10 great iPhone and iPad games to distract you this Christmas
23rd Dec 2011 | 19:00
A big family Christmas tends to be a lot more stressful in real life than M&S's adverts would have you believe, with lots of screaming kids, food of varying quality, and films you don't really want to watch. When the Queen's speech comes on, all you really want to do is distract yourself with a good game.
Handily, Apple's App Store is full of good time-wasters, so whether you got an iPod touch, iPhone or iPad for Christmas, or if you had one already, try one of these as a way to keep sane when you're made to watch Miracle on 34th Street. Again.
For more iPhone and iPad game reviews, check out Tap! magazine. Back issues of the interactive iPad app edition are half price at the moment, featuring video previews and strategy guides.
World of Goo
This charming physics puzzler takes you on an adventure through a surreal, stylised world as you build structures using Goo Balls to reach the end of a level. It's less disgusting than it sounds, we assure you. The Goo Balls can attach to each other to build scaffolding-like creations that other Goo Balls can travel along. Build all the way to the pipe at the end of the level to send your unused Goo Balls to the World of Goo Corporation to complete the level. If that all sounds a bit weird, then it just means we're describing it properly - it's a funny and bizarre game, but one that's sure to suck you in for hours at a time.
Football Manager Handheld 2012
Well, what better time-waster is there in the world? FMH 2012 has the usual updates for players and tweaks to how the game works over its predecessor, but it also features a new Challenge mode for the first time, where you're placed in various scenarios as a manager and have to somehow guide your team to victory. For example, in one challenge your senior players rebel against you, so do you try to win them over, or do you look for replacements? In another scenario, your team is in a long unbeaten run, but can you maintain it? These are perfect for dipping into on a lazy holiday, but do try to remember to look up from it every now and again. For appearances.
Boring board games are a staple of Christmas, but Strategery takes only the good parts to craft a tactical game that's compelling and fun. It's like Risk in that you have armies on a territory and when you attack other territories, dice are rolled to decide that outcome. But Strategery keeps it light by setting a maximum number of armies you can have in any territory, encouraging you to constantly expand and attack instead of stockpiling. There are lots of different game modes, all of which require big changes to how you play, and the turn-based online multiplayer means you can play against your friends.
Zookeeper DX Touch Edition
Match-three games are nothing new, but they're rarely as polished and compelling as Zookeeper. The aim is simple: match groups of animals to advance. There are two modes, with slight differences in what you need to achieve, but they're broadly the same. It's the kind of game where you need to just relax and get into a kind of trance to do really well, and before you know it, half an hour's gone and you've got a new high score. Flawlessly executed and hugely addictive.
This mash-up of Scrabble and Risk takes more attention than Strategery, but those who revel in Boggle victories will find it utterly irresistible. You're given a game board with territories, and when you attack another territory, you're given a set of letters to make words from. Whoever makes a word worth the highest amount of points wins. The length of the word you can make depends on how many soldiers you have on your territory, and the game rewards you for winning battles where you're at a disadvantage. There's a surprising amount of depth to the tactical side, but the main draw is the glee of seeing your army bash your opponent into oblivion with the letters of the eight-letter anagram you just made.
Looks can be deceiving. This puzzle game seems so simple at first, with gentle, easily solved levels that seem to move on very gradually. All you have to do at the start is direct trains into the correctly coloured station. New twists are introduced slowly, and it all seems quite civilised. Then it suddenly turns on you, throwing everything in together, and you realise what a clever game it is. The difficulty curve is perfect, ensuring that you're never left stumped, but the puzzles might take some serious thinking (and some inelegant solutions the first few tries). By then, you'll be frantically planning how to switch the colour of trains, swap them around, and generally wondering if this explains the overall state of the UK's train service.
In this microscopic world of organic warfare, you take control of a mote, a small organism whose task it is to grow by absorbing smaller motes, while avoiding being absorbed by those larger than you. Your mote moves by ejecting a part of itself, inevitably making it slightly smaller. The result is a game of careful thought that's still full of arcadey fun. The touch controls really suit the game, and the multiple game modes means you'll be playing it for ages. And there are few games as satisfying as this one, when you start as one of the smallest motes around and end up covering most of the screen, absorbing anyone foolish enough to get in your way.
Get it here on iPhone
Get it here on iPad
This iPad port of the PC puzzle game has retained all of the simple charm of the original. You play as a little lost robot out to find his kidnapped robot girlfriend and get his own back on the mechanical bullies who kicked him out of the city. Oh, and you'll need to save the city on the way, because there's a bomb. The tale is told through sweet little thought bubbles, and the art of the robot city is just astounding, full of animated artificial animals and with a sense of a decayed former glory. The puzzles can be a little obscure at times, but there are hints to help you out, and even a full walkthrough you can access through a minigame if you get totally stuck.
SpellTower turns word games into something more arcadey with its simple take on the concept. In Tower Mode, you just get a screen full of letters to try to make as high a score as possible from, while Puzzle Mode adds a new row of letters every time you make a word, and the game's over when they reach the top, so you've got to make each word count. Rush Mode adds new rows of letters over time, so you've got to keep making all the words you can. The whole thing feels like less effort than a lot of other word games, but those with a large vocabulary will still be rewarded handsomely.
Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing
3DS owners might be enjoying Mario Kart 7 over Christmas, but that doesn't mean iOS gamers have to miss out on the gaming fun. All-Stars Racing is one of the best challengers we've seen to Mario's racing crown in years, featuring a wide range of colourful and crazy courses, infuriating powerups, cheeky shortcuts and no small amount of smugness when you pip Tails to first place, the hapless goon. The tilt controls work really well, and you'll soon be drifting around courses with ease, picking up boosts, looping the loops and blasting opponents.