The giant blue marble that we call home has orbited halfway around the Sun. So, in a fitting tribute to this 50 per cent checkpoint, we're taking a look at the best games of the year so far, on a number of platforms.
This time, it's the turn of the iPhone and its younger iPod touch brother. In the past few years we've seen Apple's pintsize devices mature from sexy gadget bricks into powerful feature-filled games consoles.
They have ecosystems, superstar developers, anticipated releases, sequels, franchises, and mascots. If Nintendo made its name with a portly plumber and Sega fought back with a speedy blue hedgehog, Apple's heroes are kamikaze birds, pixel-art warriors, and blobs of goo.
With so many high-quality iPhone games launched since January 1st, it proved more difficult than ever to pick just ten that have summed up the first six months of 2011.
The App Store is close to bursting with smart, creative, funny, and intelligent new games. Here's hoping this small selection does it justice.
Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP Micro
Capybara Games - Review - Buy
Sword & Sworcery, a pixel-art epic from three Canadian wizards of games, design, and music, doesn't fall into any genre neatly.
It has fetch quests and sharp battles, but it's not an RPG. It has puzzles and exploration, but it's no Monkey Island.
In actual fact, it is, despite a litany of influences from Zelda to Shadow of the Colossus, a unique beast. There's a boar who rocks out with his pixelated willy out, a chapter that requires a real-life lunar cycle to complete, and a snoozy dreamworld to explore.
One of the game's most contentious features is an omnipresent "Tweet this" button, which lingers over every line of dialogue. There's a slight air of pomposity there, as if everything that Capy and Superbrothers have written is worthy of parroting back to your Twitter feed. To be fair, most of it is.
In the end, Sworcery is a laidback and zen-like experience, all curiosity and discovery. Via the iPhone's tiny screen, you are offered a window into a weird and wonderful little 'paralleliverse'. Bring headphones, and an open mind.
League of Evil
Ravenous Games - Review - Buy
They said it couldn't be done. With no physical buttons and no tactile D-pad, the iPhone was apparently uninhabitable terrain for bouncy platformers, tough-as-nails action games, and old skool adventures.
Ravenous Games proved them wrong. League of Evil's giant on-screen buttons are responsive and reliable enough to let you leap massive gaps, hop off walls, avoid obstacles, and punch malicious boffins square in the mug. All with reckless abandon and ease.
Evil plays like a self-aware remix of Super Mario Bros, set to constant speedrun. It transports us back, violently, to an era of rock-hard platformers and ruthless game design that’s been lost in games of late. To seal the deal, the game’s been decorated in retro pixel attire and shrill chiptune music.
Owlchemy Labs - Review - Buy
Snuggle Truck has an interesting origin story. It started life as Smuggle Truck - a toothy satire about the futility of getting over the Mexican border. Instead of waiting two decades for a green card, you grab a bouncy pick-up truck and illegally head towards the US.
The game caused a storm of negative press and online rage from stuffy government types. Apple got scared and blocked the game from release on iPhone. So to beat the ban, Boston dev Owlchemy Labs replaced immigrants with fluffy animals and changed the name from Smuggle to Snuggle.
It might have lost its satirical zeal in the transfer, but it's shed none of its addictive, creative, and unique gameplay. As you drive this physics-obeying pick-up across desert terrain, you'll need to consider momentum and inertia to stop your fluffy friends from spilling onto the sand.
It can be very tricky, but solid controls and a number of different medals means everyone can enjoy it.
Crescent Moon Games - Review - Buy
The idea behinds Gears is hardly unique. Rolling a ball through a maze of obstacles has been around in games since Marble Madness, and physical marbles date back to the Harappan civilization of the Indian Bronze Age.
But innovation only goes so far. Execution, on the other hand, can make or break a game. Gears manages to become the number one ball-roller on iTunes thanks to some gorgeous presentation, a series of challenging stages, some killer puzzles, and an excellent feel to the ball.
As you blast through the steampunk world of The Brass Menagerie and trundle through underground caves and gushing waterfalls in The Cavern of Omens, you'll be able to jet through stages by taking the easy route or take your time and seek out bonus points. You'll earn different achievements and rank on different leaderboards depending on how you choose to play.
World of Goo
2D Boy - Review - Buy
World of Goo is the prototypical indie darling. Indie gamers want to play it, indie games want to be it. It's received endless awards, racked up huge sales, and coined a new payment model. But after being ported and pushed to numerous platforms, World of Goo has found its perfect home on the iPhone.
