iPhone Life magazine

Great Games Make Excellent Holiday Gifts

Great games not only make excellent gifts, they’re a good way to keep you and your family entertained during long holiday trips. This holiday game buyer’s guide covers the best titles in a number of genres. Each one offers many hours of engrossing gameplay and tremendous value for your holiday dollar. Whether you want to buy someone a gift that they will enjoy for months to come, or you want to make sure that time flies on a cross-country flight, these titles will keep you jolly well past New Years Day.

Final thoughts

As iPhone games mature, developers are creating more sophisticated titles that do more than show off the platform’s flashy graphics. All of the games in our holiday game buyer’s guide are best-in-class titles that can provide you and your loved ones with dozens of hours of engrossing, highly-portable entertainment. Considering the price of these titles, gameplay works out to pennies per hour—making iPhone games one of the best values in electronic entertainment.

Civilization Revolution

$4.99, free “Lite” version; civilizationrevolution.com/iphone

Civilization RevolutionSid Meier’s Civilization series is one of the most respected franchises in computer gaming. Its addictive, just-one-more-turn gameplay set the standard for turn-based strategy games eighteen years ago, and the iPhone incarnation continues that tradition. Civilization Revolution (CivRev) is the gold standard for “4x” (explore, expand, exploit, exterminate) strategy games on the iPhone.

The world map (top) and the city management screen (bottom) pack considerable information into a small screen.

Civilization RevolutionFans of the original series will note that gameplay in CivRev is streamlined to accommodate both the form factor of the iPhone and the expectations of mobile gaming. A single game of CivRev can last a couple of hours rather than a couple of weeks. Nevertheless, much of the empire-building depth of the original has been crammed into this tiny package, and there are plenty of rewards waiting for future Presidents, Czars, or Dictators who want to invest the time to find them. If you enjoy turning a pre-historic village into a high-tech, globe-spanning nation; this is the game for you.

For a simpler science fiction strategy game similar to this one, try UniWar ($4.99; uniwar.com).

Star Defense

StarDefense1Tower defense games have been hugely popular on the iPhone. The combination of a responsive touch screen, and the need for a fast-paced game with instant gratification, make the iPhone the perfect arena for this type of gameplay. All tower defense games place stationary, auto-firing defenses at key points on a maze-like map; these defend against increasingly difficult waves of enemies marching toward a vulnerable base.

The action in Star Defense looks gorgeous up-close (top), but players will need to zoom back to the tactical view for planning (bottom).

StarDefense1Star Defense stands out in several ways. The first and most obvious is its maps, each of which is a 3D globe rather than a flat terrain. This adds an additional layer of challenge to the game. In addition, seven maps, multiple difficulty levels, and a long list of possible achievements (called “commendations”) provide hours of interesting play. Don’t be surprised if you start seeing hordes of mutant aliens stomping through your dreams.

Star Defense; $0.99, free “Prelude” version; stardefense.ngmoco.com

Defender Chronicles: Legend of the Desert King

Defender ChroniclesDefender Chronicles offers an equally fulfilling but different approach to tower defense. The 2D, anthill style maps and fantasy setting are only a couple of the differences. Defender Chronicles also integrates a complicated (and sometimes poorly written) back story and a number of RPG (role playing game) elements into the game.

After slaughtering hordes of orcs and goblins (top), players can choose which of their hero’s skills to improve before the next battle (bottom).

Defender ChroniclesAs players successfully complete the various maps on one of four difficulty levels, they assign “skill points” to a hero whose improved abilities can augment defensive units composed of traditional fantasy characters, including: elven rangers, halfling rogues, and the like. The added abilities, along with rare weapons, armor, and jewelry allow the player to craft a wide variety of strategies. The ability to customize and improve your character does not just add depth, it makes this already excellent title highly addictive.

There is no shortage of excellent tower defense titles for the iPhone. If you need a couple more, look at Fieldrunners ($2.99; fieldrunners.com) and geoDefense ($1.99; criticalthoughtgames.com).

Defender Chronicles: Legend of the Desert King; $3.99; defenderchronicles.com

The Quest

The Quest

The QuestIf you are looking for a chance to slay orcs and dragons, and you are more concerned with having an enormous world to explore rather than with cutting-edge graphics, check out The Quest series. The original title (3D Fantasy), along with its two reasonably priced expansions, provide over 100 hours of gameplay. The expansions can each be played as stand-alone games; but players who enjoy the genre would do well to start with the first title.

