Game iPhone

The 20 best iPhone game ever

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Written by Kamil Arli

Here that the best 20 iPhone game ever. 

From the early days of the App Store, when game developers first began experimenting with what games on a multi-touch screen should like, to today, when the most popular titles can rake in billions, one thing is clear: For as long as we’ve had iPhone apps, we’ve had games we couldn’t put down.

This list is a look at our favorite iPhone games of all time, based on our list of the best 100 iPhone apps of all time. As with the rest of the apps on the list, we evaluated games based on their design, cultural impact and how they resonated with users. The games below are ranked in the order in which they appeared on the best 100 list.

For a closer look at how we chose and ranked the apps on our list, you can read more about our methodology here.

 

 

The iPhone’s gyroscope and accelerometers unlocked a huge pool of app potential, and it was in this crucible that lightsaber apps were forged. PhoneSaber and Lightsaber Unleashed both pre-dated Great Lightsaber before they were removed from the App Store, but Great Lightsaber continues to be the most popular one of them all, racking up over 1 million downloads. Developed by Byte Flux SRL, the app turns your iPhone in the humming weapon of a Jedi with tons of customizable colored blades and different hilts. Swing your iPhone-saber around and it spits out sounds as if it’s clashing against the luminous blade of an opponent. This app single-handedly helped hordes of Star Wars fans live out their Jedi vs. Sith fantasies like never before.

20. Great Lightsaber

The iPhone’s gyroscope and accelerometers unlocked a huge pool of app potential, and it was in this crucible that lightsaber apps were forged. PhoneSaber and Lightsaber Unleashed both pre-dated Great Lightsaber before they were removed from the App Store, but Great Lightsaber continues to be the most popular one of them all, racking up over 1 million downloads. Developed by Byte Flux SRL, the app turns your iPhone in the humming weapon of a Jedi with tons of customizable colored blades and different hilts. Swing your iPhone-saber around and it spits out sounds as if it’s clashing against the luminous blade of an opponent. This app single-handedly helped hordes of Star Wars fans live out their Jedi vs. Sith fantasies like never before.

 

Tap Tap Revenge ($1.99) was one of the first games to hit the App Store but its origins date back even further. In 2007, developer Nate True built Tap Tap Revolution for the iPhone jailbreak community. A beat-based game similar to Dance Dance Revolution and Guitar Hero, it was a hit. A year later, an official game, now called Tap Tap Revenge was released to great acclaim. Over the next few years, a number of Tap Tap games were released -- including many with music from bands such as Nine Inch Nails, Weezer and Lady Gaga. Tapulous, the company behind TTR, was acquired by Disney in 2010. The game series left the App Store in 2014, but for a couple of years in the late aughts you couldn’t escape TTR. The fact that one of the biggest early iPhone game franchises started before the platform even had an official SDK makes it a historic app.

19. Tap Tap Revenge

Tap Tap Revenge ($1.99) was one of the first games to hit the App Store but its origins date back even further. In 2007, developer Nate True built Tap Tap Revolution for the iPhone jailbreak community. A beat-based game similar to Dance Dance Revolution and Guitar Hero, it was a hit. A year later, an official game, now called Tap Tap Revenge was released to great acclaim. Over the next few years, a number of Tap Tap games were released — including many with music from bands such as Nine Inch Nails, Weezer and Lady Gaga. Tapulous, the company behind TTR, was acquired by Disney in 2010. The game series left the App Store in 2014, but for a couple of years in the late aughts you couldn’t escape TTR. The fact that one of the biggest early iPhone game franchises started before the platform even had an official SDK makes it a historic app.

 

 

 

Ridiculous Fishing ($2.99) almost never was. It started as the Flash game Radical Fishing before developer Vlambeer decided to expand on the idea for a mobile release. Roughly one year into development, a competing studio released a similar game in 2011 with the same premise, swapping out the grizzled Ridiculous fisherman for a ninja. Instead of calling it quits, Vlambeer pushed forward and eventually launched Ridiculous Fishing in 2013, to wide acclaim, even nabbing an Apple Design Awards at the 2013 Worldwide Developers Conference.

