The 5 iPhone and iPad games you need to play from April 2019

‘Rolando’ makes its triumphant return, while ‘Cultist Simulator’ and ‘Distraint 2’ deliver spring chills.

rolando hero
HandCircus

The best iOS games of April 2019

April was a month of many returns, whether we’re talking about blossoms on trees, tax returns, or a once-popular game that’s been in exile from the App Store for years. The game in question is Rolando, which has rolled back into the App Store in force—and one of our other recommended games even uses the iPhone tilt controls Rolando helped popularize.

But for all the colors and life for the fourth month, it also was a time of chills and frights, as April also gave use two excellent (and widely different) games from the horror genre. If all of this sounds too heavy, we also found a simple little puzzler that’s as fun as it is relaxing. If you’re looking for more great games, be sure to check out our list from March.

rolando game
HandCircus

Rolando: Royal Edition ($2.99)

Nostalgia frankly isn’t often justified, as old games and movies usually aren’t as good as we remember them. But Rolando: Royal Edition is an exception. This popular, colorful 2008 game vanished from the App Store for a few years in the wake of architecture changes to iOS, but it’s still wonderful enough to justify the near-perfect score we gave it in our original review.

It’s all about using the iPhone’s tilt controls to roll ball-like characters through puzzles with springboards, passages, and other elements before you can advance to the next level. It’s a nice callback to the days when tilt controls were all the range, and Rolando is a reminder that few games since have used them so effectively. Happily, it’s released exactly the way it was—which means it also isn’t burdened with microtransactions.

cultist simulator
Playdigious

Cultist Simulator ($6.99)

I’m hesitant to recommend Cultist Simulator, even though it’s easily the most remarkable game to hit the App Store last month. There’s intentionally no tutorial, for one thing, which means you may spend hours just figuring out this barely describable roguelike card-based narrative adventure. It’s fairly involved, for another, and the gameplay board gets busy that you’ll probably want to play it on an iPad rather than on the tiny display of an iPhone.

Now that the disclaimer’s out of the way, let me now say that Cultist Simulator deftly delivers memorable stories about founding a Lovecraftian cult in an alternate version of the 1920s. These stories evolve from cards through a system of “verbs” and “nouns,” and it’s all fairly abstract aside from esoteric alchemical woodblocks prints that sometimes appear beneath the carefully arranged deck. It’s always weird, always unique. But for $7, you need to keep in mind what you’re getting into—and that’s a smart approach for a game that calls itself a cultist simulation.

distraint 2
Winterveil Studios Oy

Distraint 2 ($5.99)

The story in Distraint 2 wastes no time getting dark. The main character of this 2D psychological horror adventure game may have a passing resemblance to the hero of the colorful early indie game Braid, but the action kicks off with him contemplating suicide after he evicted a disabled old woman—who then died. And then things start getting weird. Our hero sees what looks like his doppelgängers. He encounters clouds of darkness that seem to scream when he enters them. He sees monsters that I won’t spoil.

It’s one of those wonderful indie games that remind us that you don’t need lifelike graphics to convey a real sense of creepiness and dread, and its textual dialogue expresses emotion well without relying on dialogue. It’s fairly short, too, but its tale of the long climb from despair to hope will stick with you for long afterward.

oco
Spectrum48

Oco (Free)

Oco is almost at the complete opposite end at the App Store gaming complexity scale from Cultist Simulator, but that doesn’t mean this one-touch platformer any less fun—or even less challenging, particularly in the later levels. In this case you’re simply bouncing a ball around a rotating circular puzzle in an attempt to grab yellow points of light. Bump against a wall, and the circle rotates in another direction. Hit a neon blue spot, and the ball takes off as though it were a rocket.

It’s all very abstract, as you can probably tell from the above image, but it’s always beautiful in motion. It’s also difficult enough to make every victory feel deserved, even though it always comes off as both simple and relaxing.

pigeon wings strike
Ignacio Schiefelbein

Pigeon Wings Strike (Free)

If tilt controls like those in Rolando strike as you so last decade, pick up Pigeon Wings Strike and you’ll find they’re alive and well. But this game is a rabbit to Rolando’s turtle. Here you’re a pigeon in an endlessly sidescrolling rocket car who’s racing at breakneck speeds through narrow urban passages, all while tiling your phone back and forth to move up or down. Later on, you’ll even have to balance that action while firing guns at drones. It’s intense, and I wish it offered more than local co-op for a multiplayer option.

You can use the touch controls if you really don’t like the idea of tilting, but I wouldn’t recommend it. It’s also fairly repetitive, so you shouldn’t expect to race through wildly different settings. But I find the fun takes a long time to die when you take in Pigeon Wings Strike in small doses, particularly when you want to see how your time and distance stacks up against other players while you’re waiting at the bus stop. A couple of weeks later, I still find myself reaching for it over more robust alternatives.