Best in iPhone entertainment 2008

Certainly there are plenty of iPhone apps that can increase productivity and streamline your life. But what about when you just want to have a little fun?

iPhone (Credit: CNET Networks)

If you've read my iPhone Apps of the Week posts, you know that I mostly download games and entertainment applications. I also like to check out music apps, because I play a few instruments and am continually interested in what developers are able to come up with musically for the iPhone. Since my coworker, Jessica Dolcourt, wrote the iPhone Starter Kit based around must-have apps of the practical variety, I can really get down to business--the business of fun iPhone apps!

So, what makes a great game or music app? Certainly graphics and sound are important for games, but with a platform as unique as the iPhone or iPod Touch, it's important to consider how it utilizes the accelerometer, touch screen, and other aspects of the device. For musical instruments and drum machines, it's important to note whether the sounds are realistic and how intuitive it is to play the instrument. Finally, it's important to note whether a game or instrument is a good fit for the medium. You probably wouldn't want to spend hours playing an MMO on a tiny device that needs recharging, and, similarly, you're probably not going to be writing concertos on your iPhone. The point is that it should be a good app by itself in addition to being a good app for the iPhone.

Some of the apps I'm including for this end-of-the-year roundup have been in previous posts, but several are new apps to my iPhone. I'm including both free apps and apps for purchase, and sometimes I have a good free version of a genre you can try if you don't want to spend the money. Without further ado, read on to see my favorite fun apps for the iPhone and iPod Touch.

Music apps

Pocket Guitar

Place your fingers on the frets just like you would on a real guitar.

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PocketGuitar ($0.99) was one of the first apps I bought for my iPhone, because I play the guitar and it seemed like an interesting use of the touch screen. The app shows a few frets of a six-string guitar, letting you play realistic-sounding chords and strum by swiping your finger across the strings. You can twist the iPhone to bend notes using the accelerometer and you can change the fret size to better accommodate your fingers.

These features alone were amazing enough for the app to make my list, but Pocket Guitar also offers a multitude of settings and effects you can play around with to get different sounds. You can choose from electric acoustic, classical, electric guitar, muted guitar, bass, and ukulele. Your effects include distortion, delay, and chorus, and any combination of those to find the perfect sound. With added details like the ability to "hammer-on" notes, switch to left-handed guitar, and the ability to play along with your iPod's music library, this app is a must-have for guitarists, even if it's just for the gimmick of having a working, authentic-sounding guitar on your iPhone.

If the guitar simulator is a little too hard to play (and it does take some creative hand positions), try Guitar ($3.99), which lets you choose and press chord letters to strum chords easily. You can even set up and save songs so your chords are ready to go when you want to play.

Pianist

Use the arrows to change octaves or slide your finger across the smaller keyboard at the top.

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Pianist ($3.99) is probably the best of its kind for piano apps on the iPhone, featuring realistic sounds, a sustain feature, and the ability to record multiple tracks. The screen shows one octave at a time, but you're able to use arrow and double-arrow buttons (like play and fast forward) to move the screen one note higher or one octave higher (or lower, as the case may be). While this means that two-handed play is impossible (not to mention that you couldn't fit both hands on your touch screen!), you can record one hand and then move the screen to a new octave to record your second hand. We were able to record simple songs using Pianist with limited success, but it manages to be a great app for creating melodies and figuring out songs.

There are a few settings to tinker with, letting you adjust sustain, delete previously played tracks, and display note names. The app also offers an adjustable metronome, so you can keep perfect time within the app, or use it as a stand-alone metronome when you play another live instrument. Overall, if you like to tinker with melodies, this app is the best of the bunch for iPhone.

Place your fingers over the holes and blow into your iPhone mic.

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Ocarina ($1.99), a popular music app at the App Store, lets you physically blow into your iPhone's microphone and use your fingers to cover onscreen holes to produce haunting melodies. It takes some experimentation to figure out what sort of sounds you can create, but using the iPhone almost like an actual instrument is very enjoyable. You can choose from several different keys to get the sound you want for your melody. One of the great features of this app is the ability look at a globe view from where you can listen to melodies being played from around the world in real time with a nice animation flowing out of the Ocarina player's location. Ocarina is definitely one of the more interesting music apps for the iPhone. Even those with little musical ability will enjoy using their iPhone as an instrument.

iDrum - Hip Hop Edition

Touch a square to zoom in and change drum sounds in real time.

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iDrum - Hip Hop Edition ($4.99) is a unique drum machine that lets you visually create beats using an intuitive system and hundreds of different percussion sounds. Beats are broken down into measures and you can zoom in to insert sounds at your chosen intervals. You can then create several measures and use the touch screen to copy and move them around to your specs. You also have the ability to adjust volume, using sliders for each sound. Though there is a small learning curve, once you figure it out, it becomes second nature.

You get a number of preset beats to play with, making it easy to pick a style and work backwards to create your own beats. I would have liked more melodic sounds to work with, to add more flavor to my beats, but overall this app is fantastic. If you have a PA system at your disposal (or simply a cord to connect your iPhone to larger speakers) you can really appreciate this app.

