Let the record reflect that I am not a fan of holiday-specific iOS apps. Oh, there are a few out there that are worthwhile—A Charlie Brown Christmas comes to mind—but by and large, holiday apps tend to rushed-out-the-door unitaskers, poorly conceived one-trick ponies, and easily forgettable novelty items. More to the point, 11 months of the year, they have little practical use. Why give them any space on my iPhone or iPad?
But regular apps that are updated with a little holiday flair? Well, that’s another matter entirely.
It’s become a delightful tradition for developers—game makers, more often than not—to add some holiday flavoring to their mobile wares. Maybe it’s as simple as adding some festive decorations to the game’s background, maybe something more complex like a holiday-themed level. Whatever the addition, it’s a great way to breathe new life into old games. So I’d suggest heading to iTunes and seeing if you’ve got any updates to download. You just might find a holiday-themed surprise among some of the games you’ve downloaded over the years.
Here are a handful of my favorite seasonal updates this year—perfect for passing the time as you travel to holiday festivities.
Angry Birds Seasons
I don’t know if this festively-themed iteration of Angry Birds—by far, my favorite app in the ever-expanding Rovio empire—was the first to roll out seasonal updates. But it’s certainly become the standard bearer for such improvements. This year’s Christmastime update, Winter Wonderham, is actually the third annual update, joining Wreck the Halls and Season’s Greedings in the Angry Birds Seasons canon. Whether you play the iPhone or iPad versions of the game, get ready to do battle with those naughty green pigs in a wintertime scenes filled with candy canes, snowballs, and the occasional exploding present.
The virtual apartment building in NimbleBit’s sim game has broken out the holiday decorations. But the most recent update did more than just add a few wreaths and Christmas lights. Visitors to your tower are wearing the holiday best and some of the floors you can build have a distinctive seasonal look. Tiny Tower’s pixelated Bitizens even are posting holiday-themed messages on the Facebook-like BitBook page.
In addition to its many puzzle levels, Scribblenauts also features a playground area which you can fill with just about any object that you can scribble the name of. The latest update from Warner Bros. adds another holiday playground—ideal if you’ve ever wondered what it would look like should you try to bring to life each element from “The Twelve Days of Christmas.”
Ski Safari was easily my favorite game of 2012—there’s a reason why it won an App Gem award, after all. The latest in a series of regular updates from Defiant Development adds a North Pole-themed slope to the game’s collection of courses. An elf costume for Sven the hapless skier and new holiday-themed challenges—collect presents along the course or escape in a rocket sled pulled by a handful of tiny reindeer—add to the festive mood in Ski Safari.
Clash of the Clans
This cartoonish real-time strategy game has added a winter theme with snow falling and villagers donning the occasional Santa cap. But Clash of the Clans didn’t stop with a few seasonal visuals: An Unpleasant Present explosive trap and a bombarding Santa Claus add to the holiday-themed mayhem in Supercell’s game.
Philip has covered the Mac market since 1999, with a focus on the iPhone, iPad and iOS in recent years. In all that time, he has never tested a fart app.