In the Palm of Your Hand: Five of the Best iOS Games for Your New iPhone

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Mobile gaming gets a lot of flack. Sometimes, that flack is well deserved, such as when games use sneaky microtransactions and repetitive gameplay to rack up millions while providing a lackluster experience. Often, though, some of the most creative minds are using the mobile platform as a canvas to explore new ideas, ideas that wouldn’t have been possible in an age before personal, handheld touchscreen devices.

This week, Apple is announcing its latest batch of iPhones and Watches. And it seems like we might be hearing about a new iPad or two soon, as well. Each new iPhone brings with it a leap in technology that creates new opportunities for mobile games to do the unprecedented. I dug into some of the top games on the platform from the past several years and picked out my favorites. These are real classics. So let’s take a look at five of the best games on iOS. You’ll want to be ready to load these onto your new iPhone XS on day one.


It’s easy to write off a game like Threes! as being too “math-y.” After all, the game board is a series of numbers, 1s and 2s and 3s and 6s and 12s. However, you’ll quickly discover math isn’t really a factor. The goal of the game is to merge 1s and 2s together to make 3s, and then merge 3s into 6s, and so on. The trick is, you’re not moving any individual number — you’re moving the entire board in one of four directions. You’ll have to evolve a new way of thinking in order to maximize your score without merging yourself into a scenario in which there are no more moves (it can happen, at which point it’s Game Over). Threes! is a game that rewards patience, and each new milestone you achieve gives you a rewarding sense unmatched by mindlessly matching three blobs of the same color over and over.

Temple Run 2

I’ve never been a big fan of free-to-play games. The way so many use your own impulsive tendencies against you in order to rake in tons of cash seems gross. Temple Run 2, however, is a game that does it well. It’s all about running down treacherous paths and collecting flashy objects to garner the highest score and longest distance. Its gameplay is simple and intuitive: tilt the phone and swipe the screen. Being able to play one-handed is a boon for subway riders who don’t want to go flying if the train makes a sudden stop, and it’s nice for everyone else, too. As far as its monetization goes, you have the option of buying items that will help you, or items that provide new avatars, but you don’t need to buy anything, and you won’t ever feel like the game is punishing you for keeping a tight hold on your wallet. It’s perfect in short bursts, and it belongs on every phone.

Pokemon GO

Very few games achieve the level of “Global Phenomenon.” Pokemon GO is one of them, and for good reason. Sure, it’s piggybacking on the pre-existing phenomenon that is the Pokemon series, but GO elevates things to a completely new level. Using Augmented Reality (the big new craze in mobile computing), players can walk around the real world and see Pokemon out and about. Is that a Pikachu on that park bench? Yep, it is. “Gotta Catch ‘Em All” takes on a new dimension when players are actually running around their real cities and towns, hunting down every monster they can find to add to their Pokedex. Couch potatoes began getting up and getting out just to play the game, a claim not many other games can make. The community has grown so much that it’s led to giant festivals — including one that didn’t go so well, though they’ve shaped things up since. An injection of new content has kept the game fresh, too, so now’s as good a time as any to jump in and join the craze.

The Room Series

Escape Rooms are a popular new trend in group entertainment, and they seem to be inspired by video games. Solving abstract puzzles to earn keys, deciphering secret codes, these are the coinage games have long traded in. In The Room and its sequels, you’re tasked with unlocking the secrets of a puzzle box; though, of course, things quickly become much larger than that. This is another example of a game that wouldn’t have been possible without the advent of touchscreen devices, and it uses the new technology in such innovative ways. Moving levers, turning knobs, sliding pieces, everything is simple and intuitive, while maintaining a steady, head-scratching challenge. And you can grab the first three games in the main series for less than $10. That’s some serious bang for your buck.

Angry Birds

Ignore the media empire it grew into, the movies and cartoons and plush merchandise. The foundation for all that fluff was a terrifically addictive mobile game that saw players flinging birds of various shapes and sizes into structures built by rotund green pigs. Players are given a certain number of birds, each with their own abilities, and tasked with bringing down the fortresses of the pigs that stole their eggs. The plot is stupid and doesn’t need to exist, but the gameplay is downright incredible. Shooting a boomerang bird over a fortress wall to see it come flying back, or sending a bomb bird to blow up the key structural point of a tower, feels amazing. Players can clear a round with relative ease, only to find they received one star out of a possible three. Dedicated bird flingers will want to immediately jump back in and try to bring down the structures in fewer turns, to maximize their score. This is one of the original trendsetters in mobile games, and it stands the test of time as a great example of mobile done right.

There are plenty of other games I could highlight, and maybe I will one day. For now, these are some inexpensive — or even free — classics you can put on your phone right now. Waiting rooms and train rides don’t have to be boring. It’s the 21st century; you can game anywhere.