Dancing Line (free) — Picked as our Game of the Year for 2017, Dancing Line was the one game that on my iPhone that I’ve just kept coming back to almost daily. The premise of the game is very simple — native a zigzagging “dancing” line through a series of mazes and obstacles — yet it manages to hit all the right notes to create a very fun and engaging experience that’s almost addictive. Of course, like most games, the music plays a big part, and Dancing Line’s carefully choreographed soundtracks for each level not only make for good listening, but actually provide a rhythm to zig and zag by. The developer has also been incredibly proactive in adding new levels almost monthly, with the most recent addition of the holiday-themed “Christmas Eve” level in December bringing us to a total of 21 unique levels, which each feature their own soundtrack and theme. While most of the levels feature instrumental soundtracks, last fall Cheetah also took a slightly different direction with the addition of an upbeat country pop song “All About Us” by Marta Olejarz. While Dancing Line does have both in-app ads and in-app purchases, I think the developers have done this the right way — ads are not overdone, so as long as you’re willing to put up with a few ads you don’t need to spend any money at all to get the full enjoyment out of the game, but for a couple of bucks, but like most games you can remove ads for good for $5 — a small price to pay if you enjoy the game even half as much as I do. An in-app purchase of two bucks will also provide for 24 hours of unlimited play during those times you want to binge-play without either waiting or watching ads to get more cubes. Dancing line is a seriously fun “pick-up-and-play” game, and for a real challenge you can even try playing it with your eyes closed and just syncing your taps to the music — something that I haven’t quite mastered yet, but it’s a lot of fun trying.
Escape Hunt: The Lost Temples (free / $3) — This one intrigued me as a fan of good find-the-hidden-objects-and-escape-the-room puzzlers. While the premise is a cliché — you’re scouring mystical jungle temples looking for a lost archaeologist — the graphics are quite stunning and the puzzles both interesting and challenging; this isn’t a game where you’re going to be able to just randomly tap around the screen and get lucky — some analytical thought is required. Unfortunately, the game got off to a rocky start with early versions, and while the developer has been adding polish and fixing bugs in recent updates, the movement controls are still a bit awkward; you’ll sometimes find yourself going in directions you didn’t expect when tapping, although I found that it was less jarring as I got used to it. It’s also worth keeping in mind that this is an “escape room” game, so it’s very linear in its approach — you’re moving from one room to another rather than wandering around a more open-ended world. However, I found this made the game more refreshing for casual play, since each room essentially forms its own unique puzzle, making it great for shorter sessions of play. It’s also interesting that this game is actually sponsored by a company, Escape Hunt, that provides real-world escape room experiences around the globe. Note that only the first two levels are free — you’ll need to buy the full game for $3 via an in-app purchase to continue after that.
Splitter Critters ($3) — This was Apple’s pick for Game of the Year for 2017, which piqued my curiosity, and it didn’t disappoint. It’s another game with an simple but interesting gameplay experience. Using touch gestures, you split the on-screen world into sections that you can then slide around to guide critters to their spaceships. It starts really simple — I breezed through the first 20 or so levels thinking that it was fun but a bit too easy, but then it cranks up into some seriously challenging puzzles that get into machines, and lasers, and water, and much more. There are no ads or in-app purchases, and a lot of levels with the developer adding more on a fairly regular basis.
The Catan Universe (free / IAP) — If you’re a fan of The Settlers of Catan but like me you find that you can never get your friends together to actually play the game, then this one is worth a look. It’s a collection of all of the Catan games from the original basic board game to the most popular expansion packs. The game can be played online against other Catan Universe players, or simply against AI opponents of varying skill levels. If you’re familiar with Catan you can jump right in as all of the usual gameplay experiences are here, just in digital form, while for new users The Catan Universe provides a tutorial to get you started; I went through the tutorial and found it wasn’t too bad, but when I showed it to a friend who had barely heard of Catan they still found it a bit confusing, so if you’ve never played Catan before you might want to also read up on the rules and gameplay online or within the in-game guide. The “Seafarers” and “Cities and Knights” add-ons are also here, w with a number of games and scenarios to change up the game play beyond just the base game. Sadly, while the base game is free, accessing expansions and scenarios beyond that either need to be unlocked via in-app purchase or enabled for a limited time periods using in-game “scrolls.”