Everything you値l ever need to know about multiplayer games
NOTE: Please see Chapter 6, Updates to this article, for more info on how this guide is updated. Current version / last updated: 11/22/2009.
NOTE 2: Originally, I've tried to post this to the "User Reviews" forum. However, it allows for 10k articles at most (and mine is 120k); hence, I could only post the very first part of it. If it's approved, I post the entire thing there - that is, all the other parts.
Gaming, despite the lack of hardware buttons and controls (D-pads), has traditionally been one of the strongest sides of the iPhone / iPod touch (iPhone for short - for simplicity, I use 'iPhone' when referring to the iPod touch too) platforms. The iPhone received way more games in the slightly less than one and a half year since the opening of AppStore than any of its smart phone competitor platforms (see for example my dedicated Windows Mobile multiplayer gaming guide HERE - Windows Mobile, during the last about 9 years of existence, received about an order of magnitude less(!) multiplayer-enabled titles), including even Java.
A sizeable part of the iPhone games support wireless multiplayer; that is, letting two (or more) players take part in a game at the same time. The iPhones’ being always-connected and networked, this is pretty much understandable – after all, adding multiplayer features to an existing single-player game may highly increase its popularity and playability. Just a well-known example from the desktop (Windows / Mac OS) world: the single player mode Starcraft becomes very boring for an experienced player after a while – the artificial intelligence (AI) simply isn’t strong enough to beat a good player even in 7v1 games. Not so with multiplayer games where one can meet far better players than the AI.
In the following, after quickly explaining the connection and notification (Push etc.) types iPhone multiplayer games employ, I go over the most popular gaming categories and show you the (currently) best games available for the platform so that you can pick up some decent games without even consulting my huuuuuge main chart containing (almost) all the multiplayer-enabled games ever released for the platform.
1. Connection types
1.1 Strictly local connections
1.1.1 Bluetooth (BT)
Bluetooth is the cleanest solution if you’re next (in the same room) to your friend. Then, you won’t (even) need to be connected to the same Wi-Fi access point or to the internet. This also means you can use Bluetooth where there isn’t any kind of a Wi-Fi access point – on public transport vehicles, in cars etc. In these cases, the (compared to local Wi-Fi) independence of Bluetooth can be a godsend.
Note that, while commuting, you can still have cellular data connections, but
- it requires both parties to have independent access to the Internet via cellular connections (this rules out iPod touch devices)
- the game you plan to play doesn’t necessarily support remote connections (which is particularly the case with action games like Doom Classic where quick response and minimal lag are a must)
- and, if it’s supported at all, the lag may be just too high (effectively, communication packets from the two phones travel through at least the country center, resulting in between 300-500 ms ping / lag times), making games that require fast response / action mandatory unplayable. Also keep this in mind when playing games offering both local and remote multiplayer – whenever possible, try using local connections.
The disadvantages of Bluetooth are as follows:
a. It doesn’t work on 1st generation iPhones or iPod touches (it does between the iPhone 3G, the 3G S and the 2nd-/3rd-generation iPod touch)
b. At times, you may have to disable Wi-Fi for Bluetooth to work better (and vice versa, particularly on the 3G S, where disabling Bluetooth altogether may result in significant Wi-Fi connection speed increase.) This requires a lot of additional tapping (unless you install / use Cydia-only [requiring a jailbreak] shortcut manager like SBSettings). Note that OS version 3.1 is stated to have considerably enhanced the co-existence of Wi-Fi and BT; with the new OS version, it might be not any more required to switch off either to achieve the best performance possible.
c. BT gaming has only been introduced in OS 3. That is, if you don’t want to upgrade your iPhone 3G or iPod touch 2G to OS3, you won’t be able to make use of it at all. (Some iPod touch users refuse the upgrade because it isn’t free.)
220.127.116.11 Using Bluetooth
It’s basically very easy to create a BT connection between two devices. In some games, you just tap the multiplayer Bluetooth icon / menu item on both phones to start discovery; in some other, you need to tap the Host (on one device to "host" the game) and Join (on the other one to "join" the existing game) icons.
Note that, in general, the first BT connection may take a bit more time to build up than subsequent ones. Also, if they remain slow (or unreliable), you might want to completely disable Wi-Fi when using BT for multiplay.
When the two phones find each other, just tap the newly-displayed name of the other phone on one of the phones. After a while, the "Accept" and "Decline" buttons will be displayed on the other phone. Then, just tap "Accept".
An example of all this can be found HERE at around 0:25.
Local Wi-Fi connections require the two (or more) of you to be connected to the same Wi-Fi access point. As opposed to the BT approach explained in the previous section, it works on even OS 2.x and on the first-generation iPhones and iPod touches as well. However, it’s way more restricted than BT; for example, if you don’t have a Wi-Fi access point to connect to, you won’t be able to play. This completely rules out playing your friends / buddies in, say, a vehicle, a bus, a train, on a trip etc. Of course, games only supporting local Wi-Fi connectivity won’t work if you only have cellular data connection but not a local Wi-Fi access point, either.
Note that, unlike with some BT games, with Wi-Fi local connections, there must almost always be an originator (host) and a client machine (there may be more of the latter with games allowing more than two local players; an example is Real Racing). This is why with local Wi-Fi games there’s always a "Host" and a "Join" button. You need to tap Host on one of your phones and Join on the other(s).
Note that these explicit icons may completely be missing. For example, with Doom Classic, if you go to the "Multiplayer" (the lower left icon in the main menu) on one of your phones, the other phones running Doom over the same local Wi-Fi network (that is, connecting to the same Wi-Fi access point) will automatically sense a host being started on the network. This is shown HERE. At 0:05, I enter the menu on the iPhone on the left. You can see that the color of the same "Multiplayer" icon on the right device almost immediately lights up (and also displays the iTunes name of the other phone), showing there’s a Doom host on the network. Then, all you need to do is tapping this icon and, after selecting the game type on the left iPhone, just tap "Start game" on the same phone.
The traditional "Host" / "Join" scheme can be seen for example in THIS video.
1.2 Remote connections
So far, I’ve only discussed connections that can only be used on either the same Wi-Fi local area network (connecting to the same Wi-Fi access point) or Bluetooth device.
