It's always awkward when you reach that on-the-fence moment where you're pretty sure you hate the game you're playing, but you just can't seem to stop plugging away. That sums up my experience with Star Wars Force Collection pretty accurately. As a huge Star Wars nerd, I appreciate the sight- and sound-driven homage to a galaxy far, far away found throughout this virtual collectible card game. The actual game itself, however, is on shakier ground than Luke's X-Wing parked in the swamps of Dagobah.
As former users of the Commodore Amiga, we fondly recall the quaint simplicity of graphics editors like Deluxe Paint. Those looking to revisit that bygone era will have plenty of fun with Pixaki, assuming they have the chops to actually paint with pixels in the first place. Pixaki is a touch-powered painting app for the iPad, but unlike modern tools such as Adobe Photoshop Touch, developer Luke Rogers has created a playground for retro artists to embrace those chunky pixels from the glory days of personal computing.
With the right apps, even the rankest of amateurs can make beautiful pictures on their iPhones. Studio Design is one such option, packing an array of powerful tools and palettes into a deceptively simple interface that will have you generating professional-looking layouts without watching hours of tutorials. Even if you've never pushed a pixel, you’ll be able to dive right in.
Open-ended, world-building sandbox games are spawning at an increasingly rapid pace on iOS of late, with each offering a slightly different twist on Minecraft's addictive mix of exploration, scavenging, building, and crafting. While Terraria builds off of the Minecraft vibe in some interesting and adventurous ways, Junk Jack X copies it a bit too blatantly. Lack of originality aside, that's not entirely a bad thing. Translating many of the familiar-looking gameplay and visual elements to 2D works fairly well, offering moments of fun for patient players with collection obsessions.
Sometimes licensed games leave you scratching your head in confusion at their bizarre muddling of a beloved pop culture franchise. Yu-Gi-Oh! BAM Pocket adapts a popular trading card game based on the Yu-Gi-Oh manga and anime series into an entirely different trading card game, just barely managing to string together something moderately enjoyable in the process. Battling wits with virtual and real opponents is both fun and challenging, but there’s not enough depth to keep you interested for long.
There are tons of faux guitar apps on iPad, and frankly, most of them aren’t worth the pixels they occupy on your screen, especially if you happen to own and play the real thing. While it’s still not what we'd call the Holy Grail, Pearl Guitar shows some real promise, especially for anyone who has been completely underwhelmed by previous offerings. Pearl Guitar is based on samples recorded from a 1979 Martin acoustic dreadnought guitar, and includes many subtle touches, like the sound of the guitar's wood being knocked if you move the iPad, or the string buzzing sound that happens when you move your fingers around a real fretboard.
Frantic action games occupy a weird space on iOS, offering right-to-the-point entertainment that's ideal for portable games while often lacking the precise controls such games demand, due to the missing physical buttons. Soul Grinder stands out by doing something uncommon: It offers an experience that not only fits its platform in terms of length and straightforward design, but also by featuring a control scheme that provides just the proper amount of control for an App Store action affair.
Staying fully connected these days often involves managing multiple social networking accounts, which means posting updates across multiple accounts – a potentially daunting chore on Mac or PC, and downright tedious from the iPhone. Socializer promises to make short work of this task, despite a look and feel firmly stuck in the past. The app makes it dead simple to cross-post messages – with or without attachments – to Twitter, Facebook, and App.net, all at the same time.
Must. Dig. Deeper. With its cool retro 2D aesthetic and exhaustive range of open-ended adventuring pursuits to follow, Terraria is a habit-forming romp through massive 16-bit-inspired worlds filled with secrets to explore, crazy stuff to build, and an absurd level of components to collect and build with. Minecraft fans, take note: This is a similarly addictive and creative experience, albeit one viewed through the lens of the Super Nintendo era of gaming. Far from a straight port from the previous PC and console releases, this portable version of the indie hit packs (almost) all of the wonder and depth of the original, alongside a few really excellent tweaks that make playing on iOS a real treat.
On home consoles, Madden NFL 25 celebrates the series' titular anniversary with yet another quality entry built around a strong, refined core. Irritatingly, on iPhone and iPad, the game of the same name is by and large a nightmare of free-to-play roadblocks, initially limiting access to most of the on-field plays, charging in-game coins for some of those that are available, and requiring slowly-replenishing energy to even play the game. But the saddest part is that such limitations surround what's ultimately not a very good representation of the sport.