Strategy games may be popular on iOS, but too many perform a tired juggle of microtransactions and abstract gameplay that cranks out forgettable games that mainly differ by setting. Machines at War 3 marks a welcome departure from all of that. Its tactics may be simple, but its Command and Conquer-inspired real-time strategy (RTS) stands so far apart from similar offerings on the App Store that it's well worth the price of admission.
"Level 22" is not a glamorous name. It’s generic. It doesn’t inspire excitement. Without context, it could mean practically anything. So it’s the perfect way to reference a floor of an equally generic corporate tower, which also happens to be where you work. The trouble here is that it’s a weekday, and after a night of heavy celebrating for your birthday, you’re not at your desk. If the boss finds out you’re late, you’re fired. How do you keep your job? If you’re a fan of Hideo Kojima’s classic, quirky stealth-action series, Metal Gear Solid, you probably already know that your only recourse is to sneak all the way back up to your desk on the 22nd floor through increasingly complex scenarios.
Brightly colored Spandex and match-three puzzling might seem an odd pairing at first, but digging into Marvel Puzzle Quest: Dark Reign yields addictive super-villain smashing fun in abundance. Between collecting virtual comic book covers to unlock new heroes and leveling up your posse with RPG-style enhancements, this free-to-play battler hits the nerdy sweet spot without going overboard in the in-app purchase department.
Following a stellar effort last year, it feels like 2K Sports phoned in the latest mobile edition of its highly regarded basketball simulation series. NBA 2K14 is essentially NBA 2K13 (minus the commentary), albeit with updated rosters and a new mode focused on superstar LeBron James. It feels incomplete, thanks to awkward gaps in the presentation where you'd expect commentary, plus a host of other minor glitches and issues. But, as with last year's effort, there's a decent – albeit barebones – basketball simulation under the hood.
When PixelJunk Monsters debuted as a downloadable PlayStation 3 game in early 2008, it proved a real diamond in the rough – and something of a revelation. This was before tower defense games exploded in popularity, and still months before we had an App Store, let alone one eventually filled with numerous great genre options. To see a game mine such rich strategic complexity out of a simple approach was so impressive at the time, and I fondly recall pumping dozens of hours into the game, alternating between extreme emotions of glee and rage as I stared into the cartoonish glow.
The poet Tony Hoagland once said, "The glory of the protagonist is always paid for by a lot of secondary characters." And in the case of The Lord of the Rings: War in the North, the focus remains solely on a band of previously unknown adventurers, filling in little details to flesh out the fantasy world of Middle-earth and its better-known leads from other media. But despite a refreshing approach to a well-worn tale, the three protagonists of War in the North are depressingly flat, and the path to Mordor is surprisingly stuck on rails.
FIFA 14 continues the fine form set by last year’s edition of the popular soccer simulation, mixing in a compelling free-to-play Ultimate Team mode and an all-new gesture-based control scheme that dramatically alters the feel of the game. It goes much further towards defining the mobile series as distinct from its console brethren, with both the new controls and the lightweight design providing more of a streamlined experience that’s sure to please casual players. There’s still plenty on offer for the hardcore, too – even without paying a cent.
Building a budding railroad empire is hard work. You have to take whatever jobs you can get, which means hauling everything from giant vats of maple syrup and pickles to arcade cabinets and ethanol to maximize your profits. Growing your snaking network of train routes – and fleet of trusty engines to traverse them with goods in tow – hits a delightfully upbeat stride in Pocket Trains, the adorable spiritual successor to Pocket Planes and Tiny Tower. Despite the similarly cutesy sheen of this new venture in the world of pixelated "bitizens," plenty of depth, fun, and accessibility are balanced throughout the clever design.
If you search for endless runners on the App Store, you’ll find a slew of games in all sorts of settings, using a variety of people or animals as subjects. Buddy & Me is another one of those games, but rather than emphasize challenge and dynamic action, what sets it apart from the pack are its gorgeous art, less intense gameplay, and charming, light-hearted feel. You play as a boy who dreams about running through the forest with a large, flying dog-like creature helping him.
It’s hard to say whether or not Boson X is truly inspired by the April discovery of the Higgs-Boson particle, which physicists believe explains why matter has mass. There’s theoretically some common ground. Whereas Higgs, which can supposedly explain the Big Bang, remained elusive to physicists for the past 50-plus years, Boson X is also about the discovery of new experimental subatomics, presumably for a greater understanding – or at least the self-serving satisfaction of winning. But the similarities between the so-called God particle and this ostensibly geeky behind-the-back runner unsurprisingly end there.