… and two cracking chill-out arcade classics to let you relax a bit when you’re frazzled!
The term ‘arcade game’ can have different meanings. On the App Store, it’s applied to a huge range of titles. But ask someone who spent the 1980s in front of classic cabinets, and they’ll say an arcade game is something you shove a coin into in return for a few minutes of thrilling videogame action.
For this round-up, our take is those games that evoke the spirit of the latter – titles primarily about frantic, exciting, addictive gameplay, where the focus is on action, reflexes and dexterity, rather than puzzle solving and strategy.
These are the games to dust the cobwebs off of your brain, to exhilarate, and to leave your heart pumping. And when it all gets a bit too much, check out the two ‘ambient’ arcade games that end our list, efforts that still challenge your digits, but at a more sedate pace!
$1.99/£1.49 • 37.0 MB • v1.0.9 • Laser Dog
This intense, insanely fast survival game finds you piloting a ship barreling along in a universe seemingly comprised entirely of jagged rock faces and massive airborne ship-smashing boulders.
The controls are simple: drag your thumb up and down to weave your ship through the rocky debris. What’s less simple: going for any length of time before colliding with anything.
Smartly, though, ALONE… doesn’t fling up a ‘game over’ message the instant you hit something; instead, your ship’s shields deplete, and they then replenish if you manage to avoid hitting anything else for a bit. Even so, most games are measured in seconds rather than minutes, in this perfect mix of exhilaration and frustration.
$1.99/£1.49 • 29.9 MB • v2.1.1 • Zach Gage
We’re not sure what the interstellar version of Google Maps is, but we bet Bit Pilot’s protagonist wishes it was installed on their iPhone. Here, a tiny craft is trapped in a claustrophobic rectangle of space being pelted by an endless number of increasingly large asteroids.
With the craft devoid of weaponry, you must dodge until your inevitable demise. Before then, you at least have some tricks up your sleeve: a two-finger swipe makes your ship quickly dart; and pills when captured replenish your shields. Even so, long-term survival is a tricky prospect, not least when the asteroids become huge and are joined by ship-zapping lasers.
$0.99/79p • 4.0 MB • v1.1.10 • Chaotic Box
A game that volleys complacency back to you with an evil grin, Critter Panic looks so simple to begin with. You’re faced with a string of cartoon animals and must tap left or right to match those already lurking at the sides of the screen.
But as you work through the levels, the critters multiply and the timer ticks down. As your brain screams “LEFT!” but your thumb taps right, you’re faced with excruciating penalties, the screen freezing for a second to punish you for your error. It’s a frantic whac-a-mole reimagined for the mobile age – a little slice of tactile cartoon gaming brilliance.
$2.99/£2.29 • 66.0 MB • v1.0.2 • Devolver Digital
Having presumably decided realism is for the unimaginative, Downwell hurls you into deep wells filled with nasty critters, and welds guns in your boots. Leap into the air, and you can shoot downwards (which also keeps you temporarily aloft). But fire too rapidly and you’ll run out of ammo and in all likelihood be horribly killed.
There are also collectables to grab on the way down (often from rooms accessed by legging it through bubbles at the side of the shaft) and from a combo scoring mechanic that rewards you for making kills before returning to terra firma. There are plenty of other nuggets to discover in this clever title that mixes up frenetic action with surprising depth.
$2.99/£2.29 • 43.5 MB • v1.1 • Little Eyes LLC
Twister for your fingers and thumbs, Eliss Infinity charges you with tearing apart and merging colored planets to make them fit in wormholes that briefly appear. In Odyssey mode, each of the 25 levels has a distinct personality to clock, master and defeat. In the manic Infinity, you’re presented with an endless finger-tangling nightmare, juggling planets, ensuring those of different color don’t collide (otherwise your energy bar gets a hammering), and keeping your tiny worlds clear of rampaging space storms.
This isn’t a particularly immediate game, nor a forgiving one; but Eliss Infinity is a title that defines the iPhone, through superb use of multitouch, bite-size levels, and fast-paced challenging gameplay that rewards those who stick with it.
Free • 3.2 MB • v2.0 • Brandon Williamson
We’re firmly of the opinion Forget-Me-Not isn’t just the greatest arcade game experience on the iPhone, but that it also gives those famous titles it echoes a run for their money. You roam procedurally generated mazes, blasting anything in your path. The aim is to eat all the flowers, grab a key and make for the exit.
What makes Forget-Me-Not a masterpiece is how alive it feels. Creatures that beam into the dungeon have distinct personalities, and most are equally happy blowing each-other to bits as hunting you down. This creates a glorious and chaotic technicolor arcade blast that could have rubbed shoulders with the classics and yet feels totally at home on an iPhone.
