You want games for your new iPhone.
You spent a lot of money on this phone slash mobile game console and you hope it will entertain you to its maximum potential, pushing the hardware so hard it warms your hand, validating your lavish investments. A new game is visual evidence of your new phone's awesomeness. Apple knows we want these flashy, "console quality" games to show off our new iPhones. Their marketing machine regularly parades graphic showpieces across the best real estate on the App Store.
But before you stuff our mobile hard drives with pretty but boring shooters and mindless click-click-click rubbish, I have an alternative to consider. My pitch goes against everything your gut says to do with this expensive, future-facing gadget, but my strategy it's true and it's cheap and it's positively obvious.
Play old games.
I don't mean buy ports of retro games, like Sonic the Hedgehog or Secret of Mana. Those are excellent games, but were designed for controllers and televisions, and that's how I recommend you play them — not on a cramped, pocketable telephone that the game's creators could never have imagined.
No, when I say let's play old games, I mean the earliest iPhone games, the glitchy oddballs released on the App Store in 2008 and 2009. They're blocky, fussy and probably won't fill your entire screen, because a handful of them haven't been updated since the earliest days of the Obama administration. But you can feel within these proto-games designers toying with new device's various capabilities, not just the data connection that streamlines in-game payments.
But the early iPhone games are good. Colorful and psychotropic, many of these early creations took their notes in the dusty halls of classic video gaming. You'll find Mario and Pac-Man and SimCity, but reimagined in bizarre, half-formed ways. Taken as a whole, early iPhone gaming is like spending the night in an arcade filled with pillows and magic mushrooms.
Arguably the best studio of this time, ngmoco, led by former EA Executive, not folk rock music legend Neil Young, produced an entire crop of novel distractions. Topple is a soft and rotatable take on Tetris, in which the player manipulates the pieces, building an unstable tower. (Oddly enough, neither Topple or Topple 2 currently appear in the App Store.) While Dr. Awesome lets its player to operate on the humans in his or her phone book, slicing organs with the twist and turns of the iPhone's gyroscope.
Early iPhone games are still good
Illusion Labs produced Sway, a game in which you swing critters Tarzan-style; a platformer without any platforms. Pankaku made Light Bike, a blatant Tron clone that could be controller with two taps instead of an excessive digital d-pad. And Steph Thirion's Eliss still feels as beautiful and unrivaled as it did in 2009 — though you might prefer its recent update, Eliss Infinity.
All of these games run smoothly on hardware that's comically more powerful than what they were designed to run on.
To be clear, there were plenty of cruddy games in 2008. Here are the top 10 paid game apps of the year, according to TechCrunch:
Crash Bandicoot: Nitro Kart 3d
Super Monkey Ball
Line Rider iRide
Old games run smoothly on comically overpowered hardware
But the difference between 2008 and today is scope. Many of the best new apps are now buried deep, deep beneath an ever-growing mountain of movie promotions, brand tie-ins and gold rush games built shrewdly to make millions of dollars, emulating Clash of Clans or Farmville but in established universes like The Simpsons or Star Wars. ngmoco fell into the cash-in trap back in 2010, releasing WeFarm and WeRule, and was acquired by Japanese e-commerce and social gaming company DeNA in the same year.
For too many big new games in 2014, the pleasure and potential of touch control has been reduced to tapping the screen when a game tells you to. They're slot machines that dish out stimulation based on a carefully designed algorithm. If only mobile games had broadly taken a left turn towards Eliss instead of a right turns towards Texas Hold'em.
Today, if you want good games for your new phone, you'll need help finding them. Or you could just look at your purchased back catalogue. Games long deleted may be even better than you remember them.