1.2.1 Direct IP
The approaches explained above involve auto-discovery based on (local) broadcasting. That is, the two (or more) phones (iDevices) magically and automatically find each other. (Physically, this is done by for example using broadcast discovery protocols over Wi-Fi and the inherent discovery mechanisms built into Bluetooth.) Some (VERY few) games, however, also allow you to enter the direct IP of your buddy. (And one of them, namely, Quartz 2, mandates you to do so - there aren't other, discovery-based ways of connection in it.) In these cases, you just enter the IP address (which is always displayed on the other party’s device) of your buddy and off you go.
THIS demo video shows entering direct IP. It’s worth skipping the first 28 seconds to avoid confusion (at first, I messed up creating the network). The left iPhone is started in Host mode. Its IP address (192.168.1.103, which is a local area network address) can be seen at the bottom of the screen. This is what needs to be entered on the client machine (the one on the right); you can see this being done between 0:37 and 0:50.
Direct IP entering, while it does have its problems (manually entering an IP isn’t the easiest thing) has some advantages over the other networking forms: as opposed to local Wi-Fi and BT, you can play your buddy on the other end of the world. All you need to do is telling him/her your IP address (if it’s you that host the game); this can be done via, say, any instant messaging application. Note that this only works if your buddy isn’t behind a firewall or any kind of address translation but has a direct Internet address. Many (but in no way all!) cellular providers hand out direct(ly connectable) addresses.
When compared to the "remote lounge" approach explained below, this approach has both advantages and disadvantages. Let me elaborate on them a bit more. The disadvantages are as follows:
- Manual IP entering (which also involves actually getting this address from your buddy, which, at least on the iPhone, may mean you end up having to give a call to someone or "meeting" him using an instant messenger app)
- Doesn’t work when both phones are behind a firewall. (If at least one of them have a direct IP address, if it’s being used as the host (and not vice versa), the connection will work.)
- Lack of centralized goodies like ladder, high scores, chat with strangers etc. - stuff that can only be implemented when there is a third layer (negotiator), a game lounge between the two phones.
The biggest advantage, on the other hand, is the independence of any server hosted by the developer. This is more important than you think. Developers come and go (out of business); their networks and servers going with them, rendering all the games running on the iPhones of their ex-clients useless in multiplayer. Or, there can "only" be some pauses or temporal breakdowns – as was the case with, for example, iMech by Flying Dino, which had days(!) of pauses, during which the game stopped to operate.
No such problems with direct IP-based solutions – they will work even after 100 years. (Assuming there will be IP-based networks then, of course.)
Lounge-based remote play allows you to play anyone from anywhere in the world. The advantages are as follows:
a. If you don’t have a buddy around to play but / or would like to play a stranger (instead), you may want to go for this option. If you use a more popular game with more online players (e.g., Galcon and a lot more), you have a big chance to run into someone to play you.
b. Note that you can play your local buddies too, even if both of you are connected to the same Wi-Fi access point. This needs to be kept in mind when playing a game only offering remote (lounge)-based play but not local Wi-Fi (or Bluetooth) one.
Incidentally, note that, should you want to play your buddy only, I’ve elaborated on whether you can select your buddies to play in the lounge of the games (or, alternatively, invite him/her explicitly, based on his/her nickname). With most titles, manual opponent selection is possible. With the rest (that is, games not offering manual opponent selection but using automatic matching instead), you can still make sure the both of you join the multiplayer server at about the same time to maximize the chances of the server matching the two of you.
The inherent disadvantages of this approach are as follows:
a. As has also been explained with the direct IP scheme: When the lounge server is down, you won’t be able to play. Upon testing, I haven’t ever run into problems like that. This, however, doesn’t mean the case will definitely be the case after three or five years. Developers may exit developing and even supporting their existing games, including running their proprietary servers. That is, don’t take being able to play forever for granted. (This also means you should ask / force game developers adding some kind of local connectivity to their games – preferably BT-based so that it can be played anywhere.)
b. As the connection is generally routed through a lounge server (some games do try to build up a direct, much faster and more reliable connection between the two devices but it’s only a minority of the titles), the lag will be considerably more than with local games. This is why few for example first person shooters or racing games support internet (lounge-based) play – most of them are Wi-Fi (or, lately, BT) only – with them, even 300-400 ms lag can result in a totally unplayable game. (This is why the developers of Doom Classic have completely abandoned going the remote way.) No such problems exist with less demanding game genres like board games (chess and the like).
18.104.22.168 Fooling the iPhone into using cellular connections via 3D Unrestrictor
Some of the games (for example, the great arcade racing game Asphalt 5 by Gameloft) doesn’t work over cellular (GPRS / EDGE / UMTS / HSPA) connections when operating in remote lounge mode. A quick solution to this is explicitly configuring 3D Unrestrictor to make the operating system treat the given title as one that does allow cellular connections.
Please consult THIS for more info.
Note that some titles aren’t hackable. For example, Call of Duty: World At War: Zombies by Activision does support remote (lounge-based) play but only via a Wi-Fi connection. It’s not possible to make it work (at least as of version 1.0.0) over cellular ones.
2. Notification types
When playing remote games (that is, where your opponent isn’t necessarily in the same room as you), you may find it necessary to notify your buddy of your having done your turn (in a board / turn-based strategy game) or invited him/her for a game.
Sure, you can do this via the traditional approaches: IRC and other means of instant messaging, SMS, phonecall, Skype, e-mail etc. - there are several ways of notifying your buddies of their turn. However, the cleanest and most effective way to do this (which also makes sure you don’t have to add your temporary enemy in your IM app or flood your mailbox with mails telling you it’s your turn) is Push notification introduced by OS 3.
If you read my Instant Messaging (IM) bible, you become aware of the brand new and revolutionary feature of the new iPhone OS: Push. It lets you notified of certain events even when the phone is suspended (by, for example, pressing the Power button – this will only work via cellular connections, not Wi-Fi ones; that is, iPod touch push notification won’t work in this state). With IM apps, these can be, among other things, new messages sent to you by your buddies.