18. Ridiculous Fishing

Ridiculous Fishing ($2.99) almost never was. It started as the Flash game Radical Fishing before developer Vlambeer decided to expand on the idea for a mobile release. Roughly one year into development, a competing studio released a similar game in 2011 with the same premise, swapping out the grizzled Ridiculous fisherman for a ninja. Instead of calling it quits, Vlambeer pushed forward and eventually launched Ridiculous Fishing in 2013, to wide acclaim, even nabbing an Apple Design Awards at the 2013 Worldwide Developers Conference.
Created by a young developer in Vietnam, Flappy Bird took the App Store -- and the world -- by storm. The game was simple. Tap on the screen to guide a bird through various pipes. Hit a pipe and the game is over. Sounds frustrating, and it was, but it was addictive — and you could share your score on Twitter.

Launched in May 2013, the game puttered along in relative obscurity until early December 2013. From pure word of mouth, Flappy Bird gained steam steadily, and it hit the App Store Top 10 in January 2014. By the end of the month, the game was the subject of immense media discussion. Flappy Bird amassed at least 50 million downloads and garnered nearly 16 million tweets.

Flappy Bird also generated backlash because of its simplistic nature. People thought it surely had to be scam — there's no way a game like this could climb the App Store charts and become a global phenomenon overnight. But that’s exactly what happened. Unfortunately for developer Dong Nguyen, the criticism hit hard. He just wanted to make a simple game. But he was also concerned his creation was too addictive.

And then something bewildering happened: At the height of the game's success — 28 days after hitting the Top 10 — Nguyen decided to remove the game from the App Store.

That Flappy Bird wasn’t a scam — but a naturally occurring spectacle that came out of nowhere — only makes its triumph that much more incredible and its disappearance that much more bittersweet.

17. FlappyBird

Created by a young developer in Vietnam, Flappy Bird took the App Store — and the world — by storm. The game was simple. Tap on the screen to guide a bird through various pipes. Hit a pipe and the game is over. Sounds frustrating, and it was, but it was addictive — and you could share your score on Twitter.
Launched in May 2013, the game puttered along in relative obscurity until early December 2013. From pure word of mouth, Flappy Bird gained steam steadily, and it hit the App Store Top 10 in January 2014. By the end of the month, the game was the subject of immense media discussion. Flappy Bird amassed at least 50 million downloads and garnered nearly 16 million tweets.
Flappy Bird also generated backlash because of its simplistic nature. People thought it surely had to be scam — there’s no way a game like this could climb the App Store charts and become a global phenomenon overnight. But that’s exactly what happened. Unfortunately for developer Dong Nguyen, the criticism hit hard. He just wanted to make a simple game. But he was also concerned his creation was too addictive.
And then something bewildering happened: At the height of the game’s success — 28 days after hitting the Top 10 — Nguyen decided to remove the game from the App Store.That Flappy Bird wasn’t a scam — but a naturally occurring spectacle that came out of nowhere — only makes its triumph that much more incredible and its disappearance that much more bittersweet.

 

 

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There are puzzle games and then there’s The Room ($0.99). Remember the early days of CD-ROM-based PC gaming, when it seemed like The 7th Guest and Myst were all people could talk about? The Room channels the very hands-on puzzle-solving and photorealistic imagery that both games were known for, but it shifts the setting to a single puzzle box. You might think it’s impossible to build a full-length game around one puzzle box, but that just tells us you’ve never played The Room. After winning a raft of awards for its efforts, Fireproof Games went on to release two follow-ups, the most recent of which launched in Nov. 2015.

16. The Room

There are puzzle games and then there’s The Room ($0.99). Remember the early days of CD-ROM-based PC gaming, when it seemed like The 7th Guest and Myst were all people could talk about? The Room channels the very hands-on puzzle-solving and photorealistic imagery that both games were known for, but it shifts the setting to a single puzzle box. You might think it’s impossible to build a full-length game around one puzzle box, but that just tells us you’ve never played The Room. After winning a raft of awards for its efforts, Fireproof Games went on to release two follow-ups, the most recent of which launched in Nov. 2015.

