With over 50,000 applications available and scores of new ones being added daily, it’s a small wonder that many good apps get lost in the crowd. A significant portion of iPhone and iPod touch users share my interest in games; games account for over half of App Store downloads. I thought I’d review a few of the lesser-known titles in the App Store—the hidden gems!
Dig around in the App Store
The App Store provides users with a wide variety of games but buries a lot of treasures in the process. Remember that a game doesn’t have to come from a large, well-known company to be good. Take some time to dig around in the App Store—you just might find some hidden gems!
I didn’t think I’d enjoy a game in which a fuzzy, red creature juggles other fuzzy creatures; however, this one is surprisingly addictive. It lets you juggle one, two, or three of the fuzzy little “Uggles,” and the longer you keep them in the air, the faster they go. (It gets downright frantic when you have three Uggles going at full speed.) In the beginning, you get to choose from three types of Uggles, but as you earn points you can unlock others. The different types have no effect on game play, but they look cool. In fact, the graphics in general are very nicely done. The Uggles and the juggler have a lot of personality, and the backgrounds are bright and colorful. The only thing lacking is some upbeat music, but you don’t miss it much because you’re focused on juggling. Uggles gets bonus points from me because it’s suitable for both children and adults—you can sit down with your kids and play it.
- $0.99 (free Lite version also available)
- frogameleon Ltd
Strongholds is one of the best of the few, true strategy games in the App Store. Your challenge is simple: destroy the enemy’s command center or build up yours to the required number of points.
All of your buildings are already constructed, and there are no troops to control. Instead, everything is played out using action cards that you purchase using resources you acquire as you play the game. (The cards you purchase are randomly distributed by the computer.) The action cards affect factors of either or both of the camps.
You may feel that you don’t have as much control as you’d like with this game, but there is a surprising amount of depth to the game play. One of the best things about Strongholds is that you can play short scenarios (10-20 minutes) and then do something else. You don’t have to worry about being locked into the game for hours.
- $ 0.99
- Digital Worlds
In a market that seems to thrive on Bejeweled clones, it’s surprising that this one didn’t make a bigger splash in the iPhone and iPod touch community. Its graphics and music alone make it worthwhile, but the goofy-looking monsters really set Gemmed! apart. On each level you must guide the different colored monsters to exits by feeding them gems, all of which have to be of the same color. As the monster consumes the gems, its power meter at the bottom of the screen increases. When the meter is full, the monster gets an increase in power. The game has four game modes, with the “Classic” mode alone containing 75 levels. All this makes Gemmed! an entertaining gem swapper that will give you many hours of enjoyment.
- Wasted Pixel
This nice, little, Gauntlet clone does a great job of capturing the look and feel of older RPG games being played on graph paper. Given the retro premise of the game, the graphics in SketchDungeon are quite well done. The sound effects are also good—you get some unique and unexpected grunts and groans from some of the creatures. (I chuckle every time the main character says “yum” after gobbling up a piece of food.) The combination of using the accelerometer to move and screen taps to shoot works amazingly well. You can also pinch the screen to zoom in and out, but be careful when you do this. The game may consider it a tap, and you might accidentally shoot food, treasure chests, or something else of value. This forces you to be cautious with your firing habits which is a nice change from the “shoot first, ask questions later” nature of a lot of games.
- Robert Cober; Casual Distraction Games
Platform games are not as popular on the iPhone because of game control issues. You have to use the accelerometer or touch screen to move and shoot, and these controls can’t quite re–create the feel of a physical joypad. Still, some of these games exist, and it’s a shame when a good one comes along—one that circumvents most of the control issues—and goes largely unnoticed.
Such is the case with Ignite, a fast-paced game that puts you in the role of Iggy, a Flameboy, who must survive the evil Water Warlords’ attempts to extinguish his fire. Iggy can refuel his fire by landing on combustible platforms as he progresses through 30 challenging levels. The game has two simple control buttons: one makes you jump left and another makes you jump right. The height and length of your jump are determined by how you drag your finger away from the control buttons.
In addition to all this, Ignite has some very slick visuals and a foreboding, atmospheric soundtrack. All things considered, this one should have been in the “Top 10” list.
- $1.99 (free Lite version also available)
- Monster Gila
Some of my favorite action games are scrolling shooters, so I’d be remiss if I didn’t include at least one in this lineup. As with the platform games, scrolling shooters have been somewhat ignored on the iPhone. Like Ignite, iFighter does a decent job of overcoming the lack of physical control buttons and even provides the user with three different control schemes from which to choose.
The game is just plain fun, and its style hearkens to “1942” and other classic scrolling shooters. It does a great job of making the action challenging without filling the screen with bullets and explosions. The graphics can be a bit small, but they are full of detail. The music sounds like it comes straight from the sound track of a blockbuster war epic.
- $0.99 (free Lite version available)
- EpicForce; epicforce.com