iPhone apps that are easy on the eyes

Jan 16, 2010

Video games for the phone were so bad graphically for so long, something as simple as adding a few colors to the game would earn it rave reviews. I may be overstating that a bit, but one thing that can’t be overstated is what the iPhone has done to our expectations as far as graphics go. It’s not […]

Video games for the phone were so bad graphically for so long, something as simple as adding a few colors to the game would earn it rave reviews. I may be overstating that a bit, but one thing that can’t be overstated is what the iPhone has done to our expectations as far as graphics go.

It’s not just the iPhone, though. Current gaming systems have shown some pretty incredible things as far as visuals go, and even if the iPhone isn’t exactly a pure gaming system, you can’t help but compare and contrast the graphics in your new iPhone app with the graphics in your new Xbox game.

Long story short, in 2010, we expect our gaming iPhone apps to not only provide entertainment for a lengthy period of time, but also to impress us visually.

Before diving into this I should mention I’m omitting racing games, as there are simply too many good ones to fit in (Need For SpeedAsphalt and Real Racing are three of the best), and I’m limiting EA and Gameloft to one game apiece. Both of those companies have put out a number of fantastic looking games, and you could populate an entire best graphics list with their games alone.


Released in December, N.O.V.A. (Near Orbit Vanguard Alliance) ($6.99) has already become the premier first-person shooter on the iPhone.

The sci-fi game is set in the future, with humans living on artificial satellites because the Earth can no longer support life. The game’s protagonist is a retired Marine named Kal Wardin, and he’s got plenty of neat weapons and plenty of aliens to use them on.

N.O.V.A. stands out visually because of the attention to detail in its five environments, which are all done very well and are unique from each other. It’s not a cheap iPhone game, but its graphics alone are almost worth the price.

Backbreaker Football

The debate as to what the best sports iPhone game is could go on forever, but the best one graphically starts and ends with one game – Backbreaker Football.

The 99-cent game from Natural Motion isn’t a football simulation like Madden, but instead is a sort of mini-game – you are a ball carrier faced with running the length of the field and dodging would-be tacklers. It’s simple enough at the start, but as you advance, your running area becomes restricted.

Graphically, Backbreaker is almost more comparable to a console game than it is to other sports iPhone games – it’s that good. It also has a really nice control scheme, and given its price, it’s a must own for any gamer.

Dragon’s Lair

I was really impressed by Assassin’s Creed, but decided EA’s representative on this list would be Dragon’s Lair ($4.99). If forced at gunpoint to rank these iPhone games, I’d probably say this one is visually the best, but fortunately there are no guns around right now.

The arcade remake by animator Don Bluth (All Dogs Go To HeavenLand Before Time) is set in the lair of the fire-breathing dragon, Singe. You, Dirk the Daring, are there to save the beautiful princess Daphne.

As far as game play and controls go, there are plenty of better alternatives. But the stunning animations in Dragon’s Lair are what stand out in this iPhone game and are good enough to cover any flaws. Bright, cartoonish graphics seem to be what works best on the iPhone, with no more evidence of that needed than this game.

Spider: The Secret of Bryce Manor

Superior graphics aren’t solely what made Spider: The Secret of Bryce Manor ($2.99) one of the top iPhone games of 2009, but they certainly didn’t hurt.

The game’s interesting story – you’re a spider in an abandoned mansion challenged with discovering the Bryce family secret – and iPhone-specific design are the real stars of this show. With that said, the game doesn’t really have any weaknesses.

It includes 38 levels, all of which have hand-illustrated backgrounds. The iPhone game boasts a very stylish look that compliments both the game play and the storyline, and it’s the perfect example of a game with simple visuals that is still incredibly impressive.

Texas Hold’em

I’ve played enough poker iPhone games to expect very little when it comes to graphics. Most look exactly the same, and aside from that, it’s not easy to stand out graphically when you’re dealing with cards and chips.

But Apple’s Texas Hold’em ($4.99) manages to do so by putting a face to those cards. It looks like they filmed people playing poker and pasted them into the game, and as goofy as this may sound, it actually does provide more depth to the game.

You do have the option of switching to the typical card and chips view, but I can’t imagine why you’d want to. Giving your opponents a face and emotions brings this game to life, something that is desperately needed in the genre.


As bad as poker games can get, visual expectation for tower defense iPhone games are almost as low. I get that it’s all about challenging the player and strategy, but on many of these games, it’s difficult to tell what’s going on.

But geoDefense ($1.99) is not only a solid strategy game, it’s a fantastic game visually as well. It’s set on a grid, and like other tower defense games, the bad guys (creeps) follow a trail that they attempt to complete before you kill them with a blaster, lasers and missiles.

As the game becomes more hectic, not only does it get difficult strategy-wise, but your screen turns into a color explosion. It can be a bit difficult to explain in words, but fortunately, there’s a free demo you can try.

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David Lister

David Lister is a freelance writer in Chicago. He is a former editor and writer at the NationalSportsReview.com and an avid St. Louis Cardinals fan. 

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