 

One doesn’t hear the words “quiz app” and think “good game,” but QuizUp is different. This game lets you prove to both your friends and complete strangers that you are the master of Parks and Recreation trivia. Or beer trivia. Or Nicki Minaj trivia. In fact, whatever you’re an expert in, QuizUp offers a game for it. It’s this depth that makes the game compelling. Your friends might not by playing as much as they were a year ago, but it's still popular enough worldwide to get guaranteed matches with randos. Also, can you name another app developed by a man named Thor? Didn’t think so.

15. QuizUp

One doesn’t hear the words “quiz app” and think “good game,” but QuizUp is different. This game lets you prove to both your friends and complete strangers that you are the master of Parks and Recreation trivia. Or beer trivia. Or Nicki Minaj trivia. In fact, whatever you’re an expert in, QuizUp offers a game for it. It’s this depth that makes the game compelling. Your friends might not by playing as much as they were a year ago, but it’s still popular enough worldwide to get guaranteed matches with randos. Also, can you name another app developed by a man named Thor? Didn’t think so.

 

There weren’t many hit games in the first year of the App Store — developers were still trying to bring old gaming concepts to a new platform. Then along hopped Doodle Jump ($0.99). The quirky game with seemingly hand-drawn art used the iPhone’s accelerometer as a controller; you send a little alien (often called the Doodler by fans) to higher and higher terrain on platforms that quickly become harder to land on. Along the way, there were monsters to shoot and power-ups to grab as the terrain became trickier. Doodle Jump is still hopping, receiving regular updates and even inspiring a line of merchandise.

14. Doodle Jump

There weren’t many hit games in the first year of the App Store — developers were still trying to bring old gaming concepts to a new platform. Then along hopped Doodle Jump ($0.99). The quirky game with seemingly hand-drawn art used the iPhone’s accelerometer as a controller; you send a little alien (often called the Doodler by fans) to higher and higher terrain on platforms that quickly become harder to land on. Along the way, there were monsters to shoot and power-ups to grab as the terrain became trickier. Doodle Jump is still hopping, receiving regular updates and even inspiring a line of merchandise.

 

13. Draw Something

Whirlwind fad is the only way to describe OMGPop’s Draw Something. With zero publicity, the app somehow became a viral hit at the height of its runaway success in 2012.
A knock-off version of Pictionary, Draw Something wormed its way onto over 50 million phones within its first 50 days. The game’s pretty quite simple: Players draw pictures of a word and then it’s up to another friend to guess the word as the picture is drawn back, stroke for stroke. At its peak, over 3,000 drawings were made per second.
Though there were plenty of social games by 2012 that had multiplayer modes, Draw Something stuck because it tapped into your Facebook friends. Creating new games with friends was a click away and you could see everyone who was playing.
The game shot up the App Store charts to No. 1 so quickly, it caught the attention of Zynga, the social-gaming company behind hits like Farmville and Words with Friends. Zynga quickly purchased OMGPop and Draw Something for $180 million, hoping to turn it into a high-profile franchise.
Unfortunately, like so many apps that go viral, Draw Something’s success was extremely short-lived, and it fell off the charts just as fast it rose. Draw Something 2 was released a year later in 2013, but it was too late and the audience had already moved on. Draw Something will be remembered in the history books as a cautionary tale about apps that go viral; not every game can reach Angry Birds-level success.

 

No one saw Threes! ($2.99) coming. Sirvo’s absurdly successful puzzle game of sliding tiles operates on a simple premise: Create ever-higher multiples of three by adding 1's and 2's together to create — you guessed it — 3's, then combine like tiles to double their number. Threes! exploded, ushered along by favorable reviews that praised its minimalistic design and easy-to-grasp/difficult-to-master play. Unfortunately, the success of Threes! also prompted a tidal wave of clones, one of which (we won’t name it here) eventually eclipsed the success of Sirvo’s work.

12. Threes!

 

No one saw Threes! ($2.99) coming. Sirvo’s absurdly successful puzzle game of sliding tiles operates on a simple premise: Create ever-higher multiples of three by adding 1’s and 2’s together to create — you guessed it — 3’s, then combine like tiles to double their number. Threes!exploded, ushered along by favorable reviews that praised its minimalistic design and easy-to-grasp/difficult-to-master play. Unfortunately, the success of Threes! also prompted a tidal wave of clones, one of which (we won’t name it here) eventually eclipsed the success of Sirvo’s work.

