iOS Games for People Who Hate iOS: A Few Rules for Finding Good Mobile Games

What I look for when I'm hunting for a good mobile game.

Kat recently got an iPhone 6S, so she's back to combing the Internet for iOS games she doesn't hate. You can read some of the previous entries in the series here.

I'd like to interrupt what has once again become a weekly series to talk a bit about what I'm actually looking for in a mobile game these days. There are actually quite a few good iOS games to choose from, but only a few hit that real sweet spot where they're polished, deep, and actually fun to play on mobile. And unfortunately, they can be rather hard to find.

The impetus behind this ongoing feature is that I've had a hard time find games that appeal to me on iOS. Just today I was looking through the App Store, and this is what I found:

  • MineCraft Story Mode, a game that I would never play on my mobile device in a million years. Putting aside the fact that I don't care about MineCraft, Telltale games aren't a great match for mobile devices or even tablets. They're best enjoyed on television screens or computers.
  • Downwell, which is awesome. You should go play it.
  • Fallout Shelter, which mates Tiny Tower with Progress Quest. I happen to loathe Tiny Tower. After a week spent on Tiny Death Star, I was about done waiting for money to spawn so I could build more shops for my planetkiller. Fallout Shelter is much the same, except that you have to deal with periodic invasions from pests like radroaches, which are just the worst to get rid of. There's almost no strategy, just an excuse to mindlessly click on things.
  • The usual array of licensed free-to-play games like Minions Paradise and Love Rock Starring Shakira - a Simpsons: Tapped Out clone and a Candy Crush knockoff respectively.
  • Games like Plundernauts, which look fun save for the fact that they are driven by microtransactions. I'd love a good spaceship game like Plundernauts, but these games inevitably disappoint me.

While the frontpage of the App Store occasionally yields good results, I usually find myself venturing further into the various filters looking for hidden gems. After my most recent foray, I came away with three new games to try: Space Marshals, Hero Emblems, and Out There. Out of the three, I've yet to try Space Marshals, and Hero Emblems has mostly disappointed me. I had hoped the latter would be a fun match 3 game in the style of Puzzle Quest, but its choppy graphics - worse than those of the four-year-old Battleheart - and relatively simply strategy has mostly turned me off. But hey, it's not as big of a waste of time and money as Candy Crush, so it has that going for it.

Out There is a little harder to dismiss. A space survival game, it has a similar vibe to FTL, but without the combat. Instead, your goal is simply to get as far as you can without running out of oxygen, fuel, or hull. As you proceed, you have to react to situations like the discovery of a derelict starship or a massive alien beast, which have a chance of either enriching you or draining your resources. Most of the time you can move from system to system collecting resources without incident, but you will eventually find yourself running low on fuel without any planets to restock at, which is where luck starts to play a part.

I'm still undecided on Out There. I ended up uninstalling it after my first run ended in failure - it was a little too simple and a little to luck-based for my taste - but I may go back to it with Hero Emblem being kind of a disappointment. At the very least it's interesting, which is not something I can say for most mobile games.

My rules when looking for a mobile game

I have a few rules when I'm looking for a good mobile game. They're mostly down to taste, but they've been a decent guide to unearthing some of the hidden mobile gems that have spent a long period of time on my iPhone. To wit:

1. Kairosoft games are almost always good: I mean, that should be a given. But Kairosoft hasn't led me astray yet. Pocket League Story is one of my favorite sports sims ever.

2. No games with in-app purchases: I'm not doing it anymore. I know that there are good ones, but I'm not really interesting in devoting several hours to a game only to hit a progress wall and start having to grind. I already to do that enough in Madden Ultimate Team. I so wanted to like Team Monster - a mash-up of elements from Pokemon and Battleheart - but then I saw that it had roughly ten different kinds of currency and checked right back out. I'm just not dealing with that anymore.

3. No 3D graphics: This a personal preference thing for me. Games with 3D graphics are often kind of ugly, and they aren't that well-suited for tapping. And again, if I want a full-blown console experience, I'll play on an actual console. That goes for 2.5D games as well, by the way. Battleheart Legacy's ugly art broke my heart.

4. It should have a strong, fast gameplay loop: Ideally I'd like to be able to play for a few minutes, then go onto something else. I've increasingly shied away from RPGs and other heavy duty games on iOS because they require too much investment for the platform's cramped screen and low battery life. I much prefer games where a turn, a day, or a level can be completed in a relatively short period of time.

5. No ports: There are obviously exceptions (Hearthstone, Skulls of the Shogun, FTL), but iOS is almost never my preferred platform for a game. Remember how I said I would never play a Telltale game on my iPhone? That's what I mean.

6. It should have a good interface: A good interface is important anyway, but it's doubly important in a mobile game. The text can't be too small, the menus need to be responsive, and the touch-based controls need to be simply and intuitive. With the exception of Wayward Souls, I almost never play games with on-screen gamepad, which are frequently cramped and painful. Interfaces have gotten a lot better in recent years as developers have learned the ins and outs of the iPhone, so it's not as much of an issue as it used to be. But trying to playing Ascendancy on mobile? Yeah, it's painful.

I freely acknowledge that these rules will probably result in me missing some really good games (I'm told Vainglory is pretty good, for example), but having played dozens of mobile games over these years, I've found that these rules are a pretty good guide for what I'll like. I don't I need to tell you that avoiding games with in-app purchases will save you a lot of heartache down the road.

I'll never be easy to find a good mobile game, particularly given the glut of games on the App Store and elsewhere, but a bit of research and an awareness of what you're looking for can go along way. Either that, or you can keep checking back with this series each week. I promise I'll try not to lead you astray.

Tagged with Column, ios games for people who hate ios, kairosoft, mobile, out there.

Sometimes we include links to online retail stores. If you click on one and make a purchase we may receive a small commission. See our terms & conditions.

Read this next

Everything We Know About Fallout 4

From Pip-Boy to crafting, a strategic look at everything we know about Fallout 4.

Fallout Shelter Tips

Tips for managing your Vault and adding Dwellers in Fallout Shelter.

Man vs. Mario Maker 2: The Superball, Arby's, and World 1-1 is Burning

On this week's Man vs. Mario Maker, we bring you eight new courses full of delight and despair.

Apex Legends Is Matching Cheaters and Spammers With Each Other

Giving them what they deserve: each other.

More

Starting Screen | NeoGAF's Fall is a Sign of the Times in More Ways Than One

STARTING SCREEN | On the sudden end of a long-standing gaming community.

Starting Screen | Starting Screen: Fire Emblem Heroes and the Stages of Regret

The inevitable regret that comes with spending on a free-to-play game, plus the rest of this week's game releases and news.

Starting Screen | Starting Screen: How the Switch Can Keep its Momentum at This Week's Event

Our new Monday column highlights this week's Switch event. Plus: Thoughts on Scalebound's reported cancellation, the NES Classic hack, and more.