So I was asked if I could try to compile a list of what I thought were the best games of 2013. To be perfectly honest, that’s a pretty hard thing for me to do, especially given the fact that I rarely get the chance to finish most of the games I play. Instead, I’m going to present to you a list of games that are definitely top notch and that I think I worth investing your time in. They may not necessarily be the best of their breed, but they are ones that stick out in my mind for one reason or another. And be warned right now, there will probably be some that you’d expect to see on this list that won’t show up, in large part because I probably have not even played them yet. Now that we have the ground work laid, let’s get on to the games…
As much as I loved the first installment in this series, Sparkle 2 was even better. There are 90 levels to complete in story mode, and as you progress through the levels you’ll unlock challenge and survival modes for key levels as well. Tack on the 14 Game Center achievements that you can earn and there is certainly plenty to do in this game. You’ll also earn amulets as you complete certain levels, and with more than 20 amulets that occupy 4 different slots you can customize your game play in a multitude of ways. The visuals are quite impressive, but more importantly is the music which is some of the best a causal game has to offer. Just like the original Sparkle still resides on my iPod Touch, Sparkle 2 has a secure place on my iPad at least until I can complete the adventure mode.
I really didn’t know much about this game other than it was a platformer that had received many accolades on other devices and I wanted to try it. It didn’t take long to figure out that I wasn’t going to be disappointed with this title. Other than not knowing off the bat what your ultimate goal is, Limbo does a good job of telling a story without using any words. The visuals have a great look despite the limited color palette and have an odd way of making a silhouetted universe feel detailed. The sound effects and ambient noises more than make up for the lack of a soundtrack. Each level is filled with crazy puzzles that require you think more like an adventure gamer than a Super Mario Brothers fan, and even though some of them may cause you to want to tear your hair out, they always seem conquerable at the last moment before you lose it. The one down side is that the controls don’t work overly well on the touch screen, but everything else about the game more than makes up for that.
I’m focusing on this title because it’s the one that I got to spend the most time with this year, but the truth is that you really can’t go wrong with a Tin Man Games production. From the perspective of adapting the gamebook format to the electronic screen they’ve gotten the formula down pat, and they’ve been instrumental in both resurrecting treasured tales and bringing both original IP and IP from other venues to the format. The Forest Of Doom was first penned in 1984, and the story still holds up amazingly well today. For me this tale has been one of the most challenging ones to date, so if you like your gamebooks a bit less forgiving this is the way to go. The illustrations that show up periodically are top notch, but much more impressive is the music which is quite amazing given that these are basically electronic choose your own adventure books. Multiple bookmarks let you recover from mistakes with a minimal of fuss, and a variety of paths allow for some decent replayability. If you don’t like to read then this style of game probably won’t work for you, but if that’s not an issue than I highly recommend you check out this title or at least give one of the many Tin Man Games products a go.
Unlike games such as PuzzleQuest that took a tested genre and implanted the match 3 paradigm as one of the mechanics in that concept, a game called Scurvy Scallywags took a different approach. It started with the match 3 mechanic and added some concepts to make an entirely different sort of game. Cavemania expanded on the concept and in at least the earlier levels made what I would consider to be a more accessible game to casual gamers. In cavemania you must help your tribe survive by making matches to collect resources. On various levels you’ll also need to build structures, defeat creatures and save some defenseless animals. There are different types of tribe members that have unique abilities, and each one can be upgraded as you earn money from beating levels. I’m not sure how many levels currently exist in the game, but I know there are a lot and the developers have already expanded the game several times since its release. If you like match 3 games and have been looking for something with a bit of a twist, Cavemania is certainly your game.
Few will admit to finding nothing amusing about the Despicable Me series, and even less could argue that the best part of the whole concept is the minions. It comes as no surprise, then, that they’d be the stars of a Despicable Me game for mobile devices. At first I was a bit disappointed that they decided to go the infinite runner route, but after only a couple of plays I realized that this is the perfect format for these crazy little yellow henchmen. Visually it’s one of the best looking running games around, and they did a great job of making each area actually look distinct. There’s lots to be amused by if you can take a couple of seconds every now and again to study the background, and the running itself is infused with minions humor as you go out of your way to slap other minions that are cheering you on at the sidelines. There are plenty of missions to complete, but even if you get stuck on some for a while the game is just a blast to play. Just remember that you have to surface for air and sunlight every once in a while.
