After completing Halfbrick’s excellent Colossatron: Massive World Threat on iPhone, I found myself in need of another new phone game. With recent iOS releases like Out There and Mines of Mars receiving mediocre ratings from Game Informer’s review crew, I had no leads on any noteworthy games I wanted to play. Rather than perusing the App Store’s chart-topping releases like I normally do, I settled on an unconventional method to find a new game.

I picked a word at random – this time being “snake” – and entered it into the App Store’s search field. This experiment led me to a series of games inspired by the classic Snake arcade game, and also a title called Killer Snake, featuring a coiled-up cobra on its title screen. I wasted no time downloading the free Lite version of it. Here’s what it has to offer:

The entire point of Copenhagen Creators’ Killer Snake is to get as close to a snake as possible without getting bit. The gameplay that accompanies this foolish endeavor is quite clever.

You scour a terrain by sliding your finger across the screen until you locate a snake. Sliding your finger toward the venomous beast moves your character closer to it. The snake is eventually angered to the point that it coils in a defensive position.

This showdown is fairly intense

At this point, any sane person would either slowly back away or take off in a dead sprint. In this game, however, you want to get as close to the snake as possible. The reason? To get as many points as possible. Slowly sliding your finger toward the snake accomplishes this goal. It also makes the snake lose its mind to the point that its head sways chaotically back and forth. The only thing you are worried about at this point, however, is forward movement. Once the snake exposes its fangs and lunges toward you, all you have to do is remove your finger from the screen to successfully evade. The kicker: The snake strikes in the blink of an eye. If you don’t remove your finger, the snake bites it. And yes, the snake only bites fingers, which is shown in a fairly gruesome image.

This little conflict is surprisingly scary (capable of making Dan Ryckert jump), but isn’t enough to keep me entertained for more than a few minutes. So, it’s back to the word well.

I enter “dinosaur.”

Along with a number of educational apps and children’s books, and a racing game called Dino Dan: Dino Race, my search produces a game called Dino Apocalypse by Donald Nelson. It doesn’t have any reviews and costs 99 cents. Sold.

Within seconds, I come to the conclusion that this is the most unplayable and unpolished game I’ve seen in years, and this is coming from someone who spent way too much time with Ouya’s sandbox games.

I can barely move my character across a 3D terrain without the camera panning out to a blimp view, or the world clipping to the point that I see nothing but black space. From what I can tell, I can’t aim my gun. I just have to face in the direction of a dinosaur and double-tap the screen to fire a stream of bullets. My gun doesn’t make any sound.

My character is in there somewhere

Vehicles are an even bigger nightmare to control. Thankfully, the jeep I jump into has a top speed of about five mph. I steer it to my first mission objective: entering a portal.

After warping to a new world, the game tells me to follow power lines across an expansive terrain. I slowly make my way along this path, again fighting the camera the entire way. An alert flashes on screen, warning me that a dinosaur is approaching. From what I can make out, it looks like a spinosaurus. I wait a good minute for it to get unstuck from a tree and make its way to me. It comes to a complete stop about 10 feet from my location. An A.I.-controlled NPC unloads a magazine into it, and the dinosaur falls over dead.

"So... Are you going to eat me or what?"

I waste no time uninstalling this game, and continuing my search for a game worth playing. The next word I enter comes recommended by Game Informer’s news hound Mike Futter. He tells me to enter “fedora.”

I didn’t expect any results from this experiment, but lo and behold, the search brings back 15 results, including a free game called Fedora Jump.


The game lives up to its namesake, pushing players to bounce an animation-less fedora off of platforms. All you have to do is tap left or right to angle the fedora in the desired direction. It sounds easy, but the fedora isn’t responsive to the input. I only make it up two platforms before uninstalling the game. Dino Apocalypse doesn’t seem so bad now.

My next word “galaxy” is more in the wheelhouse of naming conventions than my previous attempts, and the search results prove it with over 2,000 apps. The first one I come across is a slam dunk. It’s Little Galaxy by Bitmap Galaxy. I can’t deny two galaxies in one search. The game costs $1.99. It has 121 user-reviews with a 4.5 star rating.

The concept of Little Galaxy is as simple as they get: Jump from one planet to the next. That’s it. Difficulty comes from lining up a trajectory that will launch the little boy (which I have to assume is a young Galactus) to the next planet. You can’t take your time to line up the leap, either. Each planet spins at different speeds, meaning you have to jump mid-rotation. While the game outlines trajectory paths through collectible stardust, the jumps are still fairly difficult to make, especially when the planets are further apart.

It's more challenging than it looks

I put a good 20 minutes into Little Galaxy, and walked away from it fairly impressed. The gameplay is enjoyable, instilling that drive to last longer and achieve a higher score. I’m not going to delete it from my phone just yet. I can see myself going back to it in instances when I have a few minutes to spare.

A little time-filler isn’t exactly what I’m looking for. I want something that I can sink hours into. The problem I created for myself: I only have one search left before I wrap up this App Store experiment. This next word better be a good one. I know words like “candy,” “bird,” and “infinity” will bring up a sea of clones and disappointment. I focus in on a word that has legitimate potential.

I enter “ninja.”

This search brings up over 2,000 different results. I scroll past dozens of ninja-themed games until I come across Ninja Must Die, a game with a striking color palette consisting of just blacks, greys, and reds. Mirroring Little Galaxy, Ninja Must Die is an endless runner developed by Pandada Studio. It carries a $1.99 price point, and currently has 217 reviews with a great 4.5 star rating. 

In my first few moments of playing this game, I realize that all characters in endless runners die. What a brutal genre. Ninja Must Die doesn’t hide this fact in its name, or the tools it uses to cut down the ninja warrior who is running for his life. The grim reaper appears at the beginning of each attempt, and is quickly followed up by a random bombardment of throwing stars, spears, spiders, bombs, spikes, bats, and other nasty things.

Frank Miller's favorite colors

The ninja can dodge these obstacles by jumping, double jumping, and running along the underside of the path in front of him. One false step usually results in the ninja missing a head and a blood geyser spraying from his neck. Extra hit points and automated fireball attacks are scattered across the path and make each life last longer than we usually see in endless runners. It’s a decent game, but the intensity level never quite hits the fevered pitch of the Temple Runs of the gaming world.

Again, I’m not going to delete this game outright, but I don’t think it’ll be on my phone for more than a week or two.

Despite spending $5 on games that I likely won’t spend much time with, or ever play again, I had a good time taking a chance in the App Store. I didn’t strike gold this time, but I did play three decent games that I likely never would have.