Your job is to get the goo - little sentient balls of goop and goofy eyes - to the pipe. To do so, you'll need to turn the goo balls into towers and bridges, embracing their stretchy nature to make supporting walls, strong foundations, and massive towers.
The game never rests on its laurels, though. After a handful of introductory levels that have you constructing simple towers and tiny bridges, the game explodes into an endless shower of creativity. You'll use balloons to make goo float, use recyclable green goop to slowly climb steep shafts and sort different balls into different piles.
The game is teeming with smart ideas and gorgeous presentation. It's also absolute genius, and taking on your friends by attempting to build the most towering skyscraper possible is a crowning moment.
First Touch Soccer
X2 Games - Review - Buy
Proving itself to be the king of touchscreen footy, Oxford-based X2 is back with another bumper football champion that makes FIFA and Pro Evo look like a practice session.
As well as being gorgeous, easy to control, and endlessly entertaining, First Touch Soccer is filled to bursting with modes, features, options, and ideas. There are 250 teams to control in 30 competitions, in modes like one-off tournaments or epic seasons.
You can construct a dream team, too, by hiring your favourite players and slowly building up the perfect collection of footy stars. Once your fantasy team has been assembled, you can head online or find a friend nearby for a number of multiplayer modes.
Electronic Arts - Review - Buy
When it comes to handheld horror, EA's gory sci-fi creepfest manages to produce the most scares beneath the bedsheets. You play as a clomping, suited 'Vandal' who is regularly attacked, in the dark, by mutant necromorphs and bloodthirsty babies.
The storyline lies somewhere between the floating spaceship antics of Dead Space and the jolly Mars jaunt of its sequel. The narrative is exclusive to this iPhone blaster, so if you're craving more tales of the marker, necromorphs, and cultish religious bods, this is the place to be.
Dead Space manages to pump out some stellar visuals and great touchscreen controls, without relying on on-rails movement. You can explore and move about as you wish, as you collect objects and taken down mutants.
Angry Birds Rio
Rovio Mobile - Review - Buy
Try as you might to fight it, Rovio's vice-like grip retains its strength to this day. Despite releasing four different apps, six different seasons, over 30 updates, and more than 400 stages, those smug-faced swines keep us coming back with a fresh supply of kamikaze birds.
If you haven't played it, then you're one of the last on the planet to have that honour. Congrats.
In a nutshell, you destroy shoddily built shanty towns and ridiculous structures made of wood, concrete, and glass with a barrage of differently skilled fowl.
Rio does little to shake up the formula - you're now killing monkeys instead of pigs, and finding golden fruit instead of golden eggs - but it manages to pique our interest once again with great new visuals, some interesting new level designs, boss creatures, and fresh birds.
Andreas Illiger - Review - Buy
If there's one game this year that managed to drag us away from Angry Birds for five seconds, it had to be Illiger's Tiny Wings. The fact that they both feature birds is, we imagine, a coincidence.
Wings is about momentum, rhythm, and timing. You can make the game's hero bird dip by tapping the screen, and you'll need to time your dives with the mountains of this game's bumpy landscape. By riding a downhill slope you'll kick up speed and rocket out the other side. Mistime it and you'll grind to an aggravating halt.
Tiny Wings manages to be, somehow, even more frustrating than Angry Birds. But it's also just as, if not more, satisfying than Rovio's time sink when you get it right.
That is, when you escape the ever-impending crawl of dusk with a series of perfect dives and massive leaps, rocketing up the leaderboards as you go. It's utterly compulsive, just-one-more-go stuff.
Simogo - Review - Buy
Simogo's Bumpy Road is one of those endless games. Those infuriatingly brilliant time-wasters that have no levels, goals, or checkpoints, but just an eternally generating road and a leaderboard that records how far you managed to get before hitting a Game Over screen.
But unlike the brutal pace of a Canabalt or a Robot Unicorn Attack, this cheery little romp is slow and meandering. Like a lazy Sunday drive, Bumpy Road is more about taking in the sights and enjoying the trip than maxing the speedometer.
That's not to say it's not challenging. Manipulating the road to create bumps, hills, dips, and ramps is a fine art, and grabbing enough gizmos to keep your fuel tank full gets trickier and trickier as the game moves on, the pace speeds up, and the architecture gets more convoluted.
Luckily, there's a greater prize for success than just leaderboard showboating. By collecting polaroids along the way, you'll slowly fill in the back story of our driving couple. We won't spoil it, but it's a heartfelt and memorable tale, painted entirely in black-and-white stills.