Known for console and computer heavy hitters like Civilization V and XCOM: Enemy Unknown, Firaxis’ latest strategy game is the unexpectedly kid-friendly and cartoonish Haunted Hollow for iPhone and iPad. Starring familiar monsters like vampires, ghosts, and witches, this free-to-play game offers a surprisingly rich level of depth and enjoyment that is sure to please any fan of the genre.
Everything about Lego Star Wars: The Yoda Chronicles -- from its overhead camera to its unit building mechanics -- resembles a real-time strategy game. The adorable characters and familiar Star Wars iconography could have made this free-to-play affair a worthwhile introduction to the genre for newcomers, but for a game with all the trappings of a strategy title, it curiously lacks any real strategic decision-making.
Angry Birds Friends brought the fowl-flinging sensation to Facebook, and unsurprisingly, it proved hugely popular in that format. Now the socially-connected spin on the franchise makes the return trip to iPhone and iPad while maintaining the distinct, free-to-play approach that defined that browser-based take. On a platform that already hosts five distinct Angry Birds games packed with several hundred total levels, the prospect of playing in one six-stage tournament per week may not seem remarkable, but it's the competitive aspect that puts an interesting tweak on the usual formula.
Draw Something 2 is exactly the kind of sequel we'd expect from a casual gaming juggernaut like Zynga: It's slickly refined, nicely expanded, and slathered with silly marketing tie-ins. Seriously, when will pop starlet Carly Rae Jepsen continue the game that it made us send "her" during the tutorial? All the same, this follow-up builds upon the sketch-guessing sensation by adding more social features and ways to interact, while wrapping everything up in a flashier package.
After utilizing an open-city design for its premium Iron Man 2 movie game – complete with the requisite array of screen-cluttering virtual buttons – Gameloft opted for something simpler, swifter, and certainly cheaper for the next tie-in. Released in advance of the latest live-action Marvel Comics romp, the free-to-play Iron Man 3 sends Tony Stark soaring ahead through multiple locales, with alternating sequences that find him swiftly dodging traffic and aerial obstacles, zapping waves of foes, and even fighting through narrative-led boss battles. Blazingly fast and initially quite fun, this gratis game easily warrants a download from fans, though the thrills are short-lived.
It's fair to say that the original Robot Unicorn Attack was built on a gag concept. Its hard-edged riff on the hearts-and-rainbows style of artist Lisa Frank offered an amusing visual contrast, while the looping synth-pop classic "Always" by Erasure only cemented its absurdist intentions. But the game itself was no joke, as the rousing endless runner became a genre favorite that even spawned a couple of spin-offs. Robot Unicorn Attack 2 is an all-new entry, though, and while maintaining the fundamental elements of the debut, it makes the previous titles seem downright prehistoric by comparison. And it also offers one of the friendliest free-to-play models we've seen in any iOS game to date.
In a marketplace chock full of free-to-play word games, Bookworm Heroes plays like a clear attempt to take back the mantle. PopCap didn’t invent casual word puzzles, but its Bookworm franchise certainly had a hand in its popularity. This asynchronous multiplayer entry boasts spritely animations and well-balanced word fighting mechanics, and serves as a nicely modernized successor to the franchise's name.
If you've ever wondered whether there's a magical formula for how to suck out nearly every last ounce of fun from an otherwise pretty great game, Dungeon Hunter 4 is a shining example of the quickest way to get it done. Gameloft's latest slick entry in the venerable iOS dungeon crawling hack-and-slash series is absolutely rife with over-aggressive pitches for in-app purchases. Granted, some level of that is expected in free-to-play offerings of this caliber, but Dungeon Hunter 4's approach borders on the insidious. It's a shame, really, because the game itself is quite good – at least during the few brief moments when it's not prodding you incessantly to spend more and more cash.
Like Bejeweled Blitz before it, PopCap's Solitaire Blitz takes a classic game premise – in this case, the single-player card game Solitaire – and emphasizes bite-sized play sessions with amped-up game speed within a free-to-play structure. And just like the Bejeweled variant, Solitaire Blitz is a Facebook favorite that's an excellent match for the iPhone and iPad, not to mention incredibly tough to ignore.
While Gameloft's past Order & Chaos games had players fighting off monsters in massively multiplayer online battles (Order & Chaos Online) or defending their bases in multiplayer online battle arena matches (Heroes of Order & Chaos), the new Order & Chaos Duels turns combat into a strategic game of cards. Featuring all of the lore and fantasy the franchise is known for, Duels offers plenty of rich card-dueling action, but is marred by a freemium structure that makes for a frustrating deck-building experience.