Game

From bizarre golf to madcap tapping and swiping larks, here’s our pick of the best local multiplayer titles for iPhone

People often think of gaming being about loners spending hours in darkened rooms, staring at glowing screens. But that’s undeserved. The reality is that gaming is often a social pursuit.

The early days of arcades were all about friends crowding around a new cabinet, taking turns to trouble the high-score table. Home gaming began specifically as a multiplayer endeavour with the likes of Pong.

Things have of course changed since then, with much multiplayer activity happening online, with people battling total strangers. But the likes of Nintendo Switch are again encouraging local multiplayer, and the iPhone also offers hugely entertaining gaming experiences of this ilk.

This round-up covers a dozen such games. The first half are all about playing on a single device, which can be cramped but fun and very silly. For those who need their personal space, we’ll also check out a handful of pass-and-play classics, and three top titles for local multiplayer when everyone’s armed with their own device.

Games for one iPhone and several players at once…

Two or more people playing on a single iPhone can be cramped. Also, it’s not fun if one person’s an elite gamer, obliterating the competition at every turn. That’s why our selection of same-device games concentrates on titles with straightforward interfaces, short play times, and intuitive gameplay everyone can immediately understand.

Fruit Ninja

Free • v2.5.1 • 164 MB • By Halfbrick Studios

One of the iPhone’s most famous games, Fruit Ninja is primarily about using your finger as a virtual sword to slice up fruit that’s lobbed in your general direction. Sometimes a scoundrel chucks a bomb into the mix, and needless to say hacking one of those in half should be avoided.

In the single-screen two-player game, you and an opponent each get a tiny area in which to perform deft swiping. Two modes are on offer – a duel where you must take care to not miss any fruit, and a rather looser and more arcade-oriented take that’s simply about slicing up as much fruit as possible before a timer runs out.

Download Fruit Ninja

Orbital

$2.99/£2.99 • v1.4.1 • 22.3 MB • By bitforge Ltd

Orbital finds your little turret firing orbs into a void, which once they’ve slowed to a halt expand until they touch something. They then get a number to denote how many subsequent hits are required to blow up the orb.

As you might imagine, the game rapidly gets claustrophobic, with you increasingly having to make amazing shots that bounce between multiple orbs, in order to survive. In the two-player mode, things get pretty interesting as you simultaneously try to clear the way in front of your turret and leave orbs right in front of your opponent’s ‘line of death’.

Download Orbital

Battle Golf

Free • v2.1.1 • 48.6 MB • By Colin Lane Games AB

This very silly sports game finds two golfers standing at the side of a large lake. Each player gets a single button, used to stop an oscillating directional arrow, and then with a second tap define the power of a shot. Holes periodically pop up from the lake, housed on little islands – or the heads of presumably bemused giant wildlife.

Battle Golf’s not exactly a nuanced game, but given that you can clock how it works within a few seconds, it’s ideal for speedy and fun two-player blasts – at least if you avoid beaning your opponent with a golf ball too often.

Download Battle Golf

PKTBALL

Free • v1.2.2 • 123 MB • By Laser Dog

The closest game in this round-up to classic bat-and-ball effort Pong, PKTBALL has between two and four people smashing balls back and forth across a tiny court (although we’d argue on iPhone you’re probably best off sticking to two).

From a visual standpoint, the game mostly resembles tennis, but the speed and controls transform the game into a kind of air hockey mash-up. The vibrant visuals and varied characters also make for an experience rather breezier than the typically staid competition. Just watch out for the oddball power-ups, which can quickly turn a match on its head.

Download PKTBALL

Mucho Party

Free + $3.99/£3.99 IAP • v1.4.44 • 87.7 MB • By GlobZ

There’s a lot to like in Mucho Party, which enables you and a friend to battle in five mini-games – or 44 if you’re happy to pay the one-off IAP. To get started, you use the iPhone’s camera to create a personalised avatar with expressions (delighted, happy, and sad, which update during play as appropriate); you’re then pitted against an opponent in a varied selection of arcade tests.

The paid version of the game has a wide range of weirdness to contend with, including blasting massive space rocks at your opponent, zooming about in cars painting the ground behind them, and smashing cellphones blaring away on a table. It’s all very entertaining, and if you’re not much good at one game, you know another will be along shortly.

Download Mucho Party

Bloop

$4.99/£4.99 • v1.6 • 4.3 MB • By Rusty Moyher

This minimal effort looks very much like it was designed for iPad, in that it has up to four people tapping coloured squares that show up on the screen. After each short round, the squares shrink in size, and you end up colliding with everyone else as you gun for your colour.

