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The iPhone decade – 10 games that have defined Apple’s iconic smartphone

This week marks ten years since Steve Jobs announced the first iPhone to an expectant, if largely clueless world.

There are plenty of grown adults out there who won’t remember a time without iPhones. These devices have become part of the fabric of everyday life.

Of course, there’s another reason to salute the iPhone. It gave fresh impetus to a stagnating mobile gaming industry. In fact, scrap that – the iPhone created a mobile gaming industry.

With that in mind, we thought we’d pay our own tribute by running through ten (what else?) influential games from the iPhone’s history. These aren’t necessarily the best games ever released, but rather those games that have had the kind of disruptive influence that Jobs himself would have been proud of.

Some kicked off whole genres, some sold in ridiculous numbers, while others simply showed off what this young platform could do from a technical perspective.

And no, we haven’t gone for a game from each year – partly because some years contained more influential games than others, but mainly because there was no App Store until 2008.

Rolando (2008)

Younger games won’t even remember Rolando, but it’s an apt place to start. This was arguably the first big original iOS game that defined the platform, with pioneering touchscreen-driven physics puzzler gameplay and a distinctive art style that screamed ‘flagship series’.

Sadly, Handcircus only made one more game in this now defunct – and much missed – series. But any time you play a polished, charming physics puzzler on your iPhone, spare a thought for the original.

Angry Birds (2009)

If Rolando was an App Store pioneer, Angry Birds was the subsequent arrival that reaped many of the benefits – and came to define mobile gaming. We might all be a bit fed up of Rovio’s franchise by now, but that’s largely because of its ubiquity.

Few raved about Angry Birds at the time, but it was always a highly polished, accessible, moreish, and generously proportioned physics puzzler. Its immense success wasn’t predictable, but nor was it surprising.

Flight Control (2009)

Another early iPhone hit, Flight Control was arguably even more influential than Angry Birds at the time in terms of its mechanics. Following its release, countless ‘line drawing’ games would hit the App Store.

This all game down to Flight Control‘s ingenious premise – draw out a flight path for incoming aeroplanes to follow in order to bring them in for a safe landing.

Canabalt (2009)

You know that appropriately endless supply of autorunning platformers that continues to flood onto the App Store? The sub-genre that even the great Mario himself chose to co-opt for his historic mobile debut?

Yeah. You can thank Canabalt for that.

Words with Friends (2009)

I’ve included Words with Friends here not because it’s stunningly clever, original, or even particularly great. It’s essentially online Scrabble.

No, I’m including it because it’s the videogame that my Mum plays. I never thought I’d write the last six words of that sentence – surely a truer testament than any to mobile gaming’s all-inclusive splendour.

Fruit Ninja (2010)

Fruit Ninja was an early example of a game that ‘got’ the bite-sized appeal of mobile gaming. It’s notable for its unapologetic simplicity – yet I suspect more hours have been spent on it than many a JRPG epic.

No finely layered gameplay systems or ambitions to bridge the smartphone-console divide here. Oh no. Just a job load of fruit and the command swipe frantically on the screen and turn it all into virtual mush. Yes.

Infinity Blade (2010)

Prior to Infinity Blade, ‘mobile games’ were viewed by many as those inconsequential time wasters that looked and played a bit like Flash games (rather like the aforementioned Fruit Ninja). After Infinity Blade, console-quality mobile games would become the norm.

Here was a game written using Unreal Engine, and co-developed by Chair Entertainment and Epic Games itself. From the ‘Project Sword’ demo that would turn into Infinity Blade to Infinity Blade III, Apple would routinely use the series as a technical showcase for its new hardware.

Clash of Clans (2012)

Clash of Clans has been a runaway smash hit since its 2012 launch, but it’s not on this list because of its success. Not wholly, at least.

Rather, it’s here because it stood to show how the then-emerging ‘freemium’ model could work without compromising on quality or player satisfaction. Plenty have emulated elements of its casual strategy city-builder gameplay, but too few have grasped that fundamental lesson.

Monument Valley (2014)

Perhaps mobile gaming’s purest crossover moment, Monument Valley was the game that seemingly everyone liked – whether you were a hardcore gamer, an arty hipster, or a casual player who heard about it on Facebook.

The game even formed the basis of a plot point in House of Cards, back when Kevin Spacey’s diabolical plot to enter the White House seemed implausible. Innocent times.

Pokemon GO (2016)

Super Mario Run has been winning the headlines recently, but it’s another Nintendo IP that was the true breakout hit for the Japanese giant in 2016. For around a month or so, Pokemon GO sent much of the smartphone-using world into a frenzy.

Everywhere you went you could see people playing this location-based, augmented reality collect-’em-up. As a game that got people off their backsides and interacting with one another, it’s possibly the most disruptive of them all.