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Mario’s arrived on iOS, but Sonic, Pac-Man and these other classics got there first

We were pretty excited to play Nintendo’s first proper iOS title, but it reminded us of these pre-existing iOS games that are based on famous titles of the past

For a very long time, people have written about Nintendo on iOS. It feels like the perfect match: the masters of mobile gaming, and the best mobile technology on the planet.

Until recently, though, Nintendo had avoided the smartphone arena, instead creating games solely for its own hardware. That all changed with the divisive Miitomo, and on December 15, when Nintendo released Super Mario Run for iPhone.

The game is not a ‘traditional’ Mario platform title, though: Super Mario Run is instead an auto-runner. Mario automatically toddles along, and you tap or hold the screen to make him jump. You can read our full review of Super Mario Run here.

And Nintendo most certainly did not get there first in terms of major videogame characters and series on the iPhone. Mario might be among the most recognizable gaming faces on the planet, but other greats already blazed this trail. Here are those we reckon are most worth your time.

Sonic the Hedgehog 2

$2.99/£2.29 • v3.1.10 • 47.2 MB • By SEGA

For anyone who wants a nostalgia blast and a more old-school kind of platforming, Sonic 2 fits the bill. Wrenched across from the classic Genesis/Mega Drive cartridge, but spruced up for iPhone, this blazing-fast classic manages to shine on Apple’s device.


As ever, you help the titular Erinaceinae sprint through varied worlds, looping loops, grabbing rings, and defeating nasties, in order to thwart the evil Dr. Eggman. New to the iPhone version are a smoother framerate, remastered audio, and the ability to play as Sonic’s chums, Tails and Knuckles. Also new to iPhone are dreaded virtual controls – although they’re pretty responsive, and won’t leave Sonic horribly impaled on spikes too often due to your thumb skidding across the screen.

(And if you find you can’t get enough of Sonic, his original adventure is also available: US App Store | UK App Store.)


Download Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (US) | UK

Pac-Man Championship Edition DX

$4.99/£3.99 • v1.0.1 • 127 MB • By BANDAI NAMCO Entertainment America Inc.

According to researcher types, Pac-Man’s the only gaming character people recognize as much as Mario. The yellow dot-gobbler’s been a mainstay of arcade gaming since 1980, although the games he’s appeared in have been decidedly variable.


The original Pac-Man and its superior follow-up Ms. Pac-Man are both available in solid iPhone versions, but Championship Edition DX is a better bet. It’s widescreen, super-fast, and has you brush past ghosts to create a spectral conga you can devour once you grab a power pill. Matters are further complicated by the maze being split in two – halves being refilled (and often entirely reconfigured) only on grabbing a bonus item in the other half.


On iPhone, the controls are responsive, the visuals are dazzling, play is excitingly frenetic, and the levels are smartly designed to only eat into a few minutes of your day – that is, if you can stop at just one.

Download Pac-Man Championship Edition DX

Pac-Man 256

Free + IAP • v2.0.3 • 145 MB • By BANDAI NAMCO Entertainment America Inc.

This alternate take on Pac-Man flings the hero beyond the infamous glitch found on the original game’s 256th level. The glitch of scrambled characters becomes the big bad here, devouring everything in its path. Pac-Man must therefore keep forging ahead in an endless maze, until his inevitable demise.


The basic gameplay here mirrors classic Pac-Man: you eat dots, avoid ghosts (each color having its own distinct behavior pattern), and grab power pills, in order to briefly turn the tables on your spooky foes. But there are also absurdist power-ups. The ghosts might think they’re hot stuff, but Pac-Man can make that literally true when he singes them with lasers spewed from his maw, blows them up with a bomb, or catches them unawares in a trail of flames.


Download Pac-Man 256

Space Invaders

$4.99/£3.99 • v1.2.0 • 55.7 MB • By TAITO Corporation

We’d wager that plenty of gamers who weren’t alive in the late 1970s would be able to recognize a Space Invader – even if they’ve never actually played Space Invaders. This version for iPhone is a dinky recreation of the arcade classic, recently fully optimized for high-res iPhone displays.


If you’ve never tried repelling gaming’s original invaders from the cosmos before, you get a little turret at the bottom of the screen, which shoots upwards when you stab the fire button. Invaders march back and forth, which is what you’re aiming at. Rinse and repeat.

Is it thrillingly modern? Nope. But familiar, intuitive and easy to understand? Absolutely. And also, while you might dismiss its simple gameplay and assume Space Invaders can be beaten while you’ve half an eye on the telly, it merrily obliterates complacency with the last few aliens shifting along at breakneck pace to mow down your last remaining turret.


Download Space Invaders

Space Invaders Infinity Gene

$4.99/£3.99 • v4.1.5 • 40.1 MB • By TAITO Corporation

This one starts off mirroring the original Space Invaders, but within seconds the screen fades and you’re given some hints about evolution. This affects your ship, which gets serious firepower and movement upgrades, no longer cementing it to the foot of the screen; unfortunately for you, it also affects the invaders, who arrive in swarms that have learned major new maneuverability tricks. They’ve also brought some friends – big friends.


