Gaming strategy: Six iPhone apps that rely on your decision-making skills

Nov 6, 2009
Games

The iPhone is a wondrous little device that can do a ton of different things, like let you watch TV, read the news, or play games. It’s practical almost to a self-conscious, Napoleon-complex-like level. How appropriate then, that Apple’s fancy gadget is also a tiny portal into the huge world of strategy games. Boxed In […]

The iPhone is a wondrous little device that can do a ton of different things, like let you watch TV, read the news, or play games. It’s practical almost to a self-conscious, Napoleon-complex-like level. How appropriate then, that Apple’s fancy gadget is also a tiny portal into the huge world of strategy games.

Boxed In 2 (99 cents) is a sokoban-style puzzler, meaning you must shove boxes around and under certain constraints like walls to reach the final goal. This is gussied up here by having a generic-looking robot keeping switches depressed with boxes, though the genre’s timelessness is unable to prop up the game’s familiar mechanics. It’s a fine game, and while flicking your fingers instead of a directional pad to control is a little odd and can make for some accidental wrong moves, there are worse ways to spend 99 cents. Plus, if you’re stuck on a level, you can just skip to the next one.

Star Defense (99 cents) is your standard tower-defense game, but, as the name suggests, it has a sci-fi theme. It also has roots in real-time-strategy space games like “StarCraft.” While it isn’t as involved as Blizzard’s beloved classic, Star Defense, it goes deeper in its own way by letting you fend off the invading S’rath from getting to its ship to your base on a winding three-dimensional path. You also only get a limited amount of towers you can plant, so what seems like a great strategy at first will quickly need tweaking as the marauding space invaders rush off their ship. Adjustable difficulties and the option for multiplayer helps give an already fresh game that much more shelf life.

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Fans of Dynamix and Sierra’s The Incredible Machine would do well to check out Geared (99 cents). Geared doesn’t rely as much on Rube Goldberg logic as The Incredible Machine, but it does focus on one of that other game’s more straightforward dynamics: Lining up a paltry number of gears to get other gears moving. More specifically, you need to power a blue gear on one side of the screen by connecting other gears from your inventory to the perpetually rotating yellow gear on the other side. Gravity takes effect here, meaning you’ll need to drop gears in from above, but that also means you can’t merely line them up quickly in succession. Like many of the best iPhone games, Geared starts off simply to get you hooked, and then mercilessly cranks up the difficulty without you even noticing.

The same can be said of Crush The Castle ($1.99). The king has decreed that you crush all resistance in the land, sending you on your way with nothing but a catapult that can topple any wooden and steel houses of cards you find along the way. An overhead map lets you jump quickly from one puzzle to another in case you find one that’s proving troublesome, but persistence sometimes proves to be the best strategy in sinking a completely lucky shot. Inclines and certain walls are tough to dislodge, but Crush The Castle’s mandate is that you actually defeat the inhabitants of the house — there’s no need to go medieval Jenga on the game, unless you want to.

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Ants Realm (99 cents), a defense game set at a picnic, makes a strong case on another way to spend 99 cents: A magnifying glass. You must defend an innocent gingerbread man from being torn apart by ants by tilting your iPhone to aim a sun-pierced lens at the pesky critters. In theory, this should work great. But the controls are wonky and instead of precise bursts of UV rays doled out by your handiwork, you’ll wind up swinging the iPhone around like a handheld pendulum. It doesn’t help that the game inexplicably hangs and can be — wait for it — buggy.

Crayon Physics Deluxe succeeds at a difficult task: making physics fun and simple. Fortunately, it isn’t educational in the slightest. The only goal in Crayon Physics Deluxe is to have a tiny red ball touch a bright yellow star. This is done by literally drawing anchors, inclines, and anything else to fill in a level’s gaps on the iPhone’s screen, and then tapping on the ball to get it moving down the terrain you created. The childish crayon aesthetic and electro-lullaby music might make this game seem like kiddie stuff, but some of the later levels are so bare you’ll need a fully developed intellect to make it through. It’s anything but kid stuff.

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David Wolinsky

David Wolinsky is the Chicago city editor for The Onion's A.V. Club and is also the  undisputed 1994 Blockbuster store champion at collecting bananas in Donkey Kong Country.

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