Some (unfortunately, not all) multiplayer games also incorporate Push notification. This lets the players send out game requests in real time that will surely be received pretty quickly. This also means you don’t need to use the traditional, manual ways (email, IM, giving a call etc.) of notifying your buddies of your invitation. Much cleaner, it involves much less effort on both (but, particularly, on the person that invites the other – no need to fire up an IM / mail client and enter your invitation etc.) sides and, as opposed to e-mail, it surely gets read by the invited buddy at once (or with some minutes later). That is, the person sending out the invitation can safely stay in the game: if his (her) buddy does want to play, he (she) will see him (her) joining the game in 1-2 minutes at most. The situation on the invited buddy’s side is equally easy: when an invitation arrives, he’ll be notified right away. Then, he (she) only needs to tap "Play" and will be immediately taken to the game. (Unfortunately, for example UNO doesn’t take you to the game started by your buddy – you must search it yourself. Nevertheless, this doesn’t really ruin the easiness and simplicity of the concept.)
Currently, very few games support Push notification: currently, of the tested games (this doesn’t necessarily mean I haven’t missed one or some!) UNO by Gameloft, the excellent musical instrument game Leaf Trombone: World Stage by Smule, the excellent and free poker app "Live Poker", some of the turn-based strategies like UniWar by Xpressed and Mecho Wars by Luc Bernard, board games like Chess Elite by 99Games, Chess / Words with Friends by Newtoy, StarPagga by Funsuma Games, Real Soccer 2010 by Gameloft etc.
An example screenshot of showing the system-level Push configuration dialog under Settings / Notifications:
(Here, "Racing" and "Vampires" are Storm8 titles.)
(BTW, the same screen can be seen at 3:17 in THIS Chess Elite video.)
Hope that, currently now that I’m recommending Push notification for multiplayer game developers, more of them follow suit and implement this functionality.
Let me show you some examples of how this works. First, let’s create a game (in UNO) and tap "Invite":
There, tap the buddies (here: Menne2) to invite. An invitation will be sent out to him; at the same time, on the inviter’s screen, "Waiting for Menne." will be displayed:
Your buddy’s iPhone (assuming it’s not switched entirely off [by pressing and holding the Power button and slide the "Power off?" slider], has cellular coverage and Push isn’t disabled), a new dialog will be shown telling you you’ve been invited for a game:
(Note that, here, "Menne2" should be the inviter instead. I didn’t want to swap iPhones on the sync cable and collect screenshots from two of them – instead of one -; this is why I show you a screenshot of an invitation coming from another iPhone and not the state of it.)
Just tap Play and, then, navigate to online play (again, UNO doesn’t automatically take you to the game created by your buddy – you need to find it manually) and select the game created:
Finally, note that, in order to make a certain UNO instance know of another player, you will be required to send a Friend request to your buddy and approve it from inside the "mailbox" at "Gameloft Live" (accessible from the main menu). These mails aren’t delivered to your regular e-mail address but will only be accessible here. (I don’t think this is the best [read: most newbie-friendly] solution: a regular e-mail with an online activation / "make friends" link would have been much easier.):
THIS video also shows Push notification in action. Note that Chess with Friends (as with the other multiplayer titles of the same developer) has always had a bit of delay (1-2 minutes) with push messages arriving. In this case, on the right phone, I make a move (after making sure I quit the game on the left) at around 0:55; the message only arrives at 4:25 to the left phone.
With regard to the already-linked Chess Elite demo, you can also see Push work. At 2:20, I’ve stopped Chess Elite running on the left iPhone. After making my turn on the right one (which was playing against the left iPhone), the Push message immediately arrived (at 2:27) to the left iPhone. I immediately restarted Chess Elite (on the left phone) and, then, tapped the newly-listed game in the "Your turn" section (there’s also a red "New notification" badge in the menu where it is so you’ll quickly find this from the main menu). At 2:42 it fetched (and displayed) the move that had been made on the right phone. After this, I exit Chess Elite on the right iPhone; nevertheless, for some reason, the Push notification doesn’t arrive on it (this is why I immediately checked System / Notifications in the video to see whether notifications are enabled both globally and in the given game). After realizing there’s some problem with receiving Push notifications on the right phone, I return to sending out Push messages from it instead: restart the game and make my move at 3:38 (exiting the left phone before so that you can see Push works). The left phone does receive the new message almost immediately (at 3:48). Note that the Push problem on the 3G I emphasized above is promised to have been fixed in the 10/8/2009 upgrade (my video was taken a little bit before that date).
I’ve produced another Push demo (see THIS); this time, showing Push working with UniWar, the great turn-based strategy. At 0:44, I exit the game on the left phone; on the right one, at 0:47, I finish my move (and, therefore, notify the left phone on its turn). Then, I suspend the phone to see whether I get Push messages in that state. I did – the UniWar icon received a "1" badge, showing there has been one incoming Push message. The sole reason for not having any audio feedback on the Push message arriving is because UniWar (as opposed to almost all other Push-capable applications and games – the only exception I know of is Rock Band by EA) only supports Badges but no Alerts / Sounds. This is why you’ll only notice you having a turn when you actively take a look at the SpringBoard home screen showing the UniWar startup icon.
3. Some of my favorite titles
First, let’s go over the official genres of Apple – I show you some of the best titles in each. This way, you can save yourself the time needed to take a really thorough look at my chart, which contains (almost) every multiplayer game ever released for the platform - as of 11/22/2009, 198 (!) - yes, almost 200!
(Note that some common genres – first-person shooters and platformers – not having dedicated categories by Apple are mainly listed here.)
3.1.1 Bomber Online by Eurocenter
Should you not know what the Bomberman genre is all about, please check out THIS. There are a lot of online Bomberman Flash games too (for example THIS one), should you want to get known to the genre before deciding whether you’d like to purchase this game. HERE is a pretty nice, full (!) single-player review of the game.
I’d prefer this Bomberman clone over the other Bomberman clones (e.g., BOMBERMAN TOUCH 2 - Volcano Party by Hudson) because of the much better controls and the much more versatile lounge-based game (with online players always around).
3.1.2 Alive 4-ever by Meridian (iTunes, YouTube.)
This is a top-down (two-dimensional) game, supporting both local Wi-Fi and BT and up to four players, is one of the best shoot’m’up titles around with cooperative play (that is, you work together to eliminate the foes).
A French-language video review is HERE, English-language ones are HERE and HERE; trailer HERE. The probably most visited discussion thread dedicated to the game, the available weapons, strategies etc. is HERE.
3.1.3 Blades of Fury by Gameloft (iTunes, YouTube)
If you loved Street Figher in the nineties on either home computers or consoles, you’ll equally love Blades of Fury, which is quite much a visual feat.