Each bite-sized level therefore has you darting between bullet hell, encountering new enemies, and figuring out how to kill them before they kill you. This all plays out against gorgeous minimal graphics and a thumping soundtrack that makes the combination intoxicating for anyone who likes a good blaster.


Download Space Invaders Infinity Gene

Lara Croft GO

$4.99/£3.99 • v2.1.4 • 1.00 GB • By SQUARE ENIX INC

Adventuring explorer/kleptomaniac Lara Croft’s one of the most famous faces in gaming, having raided tombs since 1996. On iOS, you can take your chances with ports of the original Tomb Raider and its sequel, but the virtual controls aren’t great on a touchscreen. (And the less said about risible auto-runner Relic Run, the better.) Fortunately, you can get some Lara love on your iPhone in the shape of Lara Croft GO.


This second entry in the GO series (we mention Hitman GO later) is an audacious touchscreen reimagining of Croft’s adventures. Her world becomes a minimal landscape of turn-based puzzling – part chess, part Monument Valley. The puzzles are relatively gentle, but there’s enough challenge to keep you engaged, and a surprisingly palpable sense of atmosphere. When Lara’s clinging to a cliff edge, or being chased by giant spiders, you might have endless time to consider your next move (unlike in the original games), but there’s still tension in the air.


Download Lara Croft GO

Rayman Fiesta Run

$2.99/£2.29 • v1.5.3 • 146 MB • By Ubisoft

Oddball limbless creature Rayman first arrived in 1995, and has since then appeared in a wide range of games, most of which have been traditional side-scrolling platform fare. His main gimmick is power-ups acquired over the course of the game, including the ability to smash barriers, grapple flying rings, and cunningly transform his hair into a helicopter rotor, in order to glide.


Although the original exists on iPhone, virtual controls let it down. We much prefer Rayman Fiesta Run, which is infused with the manic silliness, vibrant visuals, and smart level design of the best Rayman games, but dispenses with most controls. Instead, Rayman auto-runs, and you control his actions (jump; punch; glide) to get him safely to an exit, preferably collecting all the golden Lums along the way.


And if you think that sounds a bit like Super Mario Run, we agree. Really, this is the game Nintendo’s will have to beat, if it wants to be the best of its type on iPhone.

Download Rayman Fiesta Run

Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy

$11.99/£8.99 • 3.05 GB • By Rockstar Games

Rockstar’s somewhat tongue-in-cheek sandbox series mixes up driving, shooting, role-playing and more, as you attempt to survive and thrive in a grimy city full of hardened criminals and cops who don’t take kindly to thugs with a penchant for stealing cars and punching passers-by.


This is, naturally, a world away from the family-safe gaming of Mario, and the GTAs available on iPhone also have a complexity far beyond Super Mario Run. GTA III, San Andreas and Vice City all betray their origins on PCs over a decade ago – the visuals are rough, and virtual controls are sometimes sprinkled across the screen like blood spatter. And yet these games stand the test of time in terms of depth, ambition, and dialogue.


That still might not be enough for iPhone gamers not keen to wrestle with the controls; but if you fancy dipping in a toe rather than grabbing the entire trilogy, start with Vice City, which was the most recently updated.

Download Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy

Day of the Tentacle Remastered

$4.99/£3.99 • v1.2 • 2.78 GB • By Double Find Productions, Inc.

We’re heading into somewhat niche territory now, but imagine some readers will fondly remember Day of the Tentacle. It arrived in 1993, pitting you not so much against the in-game villain (a gloriously over the top evil tentacle) but more the devious minds of its creators.


The backstory involves a mad scientist stinking up a river, a mouthful of which causes the aforementioned tentacle to go mad and take over the world. The scientist then crams local teens into makeshift time machines to go back a day and make things right. Two are hurled centuries off target, and the trio must figure out how to get back to the present while simultaneously defeating their slippery nemesis.

This is classic point-and-click fare, with brain-bending puzzles, some of which cleverly take advantage of time travel. (Need vinegar, but only got wine? Then leave a bottle hanging around for a few centuries…) The interface is a touch fiddly on iPhone, and the difficulty might be too much for some – but, hey, at least you can nip over to Safari to get some tips. You couldn’t do that on a Commodore Amiga…


Download Day of the Tentacle Remastered

Hitman GO

$4.99/£3.99 • v1.12.4 • 1.09 GB • By SQUARE ENIX INC

Our final entry involves a series that perhaps isn’t as widely known as some, but that has nonetheless enjoyed huge success on consoles: Hitman, featuring cloned assassin-for-hire Agent 47. On consoles, this is very much 3D fare – the kind of thing that stretches high-end hardware and would likely be a nightmare on iPhone.


So we’re rather glad Square Enix took a leaf from Apple’s book and decided to think different. In fact, this is one of the boldest reworkings of a gaming series around. Here, you still sneak about, bumping off targets, but this world comprises adorable dioramas with characters that move like clockwork. You must think several moves ahead, in order to be in the right place to avoid or deal with guards, before quite literally bumping your target off of the board.


It’s faintly absurd, yet somehow echoes its console parent’s atmosphere. Moreover, it’s the perfect example of optimizing for the touchscreen – something we think Nintendo managed in a similarly successful fashion with Mario.

Download Hitman GO