Someone asked me the other day: “Hey Jaanus, you play a bunch of games on iPad. What games do you recommend if I want a slightly deeper experience than most of the casual games?”
What a great question. Yes, I’ve been playing games on iPad ever since it came out in 2010. It is a fantastic gaming device that is quite different from other game platforms: phone, PC and console. These days, I play games on phone, PC and iPad. I never was too big on consoles.
Also, I like the framing of “slightly deeper than casual”. There’s a spectrum of depth on all of these devices. On one hand, you have silly casual games whose sole purpose these days is to appeal to your lowest reptile instincts and suck money out of you in their “free-to-play” formula. On the other extreme, you have insanely deep, rich and beautiful cames that suck hours and hours out of you and where you must spend a lot of time to gain any sort of progress, in the spirit of good old PC gaming.
Both of these are fine, but I do think that there is a space inbetween that I’d describe as “deeper than casual, yet not so deep that you’d get lost in it.” That’s what the question was about, and that’s what appeals to me as well.
Over the years, I’ve developed a highly subjective taste of games. Sometimes it matches with the big blockbusters and advertising, and sometimes it doesn’t.
So, allow me to present, Jaanus iPad game recommendations of 2015. This is the “best of” through the past few years. I’ve tried many more than these, but here’s only the good stuff, separated across genres.
Civilization Revolutions. A great adaptation of the classic desktop came that’s not just a port, but seriously rethought and made a bit more casual. You can complete a whole game in just an hour or two, unlike the desktop one that went on for days.
Plague Inc. Your goal is to kill all humans. As morbid as it sounds, it’s quite fun and challenging to create the ultimate pathogen. I think we get better at morality by imagining ourselves at the other side of the good-and-evil fence once in a while, and this game is the perfect opportunity for that.
XCOM: Enemy Within. A remake of the great XCOM desktop classic that I played 20 years ago. Perfect fit for the touch interface. According to reviews, only some “visual effects” are missing from iPad as compared to desktop, but I couldn’t care less.
Adventure / sandbox
Dead Space. Can’t say it was my favorite experience, too repetitive. But it’s another huge franchise and by trying it on iPad, I saved myself the time and effort of trying it on a bigger platform.
Another genre that’s a great fit for the iPad big touchscreen.
Bicolor. Hands down the best iOS puzzle game by a huge margin. Nothing comes close to this one. I was really sad when I completed it, because I did enjoy pushing through its harder levels. Some of them are really challenging, but you always find a way eventually. If you just get one puzzle game, make it this one.
Quetzalcoatl. From the maker of Bicolor. I’m still playing it. Bicolor is better, but this is still really good and way above anything else on this list.
Letterpress. Differently from everything else on this list, this is a multiplayer game. You’ll always be playing against another human. Both scary and fun.
7 Little Words. Great for honing your English language skills.
Music / Zen
I made up this category. It’s games where either music is the main component/goal of the game, or it just has a zen/relaxing feeling.
The Plateau. One of the earlier games in this genre. Really good. Also could be in the puzzle genre, some of the later puzzles explode your head.
Only the first one is a true port of a physical game. The other ones don’t have physical equivalents but I felt they belong in this category because they have a limited rectangular space where you do things.
Carcassonne. A fantastic iOS version of a physical board game (which I also recommend.) If you have multiple iOS devices in your family, this is a great family game to play with your spouse and kids.
Flight Control. One of the earliest iOS games that got big, and still great.
I guess Angry Birds could also be here, and I have played it, but I’m not linking to it because duh.
Monument Valley. All in all, the most beautiful and zen iPad gaming experience. If I had to give out a grand prize through this whole list, I’d give it to this game.
Karateka. A remake of the old classic available on C64 and other old platforms, developed by the original author Jordan Mechner. Not a straight port: nicely adapted to new graphics and touch interface.
Wishlist / wildcard
I intend to play these games, and I have a feeling they will be good, but haven’t yet tried them so I can’t give a recommendation. But still listing them here.
Papers Please. This has already won many awards on desktop, and supposedly works great on the touch interface as well.