Gameloft, Despicable Me: Minion Rush – Free
Touch screen devices made me a big fan of time management games because they are so much easier to navigate when you can just tap everything with your finger. Of the various series that I’ve played in the past few years this has been one of my favorites, and the sequel went a long way to prove that you can’t have too much of a good thing. There are plenty of levels to conquer, and each new level brings something different to the table. The levels are designed so that you can always finish them, but as you get closer to the end of your journey it will take a skilled player to earn a gold or even silver medal on some of them. The action can get quite hectic at times, but at least on the iPad it is usually still manageable. One thing this game adds to heighten all the chaos is health and water meters which can be the death of you long before actually failing the mission. Most of the time it just feels like a slightly more polished version of the first game, but just like with Sparkle all that means is that the first one is still on my iPod Touch and the second one is nestled neatly on my iPad until I can finish it.
G5 Entertainment, Youda Survivor 2 HD (Full) – $6.99
Hero Of Many is a rarity on the App Store in that it requires you to rely on a sense of exploration more than anything else. There are puzzles to solve, but it’s not going to tax your brain to any extreme. And while there are creatures to fight the game in no way becomes a twitch fest at any point. Instead you’ll calmly explore 26 levels across 4 different worlds, wondering “if” there is going to be something around the next bend instead of “what” is coming up at the next turn. It’s a subtle difference and one that doesn’t always work well, but in this case makes for an incredible gaming experience. It doesn’t hurt any that the graphics are fabulous, using an even more minimal approach than Limbo to provide backdrops that feel like they are alive and simply designed creatures that flow magnificently in the watery depths. The intriguing sound effects and skimpy but effective musical score help enhance the unique setting that Hero Of Many brings to the table. This is one game more so than most I’ve played that will appeal to a pretty niche audience, but if you’re part of that group you’re in for a treat.
Towards the end of the year at least one iOS dream came true with the release of Oceanhorn, which to date is the closest thing gamers have gotten to Zelda on their portable Apple devices. The game looks good and has great music, but more important is that it plays extremely well. With more than 10 hours of game play this is definitely a full blown adventure. There are lots of monsters to fight, several environmental puzzles to solve, and plenty of lands to explore. As you talk with NPCs new lands will be uncovered, and you can travel to them via boat which becomes a mini-adventure in itself once you acquire the bomb skill. There are enough nods to Zelda to keep any former Nintendo gamer happy, yet it still feels like a fresh new game. There isn’t any reason Oceanhorn shouldn’t appeal to anyone that likes action / adventure RPG style games of high quality.
FDG Entertainment, Oceanhorn ™ – $8.99
I love it when a robust puzzle game comes along that strengthens the fact you don’t need a slingshot in order to have a good physics game. This is actually the third of a series, and if anything it’s actually better than the first two. Your job is to put out all the fires on each level, and while this might often seem rather straightforward it almost never is. You’ll often have to move boulders, lower bridges and even block passages to get the water to flow the way you want it. This installment includes multi-screen levels and triggers that need to be manually activated by tapping or dragging with a spare finger. The visuals do seem a bit small at times, but they are always detailed and the water and flame effects are some of the coolest I’ve seen. While I can’t imagine what the next evolution would be, this is one of those series where I’m always anticipating the next installment even while I’m playing the current one.
Mediocre AB, Sprinkle Islands – $1.99
If you prefer more of a traditional adventure game to the heavily text based affairs that Tin Man Games provides, this is a great choice for you. Much like with Tin Man Games, G5 actually offers many incredible choices in this genre, but Abyss was my favorite for the year. The story is quite intriguing and develops at a nice pace throughout the game. There’s even an unlockable prequel that shows you some of the events leading up to the start of the main game. There are some mini-games and a few hidden object scenes, but thankfully the game focuses on the exploration and object puzzle elements of the game. The visual elements are top notch and the voice acting is actually really well done. My biggest complaint on this one was that it ended and I was still wanting more. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that they find a good way to continue this tale.
G5 Entertainment, Abyss: the Wraiths of Eden HD (Full) – $6.99
As with every year I’ve owned my iOS devices there were plenty of good titles to choose from in 2013. As I said in the beginning, these might not be the absolute best the platform has to offer, but they are certainly games that stuck out in my mind for one reason or another. If you see a game listed here that’s in a genre you like, I can almost guarantee that you’ll like the game I covered… at least if you have the same taste in games I do! Seriously, though, if you picked up some extra iTunes funding over the holidays, you’d be hard pressed to go wrong with any of these titles.