Best iPhone and iPad Games of 2011

Nick Martens picks his favorite iPhone and iPad games of the year.

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I recently started a new blog, with our designer and friend David Cole, called On Tap, where we write about good games for the iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad. David was recently tasked with ensuring the survival of a tiny human being, so I took the duties of writing up our official best of the year list.

Game of the Year

Bumpy Road (Universal)

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At first, Bumpy Road seems like a simple game. Even though its central (and only) mechanic is completely novel, it’s still easy to explain. A cartoony couple drives their car on a road that looks like xylophone keys. Touch anywhere on the screen, and a bump forms in the road. You then use this bump to push the car around, like a wave pushes a surfer.

That’s it, that’s the game. You use one finger to do one thing.

But what makes Bumpy Road special is how great that one thing feels. You can hold the car gingerly at the crest of the bump to collect high tokens, you can tap below the car to pop it into the air, or you can run your finger across the screen to zip the car forward. You can also rock the car back and forth, in place, just because it’s fun. The game is structured like an infinite runner, where you score points for going far, but Bumpy Road’s core mechanic would be a joy to use in a vacuum. No other iOS game captures the spirit of “play” better.

Of course, Bumpy Road has many other lovely qualities. Its flat, French-flavored style is adorable, like a 2D Ratatouille. The game features several modes that curb monotony, and developer Simogo has updated it dutifully since its release. It even presents a heartbreaking story as a slide show, frames of which you earn by playing the game (a better incentive, surely, than “achievements”). Bumpy Road is a triumph of creativity and care, built on a foundation of pure, joyful gameplay. It is surely one of the year’s best games, on Apple’s platform or any other.

Top Ten

English Country Tune (Universal)

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English Country Tune is a puzzle game that explores the concept of pushing things around to an obsessive extreme. It makes your brain twist around in three dimensions so radically that you’ll beg for the relief of Portal.

Forget-Me-Not (Universal)

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In a nut, it’s Pac-Man plus shooting in randomly generated levels. But those elements combine into something superlative — a tense, strategic, and unique game designed with modern thought and retro philosophy. An absolute gem.

Fractal (iPad)

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Fractal is like a puzzle game from the future. It’s perplexing and abstract at first, but once you truly learn its core mechanic — pushing groups of hexagonal tiles into groups — you’ll feel like some sort of genius wizard.

The Last Rocket (Universal)

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The Last Rocket brings old-school game design to a brand new platform and loses nothing in translation. It’s a classic puzzle platformer with pitch-perfect pixel art and totally natural touch screen controls. An impressive feat.

Monsters Ate My Condo (Universal)

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Monsters Ate My Condo never lets you feel in control. As you try to play a simple but compelling puzzle game with a stack of “condos,” monsters shake it, stomp around, eat stuff, activate special powers, and cause general mayhem. In other words, Monsters Ate My Condo is never not exciting.

Milpa (Universal)

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Milpa‘s theme of Mesoamerican agriculture is as refreshingly original as it is totally bizarre, but underneath the game is simple. It’s a match-three puzzler where you spin your crops on a pivoting arm to swap them around. Okay, that might still sound weird, but once you wrap your head around it, the game is tremendous fun.

Quarrel Deluxe (Universal)

Quarrel Deluxe is Risk plus Scrabble, except ten times faster. Yes, it’s as awesome as it sounds; don’t let the childish and slightly obstructive presentation fool you.

SpellTower (Universal)

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SpellTower combines Boggle’s word finding with a classic rising-blocks puzzle game. Its clean but information-rich visual design and multitude of smart details make this the best word game on iOS to date.

Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP (Universal)

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Sworcery looks like nothing else ever made; its lush, detailed pixel art recalls the past but eschews nostalgia, creating a setting layered with mood and mystery. Add in Jim Guthrie’s soundtrack, surely among the best music created for any game, and the result is an unearthly and deeply immersive atmosphere.

Nick Martens is a founding editor of The Bygone Bureau. You can email him, if you like.