On iPhone, this shouldn’t really work, but the smaller screen if anything makes the game even more ridiculous. And while Bloop is very much a one-note game, it’s enjoyable and presents a very even playing field. After all “tap your squares” is about as minimal a set of instructions as you could ever hope for.

Download Bloop

Games for one iPhone and pass-and-play…

Our pass-and-play titles are ideal if you’ve one iPhone between you but fancy a less frenetic gaming experience. They include two titles that are strategic and sit-back in nature, and one that’s ideal for parties.

The Battle of Polytopia

Free • v1.7.0 • 36.2 MB • By Midjiwan AB

This one’s a condensed take on PC-oriented turn-based strategy titles where you build a civilisation and stomp anyone who happens to get in your way. In multiplayer, you can take on up to nine friends, exploring the map, press-ganging villages into your tiny empire, researching technologies, and getting a bit stabby when the time comes.

It’s all quite intuitive, although Polytopia’s admittedly a game perhaps best played between people who’ve at least experienced it before. Still: it’s free to download (IAP simply existing to unlock new tribes and larger maps), and so if you and some friends like the idea of scrapping over tiny isometric worlds, you won’t find anything better on iPhone.

Download The Battle of Polytopia

Scrabble

$7.99/£5.99 • v5.19.0 • 228 MB • By Electronic Arts

Given that it’s been around since the 1930s, you’ve likely played Scrabble at some point. You get a rack of letters, and a gridded board to place them on, strategically making use of bonus squares as you and your opponents slowly build a crossword.

On iPhone, there’s pass and play, and also a ‘speed play’ mode to urge dawdlers to hurry up a bit. The entire experience is great, whether you’re a relative newcomer or an old-hand more used to real-world tiles and a board on a table.

Note that although you get the best experience with the premium game, there are also free versions you can download; and like the premium version, there are separate releases for the USA and worldwide.

Download Scrabble Premium (US)
Download Scrabble Premium (worldwide)

Heads Up

$0.99/99p • v3.8.6 • 90.5 MB • By Warner Bros.

This one’s a digital take on that party game where you guess something written on a piece of paper clamped to your forehead on the basis of clues yelled out by friends. Here, though, words are housed on your iPhone’s screen, and you can in theory blaze through loads in quick succession.

To get started, you select a category (several are included, and more are available to buy). During a round, you flip the screen upwards to pass or downwards when you correctly guess. At the end of your minute of glory, you’ll get a score. Head Up proves to be simple, smart, effective and fun.

Download Heads Up

Games for several iPhones that use local multiplayer…

Our final selection of games involves titles that have multiplayer modes designed to be played locally, with players’ devices communicating over Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or cellular. You get the advantage of having your device all to yourself, but still being able to breathe in the atmosphere of having fun with friends in the same room, rather than semi-anonymous usernames on a screen.

Spaceteam

Free • v2.5 • 124 MB • By Henry Smith

In Spaceteam, a little spaceship hurtles along, trying to outrun an exploding star. The ship pilots itself, but in order to keep going needs you and your spaceteam to perform certain tasks.

The tiny snag is that whatever you’re told to do might not be something that’s on your device’s control panel. With several players, the game therefore quickly becomes cacophony and chaos, with people desperately yelling things like “can someone PLEASE activate the dangling shunter?”

The sole IAP ($4.99/£4.99) is optional, but worth grabbing if you play Spaceteam often, since it opens up new challenges, ships and symbols.

Download Spaceteam

Super Stickman Golf 3

Free • v1.7.8 • 132 MB • By Noodlecake Studios Inc

This side-on golf game takes place on fantastical courses. One minute, you’re aiming for a hole on an ` floating island. The next, you’re battling your way through a moon base containing a worrying number of lasers. Fortunately, the controls are dead simple: move a directional arrow, set the power of your stroke, and let rip.

Multiplayer provides two options: turn-based – where you take on a friend logged into Game Center – and race mode. The latter’s the most fun – a breakneck speedrun to each hole that typically finds you dispensing with subtlety and strategy for smacking the ball as often as possible.

Download Super Stickman Golf 3

Osmos

$2.99/£2.99 • v2.4.0 • 33.3 MB • By Hemisphere Games

Arcade games are usually frenetic, but Osmos is distinctly ambient. The game involves ‘motes’, little blobs that inhabit a microscopic universe. They get about by ejecting pieces of themselves, heading in the opposite direction to wherever you tap; they also absorb smaller motes to grow and become dominant. It’s a clever, thoughtful game with superb physics, visuals and audio.

In the multiplayer version – which will also connect with Osmos for iPad – two people partake in a head-to-head scrap, the winner being whoever survives longest. Depending on the type of arena you both agree to venture into, the battle may be as much about dealing with the local environment as zooming after your opponent and trying to absorb them.

Download Osmos