The 25 best smartphone games of 2011 so far – part two

The second part of our bumper mobile gaming roundup, with all the best titles from 2011 – so far.

Following the first part of our collection of smartphone gaming treats, here’s the concluding batch, rounding up the very best titles of the last six months. Again, I sought the help of brilliant handheld game site Pocket Gamer, and its writers have lent their considerable wealth of miniaturised gaming knowledge to the selection.

Anyway, have a read then hit an app store and start sampling!

League of Evil

Ravenous Games, iOS (link here), £1.19

Like many of the titles in this list, League of Evil is an absolute triumph of style over originality. In effect, it’s a traditional run-and-jump platformer, complete with blocky visuals, a scratchy chip tune soundtrack and lots of spikes, hammers and lasers. But like cult XBLA hit Super Meat Boy, it’s also tightly designed and brutally difficult. As Pocket Gamer’s Mark Brown explains, “The giant on-screen buttons are responsive and reliable enough to let you leap gaps, hop off walls, avoid obstacles and punch malicious boffins square in the mug. It just goes to show that a genre built on joysticks, D-pads, and fumbling dexterity challenges can be made to fit the sleek, button-free gloss of today’s smartphones with due care and constant play-testing.”

Max and the Magic Marker

EA Games, iOS (link here), WP7, £1.19

Previously released on Wiiware and PC, Max and the Magic Marker is a combination of platformer and Scribblenauts-style doodle puzzler. Your aim is to get Max through a series of environments, avoiding obstacles by drawing objects such as bridges, see-saws and bubbles, which will get your pen-wielding protagonist to safety. Or you can just draw massive weights over the heads of enemies and watch as they’re crushed – by art. “It’s no LittleBigPlanet, says Keith Andrew. “But for those who find the prospect of designing a game from scratch somewhat daunting that’s no bad thing. Instead, it gives you the opportunity to sketch your way to success. There are limits to your creativity – what you can draw is constrained by the amount of ink you have in reserve – but Max and the Magic Marker’s pen power is a gratifying gimmick nonetheless.”


FazeCat, iOS (link here), £1.19

The tower defence genre has been a smartphone mainstay since the beginning, but this could be the freshest and most original take since Plants vs Zombies. It’s the distant future and humanity has been wiped out, with cute forest critters evolving to replace man at the top of the food chain. But now an undead evil has returned to the planet, and the animals, led by the eponymous terrier, must strike back. Gameplay combines elements of the RTS and time-management sim into the mix as you accrue resources and select units to attack the enemy stronghold. The visuals are almost irresponsibly cute, while the varied strategic action is compelling. But the masterstroke is having Paladog as a playable general in the midst of the fighting – like Dynasty Warriors but with puppies.


Jean-Francois Geyelin, Android (link here), free

Channelling the ghosts of Battlezone, Robotron and Geometry Wars, PewPew is a gorgeously retro slab of wire-frame shoot-‘em-up insanity. Through a series of stark environments, you blast at incoming enemy craft using a virtual twin-stick setup. The action is fast and frantic, the screen regularly teeming with shards of neon shrapnel, and there are four stages to scorch through, including Mega Gore, in which you simply blast everything that moves, and Dodge This, where your weapons are taken and you simply have to navigate through the carnage. It’s exciting, bewildering and tinged with vintage visual design sensibilities. And there’s a fantastic sequel out already.


Hexage, iPhone (link here) and Android (link here), free

Two giant global mainframes are sending out their robots to destroy each other, and you must help the good computer win by engaging in one-on-one turn-based android war. In a novel twist, actions are chosen via a slot machine mechanic, which spins through the available options per turn: manage to get two or more icons the same and your attack is more powerful. It’s a great idea, skilfully executed and with neat visual flourishes. “Slot machines aren’t known for their strategy credentials,” admits Hearn. “Yet Robotek somehow makes a largely luck-based endeavour into an engrossing and stylish casual freemium strategy game. Like Peggle and countless other casual hits, it’s this balance between luck and skill that makes Robotek extremely approachable. And it’s free.”

Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing

Sumo Digital, iPhone (link here), £2.99

Sumo Digital’s faithful port of the very good Mario Kart-style console racer is a required purchase for Sega nuts. With fun handling and a range of courses designed around classic titles such as House of the Dead and Samba De Amigo, it’s an assured cartoon drive-‘em-up. We also love the choice of drivers behind the wheels of the various vehicles (which boast appreciably diverse handling characteristics) – who wouldn’t want to jump into a car with the stars of Shenmue or Jet Set Radio? As Hearn enthuses, “Online and local multiplayer, challenges, a thrilling sense of speed and some deft handling make this the closest the iOS has ever had to a proper Mario Kart rival, and far better than we’ve come to expect from home console ports.”