Trailer HERE and HERE. A review HERE (unfortunately, it’s badly underexposed)
3.1.4 First-Person Shooters (FPS)
22.214.171.124 DOOM Classic by id Software (iTunes, Cooperative and Deathmatch YouTube videos)
An undoubtedly "retro" game. Retro also means you won’t really want to check it out it you dislike a game that is exactly the same as the original one – that is, visually not really something the iPhone is capable of. Nevertheless, not taking Call of Duty: World At War: Zombies by Activision and Eliminate into account (the latter is disliked by some people – see THIS if interested in discussions like this), there’re so few multiplayer-enabled First-Person Shooters on the platform (and the available ones – iFPS, Cube etc. – are so much worse) that you will still want to give this title a try.
There’s a single-player video HERE and HERE.
126.96.36.199 Call of Duty: World At War: Zombies by Activision (iTunes, YouTube)
Another great FPS title is COD: World At War: Zombies. If you have latest-generation hardware (but not an older one - it's plain slow on them), you may definitely want to check it out.
3.1.5 Flight Control by Firemint (iTunes, YouTube.)
This is one of the games you absolutely must check out. Basically, you need to control the route of landing airplanes without them crashing into each other. In addition to cooperative multiplayer, it also supports online high scores.
Single-player demo / review videos you might want to check out are HERE. HERE there’s a short one with tons of planes on-screen so that you can have an idea how it looks like when the screen is full of action.
Note that there are quite a few spin-offs of the same genre; for example, Harbor Master by Imangi Studios (which is also multiplayer-enabled; it, as opposed to the Firemint title, is plain parallel only, as opposed to the [better] cooperative approach). I, personally, consider Flight Control the best of the subgenre; that is, it should be the first title you should also check out.
3.1.6 iSamurai Bluetooth by Toy Kite Software (iTunes, YouTube)
This one is a fun accelerometer-based game; offers definitely more than other "simple" accelerator-based multiplayer "games" like Quick Draw Cowboy Gunfight by ACME Mobile Products - here, the accelerometer is not only used to track the quick change from being in a vertical position to horizontal, but also other positions, movements, strikes and blockings.
3.1.7 Hyper Puck by Kieffer Bros. (iTunes, YouTube)
(Note that, by default, this game is categorized in the Entertainment / Family / Arcade category. As I don’t know of any classic arcade game having Shufflepuck or the broader Air hockey, I took the liberty of re-categorizing it to the better-matching Action category.)
A recommended Shufflepuck (which belongs to the (broader) category Air hockey) clone is Hyper Puck.
The trailer / official demo video is HERE; a low-quality singleplayer demo HERE.
3.1.8 iNinja by Geppetto Inc. (iTunes; lite; YouTube)
A very decent Air Hockey / Shufflepuck title, particularly in single player.
Trailer HERE, another one HERE. Both mostly concentrate on single-player gaming; nevertheless, the latter, at 0:55, also shows multiplayer for some seconds. As you can see, in multiplayer, there aren't obstacles; still, it's great fun against a human opponent, just like the comparable Hyper Puck by Kieffer Bros introduced in the previous section.
Note that the free version (iTunes link) is perfectly playable in multiplayer - as opposed to most other titles.
3.1.9 Touch Hockey FS5 by FlipSide5 (iTunes, YouTube)
An excellent Air Hockey title also having a lite version. The only disadvantage of it is the ads displayed for about 10 sec when starting each and every game.
A single-player demo HERE (unfortunately, technically, isn’t of better quality).
3.1.10 DinoSmash Online by Eurocenter (iTunes, YouTube)
This is a strictly online, great 2D platformer game much better than any of the comparable alternatives (WiFi Warfare by Jesse Starks or NanoMechs by Theorian).
An in-game video HERE and HERE.
3.1.11 StarPagga by Funsuma Games (iTunes, YouTube)
A 3D space shooter title. Not recommended if you only have a previous-generation (pre-3G S) phone.
A gameplay video (without commentary) HERE.
3.1.12 MiniSquadron by MrFungFung (iTunes, YouTube)
A great dogfighting game.
3.2 Adventure games
It seems many of the game developers don’t really know what "adventure" really means. Let me cite the Wiki: "An adventure game is a video game in which the player assumes the role of protagonist in an interactive story that is driven by exploration and puzzle-solving instead of physical challenges such as combat."
Unfortunately, none of the multiplayer games fulfill this definition. (And the ones that do contain some kind of puzzle solving are either traditional Color Matching, Puzzle, Strategy or RPG games. Some are totally miscategorized; for example, iMech by Flying Dino, which is neither a RPG nor an Adventure but more of an Action or Arcade game.) This is why I don’t list any titles here. This, however, doesn’t mean there aren’t any (single-player(!)) adventures for the iPhone. There are; for example, Myst, Secret of the Monkey Island, Transylvania Adventure etc.
As opposed to the previous category (adventure), there are numerous titles really belonging to this category. (In a nutshell (citing Wiki): "An arcade game is a coin-operated entertainment machine, typically installed in businesses such as restaurants, public houses, video arcades, and Family Entertainment Centers. Most arcade games are redemption games, merchandisers (such as Claw crane), video games or pinball machines.")
Note that there definitely is an overlap between the Action category (see above) and this one. I definitely consider for example 1942 (Wiki page HERE) clones like Siberian Strike by Gameloft belonging to this category (more than Action) as 1942 is a well-established arcade category.
3.3.1 Siberian Strike by Gameloft (iTunes, YouTube)
This cooperative (you work together with your buddy eliminating your foes on the same screen) multiplayer 1942 clone is definitely worth checking out, particularly at the current price ($1).
Note that while, technically, are definitely better 1942 clones (for example, SkyForce Reloaded by Infinite Dreams (lite version HERE)), this is the only one to have multiplayer.
Trailers HERE and HERE; a review HERE. Note that the latter states the game is very prone to locking up; I haven’t encountered problems like this with the current version(s).
3.3.2 Pong clones
188.8.131.52 Pong - iPhone Edition by Jonah Grant (iTunes, YouTube)
If you’re really into vintage arcade games (and, particularly, Pong – Wiki page HERE), then, this title may be of interest to you, particularly because of the low price tag and the versatile (you can use it anywhere, unlike local Wi-Fi) Bluetooth support.
