Once slammed as little more than time-killers for casual gamers, mobile games in 2012 edged closer to shedding their shonky image once and for all. Here's the titles that really lit up iPhone screens over the last 12 months.
1 Dariusburst SP
At over ten times the price of most titles on offer at the app store, £7.49 is a lot to pay for a mobile game. But unlike a lot of those cheap offerings, many of which you won’t look at after a few plays, Dariusburst SP is worth every penny thanks to gameplay that's deeper than the Mariana Trench.
A side-scrolling shoot ‘em in the style of R-Type, Dariusburst SP ticks all the boxes for fans of the genre – think: febrile action, entire screens packed with hot, fast-moving projectile death for you to dodge and hulking great end of level guardians. And it looks as ravishing as the PSP edition too.
2 Agent Dash
What Temple Run started with its 3D running, jumping, avoiding-obstacles action, Agent Dash came along and perfected.
Neat power-ups added new layers of gameplay and depth to running games, while retaining the genre’s pick-up-and-play appeal. Add a very British sense of humour, authentically 1960s groovy theme tune and slick presentation and you’ve got what was justifiably an ahem runaway success [Clear your desk, Ed).
3 Rayman Jungle Run
The recipient of some of the year’s best reviews from dedicated gaming sites as well as a slew of industry gongs, Rayman Jungle Run is many people’s pick for best iOS game of the year.
Yes, it’s another auto running game – albeit a 2D one in a year awash with 3D efforts. But it’s also one that stands out by the simple expedient of gorgeous cartoon graphics and – this is rare indeed in mobile games where most are only played a cursory couple of times – oodles of replay value as you try and get perfect scores by collecting all 100 lums dotted around each level.
4 Curiosity: What’s Inside the Cube?
Back in the late ‘80s, gaming deity Peter Molyneux invented The God Sim with Populous. Fast forward more than 20 years and he’s set about reinventing the app with Curiosity.
A fiercely original, extremely idiosyncratic title, it’s a MMOG that presents you with the titular black cube. Your mission is to press the screen to dig through its many layers - the game’s sole action – to get through to the centre and discover what’s inside.
Intriguingly, the cube you encounter is littered with permanent holes made by other gamers. All of them it seems on their own path and – with some taking the form of graffiti’d initials - making their own mark on the world. However, only one person gets to find out what’s at the centre of the cube.
It all feels more like mass-participation electronic art or a gaming experiment than anything as prosaic as a game. And if you’re of a mind to think too much about stuff, Curiosity seems like a grand metaphor for life, laying bare how humans interact with each other and serving as food for rumination on our own journeys to enlightenment or otherwise.
Alas, demand for the title and a lack of funding has meant that the game’s server keeps going down. But only a churl would hold that against the 22 Cans studio behind the game. In a sea of me-too apps, this is a true original. And needs to be celebrated as such.
5 God of Blades
The work of Texan game studio White Whale, God of Blades looks somewhere between a classic Psygnosis game and the lush painted cover of a copy of 1970s fantasy bible Heavy Metal.
The gameplay is hack and slash in the Canabalt mould that’s enjoyably simple and frantic, as the best mobile games should be. Meanwhile, the genuinely creative power-ups – one of which summons a flock of birds, while another creates a black hole – are satisfyingly, erm, powerful and the option to unlock content by visiting libraries is a lovely, edifying touch.
6 Angry Birds Star Wars
Sometimes you don’t know what you want until you’re presented with it. And as this meeting of mega franchises revealed, it turns out that what we wanted was an Obi Wan Kenobi Angry Bird who uses the Force to push blocks over and get at the green pigs and a planet-munching superweapon called the PigStar. Oh and a buzzard-style reimagining of Chewie too.
You and the rest of the world know how Angry Birds works by now. But the neat additions and Star Wars theme breathed new life into a formula that by rights ought to look as old as Yoda.
7 Chaos Rings 2
Another title with the kind of premium price to send casual gaming hordes running for the App Store exit, Square Enix's Chaos Rings 2 is an absorbing and visually stunning JRPG with all the overweening ridiculousness so dear to the heart of Final Fantasy fans.
8 Need for Speed: Most Wanted
Need for Speed: Most Wanted’s appeal as an arcade racer lies in the fact that it delivers perhaps the most exhilirating sensation of speed of any iPhone contender. The cool array of licensed vehicles and scope to mod your ride until it's a boy racer-mobile don’t hurt either.
9 Air Mail
Remember Pilot Wings? Chillingo does. Mission-based tilt-controlled aerial fun is the order of the day here. And the beautifully rendered scenery and steampunk art style means it’s fun just taking the biplane for a spin.
10 The Simpsons Tapped Out
Putting the Sim in Simpsons, this city-building title was a dog’s dinner initially. Not only was it riven with bugs, the sheer weight of demand on the servers meant it was unplayable for what felt like months.
By the time it returned to the App Store, though, it was a title worthy of the venerable licence EA had been bequeathed. There’s plenty to get your teeth into (time-limited updates so far have given the game temporary Treehouse of Horror and Christmas themes) and the mission-based action was fun. And was made more so by the fact that the virtual Springfield you’re tasked with rebuilding after it was destroyed in a Homer-created nuclear meltdown retains all the charm of the original cartoon.