicks away. But quantity is no substitute for quality, so here’s a good way to start thinning the herd of the freeware games available.
MazeFinger Plus isn’t reinventing any gaming wheels, but it is a good example of the kind of mindless fun that iPhone games can offer. Essentially just a digital children’s-menu placemat maze, you drag a bolt of lightning from the starting point to the finish line, navigating nefarious walls that will instantly stop you in your tracks. Yes, there are ads, and, yes, you have to create a log in to play the game, but so what? Beggars can’t be choosers.
Also taking a cue from the kiddie set is Trace, a platformer where you draw the platforms. Here, you must guide a hapless stick figure from Point A to Point B through plenty of incomplete levels -- making sure you scrawl lines that circumvent pesky obstacles like evil moving triangles and bottomless pits. (You can also erase lines and opt to restart a given level if you rethink your strategy.) True, the game looks like it was drawn in Microsoft Paint on Windows 3.1, but the lack of censorship means scribbling boobs and phalluses pointing towards the level’s goal can now be fun and not just simply juvenile.
To re-live your own childhood, Pac-Man Lite is a blast from the past. That game you sank all those quarters into decades ago is back, and this time it’s mainly being offered as a billboard for Namco’s other titles (ads persist between turns, but aren’t too annoying). The years have been kind to everyone’s favorite pill-popping yellow circle, though the controls aren’t quite there. An onscreen d-pad can be sticky, but the accelerometer and option to swipe your finger to control Pac-Man helps assure everyone can get reacquainted with a man named Pac.
PapiJump also subscribes to the circle-as-main-character school of gaming, putting you in control of a red smiley face who hops up a series of green platforms. You direct his jumping by tilting your iPhone or iPod Touch left and right -- and that’s the entire game. But what more does it need? After missing your first jump, PapiJump’s simple hook will have you coming back for more to top your last score. More premium versions of the game are available for 99 cents, but why buy the cow when you can get its milk for free?
If you regret throwing out all your old board games, Knots is a much more space-efficient version of everyone’s favorite game of physical skill, “Twister.” Knots is also the rare iPhone game that lets two players compete on the same device, randomly generating red and blue dots that players must touch and hold with their fingers. Dots will flash when you can release that finger, but it’s easy to get your hands tangled, so make sure to play with a friend who won’t get weirded out by some actual physical contact. And if you think you’ll be able to cheat by using your other hand to hold a hard-to-reach dot, Knots will automatically disqualify you.