Single player review HERE.
184.108.40.206 SteamPong by RIVE Entertainment (iTunes, HERE)
It uses a slightly different (almost 2D) approach to Pong, adding some twists like being able to touch the ball more than one times a turn to get bonuses.
220.127.116.11 3-D Vector Ball by Gyrocade (iTunes, YouTube)
Of the 3D Pong clones, I recommend this title the most.
A review HERE.
3.3.3 Office Tanks by ET NETERA (iTunes, YouTube)
Should you like the original (1980) namco title (original video HERE), you will definitely like this reimplementation too.
Note that this title isn’t officially in the Arcade category - only the definitely weaker Tank War - Bluetooth Battle by 6tags.com is. (I, nevertheless, took the liberty to put it in here.) The reason for this is that it involves a lot of strategy too (capturing bases to increase tank production), particularly in games with more than two players, while the 6tags.com game is more of a "just" a plain reimplementation of the original, strategy-less idea.
A quick single-player demo is HERE. Unfortunately, it doesn’t really elaborate on the importance of capturing flags particularly on larger, multiplayer maps.
Should you need a game incorporating more than one type of board game, you may want to take a look at Astraware Board Games by Handmark, Inc, which have several. Be warned, however, that you may have a very hard time finding an opponent – I haven’t seen any. Some of the other players also complain about the sometimes very bad AI, should you want to play in single player. Separate games for a given genre (particularly: chess) are far better when it comes to the number of online opponents.
There are several excellent board games. First, let’s start with chess titles.
18.104.22.168 FICS / ICC vs. the rest
Currently, there are two main types of online chess games: ones that use either FICS (Free Internet Chess Server) / ICC (Internet Chess Club) or proprietary servers. Both approaches have their advantages:
- FICS / ICC-based games are not dependent on a server deployed by a (relatively) small developer and are guaranteed to work 24/7 (that is, all the time) – and will continue working in the future too. In addition, they (may) have orders of magnitude more (online) players at a given time, FICS (and, to a lesser degree, ICC) being THE standardized, worldwide, multiplatform chess network.
- proprietary servers may offer advanced game modes FICS / ICC cannot; for example, asynchronous moves (making a move while the other party is offline), Push notifications, playing more than one buddy at the same time etc.
Let’s start wih FICS / ICC first.
22.214.171.124 FICS-based games
FICS is supported by several games. Of them, I recommend the following ones:
126.96.36.199.1 iChess by myMobileApps (iTunes, YouTube)
If you want a FICS client strictly for free, the Free version of this title is the way to go – fortunately, the ads are in no way disturbing, unlike with the free version of Chess with Friends.
If, on the other hand, you are ready to pay for your FICS client, look elsewhere: the commercial version of iChess isn’t as good as those of some of the alternatives costing the same $2.
Unfortunately, I could only find one review of the game (see THIS). Now you can see why I keep stating my multiplayer videos are, technically (better shot etc.), vastly superior to most of the YouTube iPhone videos out there ;-)
188.8.131.52.2 Magnus' Super Online Chess by Magnus Lidman (iTunes, YouTube)
Compared to the direct alternatives (currently, Handy Chess Online (FICS) by Anton Zemlyanov and the commercial (!) version of iChess by myMobileApps), I recommend this title over the other ones.
184.108.40.206 ICC-based games
I recommend Cyber Chess - FICS & ICC by clickgamer.com (iTunes, YouTube) should you need an ICC client.
This game has tons of features (and is, of course, also compatible with FICS); however, it has a pretty hefty price tag.
220.127.116.11 Proprietary server-based titles
Of the (currently, very few) multiplayer chess titles available, I recommend Chess Elite by 99Games (iTunes, YouTube) the most.
A video review HERE.
3.4.2 Torpedo (Battleship)
Of the bunch, I recommend Sea Battle Classic by A. Kurulenko (iTunes, HERE) the most. (BattleAtSea by Pelted Software (iTunes, YouTube) is just too expensive ($5) and Wi-Fi Battle Boats by Inner Four, Inc. ($1; iTunes, YouTube) seems to always be crashing as is also reported by several other users; in addition, it doesn’t support single player at all.)
HERE’s a single-player video review – technically, it’s pretty bad but still gives you an overview of how the genre should be played, should you not know it.
3.5 Card games
3.5.1 UNO by Gameloft (iTunes, YouTube)
Technically, UNO is one of the best titles around – it supports Push notification (see above on using it) and, as with Gameloft titles in general, it’s pretty polished.
Trailer HERE, a review HERE.
3.5.2 Poker games
Note that some TouchArcade folks state World Series of Poker Hold'em Legend by Glu is superior to the other (multiplayer-enabled) poker games out there. Myself not being an avid poker player, I couldn’t verify whether this claim is right.
18.104.22.168 Texas Hold'em by Apple Inc. (iTunes)
This is one of Apple’s own (very few) native iPhone titles. This also means there will always be a lot of online players.
Two (technically, pretty bad) reviews are HERE and HERE.
22.214.171.124 World Series of Poker Hold'em Legend by Glu (iTunes, (limited) YouTube)
By poker players, this title is stated to be the best of the bunch. (Again, not being a poker player, I couldn’t test this). You might want to carefully read the AppStore feedback of the title to see whether it’s worth purchasing. Note that it may (still) have far fewer online players than the other, better-known poker titles – that is, Texas Hold'em by Apple Inc. and Live Poker by Zynga.
Trailer HERE, a (silent) demo HERE.
126.96.36.199 Live Poker by Zynga (iTunes
This poker title also boasts several online players; therefore, if you do want to play as many folks as possible, it should be the first to check out – along with Texas Hold'em by Apple Inc.
A single-player review is HERE. Note that it uses on-screen annotations to introduce you to the GUI (and not human speech); that is, you’ll want to watch it on a platform that does displays these tooltips.
3.6 Casino, Dice and Educational games
I don’t list anything in Casino category as the vast majority of the titles overlap with the already-reviewed Card – and I feel Mahjong titles (for example, SG Mahjong by GameFront Singapore (iTunes, YouTube), which, officially, is in the categories Card, Entertainment and Casino) don’t belong here at all.
