December's iOS games
The App Store sent 2017 out with a bang as developers unleashed several of the year's best iPhone and iPad games during December. Some are ports of celebrated games from consoles and computers, while others are delightful debuts—but whatever their origins, December’s top iOS games collectively pack a huge punch.
Key releases this month include atmospheric indie adventure Inside, dreamily inventive puzzler Gorogoa, and a full-fledged iPad port of Sid Meier’s Civilization VI, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg: we have several more selections to keep you playing well into January and beyond. Keep reading the slides ahead to find out more on December’s top iOS releases, and don’t forget to check out November’s picks if you need further options.
Playdead’s Limbo is an absolutely mesmerizing game—a shadowy journey through the wilderness, just a boy and his wits against unseen dangers. And the studio’s new game, Inside, essentially builds upon that same premise. It’s still a side-scrolling game starring an unarmed boy, it’s still a bit bleak-looking, and it still doesn’t feature any dialogue or overt storytelling.
But it’s just as marvelous. Inside finds your young hero exploring a factory where some seriously bizarre experiments are taking place, and the atmosphere builds steadily as you enter and even participate to evade capture. It’s unsettling, to say the least, but the environmental puzzles are clever and the atmosphere is fantastic. The free download lets you play a small chunk for free, then it’s $7 to unlock the rest.
Even some of the most inventive puzzle games today tend to have roots in previous games from other makers, but Gorogoa is the rare puzzler that feels extraordinarily original. It’s like a children’s picture book, complete with rich artwork and show-don’t-tell storytelling, only you’ll have a few panels onscreen at the same time—and they have layers.
You can move into and out of many of the scenes, pulling back or looking closer, and then the panels can interact with each other. For instance, you might drop one scene atop another to reveal a hidden item, or move a character from one panel to the next by putting him in front of a doorway. And all the while, the adventure unfolds. Gorogoa is charming and beautiful, and truly unlike any other game out there.
Sid Meier's Civilization VI ($60)
What’s more surprising about this listing: that the full-blooded Sid Meier’s Civilization VI has made the move from Mac over to iPad, or that there’s a $60 iPad game? Both are pretty surprising, but if any tablet game can warrant the expense, it’s surely the latest and greatest entry in Firaxis Games’ brilliant turn-based strategy franchise.
At first glance, it’s every bit the Civilization VI experience you’ll find on a computer, letting you guide historical civilizations to greatness via the “4X” approach: “explore, expand, exploit, and exterminate.” Luckily, it’s a free download that lets you play 60 turns before needing to shell out for the full game, giving you a robust opportunity to try it out. And the full unlock is half-off, just $30, until January 4, with the Mac version selling for the same price right now via Steam.
Life is Strange ($3)
Episodic narrative adventures have proven popular on iPhone and iPad, as seen with Telltale’s Walking Dead and Batman series (among others), but Square Enix’s Life is Strange strikes a different tone. It’s a story about teenagers and some of the very real stresses and dilemmas they face, with an unexpected level of authenticity within… oh, and the ability to control time.
So it’s a bit supernatural too, but Life is Strange still excels with its emotional storytelling while building some larger stakes with heroine Max’s newfound ability. She uses it to try and reverse some sad happenings around her, but expectedly, that kind of power has some drawbacks too. Life is Strange has a strong following on consoles and computers, and this new iOS port comes with the first episode, with the next two episodes sold within and two more still en route.
Reigns: Her Majesty ($3)
Civilization VI shows how you can create an incredibly vast and complex simulation of ruling over a land. Conversely, Reigns shows perhaps the most streamlined and efficient way of handling such a task. It’s a very different experience, naturally: in Reigns, you must make decisions that affect your entire kingdom, and swipe one way or the other to make a call.
The first Reigns was one of our favorite games of 2016, and the new Reigns: Her Majesty offers more or less the same core experience with a twist: now you’re the queen instead of a king. Expectedly, the shift to a female perspective changes how you’re treated, but the game remains breezily entertaining while bringing in some vital commentary along the way.
Fez Pocket Edition ($5)
Finally reaching iPhone and iPad a few years after its Mac, PC, and console release, Fez Pocket Edition makes the beloved indie game much easier to play wherever you’d like. Fez is a puzzle game disguised as an old-school platform-action affair, and it’s not as 2D as it looks: its biggest gameplay hook is that you can rotate the game world 90 degrees at a time to find unseen paths and secrets.
It’s a really neat twist that changes how you look at the pixel environments, and the ultra-charming graphics and music should keep you pleasantly puzzle-solving even in the complicated later bits. The touch controls are solid, but you’re better off using an MFi gamepad if you have one. Alternately, the Mac version of Fez is just $1 on Steam until January 4!
Arena of Valor (Free)
Arena of Valor just launched in North America, but it’s already an enormous smash elsewhere: the Chinese version, called King of Glory, has more than 200 million users and is the top-grossing mobile game in the world. Not a bad foundation for the latest mobile MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena) game in the vein of League of Legends and Dota 2.
It looks a lot like mobile rival Vainglory at first glance, but the 5v5 online battles and larger three-lane maps put it closer to Mac and PC contemporaries. As usual, you’ll work with online teammates to try and take down the opposing squad’s base, plowing down their turrets and heroes in the process. Will it become just as huge of a hit here? We’ll have to wait and see, but you can jump in for free and try it for yourself today.
Bridge Constructor Portal ($5)
It’s been almost seven years since the last proper Portal game released, and given Valve’s surprising shift away from development of late, it may be a long while before we see another one—if ever. But the physics-based puzzle classic takes on a new approach with Bridge Constructor Portal, a mash-up with another physics-centric franchise.
Instead of navigating a person through various portals, you’ll instead build bridges of increasing complexity to guide little forklifts to their proper destinations. This spin-off keeps the humor and familiar aesthetic of Portal, and remains clever even if it doesn’t hit quite the same mind-blowing heights as the core Portal games. Fans should still appreciate it, though.
Getting Over It ($5)
Getting Over It is a game designed to delight… in your frustration, that is. Like creator Bennett Foddy’s QWOP, GIRP, and other games, it is purposely difficult to control—and that somehow makes it all the more irresistible to the persistent players that figure out how to overcome its intentional kludginess.
In this case, Getting Over It drops your hero into a large metal pot and gives you only a sledgehammer, which you’ll use to somehow propel yourself up a very large and jagged mountain. Overcoming trees and cliffs requires ample trial-and-error maneuvering, and it could take you hours to make your way to the top. Sound exhilarating? Believe it or not, Getting Over It has amassed a big following in recent weeks, especially with streamers broadcasting their irritation over the internet.
Sonic Runners Adventure ($3)
We’ve seen some mediocre Sonic the Hedgehog mobile games over the years—excluding the classic 16-bit ports, of course—but Gameloft’s Sonic Runners Adventure breaks that cycle. It splits the difference between the old-school Genesis games and a modern side-scrolling runner game, sending Sonic along automatically as you focus on jumping to avoid hazards.
Sonic Runners Adventure has a clean and colorful look, and while a similar rival like Rayman Fiesta Run packs in a bit more excitement, it does a good job of providing a fun mobile take on Sonic. And surprisingly, especially for a Gameloft title, Sonic Runners Adventure is a fully premium game with no in-app purchases. That’s part of what makes it so appealing.