Looking back on how my family and I have used our iPad over the last year, I'm shocked by the amount of gaming we've done.
I expected that games would be part of the experience but never imagined they would account for the vast majority of our time spent with Apple's slate. Every day at least one of us-my wife, young daughter, or I-uses it to play something, and all of us have gone through periods of obsession with particular titles, resulting in some nearly physical (and potentially costly) tablet tug-of-wars.
With the device's second generation set to launch later this month, now seems a perfect time to look back on some of the best games to emerge during iPad's formative first year. Culling a short list from the literally hundreds of thousands of games available on the App Store is no easy task, and some people (including members of my household) will take issue that I haven't included such popular time killers as Angry Birds, Flight Control, and Fruit Ninja, but I just happen to think the ten titles below are a little better than the rest.
If there's a better testament to iPad's graphics potential than this sword-and-shield fighter, I haven't seen it. One of only a few iPad games to employ Epic's Unreal 3 graphics engine, Infinity Blade's stunning character models wear intricately detailed armour and animate with lifelike fluidity. Better still, it makes brilliant use of the iPad's interface. Fights demand split second reactions that involves intuitive swipes and taps to attack, block, deflect, and dodge. It's an unexpectedly intense experience. And Rather than forcing players to use an awkward virtual control pad to navigate environments between battles, players simply pan the camera with a finger and tap new locations. Drop in a light plot about a vengeful son, add a dash of carrot-on-a-stick equipment upgrades and you have an interactive entertainment that even hardcore players skeptical of iPad gaming ought to be able to get behind.
Winner of Apple's 2010 game of the year award, this sly, artsy puzzler rewards patient players. The goal is tantalizingly simple: grow a petite protozoa from miniature mote into a slightly less tiny creature by absorbing smaller organisms. Players jet around flat environments by expelling matter in the direction opposite the one they wish to travel. Be careful, though; expel too much mass and you'll shrink and become a target for larger organisms. With no timer to rush the player into mistakes, sparing and strategic use of propulsion is always best. Bonus: A starkly ethereal soundtrack creates the perfect backdrop for this refreshingly tranquil experience.
World of Goo
I've found myself writing about World of Goo an awful lot over the last couple of years, and I don't mind one bit. As puzzle games go, it's truly top rung. Your objective is to manipulate sentient goo balls into latticework towers and bridges leading toward pipes that will suck up any left over bits of goop. The colourful graphics are delightful, and the between-puzzle story-which offers a subtle commentary on the consequences of thoughtless consumerism-is surprisingly satisfying. It was originally designed for Wii and PC but the iPad's intuitive touch controls make this the definitive version.
Play this pretty little platformer for a few minutes and its planetoid-leaping antics could lead you to believe that it's little more than a two-dimensional rip off of a certain plumber's recent space adventures. However, spend an hour learning the intricacies of its clever gravity system and working through some of its challenging levels and you'll realize that while it owes much to Mario's Galaxy games-expect everything from spinning bars of flame to star power invulnerability- Soosiz HD has a flavour all its own. There's no other iPad platformer I'd rather play.
The simplest of all the games on this list, Canabalt begins with a tiny man running along a hallway in a blocky, greyscale, two-dimensional world. You'll need to tap the screen to have him leap over an office chair or two before bursting through a window and landing on a rooftop below, where he picks up the pace and begins sprinting across buildings. Our hero never stops running; it's up to us to make him leap from roof to roof, lasting as long as possible before falling to his death. It has an urgency and panache similar to the roof chase scene in The Matrix, only our little protagonist never quite manages to get away. It's actually a bit sad, now that I stop to think about it. Games tend to last no longer than a minute, making it my top pick to kill time during TV commercials.
Dead Space HD
Of all the console-style action games I've tried on the iPad, this gorgeous looking sci-fi horror gem is my favourite. It's not a port of either of Electronic Arts' popular Dead Space games designed for consoles and Windows PCs, but instead a completely original story set between them. This approach gave developer IronMonkey free reign to design a game to fit Apple's platform, one that uses intuitive swipes and touches for most actions rather than awkward virtual buttons. It's still chock full of Dead Space's distinctively terrifying third-person combat, but the action has been redesigned and optimized for iPad. The only downside is that motion controls force players to constantly bear all 613 grams of the iPad's weight, which can make for aching wrists during the lengthy play sessions that a game like this all but demands. The iPad 2, which weighs 15 per cent less than the current model, could help mitigate this problem.
Bit.Trip Beat HD
Another game with serious retro flair, Bit.Trip Beat HD is a weird but compelling combination of Pong and rhythm gaming. Players use a paddle to deflect incoming blocks that represent various elements of a song. Miss one, lose the beat. Miss several and it's game over. The controls are dead simple to figure out, but the action becomes extremely challenging in short order thanks to notes that flash in and out of existence and come in ever more quickly and at different angles. The vivid, brick-y, old-school graphics are a treat, but the real star here is the music. The blips and bleeps perfectly recall the scores of decades-old games, but have been assembled into melodies that sound just a smidgeon more modern and dynamic. The game's soundtrack is available for purchase on iTunes.
Spider: Bryce Manor HD
No other game has ever depicted the life of a spider more authentically or compellingly than this one. Granted, the competition is slim, but that shouldn't take away from the achievement of this innovative platform/puzzler, which plays to all of the iPad's strengths. Simply touch the screen in front of your arachnid to make him scurry, swipe to make him leap. If you want to spin some thread to collect some munchable bugs, tap the spider once to prepare him then swipe to make him jump and sling a bit of web. Do this a few times to create a geometric shape and your snare is set. Simultaneous co-operative play using multi-touch is the silk on top.
The iPad's big screen and touch interface should make it a haven for board games, but, strangely, I haven't found many to be particularly engaging. Scrabble, Monopoly, and Catan are fun in short bursts, but haven't managed to hold my attention. The best I've encountered is Carcassonne, a German strategy game that has players laying down tiles with pictures of cities, roads, and fields extending from their edges. The idea is to connect tiles with matching edges, creating complete features and scoring points, which are tallied automatically-a great advantage over the physical version of the game. The iPad edition supports solitaire play, matches against computer opponents, and multiplayer games both locally (over a WiFi or Bluetooth connection) and online.
Plants vs. Zombies
I've played this utterly habit-forming tower defence game-which, for the uninitiated, has players defending their homes from a zombie invasion using dozens of imaginative plant turrets-on pretty much every platform imaginable, but the iPad edition is far and away my favourite. Smaller screens are too cramped and other interfaces are too clumsy or slow. And why spend $20 on the DS or Xbox 360 versions when this one costs just $7? The inclusion of platform-exclusive content-like the buttered popcorn mini-game-only sweetens the deal. If games could be comfort food, I'd want to dine on Plants vs. Zombies for iPad every night.