August's iOS games
The App Store’s unending game barrage sometimes seems like it’s simply comprised of stacks of clones and done-to-death ideas, but there's always fun, eccentric, and exciting stuff in the mix—and a wide variety of genres and concepts.
Just look at our picks for August’s most enticing iPhone and iPad game debuts. No two games are alike in this bunch, which includes the hole-in-the-ground simulator Donut County, stealth action game Sneak Ops, ethereal forest puzzler Evergarden, and the basketball-meets-Nerf-gun zaniness of Shooting Hoops.
Flip through the slides ahead to learn more about those games and several others, and be sure to check out July’s top iOS game debuts as well.
Donut County ($5)
You’ve probably never played a game where you get to be a hole in the ground, but Donut County finally delivers on that tantalizing possibility. So, what exactly does a hole do? Well, things fall into it… and since you can actually control the hole and shift it around the screen, you can make those things fall—like creatures, cars, and other everyday objects. And the hole gets bigger as more and more things drop in.
Donut County is offbeat, to the say least, but this wonderfully weird game is a real delight. While the core stuff-swallowing mechanic remains thankfully simplistic, the levels add little puzzle elements that help set them apart and the dialogue is hilarious. It’s also on Mac, but Donut County plays well on touch and you might as well save the extra $8.
Sneak Ops (Free)
Console and PC stealth-action games like Metal Gear Solid and Splinter Cell are complex experiences that require precise, tactical decisions. After all, the goal is to stay hidden from enemies, and that’s difficult when you’re, say, infiltrating their stronghold. Sneak Ops takes its cues from those games, but distills the mechanics down to their purest essence.
Here, you’ll still evade patrolling guards, security cameras, and other hazards, but everything is done with a simple tap: You’ll tap to move, tap to hide your little hero behind an obstacle, and tap to punch and briefly knock out an enemy. Better yet, Sneak Ops has a new level each and every day, providing a smart, streamlined stealth challenge on the regular.
Pocket City ($5)
If you want to play the classic SimCity on your iPhone or iPad, you’re stuck with SimCity BuildIt, the company’s free-to-play rendition. As we explored a few years back, the freemium approach turns the game into a series of nagging annoyances rather than an engrossing urban simulation. Luckily, indie game Pocket City is here to fill the void and pick up EA’s slack.
First and foremost, it’s a fully premium game with zero in-app purchases, which means it’s not balanced to push you towards microtransactions. And thankfully, it’s also well-designed for touch devices, letting you drag your finger to rezone areas, tap to drop in buildings, parks, and utilities, and get all of the nitty-gritty info you need without an overwhelming interface. It’s exactly how this kind of game should play on iPhone and iPad.
Evergarden is, as the title suggests, a game about plants—although it’s not like Stardew Valley or even Farming Simulator. Instead, it’s a relaxed match-three puzzler about bringing a forest back to life. You’ll do so by combining like-sized plants on the grid, while also splitting off seeds to create new plants and continue the cycle.
It’s a little bit like Threes in puzzle design with a hint of Flower in the premise, but Evergarden ultimately manages to feel like its own experience. Your fox friend Fin serves up patterns for you to match in each level, and gradually, a narrative begins to unravel. Like Donut County, Evergarden is also on Mac, albeit with a $12 premium attached.
Shooting Hoops (Free)
What do you get when you pair a basketball with a Nerf gun? You get Shooting Hoops, apparently, although that’s not a premise that had previously crossed our minds. Shooting Hoops might be the ultimate example of a pun-based game concept, as you attempt to launch the ball into the net via the propulsive boost from firing the attached dart gun.
Like the great Bouncy Hoops, it’s an endless shooting game that stays challenging and entertaining by moving the hoop with each sunk shot, plus it has a dash of Run Gun Sports-esque, physics-driven wackiness in the mix. At the very least, it’s good for a laugh—although extended play unlocks new, gameplay-shifting balls to shake things up.
Legend of Solgard (Free)
Many know King as the maker of seemingly dozens of Saga games, from Candy Crush to Farm Heroes and Bubble Witch, each one derivative and frustrating in its freemium nature. But Legend of Solgard is something different from the mobile giant. It’s another free-to-play puzzler, but it’s one wrapped up in fantasy role-playing elements.
Here, you’ll control Norse heroine Embla as she tries to stop the end of the world, which you’ll do by summoning monsters to destroy foes and battle back the frigid, encroaching Ragnarok. It’s still a match-three game at heart, as you’ll link together like-colored beasts to send them forward to attack, but there’s a richness and depth here that uncommon for King.
Rome: Total War ($10)
After first hitting iPad a couple years back, Creative Assembly’s real-time strategy computer classic Rome: Total War just expanded out to iPhone as well. The 2004 original is a landmark game, blending historical scenarios with real-time battles within a turn-based campaign structure, and the same kind of large-scale skirmishes remain intact on iPhone.
Rome: Total War’s interface has been rebuilt for the smaller screen, although navigating the dense menus and finding your way around is still a bit awkward. Even so, it’s an impressive feat to see this large and engrossing of a game land on a device that can fit inside your pocket, and strategy nuts will certainly appreciate this port.
Hungry Dragon (Free)
Ubisoft’s Hungry Dragon isn’t too high-concept: It's truly a game about a starving, flying, winged beast who needs to fill its tummy. And that’s your task here, as you soar in all directions around the side-scrolling environment and scarf down any birds, sheep, people, giant spiders, and odd monsters you find along the way.
Beyond the initial amusement of swallowing fleeing beasts (and the occasional surprising splash of gore), the quests and progression system keep Hungry Dragon entertaining. With the prospect of much larger creatures to command, you’ll want to keep eating until you’ve unlocked the next dragon. And thus the chomping cycle begins anew.
What do you do when you, a bear warrior, are pulled into a mysterious land full of skeletal warriors and other devious foes? You fight, of course! That premise is about as straightforward as the combat in Barbearian, which finds you mashing virtual buttons as you clear areas of large groups of easily-smashed enemies.
Barbearian’s lavish, hand-drawn graphics are a treat, as are the propulsive music and satisfying chaos of the hack-and-slash action. That said, Barbearian—also just released on PC—does seem better suited to larger screens, as the isometric overhead view makes things look rather tiny on an iPhone screen. Play it on iPad if you can; but even so, this is a fun, premium brawler with a lot of character and charm.
Star Trek: Trexels II (Free)
The original Star Trek: Trexels was praised for its fan service but derided for its repetition and free-to-play obnoxiousness, but hopefully Star Trek: Trexels II finds a better balance between those opposing reactions. As before, it’s a spaceship management game that finds you building out various rooms in your vessel, overseeing resources, and battling others in turn-based skirmishes.
Trexels II shifts the era to that of The Next Generation, and features little pixel renditions of all of the key characters from that series, as well as those from other Star Trek shows and movies. You can interact with them on the ship, as well as explore distant planets while battling enemies and harvesting resources.