 

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A year after riding to critical acclaim with 2010’s Fruit Ninja, Halfbrick Studios followed up with the hit game up with Jetpack Joyride, an addictive endless side-scroller that went on to win an Apple Design Award in 2012. Featuring Barry Steakfries, one of the company’s original characters, players tap on the screen to propel him forward as far as possible, all the while trying to avoid dangerous obstacles ranging from lasers to zappers, collect power ups and enter robot vehicles. Jetpack Joyride helped create the endless-runner genre on mobile, and its huge success also paved the way for indie studios to get serious recognition within the gaming industry. Today, Jetpack Joyride is a franchise that spans all the major game platforms.

11. Jetpack Joyride

A year after riding to critical acclaim with 2010’s Fruit Ninja, Halfbrick Studios followed up with the hit game up with Jetpack Joyride, an addictive endless side-scroller that went on to win an Apple Design Award in 2012. Featuring Barry Steakfries, one of the company’s original characters, players tap on the screen to propel him forward as far as possible, all the while trying to avoid dangerous obstacles ranging from lasers to zappers, collect power ups and enter robot vehicles. Jetpack Joyride helped create the endless-runner genre on mobile, and its huge success also paved the way for indie studios to get serious recognition within the gaming industry. Today, Jetpack Joyride is a franchise that spans all the major game platforms.

 

When Kim Kardashian: Hollywood launched in June 2014, many perceived it as a joke. But the app quickly climbed the download charts: Not only were people spending hours to become a virtual star in Kim K.’s world by attending virtual photoshoots, club events and learning valuable skills like “smiling with your eyes,”’ they were spending actual money to do so — unlocking features like new haircuts, outfits and activities. In the first five days alone, the app reportedly brought in $1.6 million, and after the first quarter, nearly 23 million players tried their shot at fame. The success reinforced Kardashian’s role as a shrewd businesswoman, paving the way for other celebrity-app ventures from the likes of Katy Perry and Britney Spears.

10. Kim Kardashian Hollywood

When Kim Kardashian: Hollywood launched in June 2014, many perceived it as a joke. But the app quickly climbed the download charts: Not only were people spending hours to become a virtual star in Kim K.’s world by attending virtual photoshoots, club events and learning valuable skills like “smiling with your eyes,”’ they were spending actual money to do so — unlocking features like new haircuts, outfits and activities. In the first five days alone, the app reportedly brought in $1.6 million, and after the first quarter, nearly 23 million players tried their shot at fame. The success reinforced Kardashian’s role as a shrewd businesswoman, paving the way for other celebrity-app ventures from the likes of Katy Perry and Britney Spears.
IMAGE: GLU MOBILE

 

A few iPhone games had flirted with the endless-runner idea prior to Temple Run — games where you’d move forward until your reflexes failed you — but the 2011 hit succeeded in making it a mobile staple. The top-down view of a person who must escape nightmarish monsters chasing him over every type of twisty, fantastic terrain was very compelling. The game also never did the same thing twice, so players had to keep their reflexes sharp as they dodged left, right, over and under with nimble swipes of their finger. The husband-and-wife team of Imangi Studios went on to even bigger success with its 2013 sequel and has done successful tie-in games with Disney and Olympic athlete Usain Bolt.

9. Temple Run

A few iPhone games had flirted with the endless-runner idea prior to Temple Run — games where you’d move forward until your reflexes failed you — but the 2011 hit succeeded in making it a mobile staple. The top-down view of a person who must escape nightmarish monsters chasing him over every type of twisty, fantastic terrain was very compelling. The game also never did the same thing twice, so players had to keep their reflexes sharp as they dodged left, right, over and under with nimble swipes of their finger. The husband-and-wife team of Imangi Studios went on to even bigger success with its 2013 sequel and has done successful tie-in games with Disney and Olympic athlete Usain Bolt.
IMAGE: IMANGI STUDIOS

 

Dots burst onto the app scene in 2013 with all the right ingredients for incredibly addictive gameplay. The game, which challenged you to connect as many colored dots in as little time as possible, was instantly lauded for its simplicity and entertainment value. People loved the 60-second commitment and the built-in social aspect that pitted your score against friends on Twitter and Facebook. It was also deceptively simple, in that the point was not so much to connect like-colored dots, but to make squares of varying sizes that got you bigger scores more quickly. Dots begat the more level-based 2 Dots, but the sequel never enjoyed the white-hot popularity of the original.