As fas as Dice is concerned, the only multiplayer game currently in this category is liar's by Hey Buddy Software (iTunes, (limited) YouTube). Too bad it has so few online players that it’s (almost?) impossible to find anyone to play online. It requires at least three players so you can’t play 1v1 games either.
Educational only has one entry, Leaf Trombone: World Stage by Smule (iTunes), which also belongs to Music, which is a better fit.
3.7 Family and Kids games
Family is a category I don’t really see any point in. Probably it’s meant for games playable by even the youngest, while having appeal to elderly people as well as opposed to games requiring for example strategic thinking and, consequently, more grown-up people – for example, Kart racing. Interestingly, none of the kart racers are categorized here.
Kids seems to be similar, but games meant strictly for the youngest people. Interestingly, the titles that should belong here (e.g., 321 Jump! (Bluetooth Multiplayer Jump!) by MASQ Interactive Limited (iTunes, YouTube)) officially doesn’t, while I don’t think Harbor Master by Imangi Studios (iTunes, YouTube) (or other Flight Control-clones) are a perfect fit for this category.
Therefore, I don’t list any games in here but in their respective category instead.
3.8 Music games
Currently, all multiplayer music titles, except for Leaf Trombone: World Stage by Smule, belong to the rhythm game category; that is, games where players must tap the screen at a precise time corresponding to a sequence dictated by the game.
Note that there is another title, Pocket Jockey by Muse (iTunes, (limited) YouTube), which isn’t strictly a rhythm game but a more casual one. It (as of the current,1.0 version), however, seems to be incompatible with the latest, current operating system version, 3.1.2 - as opposed to between 3.0(.1)-based iPhones, where it still did work.
3.8.1 Leaf Trombone: World Stage by Smule (iTunes)
This title isn’t exactly a game but, strictly speaking, a musical instrument instead.
A pretty nice (albeit, technically, not the best – autofocus should always be disabled when shooting stuff like this) video review is HERE. Some promo stuff is HERE; a Composer Tutorial is HERE.
3.8.2 Rhythm games
Opinions differ on which of the (strictly) rhythm games are the best. Your choice should also depend on your music preferences; for example, if you’re a fan of Metallica, you may want to prefer Metallica Revenge by Tapulous (iTunes, YouTube). If you look for a more generic title, you might want to prefer Rock Band by EA (iTunes, HERE) instead, which is, in general, considered to be better than alternative titles. (See THIS for a dedicated thread.)
A video review is HERE and HERE.
As on almost all mobile platforms (particularly on Windows Mobile), the puzzle category is really over-crowded as it has every genre from Bejeweled to Tetris. This is why I’ve broken up this category into several subcategories to cover all these more popular ones.
3.9.1 Tetris clones
There are some Tetris clones. While I consider Mino (YouTube) by Xio (comparatively) the best, it has long been removed from AppStore. The second best may be The Reactor by Facet Studios LLC (iTunes, YouTube).
The official demo showing both single- and multiplayer is HERE.
3.9.2 Physics-based building games
There are some building games based on physics. Of them, a very good pick is Topple 2 by ngmoco (iTunes, YouTube).
Official trailer HERE, a review (of, unfortunately, pretty bad technical quality) HERE.
3.9.3 Other physics-based titles
ShapeShape by inXile Entertainment (iTunes, YouTube) is one of the better titles you might want to check out.
A nice play demo is HERE.
3.10 Racing games
The iPhone hardware is perfectly suited for racing games – it, particularly with the latest-generation, OpenGL ES 2.0-based hardware, has excellent 3D acceleration. In addition, it has a pretty good accelerometer, which also helps a lot in creating quality racing games.
I’ve broken up this category into several subcategories.
3.10.1 Kart clones
Kart games constitute a sizeable category on all mobile platforms; for example, on Windows Mobile, there have been several Kart titles as well (see my all-in-one roundup HERE). The situation is pretty similar on the iPhone as well – with, fortunately, strong multiplayer support.
There are several quality Kart clones for the iPhone. Of the available titles, it’s probably only Krazy Kart Racers by Konami Digital Entertainment (iTunes for the US version; use the built-in search in iTunes to find the versions meant for other countries; YouTube) that I don’t recommend. The others, which I do recommend, are as follows:
188.8.131.52 Cocoto Kart Online by Eurocenter (iTunes, YouTube)
A demo video HERE; the official Eurocenter video (of much higher quality) HERE.
184.108.40.206 Shrek Kart by Gameloft (iTunes, YouTube)
You will most probably want to prefer Cocoto Kart Online to this title if you "only" have a previous-generation iPhone; it’s only on the latest hardware that Shrek Kart runs without stuttering, as opposed to Eurocenter’s title.
A review HERE.
3.10.2 Slotcar Racing games
There are multiplayer Slotcar Racing (with powered miniature autos (or other vehicles) which are guided by grooves or slots in the track on which they run) titles for the iPhone as well. I recommend both titles belonging to this category:
220.127.116.11 SlotZ Racer by Freeverse (R, iTunes, YouTube)
This is strictly a one-device only multiplayer title; in this regard, it’s vastly different from all the other titles in this roundup (except for Orions, which, because of its very high quality, I also deemed it necessary to include).
Review HERE. Unfortunately, the sharpness of the video leaves a lot to be desired; nevertheless, it shows all the important features of the game, including even the track editor.
18.104.22.168 slotCar Mania by feelThere (iTunes, YouTube)
This one should be your pick if you do need wireless multiplayer.
Other than that, technically, I think SlotZ Racer by Freeverse is better – particularly in single-player mode because of the 3D display.
There currently is only one real ATV title, ATV Offroad by 2XL Games (iTunes, YouTube). Nonetheless, I don't really miss the competition: this title rocks, particularly on older / slower models, where it’s equally nice and fast as on the latest-generation ones.
Reviews / single player demo videos are HERE, HERE (technically, a lower-quality one but still shows the visual qualities of the title) and HERE (a longer one; unfortunately, of somewhat lower quality too).
3.10.4 Racing simulators
It might be important to state there’s a difference between racing simulators and "plain" racing games, including arcade racing like Gameloft’s Asphalt series – just like there’s a vast difference between flight simulators (like the X-Plane suite) and simple 3D shooters like F.A.S.T. Fleet Air Superiority Training! by SGN – or, to use a desktop PC comparison (from the early nineties), the difference between Microsoft Flight Simulator and Ocean's F29 Retaliator. Simulators, generally, put more emphasis on simulating a car (even if it’s much simpler than an airplane). The most important (and recommended) of them is Real Racing by Firemint (iTunes, YouTube), which has been produced by the same folks that developed Flight Control, one of the best games.