DigiDrummer

Touch the drum pads to play the drums.

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DigiDrummer is another beat-making app, but of a different variety. This app offers several different drum kits to choose from, which you can play by tapping on your touch screen. You're given eight drum pads, which change depending on what drum kit your using, and you can record your beats for playback later. The drum kits include many standards from over the years, including genre-based kits from the '80s, hip-hop kits like the TD88, and other genres for different styles. There are 12 drum kits in all. You can record your beats, but you better have a good sense of rhythm, because Digidrummer records exactly what you play and loops back to the beginning when you stop recording. The sound quality for each of the drum sounds is great, and like iDrum, a good speaker system is required to really do these drum machines justice. If you would like to try before you buy, download DigiDrummer Lite to check out what Digidrummer has to offer.



Games

TouchGrind

Pay attention to the icons at the edge of the screen to detect obstacles early.

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TouchGrind is a high-quality multitouch skateboarding game that's perfect for the skateboarding fan, but might be a stretch for the casual gamer. If you've ever seen or played with a fingerboard, you will quickly understand TouchGrind's two-finger control system, but it will take some practice to pull off successful tricks. You get two different parks to skate, with numerous obstacles, ramps, and rails to try to perform tricks on, and two different game types to choose from. The Jam Session mode lets you practice tricks and try to pull off combos in an effort to achieve your highest score for a single trick. In Competition mode, you try to pull of as many tricks as possible in 100 seconds, stringing together combos for extra multipliers to get your overall high score. You also can unlock new boards with special abilities as you pass major score milestones.

While people interested in Skateboarding will appreciate the true-to-life sounds, crisp graphics, and realistic physics, the casual gamer might become frustrated quickly. The screen is zoomed in on the board pretty far--so you have more control over tricks, but less time to prepare for approaching obstacles. If you're a skate fan, however, this app is definitely worth the money.

DropShip

Blow away cannons before you try to escape with the pod.

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Dropship ($0.99), from popular iPhone game makers ngmoco, is an excellent shoot-em-up game that mixes old-school arcade classics like Gravitron and Thrust and adds smart touch-screen controls to create a fun and extremely challenging game. The object is to maneuver your space ship through intricate mazes while trying to rescue your fellow soldiers. The best way to describe the graphics is that Dropship is a 3D game in a 2D environment.

To control your Dropship, touch and rotate your thumb anywhere on the left side of the touch screen to control thrust and use your other thumb on the right side of the screen to rotate and fire your weapons. It takes some getting used to, but once you have the basics down the game becomes extremely addicting. Dropship offers two game types with Campaign Mode and Free Play. Campaign Mode challenges you to pass increasingly harder levels as you try to save soldiers and transport a mysterious "Pod" to safety. Free Play challenges you to save as many soldiers as possible.

Flick Fishing

Keep an eye on your line tension as you slowly reel in your fish.

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Flick Fishing from Freeverse software is a fun and challenging fishing game that will appeal to just about anyone. Choose from several locations, ranging from a beginner fishing hole to deep sea environments, and make sure to open your tackle box to pick the right bait for the job. When you're ready, flick your iPhone to cast your line. Beautiful living environments set the perfect scene as you wait to get a bite. Once a fish takes the bait, reel it in slowly--you need to watch your line-tension meter so you don't snap the line. You can fish casually at several locations or you can participate in tournaments. You also can play against your friends on the same network. With several locations, dozens of varieties of fish, and numerous types of bait, this game offers great replay value. Complete with fun music and excellent sound effects, Flick Fishing is a lot of fun and one of the best and most polished games available for the iPhone and iPod Touch.

Live Poker

Play with people from around the world.

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Live Poker is a fun Texas Hold 'Em game in which you play online opponents for fake cash. You'll need to create an account to start and you can use your Facebook account (and profile picture) to serve as your avatar in the game. Once you're set up, just join a table and get ready to compete against other players from around the world. If you run out of money, you can buy more from the developer Web site, invite your friends for bonus cash, or reset your character. I noticed when I logged on a few days later I had some more playing money so...your mileage may vary.

Field Runners

Start building your maze of towers early so you get maximum damage on every type of runner.

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Field Runners ($4.99) is a great-looking tower-defense game with crisp graphics, realistic sounds, and extremely addictive gameplay. You can also grab the popular free TapDefense and, while that is a great game, there's something to be said for the smooth graphics and open-path style of the tower-defense genre found in Field Runners. Instead of defending a set path, in this game you need to construct your towers in such a way that forces the baddies to take the most damage. As you progress you earn money, which allows you to buy more towers and to upgrade old ones. You also can unlock maps as you get further into the game for a bigger challenge. Field Runners doesn't have as many available towers as TapDefense, but the developers promise more towers and content in coming releases. Either way, any tower defense fan will appreciate the overall look and feel of this challenging game.

If you're really into the tower defense genre like I am, check out 7 Cities TD ($4.99). This new game follows a set path you'll need to defend, but there are seven maps, and several towers to experiment with and upgrade. I highly recommend it.

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