Frisbee Forever 2
Free + IAP • 77.0 MB • v1.2.1 • Kiloo
Whatever plastic disc you used to fling about never saw adventures like those in Frisbee Forever 2. Instead of restricting itself to nondescript parks and playgrounds, this title sends Frisbees on journeys that snake through ancient ruins or dive into snowy canyons before soaring majestically above mountaintops.
Your aim throughout is to keep the disc on the roller-coaster-like path, steering left and right to collect stars and avoid hazards. Win enough stars and you unlock new courses and can buy custom Frisbees. IAP provides a shortcut to both, although this game rather neatly rewards you for every game played, regardless of whether a course is completed.
$2.99/£2.29 • 44.3 MB • v1.3.1 • Wonderful Lasers
A ribbon of road stretches into infinity, and your little ball’s only wish is to stay on the track. This is easier said than done when Impossible Road starts flinging you this way and that, bouncing you into the air, and twisting the road in an attempt to send you into the abyss.
There are hints of endless runner and racer alike in this supersonic arcade roller-coaster, and Impossible Road also embraces cheats – sort of: each gate you pass through increases your score, but the game’s happy for you to leap off the track and rejoin at a much later point, if you dare.
Pac-Man Championship Edition DX
$4.99/£3.99 • 110 MB • v1.0.1 • Bandai Namco
Reportedly gaming’s only character more recognisable than Mario, Pac-Man’s roamed mazes, eating dots and avoiding ghosts since 1980. Although faithful ports of the earliest games in the series exist (Ms. Pac-Man is the best of them), Championship Edition DX is far more modern and exciting fare.
Here, the maze is split in two. Clear one side and a bonus appears on the other; eat that and the cleared side refills with a new configuration. Meanwhile, dozing ghosts you brush past awake and give chase, forming a spectral conga, resulting in an intense yet decidedly oddball mash-up of Pac-Man and Snake.
$3.99/£2.99 • 89.8 MB • v1.6.2 • Oddrok Oy
In a strange dystopian world of hoverboarding robots, a thief has stolen the batteries that keep your village alive, and so you must set off in pursuit and get them back. Which is all a flimsy excuse for 20 or so levels of futuristic hoverboarding arcade action.
The controls initially feel floaty but your board’s inertia once mastered feels perfect. The environments, though, are the star – minimal showpieces that find you scything across crystal blue seas or weaving between the legs of giant mechanical beasts stomping across a desert.
$2.99/£2.29 • 41.5 MB • v1.31 • Clamber
This one’s appropriately named, given the nature of the fishing. Billy lowers his line, and you tilt to avoid fish on the way down. The second anything is caught, the line begins to retract, resulting in more frantic tilty action to increase your catch before you reach the surface. And then the fish are hurled into the air and blasted to pieces with a massive gun. Obviously.
For some reason, blowing fish to smithereens fills your coffers, and you can spend your cash on upgrades, such as natty new hats and toasters that electrocute any fish in the vicinity the first time a hook hits one. Never before has such wanton cruelty to sea life been so disarmingly charming.
$2.99/£2.29 • 30.7 MB • v2.3 • Terry Cavanagh
An avoid ’em up in a washing machine spin cycle, Super Hexagon is simultaneously hugely compelling and totally unforgiving. Your tiny ship sits at the screen’s centre and can be rotated left and right, in a futile effort to avoid walls that rapidly advance on your position.
It seems impossible at first, until you recognize that this isn’t a game of randomness. Figure out the patterns and you have a fighting chance of surviving the 60 seconds needed to unlock the next zone. Whether your sanity will still be intact by the last of them is another matter.
$1.99/£1.49 • 51.6 MB • v1.3 • Wadonk AB
Captain Cowboy finds a tiny adventurer exploring a massive asteroid. He digs through the dirt on a quest for diamonds, avoiding rockfalls, dealing with adversaries, and lazily drifting through airless sections of space.
The visuals and gameplay are reminiscent of frenetic 1980s classic Boulder Dash, but Captain Cowboy is a much more laid-back affair. This is still an old-school arcade title at heart, but one keen to have you relax, breathe it all in, and take things at your pace – rather than at the speed defined by a twitchy designer.
$2.99/£2,29 • 18.4 MB • v2.3.1 • Hemisphere Games
A physics-based arcade game with ambient overtones, Osmos immerses you in microscopic warfare. You pilot a mote, which ejects parts of itself to move through its gloopy universe. Colliding with a smaller mote gradually absorbs them; touch a larger one and your mote is consumed.
The bulk of the levels play out as an arcade game in slow motion, you teasing your mote in the best direction for survival. Throughout your journey, Osmos keeps shaking things up, adding antimatter motes, vicious sentient motes, and levels that behave like solar systems. It’s a beautiful and engaging experience – a thinking person’s arcade title, perfectly suited to the touchscreen.