A single-player review video HERE (preferred) and HERE.
3.10.5 Arcade racing
These games are more likely arcade games in that you need to, for example, run into other cars, pick up and use power-ups etc. – unlike in Real Racing.
One of the best such titles is Asphalt 5 by Gameloft (iTunes, YouTube), which is way better (except for the somewhat lower frame rate) than its predecessor, Asphalt 4.
Trailer HERE, a (low-quality) WWDC video HERE, a hands-on video HERE.
3.10.6 Tron clones
Light Riders 3D by DS Media Labs (iTunes, YouTube) is, in my opinion, the best Tron clone. Note that this game is completely useless in single player mode – the AI is very-very weak and dies very quickly. That is, this game should only be used in multiplayer.
A video review HERE. Note that the one HERE only shows the game in top-down, 2D view, which you may not like.
There is another racing game you might want to check out: DrawRace by RedLynx Ltd. (iTunes, YouTube) It can be great fun and I’ve always run into several online players.
Single-player review HERE.
3.11 Role Playing
There are very few true role playing games for the iPhone with multiplayer support.
3.11.1 MMORPG titles
Unfortunately, while some other mobile phone platforms do (or, at least, used to) have some excellent titles (e.g., SmartCell's Shadow of the Legend on Windows Mobile), MMORPG (Massively multiplayer online role-playing games) titles are painfully missing. Probably the best of them – if you don’t take into account the pretty hefty subscription price – is Outer Empires by Ironwill Studios (iTunes, YouTube), a space-based game.
Trailer HERE. As of this writing, there still isn’t a decent video review out there.
3.11.2 SevenSwords Prologue by Asobimo (iTunes, YouTube)
This game is more like a first-person shooter (with pretty low frame rate even on a new-generation device like the 3G S) with few(er) RPG or communication capabilities. Nevertheless, as it’s free, you may really want to give it a try.
A video review (of a previous version – later versions have many more maps and online players) is HERE.
3.11.3 Browser-based RPG titles
There are quite a few online, (technically) browser-based (because of being based on a "slow" Web browser without for example 3D capabilities) "static" RPG’s. There isn’t much interaction between individual players of these games; therefore, they can’t be called MMORPG’s.
Probably the best browser-based title is CozyQuest by Nils Munch (iTunes)
A (technically, low-quality, but, otherwise, decent) video review is HERE.
Another browser-based title is Ancient Legion by DigitalFun iTunes, YouTube), in which you can indeed challenge other players.
Very nice trailer HERE; a demo video HERE.
Currently, mostly flight simulators are available for the platform (therefore, I only list titles related to flying in this section). Of them, the X-Plane franchise should be recommended to (multiplayer) flight simulator folks.
There are several X-Plane simulation titles with multiplayer capabilities. They are all pretty expensive but if you do like full-fledged simulation games (as opposed to "simple" shooters), they should be the way to go.
A decent (albeit, technically, low-quality) video review is HERE.
Note that the X-Plane series shouldn’t be mistaken for "casual" shooters. Of the latter genre, there are quite a few titles. Of them, I recommend F.A.S.T. Fleet Air Superiority Training! by SGN (iTunes, YouTube). It’s a casual shooter – but a very nice one at that!
A video review is HERE and HERE (both, particularly the latter, is of low technical quality – guys, please DO use a tripod and, whenever possible, put the iPhone on a flat surface!). A trailer is HERE.
There are quite a few sports games for the platform.
3.13.1 Snooker / Pool
Pool games are perfect candidates for even remote, lounge-based games because it’s basically a two-player, popular game and the networking lag can’t cause problems, as opposed to for example action games or first person shooters.
Of the pool genre, I recommend Adrenaline Pool Online 2 by Eurocenter (iTunes, YouTube) the most, particularly if you want to make use of the speech chatting capabilities. (If you don’t, then, there are a lot of other, quality multiplayer pool titles as well.)
In my demo video HERE, at around 1:50, I show voice chatting in practice: I speak to one of the iPhones and put the speaker of the other next to the mike of the camera. Just listen to the echo – yes, the speech is transferred.
If you don’t need speech, you may also want to check out I-play’s two titles (Ronnie O'Sullivan's Snooker and Pool Star Online with Earl Strickland) and Virtual Pool Online by Celeris Inc. The latter, when it comes to the number of average other online players, is by far the best. In addition, according to some pool buffs, it has an excellent pool engine.
Of the latter title, I could only find one (technically, low-quality) video review HERE.
Of (European) soccer games, I recommend FIFA 10 by EA SPORTS (iTunes, YouTube) the most.
An in-game video HERE, a video review HERE. A much more thorough (but, technically, much-much worse) two-part review & comparison to Gameloft’s Real Football 2010 (the most important alternative) is HERE (part I) and HERE (part II).
Adrenaline Golf Online by Eurocenter (iTunes, YouTube) is, in my opinion, the (currently) best title – particularly because there aren’t other (wireless) multiplayer golf (or minigolf) games (yet).
A review is HERE; another demo video (without speech but with (almost) full screen display) HERE.
3.13.4 HOMERUN BATTLE 3D by Com2uS Corp. (iTunes)
A baseball game loved by many.
A video review is HERE.
3.14.3 Turn-based strategy (TBS)
Particularly turn-based multiplayer, remote strategies are a perfect match for the iPhone. They, in general, don’t require as high a screen resolution as real-time strategies (where low-resolution device – including the iPhone – users would be handicapped because they simply can’t see as big a map as possible / control units as easily as, say, a desktop user with multi-button mice and keyboards with hotkeys). The independence of the network lag (as with pool / snooker titles) is also a big driver behind making TBS multiplayer titles.
Therefore, there are tons of excellent multiplayer TBS titles. I review them all.
22.214.171.124 Reign of Swords Ep 2
This is (was? It seems to have been removed from AppStore at least a month ago) one of the best and deepest TBS titles.
Please see the update dated 08/23 12:14 CET HERE (alternative links: HowardForums, MoDaCo, MobilitySite, TouchArcade) for more info on how multiplayer should be played.