Speedball 2 Evolution

Tower Studios, iOS (link here), £2.39

The Bitmap Brothers’ Amiga classic has found itself on almost as many platforms as Tetris over the last few years – there’s just something instinctively engaging about this top-down-viewed futuristic blood sport. The fundamental sports action (a fast-paced cross between rugby, hockey and town-centre violence) is thrillingly realised, but there is also the tactical team-building element, allowing you to buy and train new players. As Will Wilson explains, “The controls are tight and responsive, feeling almost as natural on the touchscreen as they did on a joystick, while the graphics have been given a tidy polish without sacrificing the scuffed vintage character of the original. Even if you hold no particular nostalgia towards Speedball 2, Evolution’s pace and crunching gameplay hold up well.”

StarFront: Collision

Gameloft, iOS (link here), Android (link here), £various

French mobile veteran Gameloft has, time and time again, proved itself the master of taking console and PC gaming staples and brilliantly transferring them to the small screen. StarFront: Collision is essentially StarCraft, a deep, engaging real-time strategy title, pitching three interstellar races against each other, each with its own selection of ground and aerial units. The visuals are punchy and detailed, the user interface finely crafted for the iPhone display, and the single-player campaign is lengthy and engaging. Add in both local and online multiplayer and you have the most thorough RTS experience available. (Gameloft has a little gameplay demo of the iPad version here).

Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP

Capybara, iOS (link here), £2.99

Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP drew quite a lot of attention earlier this year, mostly due to the artistic and theoretical intentions of its creators, who wanted the game to be a sort of metaphysical adventure, in which discovering the very nature of virtual questing is the real player objective. But don’t let that put you off – it’s also an imaginative and visually arresting title, with truly effective pixel graphics and neat concepts at every turn. “It’s a unique and challenging game,” says Mark Brown. “Sometimes it even challenges you to enjoy it. For instance, the third act can last a full, real-life lunar cycle if you don’t delve into the game’s time-bending secrets. It’s certainly game-ish, with occasional monster-bashing and the odd RPG-style fetch quest. But it’s more laid back and cerebral than that – it’s an enchanting, arty experience about curiosity, discovery and everything in between.”

Tiny Wings

Andreas Illiger, iOS (link here), 59p

Andreas Illiger’s casual hit has followed Cut The Rope in the growing line of Angry Birds beaters. It has plenty of similarities with Rovio’s mega-seller – including a cute avine hero and a physics mechanic based around flight – but if anything Tiny Wings is even more intuitive. The idea is to help a tiny flightless bird into the air by setting him off down a hill, launching him into the air, then touching the screen to maintain his flight. Each quaintly crayoned background is procedurally generated so it never looks or plays the same way twice. “Tiny Wings appears to be based on obscure indie game Wavespark,” says Rob. “But to all intents and purposes it’s unique, particularly as it distinguishes itself from its lo-fi blueprint with a Yoshi’s Island-esque art style and a some adorable nonsense about birds dreaming. A vivid reminder of what a lone developer with imagination can achieve on the App Store.”(The official gameplay trailer is here.)

Wave – Against Every BEAT!

Color Box Software, iOS (link here), Android, 59p

When Tetsuya Mizuguchi cleverly combined the shoot-‘em-up and rhythm action genres into his 1999 title Rez, he spawned an offbeat sub-genre that has flourished on mobile platforms. This latest example is a neon-soaked scrolling blaster with a strong audio element and an emphasis on accessibility rather than “bullet hell” carnage. Players simply slide a finger around the screen to move, while shooting is automatic. “It’s not for everybody,” admits Keith Andrew. “But if hardcore shooters leave you cold, Wave – Against Every BEAT is the perfect tonic. The action is hectic enough to make you look accomplished in front of onlookers, and you’ll be able to make sense of it even if you’re just an averagely skilled gamer.” Always a good selling point around these parts.

World of Goo

2D Boy, iOS (link here), £1.79

Back in 2008, World of Goo was one of the original stars of the indie revival, revered alongside the likes of Braid and Darwinia as a beacon of hope for the bedroom coding fraternity. The iPhone version retains the original WiiWare title’s central premise – you must traverse a series of obstacle-filled screens by building bridges and towers out of blobs of goo. There are various types of globules, each with different capabilities, and the deceptive depth and calming properties of this physics-based challenge is almost zen-like. The touchscreen controls also work brilliantly, adding a pleasingly tactile element to the action. An absolute must.Prices and platforms correct at time of writing.






Keith Stuart © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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