September's iOS games
September was obviously a huge month for iPhone hardware, from the now-released iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus to the upcoming iPhone X—but you don’t need a new device to have a little fun right now. We saw loads of intriguing new iPhone and iPad games debut during the month, but we’ve chopped down our list to just 10 top picks.
These are the games that made the strongest impression, from the ethereal Flower and puzzling The Witness to the frantic online battles of Modern Combat Versus and the glossy hoops action of NBA 2K18. Those are just a few of this month’s selections, of course, and you’ll find our takes on all 10 in the slides ahead. And if you want even more recent options, check out our picks from August.
First released for PlayStation 3 in 2009, Flower is one of my all-time favorite video games—so imagine my surprise when it popped up on the App Store last week. It’s a quiet, almost meditative experience in which you control actual flower petals, beginning with one and then guiding it around open spaces with the breeze to activate other flowers and re-beautify the surroundings.
Yes, it’s an “art game,” but it’s a really gorgeous and unexpectedly emotional one. And it works pretty well on iOS, letting you tilt your device to send the petals soaring around as you tap and hold the screen. I can’t recommend it enough.
The Witness ($10)
Six months after its Mac debut, The Witness is now also available on iOS, and it’s surely one of the meatiest and most engrossing puzzle games found on the App Store. This first-person experience finds you on a vibrant, deserted island filled with hundreds of puzzles, and you’ll wander about the world and try and solve them to figure out the mystery at hand.
The brain-teasers start simply enough with little maze puzzles on placards, which you’ll solve by drawing your finger from start to finish, but they quickly become significantly more complicated—and start to be more intertwined with your surroundings. It could take you dozens of hours to play through The Witness, but it seems like it’d be time well spent.
Modern Combat Versus (Free)
Gameloft’s Modern Combat series has been a reliable source for online multiplayer thrills over the years, even if it’s pretty much been a carbon copy of Call of Duty—and this time around, there’s no single-player campaign mode to pull you away from the competitive action. That’s right: as the title suggests, Modern Combat Versus is all about online play.
Luckily, it’s all pretty impressive. This is easily one of the best-looking games I’ve ever played on iPhone or iPad, amping up the “console-quality” claim to new heights, and the controls are a bit simpler this time around to make the first-person blasting even more manageable. It’s still a free-to-play game, so there might be some annoyances along the way, but the core action seems stronger than ever.
NBA 2K18 ($8)
Looking to shoot some hoops on your commute? 2K Sports is back with NBA 2K18, which delivers another impressive on-the-go simulation. While it’ll never be quite as flashy or fully-featured as the $60 console and PC game, the iOS rendition does a stellar job of capturing the quality of the larger experience in a much cheaper package.
The players look (mostly) lifelike in motion and the gameplay is realistic and entertaining, plus there are in-depth modes available beyond doing quick pickup matches. For example, The Association mode lets you guide a franchise across multiple seasons, while the MyCareer mode has you control just one player during his NBA ascent, instead of a full team. It’s pretty flashy for just $8, considering the source material.
Push & Pop (Free)
Looking for something free and fun to fill a few minutes during the day? Push & Pop might do the trick. This little puzzle game is hugely appealing, bringing together elements from Tetris and modern mobile classic Threes. Essentially, you’ll push around boxes to create complete lines and clear them from the board, creating space in the process.
However, in a very Threes-like move, the action takes place in a very compact area, and every time you move, a new box comes onto the screen. That means you’ll need to continue steadily clearing lines to have room to keep playing. It’s claustrophobic but really compelling, with the thumping synth soundtrack and changing colors keeping the excitement high all the while.
Iron Marines ($5)
The Kingdom Rush tower defense series just kept getting better and better, but rather than pump out a fourth entry, developer Ironhide has turned its attention to real-time strategy with Iron Marines. It looks much the same as the previous games and even has a similar interface, but instead of holding down the fort by building offensive towers, you’ll explore alien planets and blast their aggressive inhabitants to bits.
Even with the shift in game style, Iron Marines doesn’t feel dramatically different from Kingdom Rush, but’s that’s really just because it’s just as smartly streamlined and built for on-the-go action. It’s pretty hearty, though: Iron Marines has 14 main campaign missions, 10 more special ops, an “impossible mode,” and loads of upgrades to unlock along the way.
Kongregate’s Stormbound makes an incredibly strong first impression with a dazzling art style that’s a bit like Monument Valley crossed with Severed—and in any case, it totally pops. And then as the tutorial unfolds, the card-based gameplay seems really smart—almost like a Clash Royale filtered through the game of chess.
Sorry, that’s too many comparisons. The point is, the bits and pieces of Stormbound reminded me of other games I love, but it seems to have a unique strength all its own. That’s my first impression, at least. User reviews are a bit more mixed here, with some saying the free-to-play model is punishing and the randomization of cards can kill the fun. It’s free, though, and it’s a game I plan to come back to.
Thimbleweed Park ($10)
Got a thing for old-school, point-and-click adventure games? If so, then you’ll definitely want to check out Thimbleweed Park. Designed by Ron Gilbert and Gary Winnick, a couple of the greats behind classics like Maniac Mansion and the Monkey Island series, Thimbleweed Park holds true to the retro template with big, chunky pixel graphics and plenty of humor along the way.
Set in 1987, the game begins with a murder—as so many mysteries do—but then gets quite weird as five different people try to discover why they’ve been summoned to this town. You’ll control all five at different times to push forward the narrative, all while talking, investigating, and solving puzzles along the way. And it has a Casual mode for a breezier story experience, if you please. It’s on Mac, too, at twice the price.
We just spotlighted the Mac version of Morphite, but at about half the price and packing the same visual punch, it’s hard not to think the iOS release is the one to check out. Crescent Moon’s latest is a first-person space exploration game in which you’ll travel to distant planets, find and scan odd creatures and plants, and try to survive against threats along the way.
The No Man’s Sky comparisons are mostly apt, especially given the look of both games, but Morphite is certainly more streamlined, plus it has its own unique features—like a proper storyline and some sense of progression along the way. The low-polygon look and vibrant coloring is really appealing, and this seems like a cool game to just wander around in.
Opus: Rocket of Whispers (Free)
Opus: Rocket of Whispers has an odd little premise. It’s been 25 years since a plague wiped out much of humanity, and you take the role of a rocket scientist working with a so-called “witch”—who recently woke from a cryogenic slumber—to create a ship to send the ghosts of the dead up to the stars. Oh, and the ghosts are talking to you, begging you to finish the job. It’s driving your character crazy.
Weird, right? It definitely is, but in a very compelling sort of way. Opus hits some emotional notes early on with its storytelling and and presentation, and while the core loop of scavenging materials and crafting parts and tools seems like it could wear over time, there’s definitely a hook here that might keep you going. It’s a free download, but costs $2 within to unlock the full game.