Yet another thumbs up to smartphone and tablet games in 2012. The graphics, accessibility and production values of the best mobile games increasingly rival their console and PC counterparts. Even better, they can also be had for a fraction of the price. Of the thousands of games to debut this year for the iPhone, iPad and Android devices, here are five of the best.
ARC Squadron (iPhone, iPod touch, iPad) $0.99
ARC Squadron is a rail shooter game that combines the retro experience of playing an old Nintendo 64 console game with state-of-the-art graphics geared specifically to touchscreen devices. Powered by Unreal Engine 3, the same development toolkit used to create all-time classic Infinity Blade, ARC Squadron has players try their hands (and fingers) in intergalactic warfare. Each area of the galaxy involves a handful of levels with bonus challenges along the way, culminating in an epic boss fight. ARC Squadron is very arcade in nature, as scores in each level directly translate into currency that lets players upgrade and purchase new ships, weapons, and skins. Somehow ARC Squadron manages to ape the gameplay of classic console titles like Star Fox 64, yet feel fresh in a mobile media environment.
Angry Birds Star Wars (iPhone, iPod touch) $0.99 cents (iPad) $2.99, Android smartphones Free, Android tablets $2.99
Star Wars merchandising – both before and after the Disney acquisition – has never felt so good. The newest edition to the Angry Birds family is just plain awesome. Old birds are re-dressed as Luke, Han, Obi-Wan, Chewie, and the rest. The birds get all new powers to boot, including shooting blasters and swinging light sabers. The game is a brilliant mix of the old school Angry Birds mechanics and the gravity mechanics of Angry Birds Space (also a worthy edition to any “best of 2012” list). Add all the Star Wars references and visuals (from the original trilogy, only) and you have a game that is out of this world.
Rayman Jungle Run (iPhone, iPod touch, iPad, Android) $2.99
The sequel to our favorite platform game of 2011 somehow exceeds its predecessor. Don’t let the simple 2-D graphics throw you. Rayman Jungle Run is fast, frantic, creative and a blast to play – far superior to any of the side-scrolling Mario games out there. The art is breathtakingly vibrant, the world is unique and full of oddities, and the gameplay is fluid, creative and accessible. The eccentric soundtrack helps accentuate the strangeness of Rayman’s world, and fits perfectly.
Draw Something (iPhone, iPod touch, iPad, Android) $2.99
Draw Something was downloaded tens of millions of times in its first few weeks of availability because the creators of the Pictionary-like game knew how to keep things simple – and social. The collaborative game works well when played between Facebook friends or complete strangers. It’s accessible enough that young children and tech-illiterate adults can pick it up in a flash.
Beat Sneak Bandit (iPhone, iPod touch, iPad) $2.99
Beat Sneak Bandit elegantly combines rhythm games (in which players tap along to the beat of the music playing in the game), with puzzle gameplay and stealth action. You’ll need to tap to the beat to make the Beat Sneak Bandit character take his sneaky steps, and time your way through the game’s obstacles and traps. It’s a really clever take on touchscreen games, has a great art style and musical selection, and is easy to play while challenging to master.