8. Dots

Dots burst onto the app scene in 2013 with all the right ingredients for incredibly addictive gameplay. The game, which challenged you to connect as many colored dots in as little time as possible, was instantly lauded for its simplicity and entertainment value. People loved the 60-second commitment and the built-in social aspect that pitted your score against friends on Twitter and Facebook. It was also deceptively simple, in that the point was not so much to connect like-colored dots, but to make squares of varying sizes that got you bigger scores more quickly. Dotsbegat the more level-based 2 Dots, but the sequel never enjoyed the white-hot popularity of the original.

 

Tiny Wings ($0.99) seems like a fever dream of a game: You play a bird whose wings are too tiny to lift it high, so instead must sail across brightly colored, rolling hills to reach impossible heights. The charming premise and brilliant art were helped along by simple, one-touch controls that made sailing through the clouds so rewarding. There were also plenty of challenges, as you had to learn to hit hills just right to try and beat your own personal best distance score. This 2011 iPhone success story relied on that addictive, “just-one-more-try” formula and gave an early glimpse of what endless runners on the iPhone could look like (even if it was technically an “endless flyer”).

7. Tiny WIngs

Tiny Wings ($0.99) seems like a fever dream of a game: You play a bird whose wings are too tiny to lift it high, so instead must sail across brightly colored, rolling hills to reach impossible heights. The charming premise and brilliant art were helped along by simple, one-touch controls that made sailing through the clouds so rewarding. There were also plenty of challenges, as you had to learn to hit hills just right to try and beat your own personal best distance score. This 2011 iPhone success story relied on that addictive, “just-one-more-try” formula and gave an early glimpse of what endless runners on the iPhone could look like (even if it was technically an “endless flyer”).

 

Fruit Ninja ($0.99) was one of those early mobile games that really leveraged the strengths of the iPhone — namely, the touchscreen — to deliver an experience that wouldn’t really work anywhere else. It’s a simple game: Using your finger as a sword, you swipe the screen to slice thrown fruit to bits while avoiding hazardous bombs. But that kind of intuitive gameplay was a huge early driver for mobile games, and Fruit Ninja catapulted to success quickly. It remains one of the most downloaded mobile games to date.

6. Fruit Ninja

Fruit Ninja ($0.99) was one of those early mobile games that really leveraged the strengths of the iPhone — namely, the touchscreen — to deliver an experience that wouldn’t really work anywhere else. It’s a simple game: Using your finger as a sword, you swipe the screen to slice thrown fruit to bits while avoiding hazardous bombs. But that kind of intuitive gameplay was a huge early driver for mobile games, and Fruit Ninja catapulted to success quickly. It remains one of the most downloaded mobile games to date.

 

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As mobile games became ubiquitous, it was soon apparent how social they were. Clash of Clans brought more complex gameplay to the iPhone audience when it took off in 2012. Players needed to build their own bases over time, allying with clans of others to fend off attacks from friends and strangers that could come at any time. Leveling-up your army of goblins and archers took time and daily maintenance, but Facebook hits like Farmville had already trained the audience to expect that. Clash of Clans is still sitting pretty as one of the highest-grossing iOS games, and it's spawned countless imitators, including Game of War. That's right — you can blame/thank Clans for that interminable ad campaign starring Kate Upton.

