In the past 3 months, aside from playing through the campaign of Halo 4, I haven't held a game controller once. The holiday season is always busy with lots of traveling, preparing for traveling, recovering from traveling, and moaning about all the traveling, and dedicated console time is rare. Honestly, though, I haven't missed it, because the iPad has ably filled the gap, and with mostly free content. I thought I'd share a quick rundown of some of the games that have filled my spare moments lately. All are free unless otherwise noted. Many of the non-free apps I got for free anyway by adding them to AppShopper and pouncing when they temporarily dropped to free for a day or two, which is a common practice on the App Store.
- SongPop: Available on most major platforms now including Facebook. The latest update on iPad tanked performance, making it painful to play right now, but identifying song clips is still fun.
- You Don't Know Jack: The Facebook game brought to the iPad. Brilliantly done. A daily addiction.
- Letterpress: Reported on previously.
- Magic the Gathering: Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013: The most I've spent for any app ($9.99, + $4.99 for the expansion-- haven't yet bought the next two deck packs, but probably will), but also probably the app I've played the most. Well worth it-- a truly fantastic rendition of the game.
- Fairway Solitaire: Loved it on the PC, and it's a perfect fit for the iPad. The iOS version (also on iPhone) is completely redesigned from the one on the PC, with a modified structure, new challenges, etc. Try it free, then buy the full version for a pittance.
- Lost Cities: The system of goals held my interest longer than expected. To better fit the mobile attention span, each game is only one round instead of three. Very nicely done. Not free, and at $3.99 I'd say it's overpriced, but worth it if you can catch it on sale.
- SolForge: This is only a preview of a demo, with a limited card set and no extraneous features, but it's already slick and polished and does a great job of proving the promise of the underlying system. I'm fully prepared to fall down this rabbit hole when the full game is released.
- Logos Quiz: Name the brand that matches the (sometimes Photoshopped) logos. Oddly addictive, with plenty of logos to keep you busy.
- Badly Drawn Faces: Identify the pre-drawn, cartooned faces as they're scribbled in for you piecemeal. Has that potato chip quality and is a surprisingly good group game-- first to touch the screen gets to ID the face for a point.
- Le Havre: A 2+ hour game that compresses to... well, still at least 30 minutes for me, even against AI opponents, but none of that time is spent waiting-- it's all game. Excellent version of the board game that keeps me engaged even though the AI isn't as strong as I'd like. $4.99.
- Drop7: I prefer the original Flash game, Chain Factor, but this simpler mobile version is still elegant and addictive.
- Orbital HD: The snazzier mobile version of Flash game Gimme Friction Baby, which won the Casual Games Design Competition on jayisgames.com. Try the original for free, and if you like the underlying gameplay, you'll love Orbital.
- QatQi: I've wanted to write a standalone post about this game for a while now, but held off because I keep hoping in vain that the creator will change his monetization model. Create words crossword-style to explore hidden chambers in search of gold coins and big points. The game is brilliantly designed, from the visuals to the soundscape. It packs in lots of great data-crunching and rewards replay. But... charging users to use Undo makes it impossible to play properly without forking over cash. That might not be so bad, except that to really enjoy the game, I think you need to be able to Undo your move with reckless abandon. And when each one essentially costs you money, that's difficult. You get a batch of undos for free, so it's still well worth checking out. And if he ever offers one reasonable price for unlimited undo, I'll jump on it in a heartbeat. In a way I'm glad he hasn't, because otherwise this would be an all-encompassing obsession.
- Wordament: Boggle against the internet. Played the hell out of this on Windows Phone, but it's actually even better on iOS-- smoother, with more consistent, reliable, and less laggy feedback.
RPG: (this category encompasses any game with RPG elements, many of which might also be listed in other genres)
- Solomon's Keep / Solomon's Boneyard: Dual-stick run-around-and-kill-monsters games. The first is a dungeon crawl with an ending, the second is an endless arena where you're trying to survive as long as possible. Both are well executed and scratch that Diablo itch.
- Dungeon Raid: The ability to level up between games, unlock new classes, and customize your skills makes for a compelling variation on the match-3 genre. $1.99, with a free "lite" version available.
- 10,000,000: A different match-3 mechanic than Dungeon Raid, with a very different feel and a nifty real-time component that amps up the tension. $1.99
- King Cashing: An RPG slot machine. Unexpectedly fun. $1.99, with a free "lite" version available.
- Kingdom Rush HD: Ok, this is cheating a little since I haven't played this in a while, but I played it heavily for a long time and will undoubtedly go back to it soon. The only tower defense game you need. Impeccably executed. $2.99
- Extreme Road Trip 2: Use tilt or button controls to do aerial flips and land intact, earning turbo and traveling as far as possible. The goals system takes a page from the Jetpack Joyride playbook, with coins to pick up, upgrades to buy, and friend records to beat providing replay incentives.
- Punch Quest: Frenetic runner with lots of punching and 16-bit graphics. Imagine a Castlevania where you're always moving to the right, quickly.
- Flick Home Run HD: By all rights I should disdain this game, which after all requires the same single action-- swiping to hit a ball-- over and over again. But I find it oddly compelling. I'm using the iPhone version instead of the iPad one, since I got it while it was free. $.99
- Puzzle Craft: Named one of the best apps of 2012 by Apple, this is a very well-execute game that I spent quite a bit of time with before concluding it was a hollow, joyless experience. The core mechanic is identical to Dungeon Raid, but with a kind of Farmville crafting and building layer on top of it that I ultimately found unsatisfying, but YMMV.
- Spectromancer HD: I'm not sure if this is an RPG, card game, board game, or what-- but I loved it on the PC, and it's a perfect fit for the iPad. $3.99 and well worth it.