XXXX:WWWWWWWWWWWW:WW:The QuestThe hand-drawn graphics in The Quest hearken back to the golden age of computer role-playing games. Environments range from ancient cities (left) to creepy dungeons (right).

Fans of the original Bard’s Tale, and Might and Magic games will immediately recognize the faux-3D interface of the Quest games. The basic formula is simple. March through maze-like dungeons, killing things on the way, in the hopes of finding rare treasures and performing heroic deeds. Games of this genre reward patience and curiosity far more than a need to shoot things, but that makes them perfectly suited to long car rides and boring office meetings.

If you prefer a Diablo-style RPG, Dungeon Hunter ($6.99; gameloft.com/iphone-games) is a safe bet.

3D Fantasy RPG ($5.99); Islands of Fire and Ice ($2.99); Hero of Lukomorye I ($1.99); Free “Lite” version; chillingo.com

Assassin’s Creed: Altaïr’s Chronicles

Assasins CreedSometimes all you want to do is scratch an itchy trigger finger. When that time comes, the game you want to play is Assassin’s Creed. Nintendo DS fans will recognize this as a port of the popular action-adventure title from that platform. It looks even better on the iPhone, and the interface is surprisingly well adapted to the touch screen.

Smooth animations and lush backgrounds create a fully immersive environment in Assassin’s Creed. Whether navigating through town (top) or sneaking up on an infidel (bottom) everything looks beautiful.

Assasins CreedThe developers estimate that you’ll get about six hours of gameplay as you work your way through the Holy Land looking for “The Chalice,” but the animation is engaging enough that most players will be more than willing to play through the story multiple times. Action titles are the weakest genre on the iPhone (particularly on models prior to the 3Gs), but Assassin’s Creed offers plenty of twitch gaming to keep you occupied.

Those who prefer smashing zombies to slaying infidels may want to check out Resident Evil: Degeneration ($4.99; capcom.co.jp/iphone/redg).

Assassin’s Creed: Altaïr’s Chronicles; $4.99, free version; gameloft.com

Shrek Kart

Shreck KartWant an arcade fix? Kart racers, with their clever animations and emphasis on tricks over accurate physics, remain popular on the iPhone. Shrek Kart is among the best of them, and the DreamWorks-licensed characters will hold your children’s attention as well.

A wide variety of playable characters (top) and non-stop cartoon action (bottom)make Shrek Kart a fun ride for children and adults alike.

Shreck KartAll of your favorite characters from DreamWorks’ movies are available to race in ten different vehicles on fifteen different tracks. Add in the ability to play with up to five other people on a local network, and Shrek Kart is guaranteed to keep you making laps around the track until you turn as green as Shrek (or possibly greener).

For those who want a more realistic racing game, Need for Speed ($4.99; eamobile.com) pushes the very edge of the iPhone’s capabilities. Looking for inexpensive, online kart racing? Try Cocoto Kart ($2.99; ifonekit.com).

Shrek Kart; $4.99; gameloft.com

Crazy Machines

Crazy MachinesPuzzle games are perfect for handheld gaming. Any of them can offer a quick break, and the best ones can keep you entertained for hours at a time. Since puzzle games come in a wide variety of styles, it is difficult to compare them to each other. But even in this crowded field, Crazy Machines stands out as a challenging and addictive title for all ages.

Crazy MachinesThe professor (top) is occasionally helpful and often smug. Using a candle and a cannon to move an eight ball (bottom) will seem perfectly sensible after a few hours of Crazy Machines.

The premise of the game is simple: solve one of fifty puzzles by creating a Rube Goldberg-style contraption from a huge number of possible parts. The difficulty level is generally just right, and the clever animations make even the failed attempts amusing. If you run out of puzzles, you can always switch to the level editor and create new and different challenges—as many as you can imagine.

Those looking for a traditional “match 3” puzzle should check out Bejeweled 2 ($2.99; popcap.com). Word puzzle lovers will meet their match in Bookworm ($2.99; popcap.com).

Crazy Machines; $2.99; crazymachines-game.de