Scott Steinberg

Rrrrriiiiiing! That’s the sound of irony calling. Despite ongoing efforts to market the iPhone 3G to business customers, insiders know the handset does its best work moonlighting as an overgrown Nintendo DS.

Clearly, gamers enjoy the phone’s instant-gratification features. There’s the responsive touch-screen, promising intuitive and beginner-friendly controls. Tilt functionality instantly adds a new dimension to racing and action titles, letting you swerve Cro-Mag Rally’s prehistoric jalopies or Super Monkey Ball’s sphere-encased simians with a flick of the wrist. A CPU powerful enough to run even Quake, and a dedicated graphics processor capable of generating 3D visuals, shame the average cellie, if not the PlayStation Portable (PSP). Most importantly still, the always-on App Store lets you buy and download titles any time, anywhere, ensuring that button-mashing addicts can always get their fix.

Instant gratification isn’t all fun and games, however. With 937 digital diversions presently available via official online distribution channels alone (roughly 268 new ones per month since the Store launched in July, and a stunning 91 more today than this time last week), it raises the obvious question: which to spend those precious quarters on? While the list of worthy choices runs the gamut from arcade games (de Blob) to puzzlers (Dizzy Bee), sports sims (Real Soccer 2009) and even MMOs (Aurora Feint), don’t fret. Here are a few of my top picks.

From: Jonathan Zdziarski Warning: Accessing this software emulator requires jailbreaking your iPhone, or enabling it to run third-party homebrew applications. Capable of playing homemade diversions — and over 1000 classic Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) games, from Metroid to Gunsmoke — it’s worth the effort, though. Highlights include horizontal/vertical views, on-screen buttons to poke, and the ability to save games at will, a major advantage in hair-pullers like Castlevania and Ninja Gaiden.

Critter Crunch

From: Publisher X A candy-colored puzzler challenging a voracious orange blob called Biggs to guzzle insects and spit them back at rows of hungry creatures waiting above. Play for cartoon visuals and whimsical sound bytes, stay for addictive extras like bug-popping bonuses and “Food Chain” combos, activated by nudging creatures into increasingly larger predators’ maws. High price tag aside ($8), it’s sure to preoccupy you for weeks on end.


From: Hassey Enterprises Set at a pleasingly hyper-kinetic pace, this sleeper-hit minimalist game of galactic domination proves real-time strategy can actually be done justice on portable formats. Simply drag fleets of triangular starships between planets while juggling fighter production to become the next interstellar overlord. It’s a must for any ADD sufferer.


From: ScummVM Team Circa the early ’90s, publisher LucasArts’ “point-and-click adventures,” or interactive scavenger hunts interspersed with quirky mindbenders and dialogue, were all the rage on desktop PCs. Recapture your misspent youth, or breathe new life into era-defining staples like Maniac Mansion and The Secret of Monkey Island, with a 100-percent unofficial emulator that takes them mobile, and replaces cursor commands with finger taps.

Tap Tap Revenge

From: Hassey Enterprises A frantic rhythm game that’s equal parts Guitar Hero cover act and portable answer to Dance Dance Revolution. Poke, shake, or waggle your phone in time with colored on-screen indicators to keep the beat with electronic music that plays in the background. Downloadable songs add replay value, and for the first time, prove there really is a party in your pants.