5. Clash of Clans

 

As mobile games became ubiquitous, it was soon apparent how social they were. Clash of Clansbrought more complex gameplay to the iPhone audience when it took off in 2012. Players needed to build their own bases over time, allying with clans of others to fend off attacks from friends and strangers that could come at any time. Leveling-up your army of goblins and archers took time and daily maintenance, but Facebook hits like Farmville had already trained the audience to expect that. Clash of Clans is still sitting pretty as one of the highest-grossing iOS games, and it’s spawned countless imitators, including Game of War. That’s right — you can blame/thank Clansfor that interminable ad campaign starring Kate Upton.
Released in November 2012, Candy Crush Saga is one of the most popular iPhone games ever made. The match-three game started its life on Facebook but really found a following after coming to the iPhone. If you took the NYC subway in 2013, you knew the game was unstoppable. It didn't matter who you were or where you lived — you were either playing Candy Crush or within spitting distance of someone who was. It's fast, it's fun and its pay-for-more-lives-via-in-app-purchase ploy has led to some individuals spending thousands of dollars to feed their addiction. -

4. Candy Crush Saga

Released in November 2012, Candy Crush Saga is one of the most popular iPhone games ever made. The match-three game started its life on Facebook but really found a following after coming to the iPhone. If you took the NYC subway in 2013, you knew the game was unstoppable. It didn’t matter who you were or where you lived — you were either playing Candy Crush or within spitting distance of someone who was. It’s fast, it’s fun and its pay-for-more-lives-via-in-app-purchase ploy has led to some individuals spending thousands of dollars to feed their addiction. –

 

It seems a huge part of what makes a game successful is how memorable its characters are. The green alien Om Nom of Cut the Rope ($0.99) helped stick the game into players minds, but it was the fantastic mechanics that kept them coming back. Cut the Rope was a fantastically designed puzzle game for its clever use of physics. Every new group of levels had a devious new mechanic that made the simple act of cutting the rope — and rewarding Om Nom with precious candy — even more challenging. The game also kept fans hooked by introducing new level packs long before it became standard practice for mobile games.

3. Cut the Rope

It seems a huge part of what makes a game successful is how memorable its characters are. The green alien Om Nom of Cut the Rope ($0.99) helped stick the game into players minds, but it was the fantastic mechanics that kept them coming back. Cut the Rope was a fantastically designed puzzle game for its clever use of physics. Every new group of levels had a devious new mechanic that made the simple act of cutting the rope — and rewarding Om Nom with precious candy — even more challenging. The game also kept fans hooked by introducing new level packs long before it became standard practice for mobile games.

 

Words With Friends might be a Scrabble clone, but it brought Scrabble-like wordplay to mobile devices long before the official version got there. The cool thing about Words With Friends is the way it pairs people together for turn-based games. It’s possible to connect and play with actual friends, but whoever you play with, there’s no pressure in Words With Friends to take your turn — the game simply pushes each move back and forth between the two competitors’ mobile devices. The game was so successful that Zynga, the publisher, eventually struck a deal with Hasbro, Scrabble’s U.S./Canada publisher, to release a physical version of the mobile game.

2. Words With Friends

Words With Friends might be a Scrabble clone, but it brought Scrabble-like wordplay to mobile devices long before the official version got there. The cool thing about Words With Friends is the way it pairs people together for turn-based games. It’s possible to connect and play with actual friends, but whoever you play with, there’s no pressure in Words With Friends to take your turn — the game simply pushes each move back and forth between the two competitors’ mobile devices. The game was so successful that Zynga, the publisher, eventually struck a deal with Hasbro, Scrabble’s U.S./Canada publisher, to release a physical version of the mobile game.

1. Angry Birds

It seems a red, round bird with thick, scowling eyebrows is destined to be just as recognizable as Mario or Sonic the Hedgehog. Every platform needs that first game to push it to new heights, and for iOS, that game was Angry Birds ($0.99).
The simple idea of slingshotting disgruntled avians towards teetering towers of bricks, stones and pigs was the perfect fit for touch controls. It was helped along by challenging yet easy-to-play levels that could be attempted — and re-attempted — in a minute. Adding to the challenge was each level’s star rating, meaning you could still perfect your score and beat your friends. It changed the way mobile developers thought about games for years, with both a premium version and a free, ad-supported version available.
Angry Birds eventually came in so many sequels and flavors — including tie-ins with Star Wars and Transformers — and spawned toys, cartoons and an upcoming animated film.

About the author

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Kamil Arli

Editor of DigitalReview.co. Digital Media Consultant

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