The five iPhone games, past or present, that we can't live without
From a valley to an infinite number of blades.
Since the launch of the App Store in 2008, games have been a big part of the iOS ecosystem on iPhone. From Angry Birds to Fruit Ninja, they’ve only gotten more sophisticated as the years have passed.
We all remember growing up with a particular game that has continued to bring fond memories throughout our lives. It could have been Resident Evil 2, Tomb Raider, or Alex Kidd. With the App Store about to reach its 15th anniversary, it’s getting to the point where users are starting to feel nostalgic about when they first played a game on their iPhones.
However, some games have been lost to time - it could be from the developer stopping its support for a game or a sequel becoming more of a priority. With this in mind, the iMore team has each picked a game they remember playing on their iPhone, some that you can play today and others that are no longer available.
Pick 1 - Journey
John-Anthony Disotto — How to Editor
Journey is one of the most beautiful games I’ve ever played, and you should spend an afternoon experiencing it. Originally released in 2012 on PlayStation 3, the game is a short adventure, roughly five hours, of a robed figure as you travel across a desert landscape looking to reach the mountain in the background.
In 2019, Journey was released on iOS for $4.99 (opens in new tab), and while there’s no controller support, it is still a fantastic game to play on your touchscreen device in 2023. The game has one of the most innovative uses of multiplayer I’ve ever seen, where you’ll come across other robed figures on the same journey throughout your adventure. You can choose to move forward together or continue on your own. There’s no voice chat or ways of identifying the other player, so you have to communicate through chirps and visual aides.
On my playthrough, I bumped into a rogue traveler, and we played the whole game together on one cold December evening. I have no idea who they were or where they were from, but we experienced a magical journey together. I implore anyone to give this game a go!
Pick 2 - Stardew Valley
Tammy Rogers — Staff Writer
Did you ever play Harvest Moon, a farming sim available for the Nintendo 64 in 2001? No? Then you’re a monster, first of all, but you also missed out.
Thankfully, you can fix your grievous oversight if you download Stardew Valley, available for $4.99 (opens in new tab), essentially a modern-day reimagining of the series replete with pixelated sprites and gorgeous backgrounds.
In Valley, you’re sick of working in your office job, and when your grandfather dies and leaves you his farm, you move to the countryside to live out an idyllic life of a farmer. You can grow different crops at different times of the year, water them all, and then get more elaborate as you build self-watering systems and introduce animals to your farm. It’s simple at its core, but there’s more to it than you realize.
There’s an underlying story about the dangers of unbridled capitalism, and the ever-encroaching mega-store in your small community reminds you that the slow march of the corporation is never too far away. There are caves to explore and monsters to bonk over the head with tools you can upgrade. There is a lot here in a deceptively simple game, and I haven’t been able to put it down for years now.
There are stories with each resident in your community where you can make friends, learn to trust them, and even get married. It’s a delightful game that never gets too dark but has enough emotional beats to make you close to tears, over 2D sprites.
Pick 3 - F1 Clash
Stephen Warwick — News Editor
As a diehard Formula One fan, I’m always looking to get my fix of racing whenever there isn’t live action to watch. So for me, the best game I’ve found is F1 Clash, and I am completely addicted. A word of warning, though - F1 Clash (opens in new tab) combines some of the worst features of freemium gaming going - pay to win elements, advert reels that speed up unlocks, and all manners of in-app-purchases that incentivize you to spend money rather than work hard to advance and progress in the game.
Despite this, I’m obsessed with trying to win. It’s a real-time strategy F1 game where you control your two drivers, managing their speed and pit stop strategies to try and win races. The mechanics and gameplay are quite arcadey, including crashes, safety cars, and a decent rain feature that forces you to consider tire strategy as though you were sitting on a Formula One pit wall.
You can unlock and play with all of the real drivers from the current season, and your car is made up of six elements that you can tweak, tinker with, and upgrade to get the best racing setup for you. There are different duels featuring lots of different tracks, and you play against real players in real-time. There are also big Grand Prix weekends with spicier prizes and more.
F1 Clash does fall because of its freemium nature, but I highly recommend it to anyone who likes Formula 1. Be warned, though, it’s highly addictive.
Pick 4 - Infinity Blade
Daryl Baxter — Features Editor
If ever there was a showcase for the graphics that an iPhone was capable of back in 2010, it was Infinity Blade (opens in new tab). Made with Epic Games’ Unreal Engine 3, it was the first example of console-quality visuals arriving on the smartphone, but with a twist that consoles couldn’t match — touch controls.
You controlled a character by tapping on certain UI elements, and when in battle, you would swipe in certain directions to attack, defend, and summon magic attacks. It was incredibly addictive and great fun.
Throughout the journey, you would collect gold and new swords to upgrade your character to aid you in your quest to defeat the final boss, the God King. Regardless of you dying or beating him, you would begin the journey again, restarting a time loop, challenging you to improve your previous run. It reminded me of the game Shadow of the Colossus, another classic game released on the PlayStation 2 back in 2005.
Three free expansions also gave you new items and weapons, followed by two sequels. While you could play these on iPad, the trilogy was taken off the App Store completely in 2018. Due in part to the ruckus that Apple and Epic Games have been in regarding the 70/30 split between the company and developers, which also led to Fortnite being taken off Apple’s devices. I was able to install the third game in 2020 as it was showing up in my 'Purchased' list, but since upgrading to an iPhone 13 Pro, it no longer works.
Infinity Blade was a classic, one of the first that proved console games could come to iOS, but in a new and exciting way.
Pick 5 - Slither.io
Gerald Lynch — Editor in Chief
Slither.io (opens in new tab) may not be the flashiest iPhone game on this list. It won’t push your phone’s chip to its limits, and doesn’t use any fancy AR or motion control features. It isn’t even all that original — it’s basically a massively-multiplayer game of good old Snake. But there’s something almost zen-like to its casual battle royale gameplay — collect shiny orbs to grow your worm-thing as big as possible while avoiding other players’ worm-things that will kill you if you bump into them.
If I’m feeling a bit stressed out while out and about, five minutes with Slither.io puts me in an almost meditative state where just growing that little worm dude is the only thing that matters. It’s incredibly addictive — in another universe, it’s been heralded as ‘The Best Game For All Of Eternity’, I’m sure of it.
Where could gaming go for Apple in the future?
Games on the App Store have evolved so much in 15 years. We remember when the iPad first came out in 2010, and a bunch of games would have ‘HD’ at the end to ensure you knew this was iPad-compatible.
Now, we can play games through the Apple Arcade subscription service or through iMessage to pass the time. Most of us remember that one game that we go to when we think back to using a particular device for the first time, and the App Store has gotten old enough for this to now be the case too.
With rumors of an Apple AR/VR headset allegedly coming, it will be interesting to see how games could work with this product and whether we’ll be asking ourselves in another 15 years which AR/VR game made the most impact on us.
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- John-Anthony DisottoHow To Editor
- Tammy RogersBuying Guides and Deals Writer
- Gerald LynchEditor in Chief
- Stephen WarwickNews Editor
- Daryl BaxterFeatures Editor