iPhone and iPad gifts for gamers: 2012 holiday guide

Hopefully at this point, you've done most of your holiday shopping. Let’s say you felt really generous this year and bought a youngster (or someone young at heart) an iPad. It’s nice that it’s a completely clean slate, ready for them to make their own, but to personalize the gift yourself, you might be loading it up with pictures, music, and apps. This is a great way to get folks excited about their shiny new toy, not to mention adding that personal touch. Here are a few of the iconic, recognizable, essential games and accessories that you should be sure to include on any new iOS device that you’re giving away during the holidays.

Fling Joystick

As anyone who's spent any time gaming on an iPhone, iPod touch or iPad knows, there's nothing worse than getting really into the action only to find your finger has drifted off the virtual controls just when it matters most. And that's exactly the problem the Ten One Design Fling mini solves. Made of anodized aluminum and tough, flexible engineering-grade resin, it's both durable and see-through so it doesn't break and doesn't completely obstruct your view of the iPad or iPad mini screen. (Technically the Fling mini is meant for the iPhone and iPod touch rather than the iPad, for which they have a full-size Fling Joystick, but the mini works great on the iPad as well and doesn't cover anywhere nearly as much of the screen.)

iCade Arcade Cabinet

If you know a retro gamer who loves old school Atari-style games, and the old-style arcades they used to be played in, the iCade is the perfect gift. All they have to do is insert their iPad into the cabinet, pair it over Bluetooth, launch a compatible game, and they'll be joysticking and button mashing like it was 1980 all over again.

Jawbone Jambox Bluetooth speaker

Gaming on the iPhone and iPad looks great, especially on Retina screens. But the sound? It just doesn't measure up. You can plug in a headset, of course, or AirPlay to a compatible home audio system. If you want something you can take with you, wether it's from room to room, or to friends and parties, the Jawbone JAMBOX is it. Connect over Bluetooth, start your game, and feel your hair get blown back.

Apple TV

While gaming on iOS is fantastic, beaming the a game to your big screen HDTV takes it to another level. Apple builds AirPlay into every iPad and iPhone, so you can mirror whatever you see on your mobile device right to your TV. Some apps even optimize for it, so you get the best of both worlds -- perfect iPhone or iPad controller, killer big screen gaming. A few even let you go multiplayer on the big screen. And for party games with family and friends, there's nothing better.

Angry Birds

Angry Birds is the quintessential iPhone game. At this point it has spawned a variety of off-shoots - most recently, Angry Birds Star Wars. On the off-chance you haven’t tried the game, it’s a simple physics game where players have to slingshot birds into rickety structures in an attempt to squish the pigs living within. The birds have a variety of attributes that keep things interesting, and the variety of level layouts keeps things very challenging, but ultimately it’s the Angry Birds style and branding that has made it such a huge success. Be sure to keep in mind that the HD versions are optimized for the iPad.

Plants vs. Zombies

Plants vs. Zombies is a colorful but smart strategy game where players have to defend their home against a ramshackle horde of zombies using plants (of all things). Players need to pick which plants they have available for any given level, collect sunshine points as they appear, and use those points to plant defenses. The tactical landscape shifts dramatically as you move from the front yard to the back yard pool to the roof, and then have to start factoring in night and day cycles. The goofy style will rope players in while the deep strategic gameplay is bound to keep them locked in for the long haul.

Cut the Rope

Cut the Rope is a simple, casual puzzle game where players have the deceptively simple task of putting a piece of candy into a tiny green alien’s mouth by slicing a string it’s attached to. To pull this off, stages are littered with a variety of physics tools, ideally moving the candy over the three bonus stars along the way. Cut the Rope remains a long-standing family-friendly iOS classic, and not to be missed on any new iOS device.

Fruit Ninja

Fruit Ninja is reflex game where players simply have to swipe through fruit as they sail through the air. A bunch of different game modes keep things fresh, such as local multiplayer, timed rounds, and free play. Various power-ups and bombs keep players swiping with precision rather than clawing randomly at the screen, and though there are leaderboards and all, the graphics and audio are done in such a way that simply slicing open an orange is a rewarding experience into itself.

Tiny Wings

Tiny Wings is an adorable classic endless runner with simple one-touch controls. By pressing the screen, players add inertia to a bird in the air so that they can hit a valley below at just the right angle and slingshot off the opposing ridge. The core game’s goal is got make it as far as possible before running out of daylight, but luckily if you gain enough speed, you can out-fly the sun. Later updates have added multiplayer, and even now after a couple of years, the graphics and audio remain as charming and whimsical as ever.

Modern Combat 4

Modern Combat 4 is without question the best mobile adaptation of the current breed of console and PC shooter games. Anybody that has spent time playing Modern Warfare or Battlefield games will familiar with the perk system, multiplayer game modes, ranking system, and wholly customizable weapons. There’s a single-player campaign in there to warm you up to the game’s arsenal and subject players to some cinematic highlights, but the real game is online.

Real Racing 2

Real Racing 2 is a top-notch racing game for iOS, offering realistic graphics, AirPlay optimization so you can play on your TV, and some excellent multiplayer options. Players will be amply impressed by the subtle, detailed graphics, and hardcore car fans will be happy to see the wide array of brand names being represented. As great as Real Racing 2 continues to be, keep in mind that Real Racing 3 is right around the bend...

Temple Run

Temple Run is the iconic endless running game for iOS. Players have to swipe and tilt to avoid obstacles as their hero sprints at break-neck speeds through a ruined temple. While fleeing the angry spirits trying to take back the idol he has stolen, your character picks up gems along the way, which can be spent in between rounds to activate and upgrade power-ups throughout a level. You can also unlock vanity items to spruce up the experience. Overall, Temple Run provides a snappy, bite-sized, and exciting gaming experience that’s well-suited for the iPhone.

Words With Friends

Words With Friends has become a hugely popular Scrabble-ish game that works cross-platform with Facebook users. Players take turns piecing together words with random letter tiles that they’ve been assigned across a grid. Certain squares provide points bonuses to the score on each letter or the sum total of the whole word. An easy-to-use chat system keeps the banter going back and forth, and thanks to the asynchronous play style, you can have a bunch of games going at the same time.

Infinity Blade

Infinity Blade is a high fantasy dueling game that really set a new standard for mobile games - not only for graphics, but gameplay as well. The action RPG pits a lone hero against an unrelenting gauntlet of opponents. With swipe gestures, players parry and dodge attacks while administering attacks of their own. Before long, players learn to harness magical powers, gather up powerful (and gorgeous) new equipment, level up, and unravel a lengthy mystery behind a protected artifact. Since launch, Infinite Blade II has included a bunch of new items, and a social game mode called ClashMobs. Both Infinity Blade games are excellent, and a great introduction to just how graphically powerful an iOS device can be.

Honorable mentions: Flight Control, Jetpack Joyride, Draw Something

Like I said, this is a far from exhaustive list. A big part of the joy of iOS is the continual discovery of games and apps, but if you’re looking for more, be sure to check out our top free games round-up. If you’d rather keep the new iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad pristine, you can always give games through iTunes once your giftee has set up their account. For those looking for more along the lines of accessories, check out some of Chris' picks from last year.

Have you bought an iOS device as a holiday present? What kind of content are you loading onto it?

Simon Sage

Editor-at-very-large at Mobile Nations, gamer, giant.

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