January's iOS games
If you’ve already caught up on last year’s biggest iPhone and iPad games—using our Best iOS games of 2017 list as a guide, of course—then have no fear: January brought us a large stack of exciting new picks. Big releases like Thumper: Pocket Edition, The Room: Old Sins, and World of Warships Blitz helped start 2018 with a bang, but they’re not alone on this list.
In fact, we’ve found 10 worthwhile debuts from a strong first month of mobile gaming, from music games to puzzlers, shooters, and strategy affairs, and you’ll find our first impressions of all of them in the slides ahead. And if you don’t see something here that grabs your eye, maybe our list of December’s hottest releases will do the trick.
Thumper: Pocket Edition ($5)
Music games tend to be upbeat and bright, matching the kind of tunes you’d actually want to tap along to—but Thumper: Pocket Edition is not that kind of game. It’s billed as “rhythm violence,” sending your little space beetle along a winding track as you gradually battle against an ominous, evil-looking floating head in the distance.
It’s a bit weird and definitely ominous, but Thumper is also a pretty fantastic new kind of music game. You’ll tap at key, rhythmic moments to blast shots at the enemy, and swipe to make sudden turns to avoid smashing into walls. Thumper started life on consoles and PC, but this Pocket Edition fits perfectly on iOS, keeping all of the speed, intensity, and visual punch of its pricier siblings.
The Room: Old Sins ($5)
What, three atmospheric and deeply satisfying puzzle adventures weren’t enough for you? Fireproof Games’ The Room series has provided some of the most engrossing puzzle experiences on the App Store, but the fun isn’t over: The Room: Old Sins is a completely new entry that delivers another series of perplexing contraptions to fiddle with and unlock.
Old Sins mostly sticks with the tried and true, keeping the same kind of sharp production values and inventive level and puzzle designs of the past games—but now the game takes place within a twisted old dollhouse that you’ll explore and solve your way through. If you’re new to The Room, you’re still best off starting with the original and working your way through, but veteran fans will surely lap this one up.
World of Warships Blitz (Free)
Following in the footsteps of the popular World of Tanks Blitz, Wargaming’s new World of Warships Blitz scales down its larger free-to-play PC experience into more of a pick-up-and-play naval combat simulation. Like Tanks, Warships Blitz condenses the the action into a streamlined 7-on-7 mode that lets you jump in for speedy battles whenever you please.
World of Warships Blitz is pleasingly realistic yet accessible, letting you jump right into the fray with only a few minutes of training. And it’s thankfully lacking in timers and energy meters, although like Tanks, we imagine most of the best ships and upgrades are nearly impossible to come by without spending a chunk of cash. But you can surely still enjoy it without spending.
We’ve seen plenty of hit board games translated into strong touch experiences, but Antihero is something different: it plays like a board game, but it’s a purely digital creation. And it’s a darn compelling one, too, as Antihero pairs a winning, cartoonish Victorian aesthetic with a game that challenges you to do a lot of very bad things for your own personal benefit.
Antihero is all about infiltrating and taking over the criminal underworld of a town, as you establish a thieves’ guild, recruit urchins and thugs, and steal, bribe, and kill to your heart’s delight. It’s a turn-based affair, so it’s perfect for asynchronous, play-on-your-own-time battles with online pals, or you can jump into real-time matches or play through a solo campaign.
It's Full of Sparks (Free)
Firecrackers have a rather cruel lifespan: just as they’re brought to life with a flame, they promptly explode. But what if they could avoid that fiery fate? That’s the amusing question behind It’s Full of Sparks, which really isn’t quite as philosophical as the premise suggests. In fact, it’s a fast-paced, puzzle-tinged platform-hopping game.
As one of many unlucky firecrackers, you’ll run through each of the 80s levels pressing a colored button on the screen to toggle walls, platforms, and hazards en route to the goal. Each stage adds more and more complexity as you try to sort the order of button taps and timing via trial and error. It has something of a Chameleon Run-like edge to it, plus it’s free, albeit with ads to refill your lives—or a one-time in-game purchase for unlimited tries.
Hero Academy 2 (Free)
The original Hero Academy was a true App Store gem—a streamlined, asynchronous strategy game that let you take part in an epic battle during the spare minutes in your day. It’s been several years since the original, but now Hero Academy 2 is here with some big changes and a new kind of freemium approach.
As before, you’ll battle against an opposing army on the other side of the gridded screen, and this time you’ll fight to destroy your rival’s crystals. But now, instead of wielding a complete army, you’ll build up a deck of units—like in Hearthstone or Clash Royale—and use those. And the asynchronous approach is gone, meaning you’ll play a full online conflict in one sitting. The original essence is still intact, but old fans may or may not appreciate the changes. Newcomers won’t have that baggage, though!
If you can get past that terrible title (along with words like "shotgyn" and "jystice"), JYDGE is actually a pretty entertaining shoot-'em-up. You take the role of a judge in this futuristic world, but instead of sitting in a chair and listening to arguments, you'll wield a rifle as you blast bad guys to bits and save hostages. Your gun is even referred to as a gavel.
And your gavel isn't the one-size-fits-all variety, either: JYDGE lets you unlock loads and loads of customization options, along with companions and items, and it promises more than a billion different loadout combinations. JYDGE is built on the back of the also-slick Neon Chrome, if you've played that—and if not, it's not much more complicated than this: use one virtual stick to move and the other to fill things full of holes. Repeat and enjoy.
Slime Pizza (Free)
There’s little more distressing in life than spilling a pizza all over the place, and that seems especially true if you’re the delivery blob working for Slime Pizza, an intergalactic restaurant. You’ve crash-landed on a strange planet, and all of the slices have been scattered around the locale. What can you do? You get the pizza back, of course.
But since you’re a spongy green blob, all you can do is fling yourself around to hop through the stages—but the coast isn’t exactly clear. There are electric hazards, security spikes, giant spiders, and a police dog, and they’ll all get in your way. Navigating Slime Pizza’s levels requires careful flinging and a fair bit of explanation in this amusing freebie, which feels like an offbeat homage to Nintendo’s classic Metroid series.
Cytus II ($2)
Looking for a more traditional rhythm game than Thumper? Luckily, Cytus II is here to fit that need, and no, you don’t need to know the original game. This frenetic, beat-matched tapping game challenges you to deftly prod different parts of the screen in time with the song, all while a clever bar moves up and down the screen to help you keep your rhythm.
Cytus II has some easier songs in the mix, but the difficulty steps up quickly and it’ll probably take you a while to get a hang of the different tap and swipe gestures. The game also has an odd storyline about a legendary online DJ, but you don’t have to pay it much mind—the real draw are the infectious tunes and the tricky challenges built around them.
Food Pals ($3)
We’ve all been told not to play with our food, but we can probably make an exception here. Food Pals is the latest game from Wonderful Lasers, makers of the fantastic Impossible Road, and it’s a pretty dramatic shift in both style and gameplay. Here, you’ll guide an ever-extending group of cartoonish foods through hazard-filled stages simply by tapping to jump as needed.
It feels a little simplistic and underwhelming at first, admittedly, but Food Pals gradually shows some teeth: you’ll want to collect as many snack buddies as possible, but the longer your line of jumpers, the tougher it can be to navigate around obstacles. It’s not quite as mesmerizing as Impossible Road, but this is still an amusing little platformer with a fun theme.