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When the iPad launched last April, some speculated it'd become a host for scads of enhanced iPhone ports, a device capable of hosting sharp iterations of AAA console and PC releases, or a breeding ground for all-new types of gaming experiences. Luckily, all three came true without fail, and we watched the device transform into one of the most diverse and wide-ranging gaming platforms around. With many months of iteration and experimentation under their belts, we're certain iPad game developers will deliver even more inventive and exciting experiences in 2011, and look forward to what rumored hardware revisions will mean for gaming on the platform.
But before we close the books on last year, we've compiled an A-to-Z – or rather, an Age-to-Zen – guide to the 50 most essential, must-have iPad games of 2010. Some of these started life as iPhone or Flash apps in earlier years, but as the iPad's enhanced capabilities and larger display have the power to transform existing titles, we considered anything that could be played natively on the device by year's end. And though we know you lot don't need reminding, please do let us know which under-loved treasure or surefire mega-hit we've missed in the comments – we'll try and hit any overlooked gems in the coming weeks with our iPad reviews of the week feature.
Halfbrick's seriously funny twin-stick shooter puts you in the shoes of Barry Steakfries, a badass commando who travels in time to dispatch cartoon zombies in ancient Egypt and the prehistoric era, among others. Shotguns, rifles, grenades, and mines are all plentiful in each amusing scenario, wherein Steakfries pops off smart-ass comments as you decimate hordes of the undead. Age of Zombies is a relatively quick play, as you can knock out the campaign in about an hour, but it's one hell of a good time while it lasts. It's seriously worth it for the amazing CSI: Miami gag alone, but you'll find plenty more to like about this pixel-based shooter.
Last year was inarguably the year of Angry Birds, as the casual game – which launched at the tail end of 2009 on iPhone – expanded out to iPad and other platforms, spawned a similarly addictive holiday version (Angry Birds Seasons), even generated plush toys and a forthcoming board game. It'd all seem pretty ludicrous if not for the quality of the core experience, in which the simple act of toppling towers by launching differently skilled birds becomes an obsessive quest for perfection. We've played this through and through multiple times, and it's really a fantastic little casual experience on any device – but we prefer the iPad version, which gives you more screen space to plot out your epic assaults.
We were really excited to see this awesome WiiWare gem come to the iPad and iPhone last fall, as the Pong-inspired gameplay, trippy pixel graphics, and sharp retro-stylized soundtrack really coalesce to create something special. Luckily, the iOS versions maintain everything that made the Wii version a favorite, especially the iPad iteration, which utilizes the large touch screen interface to let you easily move the paddle up and down to keep up with the increasingly chaotic action. While the balls initially attack in straight lines, it doesn't take long before they're zigzagging around the screen, sending you into a visually monochromatic spiral with each missed hit.
Curious how resistant your iPad is to sweaty hands? Play Canabalt and find out. This super intense, side-scrolling, skyscraper-leaping hit continually tests your reflexes and wraps the whole experience in an alluring throwback pixel aesthetic. Following its initial iPhone launch, Canabalt expanded to a universal release last summer – much to the excitement of iPad owners everywhere – delivering more of the randomly generated thrills and high score-chasing escapades that made it an absolute favorite in the first place. Plus, thanks to a recent update, the game now runs at 60 frames per second and includes Game Center integration, letting you easily boast your top distances among friends.
Many fans of the German board game Carcassonne no doubt discovered the game in part due to the success of the awesome 2007 Xbox Live Arcade version, but we think this excellent iOS universal version will capture even more curious parties. The five-player game challenges each participant to earn the most points by building roads, cities, and cloisters, all by placing randomly picked pieces on the board then dropping followers on the tiles. While the iPad version handily replaces the core board game with local matches, it also features an online pass-and-play mode, in which players swap turns at their convenience – which makes it easy to fit a little kingdom building into your everyday life.
Square Enix frequently has some of the most absurd price points in the App Store – six bucks for a Final Fantasy XIII artwork gallery, anyone? – but Chaos Rings for iPad comes closest to justifying the super-sized entry fee, offering a role-playing experience with impressive depth and production values. Ported from the earlier iPhone version, Chaos Rings delivers traditional turn-based action augmented with collaborative attack moves, which ties into a narrative in which you can play as four unique pairs of characters for a large, wide-ranging experience. And while you'll see a fair amount of pixelation in the backgrounds, the sharp building architecture and enemy designs meet our expectations as fans of the publisher's console efforts, which help to make this one of the more ambitious RPGs for the iPad.
Cut the Rope launched a bit late in the year to take the iOS throne away from Angry Birds, but it put up a damn good fight, hovering near the top of the charts for the last few months. The whole premise is perfect for a touch screen interface, as you need to get a piece of candy to a little green "Nomster" creature by slicing ropes at the correct time and properly utilizing (or completely avoiding) various items or hazards in each stage. But for many, simply feeding the beast wasn't satisfying enough – they played the many dozens of stages over and over again, attempting to grab the three optional stars in each mission along the way. Kudos to you, obsessive Cut the Rope players – we're sure Chillingo will keep your addiction fed well into 2011.