126.96.36.199 Orions: Legend of Wizards (iTunes)
Orions: Legend of Wizards is probably the best and deepest game on Windows Mobile (see THIS for more info). The iPhone version, unfortunately, certainly lags behind the WinMo one as it hasn’t received the two add-on packs of the Windows Mobile version and it doesn’t support wireless multiplayer either. Nevertheless, if you can put up with a hotseat TBS game, Orions is one of the best titles.
188.8.131.52 UniWar by Xpressed (iTunes, YouTube)
UniWar is another substantial TBS title with excellent multiplayer support taking advantage of, among other things, Push notification. Highly recommended!
My guide to one of the missions is HERE.
184.108.40.206 Mecho Wars by Luc Bernard (iTunes, YouTube)
This is another highly recommended title with as strong multiplayer support as that of UniWar.
220.127.116.11 Rogue Planet (iTunes)
As with all titles of Agharta studio, this is another excellent RTS title. Highly recommended!
3.14.4 Real-time strategy
I list most titles here; except for Quantum Collapse (RTS) by Javier Davalos, which I don’t consider an excellent title. Note that the recently-released Red Alert is promised to receive multiplayer some time. Also note that if you’re used to the best desktop titles (e.g., Starcaft), you’ll most probably be hugely disappointed by the (current) titles available for the platform. (Until the multiplayer update for Red Alert arrives, at least.)
18.104.22.168 Warfare Incorporated by Spiffcode Inc. (iTunes, YouTube)
One of the best RTS games out there. Unfortunately, for a seasoned desktop player, even some basic functionality is missing; for example, you can’t order your units to move but, at the same time, counter-attack attacks or shoot at enemy units coming along (A[ttack] + click in Starcraft). In this regard, even Windows Mobile is better, where Isotope244’s Machines at War supports this.
22.214.171.124 Robocalypse - Mobile Mayhem by Vogster Entertainment, LLC (iTunes, YouTube)
Another RTS title. Don’t expect anything similar to Starcraft, though – as with all current multiplayer titles for the iPhone, seasoned RTS fans may want to avoid this one too.
There are quite a few artillery games for the iPhone too (see the Wiki page for more info on the game genre).
126.96.36.199 Star Hogs by IUGO (iTunes, YouTube)
A review is HERE.
188.8.131.52 Iron Sight by Polarbit (iTunes, YouTube)
This one happens in 3D, as opposed to the traditional 2D of artillery games.
Trailer HERE, a (technically, low-quality, but I couldn’t find any other review with speech) review HERE.
3.14.6 Other titles
184.108.40.206 Galcon by galcon.com (iTunes, YouTube)
This game is one of the best games. It is also one of the very few titles to support team play (not strictly one-on-one games) with more than two players.
A review is HERE.
There are only few multiplayer trivia titles for the iPhone. Of the available ones, I prefer TV Show King by Gameloft (iTunes, YouTube), which I consider much better than the rest (much faster response, graphics, music etc.).
As opposed to (multiplayer) trivia titles, there are way more word games for the platform. Note that you may not like these games if your native tongue isn’t English. (Note that WordFu has German, French and a Spanish versions [the list may not be exhaustive] too.)
3.16.1 SCRABBLE by Electronic Arts (iTunes, YouTube)
A review HERE.
3.16.2 WordFu by ngmoco, Inc. (iTunes, YouTube)
Official trailer HERE; a (quite lengthy; you may want to fast-forward to about 2:00) video review HERE.
4. The videos
I’ve created demo videos for almost all the titles in the chart. Let me explain clearly that these are just meant to demonstrate how multiplayer should be started, how special features like chat, Push or buddy invitation works. I operate the two iPhones myself alone; that is, in non-turn based (board / turn-based strategy etc.) games, you can’t have as quick reactions and play as in the ideal case of two individual players operating both phones individually. In addition, I’ve positioned the camera very close (some 10 inches / 25 cm’s at most) to the two iPhones so that I don’t need to use zoom. This helps in both keeping the depth-of-field as big as possible (to keep everything in focus even with the phones occasionally in my hand) and make sure as much light enters the camera as possible to keep the CCD read / amplification noise down (the lens on my camera, as with most non-higher end lens, stop down when zooming in, letting in less light). Please do not complain about this – I’ve still done my best. Please check out the single-player videos released by (mostly) the developers themselves for a real demonstration of the game’s capabilities - I've linked to several of them in Chapter 3. Nevertheless, note that those videos, technically, are, in general, lower-quality videos made with non-quality gear and non-well-controlled settings, unlike my videos, were I put enormous emphasis on producing as quality a HD video footage as possible.
The YouTube videos are all accessible from the "Remark" (last-but-one) column of the chart - and, of course, the links named "YouTube" above, right after the name of the title and the iTunes link. Look for links named of the form "YouTube demo video HERE".
Note: most of the (newer) videos have been made in order to make use of as big screen (video) estate as possible in order to provide you with as high-resolution videos of the actual screens as possible. (Taking a video of two iPhones in landscape mode – as you can see HERE, in one of my earliest [and, now, officially deprecated] videos – would have resulted in a far worse screen estate usage. Just compare it to the newer-generation video of the same game HERE – see the difference? Pretty huge, isn’t it?) This, however, also means you will want to watch these videos on a Portrait-mode display. This isn’t a problem on an iPhone (just keep your phone in Portrait mode) or a tablet PC. If it really annoys you, save the videos to an offline file and use VLC Player to rotate the video 90 degrees while playing back.
Also note: there is an iPhone 3G and a 3G S on the videos. In some (earlier) videos, the iPhone in the transparent case is a 3G S; the one without any case is a 3G. In some (also earlier) other videos, the 3G S is the one with the charger cable plugged in; with all the newer ones (filling in the entire screen estate), the one on the left. You can, of course, also easily spot it by
- it simply much faster loading games
- it having a somewhat more washed-out, worse-quality screen (the biggest disadvantage of the 3G S compared to the older model).
Also, it's on the 3G S that audio is played (I turn up the volume on it all the time, while, on the 3G, I do the opposite in most games). Finally, you can easily spot the 3G S based on it having an inserted SIM card (unlike the 3G) and the battery level also displayed in percentages (in the upper right corner) on SpringBoard.