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When people think of gaming, all too often the first thought is of frantic shooters and complicated control schemes. But not every title follows this approach! The App Store has plenty of incredible games that take a more artistic route, with gorgeous graphics and simple gameplay that almost anyone can pick up.
These games, often from small independent teams, focus squarely on the experience of playing rather than how many points you can rack up. As such we think they appeal to a much broader range of people than just gamers.
Here, then, are some of our favorite mobile games that favor experience over experience points, form over formulaic gameplay, and art over, uh, artillery strikes?
Our picks cover the gamut from problem-solving in space to one-tap zone-out bliss, and even include a paper game world so intricate and beautiful it has its own behind-the-scenes making-of documentary.
Whatever your predilections, we’re confident there’s something here you’ll enjoy – even if your past gaming experience doesn’t go beyond Words With Friends and Candy Crush.
White-robed protagonist Ida finds herself in a world of impossible monuments, Escher-like architecture peppered with switches that open new pathways, which she seems unable to reach. By dragging the screen to rotate structures and discovering other components that can be interacted with, the scenery can be manipulated, angular walls suddenly becoming navigable pathways, or jagged and seemingly separate pieces of masonry combining at the perfect angle to fashion a bridge. When you’re done, the sequel offers plenty more of the same gorgeous puzzle-solving charm.
As you explore ISLANDS, spinning each scene about its axis, and tapping glowing objects to continue, you’ll see levitating eggs emerge from a bus, palm trees riding a mall escalator, and luggage performing a Mexican wave on an airport conveyor belt. Each of these dream-like moments is weird and mesmerizing in equal measure, making ISLANDS an hour well spent on your iPhone or iPad – and this is a series of mundane places you’ll want to revisit, to see what you missed.
Lumino City is a triumph of originality, a puzzle adventure with 3D graphics made entirely in real life from paper, cardboard, lights, and motors. Its graphical stylings were so loved that the game picked up a BAFTA for artistic achievement, with its developers later releasing a free Making of Lumino City app to give a behind the scenes look at how each of the stages was painstakingly hand-built and photographed for the app.
One of the more contemplative games for iOS, Shadowmatic has you spin levitating shapes, in order to turn their cast shadows into something recognizable. It’s a simple concept, but the game’s hypnotic nature soon draws you in, lasting until you’ve finally beaten all 80 levels. There’s a reason this game won an Apple Design Award.
A one-tap sandboarding game that has you grinding and flipping your way across a gorgeous desert setting complete with rolling sand dunes, craggy cliffs, and ancient ruins. What elevates Odyssey beyond its peers is its immaculate presentation. The various “biomes” you’ll encounter each throw up new and amazing landscapes, with the visuals constantly impressing amidst frequent weather changes and a speedy day-night cycle. Not to mention the pulsating, atmospheric soundtrack that helps draw you into a Zen-like state of bliss.
_PRISM delivers a relaxing, almost hypnotic experience with its immersive solar system of shimmering shapes. Though you can’t fully switch off and unwind, this is about as close as you can get while simultaneously using the puzzle-solving parts of your brain. Excellent lighting and depth of field effects pair with complex, colorful floating geometry to create the impression of a tiny universe, resulting in a gorgeously inviting micro-world full of moving parts, lights and switches just calling out for interaction.
Prune: A peaceful physics puzzler in which you’ll encourage trees grow out of the shadows and into the sunlight. Minimalist, meditative, and quite a challenge.
Wonderputt: Crazy golf with an art style that leans heavily on the crazy. The unique, imaginative level design sees you abducting cows and riding pondside ripples as you aim for a new best score. It’s a joy to behold.
BADLAND: This game takes the basic one-tap mechanics of Flappy Bird and turns it into an absolute masterpiece. Gorgeous silhouettes and colorful backdrops bring the world to life, while inventive obstacles ensure you remain on your toes.