The 10 best iPhone and iPad games: November 2011

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The 10 best iPhone and iPad games: November 2011

November has been and gone. We've seen anti-capitalism marches on Wall Street and pro-capitalism orgies on Black Friday. We've seen America launch a spaceship to Mars, while Russian's red-planet probe failed to leave orbit.

And, as ever, the month has also offered up an eclectic batch of oddball apps on iOS. We've dug into the deepest depths of the dirt in Junk Jack, and explored the furthest reaches of the ocean in Aquaria. We made words in SpellTower, and made winning hands in Poker Pals.

To celebrate the best of the month, we've looked over our own review scores, checked what other critics have had to say on the Quality Index, and then ignored all of them and gone back to our own opinions again.

By Zach Gage - buy on iPad top-10-november-spelltower

This enchanting word game from indie hero Zach Gage is more about its mechanics than its aesthetics. While other word games go for chunky Scrabble tiles and industrial themes and gurning bookworms, SpellTower is all about letters.

It's a simple premise, at heart. You trace your finger over adjacent tiles to spell out words, which causes the blocks to disappear from the grid, reshaping the board and opening up new opportunities for word play.

An assortment of bonus modes play with this basic idea in all manner of wonderful ways. Tower is just about dismantling a grid of 150 letters with the highest score possible, while Rush tops you up with new tiles all the time, to keep you on your toes.

Greed Corp HD
By Vanguard Games - buy on iPad top-10-november-greed-corp

Greed Corp HD's environmentalist message isn't exactly oblique. During a frantic turn-based strategy battle, stripmining the earth for military resources - something taken for granted in just about every RTS on the planet - causes massive chunks of ground to crumble and fall away.

Still, if subtly isn't Vanguard Games's strong point, strategic warfare definitely is. Greed Corp HD is a clever game about waging war on an ever-changing battlefield. As the floor beneath you dramatically shifts, drops, rises, and disappears, new tactics must emerge if you want to win.

It makes for tense last-minute battles, as the battlegrounds are reduced to a few thin pillars pointing out of the clouds. And it introduces wicked and risky strategies, like sacrificing your own land to keep it out of enemy hands.

Ravenmark: Scourge of Estellion
By Witching Hour Studios - buy on iPhone top-10-november-ravenmark

Ravenmark: Scourge of Estellion is a miles-deep strategy game. The sort of jargon-filled jumble that will look like an indecipherable sea of icons, options, and badges to anyone not well versed in the ways of tactics.

You'll need to calculate your use of Command Points, consider the order in which your units move to gain an upper hand, deal with the various class of warrior, strike a balance between active skills and passive abilities, and watch out for changing terrain. It's frightfully complex stuff.

But stick with it and you'll discover a compelling strategy classic with a wicked addictive twist. Plus, it's refreshing to play a strategy game where the commanders have a shred of personality - the chats between matches are well worth reading.

By Uppercut Games - buy on iPhone and iPad top-10-november-epoch

The spindly robot hero from Epoch might be made of metal, but even he can see the benefits of staying in cover. Thus, much of your time in this post-apocalyptic blaster is spent hugging slabs of concrete.

You'll also need to move between cover points, either to out-flank enemies or to dodge attacks. Otherwise, most of the game is automated: you simply tap on enemies to target them and your automated buddy will do the rest.

As the game goes on, the difficulty ramps up and Epoch introduces tougher challenges like mines that explode on a timer, and laser beams that cut through cover like butter. You'll need to use grenades and homing missiles, and buy new guns, to keep up.

Junk Jack
By Pixbits - buy on iPhone top-10-november-junkjack

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Mojang might just be the most fawned over firm in the biz. Junk Jack joins a clan of obvious Minecraft mimics that borrow the Swedish game's joy of creation, exploration, and boxy sheep.

So, you smash up bricks of dirt and stone and wood to form an arsenal of junk, then use a handy crafting table to turn those raw ingredients into helpful tools. Other than that, developer Pixbits offers no real rules or objectives.

It's up to you, and your right-brain stash of creativity to shape the world to your whim and will. You can build houses, explore subterranean lairs, leap between underground biomes, and rescue treasure for your home on the surface. What it lacks in originality, it makes up for in personality. In spades, if you will.

Extraction: Project Outbreak
By Chillingo - buy on iPhone and iPad top-10-november-extraction

If you're still not sick of the shuffling undead, check out Extraction: Project Outbreak. This infectious shooter is a slick zombie blaster, and is stuffed to the gills with unique weapons, gadgets, and unlockable gear.

Most zombie movies feature a group of heroes stuck with a few pistols and the odd shotgun in a last-ditch effort to save their skin. Extraction gives your survivor sentry bots and helicopters, which tear and eviscerate zombies, respectively, with their barrages of bullets and rockets.

Oh! Edo Towns
By Kairosoft - buy on iPhone top-10-november-edo-towns

It may be true that every Kairosoft simulation is largely the same as the last one. Sure, there are some subtle differences here and there, but running a mall or a private academy or a game development studio all seem to revolve around hiring, firing, and year-end award ceremonies.

That may be true, but we're too busy constructing our perfect town to really notice. Each game conjures up a fresh chemical brew of new-found addiction, which keeps our collective meat-digits glued to the iPhone's screen until 20 in-game years have passed.

Edo Towns - now taking that pixellated joy to a castle town in Japan's 17th century-ish Edo period - has its own formula for obsession. You'll need to strategically place buildings to get combos, tweak worker classes, and keep your coffers filled.

Poker Pals
By Chillingo - buy on iPhone or buy on iPad top-10-november-poker-pals

Poker Pals has such a smart core mechanic that it's surprising we haven't seen it a million times before.

Essentially, a mix of Scrabble and poker, you've got to turn a rack of cards into high-scoring hands by placing them on a grid. So, you're making a flush, instead of spelling 'FLUSH'.

It's creative and addictive, and Chillingo's game is bursting with multiplayer modes. You can play over wi-fi, take the game online (although the lack of a chat function is a shame), or have a battle on just one device by passing your iOS gadget of choice between players.

Major Mayhem
By Adult Swim - buy on iPhone and iPad top-10-november-major-mayhem

Bonkers game factory Adult Swim has turned its attention to publishing of late, and spends much of its time bringing kooky ideas from small developers to the App Store. The latest is Rocket Jump's Major Mayhem - a spoof of '80s action flicks.

It's all about mowing down ceaseless waves of identikit bad guys, by popping out of cover and shooting them. You'll also have to spare innocent scientists and do the odd platforming bit between shootouts. It's a little repetitive, but strong presentation and a whiff of addiction make it worthwhile.

By Semi Secret Software - buy on iPad top-10-november-aquaria

Submarine adventure Aquaria is something of an underwater Metroid (or a subaquatic Castlevania if Dracula's fortress was submerged 20,000 leagues beneath the ocean). It's all about exploring a maze-like world, picking up loot, and unlocking new powers, but now it's against a backdrop of calming, hand-drawn ocean scenes.

Aquaria snaps between a serene swim amongst the fish and a brutal shooter with waves of baddies and some giant underwater boss types. Mermaid hero Naija can switch between forms, and perform a handful of unique abilities, by singing tunes.

Aquaria is absolutely gorgeous, and filled with clever ideas and smart puzzles. Both a calming splash in the sea and a frantic fight against the elements, it's an essential iPad game.

Mark Brown
Mark Brown
Mark Brown is editor at large of Pocket Gamer