For those that know me personally, 'top lists' are a topic I find to be profoundly difficult to participate in as there's always a point at which you're splitting hairs just for the sake of ranking one thing above or below another. Keeping this in mind, AppSpy.com's Top 10 iOS Games for 2011 has not been numbered for the simple reason that a game's position ultimately means so very little when you consider how many games it had to overcome to reach that spot. Hold on to your pitchforks though as Dave, Richard and I have selected our personal favorites of the year, so at least three games will be going home with the knowledge that they managed to crack the cold-hard shell of these reviewer's jaded hearts.
Speaking of which, lets get cracking on AppSpy.com's Top 10 iPhone Games for 2011!
I thought I'd get this one out of the way right off the bat because honestly we've said more than enough about it already. The worst that could be said of GTA3 is that it retains many of the 'flaws' from its original incarnation (notably the aiming system) and better still recent finds from industrious fans have uncovered the ability to 'mod' the game to tweak its appearance and possibly even add new features to the game. Being able to play the 2011 classic from start to finish on the iPhone is an achievement all by itself and well worth it for fans of the series.
In less than two months of starting the year, the App Store witnessed the birth of and subsequent explosion in popularity of the devices next big 'it' game. For us at AppSpy it was a pleasant surprise as it managed to push the otherwise stagnant endless runner motif in a new direction, making it powerfully addictive in a way that no other title had managed before it. Despite how much I personally loved the game, I had expected it to be an unsung hero of the month - a little known blip passed on by the greater gaming sphere. Thankfully I was very wrong and it now stands as the forerunner to what are considered standard features in the genre. Beautiful, elegant and charming, Tiny Wings is the definition of a must have iPhone game.
What? Did you honestly think I'd forget this game a second time around? No such chance given the many tiny, but definitely appreciated changes to the Infinity Blade series that make its sequel such an amazing game to play. While not as ground-breaking as the original it proved that no amount of clones can imitate those who defined a new style of simple, yet engrossing combat for iDevices. The key to Infinity Blade II's success comes from its many subtleties, ranging from the relatively obvious changes to the weapon categories to the slight modification of the dodge system to watching the tower itself grow and change over subsequent 'rebirths'. Its only flaw, if one could even call it that, is its appearance doesn't quite match its intended audience - despite being hardcore the game appeals to a broad audience with a broad level of skill, making the perfect eye-candy for your iDevice no matter who you are.
With so many games hoping to cash in on the success of games like Cut the Rope, it has become almost a cliche to push out a concept summed up as a 'cute, physics-based puzzle game with 3 collectable stars'. Undaunted by the many half-formed clones before its release, Where's My Water? from Creature Feep and Disney quite literally blew things out of the virtual water. Instead of flicking, rolling or otherwise manipulating objects directly, players had to 'dig' their way through dirt to channel flowing water (and other liquids) around a sewer to help Swampy to get clean. The thoroughly charming and addictive title presented a style of challenge rarely seen on iDevices, despite its touch interface, making it equally novel and fun for all ages. If you've not conquered this game from start to finish, you really should.
December certainly didn't hold back on its last-minute hard hitting releases and SEGA's re-release of their classic title Sonic CD was a more than welcome surprise. With its engine being rebuilt from the ground up it was less of a 'port' and more of a complete redesign as it packaged in features the original could only wish it included. Better still, gamers who had little to no contact with the game finally had the chance to indulge themselves in one of the best games within the series, traveling through time, witnessing ripples of change throughout the landscape, while also kicking Robotnik's arse time and again. If you love your platformers, you need this game now.
Dialing things back a notch, the release of Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP Micro was a true highlight of the year, stepping away from action, puzzle and physics obsessed titles to present something far more engaging. This touching adventure combines the graceful elegance and simplicity of sound with a gorgeously rendered pixel-art world to suck players in and keep them coming back for more thanks to its clever puzzles. What makes it even better is that it's these puzzles that help to drive the story, making it hard to put down even when you're left with nothing else to do. Take the time to step in to and envelop yourself in this incredibly simple and elegant tale.
It has been over four months since I first loaded up and enjoyed a spin in Halfbrick's most recent endless runner Jetpack Joyride, but now and then I still catch myself whistling its incredibly addictive soundtrack and then proceed to while-away a few moments within the game itself. Having taken a page out of earlier 2011 releases like Tiny Wings, the game places a focus on objectives instead of rote mind-numbing high-score hunting, rewarding players with aesthetic and game-changing unlockables to keep you coming back for more. The addition of a slot-machine only reinforces the game's laser-like focus on addictive elements, making this a hard game to tear yourself away from until you've absolutely conquered every last challenge possible. Fun, fast, funny and addictive - a deadly combo for anyone's iPhone collection.
When I initially reviewed League of Evil I confessed a small amount of anger and frustration at the lack of games that seem to understand the simple fun and elegance of a platformer. Despite reducing things down to moving left and right, and jumping or firing, there's still a lot of challenge to be had simply from trying not to die to the many hazards in your way. And so while Super Meat Boy added a spark of life to the skill-based platforming on major consoles, League of Evil did much the same thing for the iPhone, proving you don't need physical controls to pull off some truly outrageous stunts. If you've ever felt a burning desire to prove your platforming skills, this is the game for you.
Mage Gauntlet by Rocketcat Games was a most unexpected, but certainly welcome change of pace from the developer who managed to refine ninja-rope racing in to an art form. Mage Gauntlet swaps ninja-ropes for swinging-swords as you control a not-quite-mage on a quest to generally blow things up. Loaded with all the pop-culture and biting RPG commentary you'd expect of someone like the developers of the Hook series, the game itself is a culmination of the developer's expertise in touch controls, making this an easy game to jump in to regardless of your skill level in gaming. A great break-out title for Rocketcat Games and easy to recommend if you like your Action-RPG style titles.
Ever since my introduction to tower defense style games in the days of custom Warcraft 3 maps, I've remained obsessed with finding a game that manages to recreate the same feeling of fun that comes from outplaying the map's developer. This burning hunger for tower defense games dwindled over time, but Bit Studio and Chillingo's conversion of Anomaly Warzone Earth for the iOS platform quickly turned things up to 11 as I switched roles and became the aggressor, not the defender. Realistically the game plays much like any tower defense game with the difference being that you get to choose who you fight and how you engage them. It's a thrilling change and one bolstered by its intuitive controls and stunning visual design. If the usual defense titles don't cut it for you of late, you need to check out this title instead.
Last, but certainly not least, there's always a game that stands out to you as an individual - a game that practically sings out your name and says 'this is what you'll be playing until you've exhausted all it has, and even then you'll keep playing'. As such AppSpy.com is proud to hold up the following games as personal favorites for our staff, making them a special kind of top title for 2011.
Dave Flodine: Bike Baron - Mountain Sheep
Richard Brown: Hard Lines - Spilt Milk Studios
Andrew Nesvadba: Touchgrind BMX - Illusion Labs
It goes without saying that there are so many more excellent titles dotted throughout 2011 and we'd love to hear what your personal favorite is for the year. Leave a comment either on our website, YouTube or via Twitter or Facebook to let us know the game that left the biggest impression on you over the last 12 months.