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The Nine Most Infuriating iPhone Games, and Why I Love Them

Try not to throw your phone out the window when you try these.

My iPhone is a carefully maintained garden. Reference apps go in this folder. Social media apps go in that one.

The most important folder of all, though, is “Evil Arcade.” This is where I collect the casual games I love to hate. You can play them for 30 seconds or 30 minutes, depending on how patient you are, and they never apologize for what makes them great: An intense 1980s arcade-like difficulty where success is always juuust out of reach.

Here are the nine games that have taken up permanent residence in the Evil Arcade.

1) Flappy Bird

First on the list, and not just because this is the one you’ve heard of. Although some more “serious” gamer blogs like Kotaku ginned up scorn for Dong Nguyen over Flappy Bird’s close resemblance to the art of the Mario universe, Nguyen tapped into a much more important legacy of the classic “Nintendo hard” days: Success as a rare but boast-worthy feat. His accidental runaway hit has since become a frequently invoked reference point for casual games. The bad news: Unless you downloaded Flappy Bird before Nguyen pulled it from Apple’s and Google’s app stores last year, you’ll have to find a decent knockoff version or play Flappy Birds Family on Amazon Fire TV.

Eric’s current high score: 344

2) Jupiter Jump

Arguably an improvement on the Flappy Bird formula, Jupiter Jump is another endless side-scrolling game, with a twist. You’re a shipwrecked astronaut on an alien planet, earning points by bouncing through green goals and avoiding randomly scattered explosives. When you nearly collide with one of those bombs, you get a “near miss” bonus, which increments from 1x to 2x to 3x and so on. What that means in English: After a near miss, every goal is worth more points than the ones that came before. While Flappy Bird is the same game ad infinitum once you get the rhythm down, Jupiter Jump feels more intense with every close call.

Eric’s current high score: 1,007

3) Piano Tiles

This one is dead simple to explain: Tap the black piano keys as fast as you can, and don’t tap the white ones. Lather, rinse, repeat. Piano Tiles is especially fun if you’re in a group of people playing together in real life, trying to one-up each other’s scores, which I suspect was a boon for word-of-mouth when it was consistently charting on the App Store last year. Plus, don’t you just love that “relaxing” piano music?

Eric’s current high score: 6.819 seconds on Pro

4) Super Hexagon

Speaking of music: If you don’t play Super Hexagon with the sound on, your score doesn’t count. The pumping techno beat is part of the challenge as you scurry around an ever-morphing geometric obstacle course. It’s like a virtual mechanical bull, and my first few dozen games were over in a matter of seconds. The moment the chaos of Super Hexagon “clicked” in my head and I started improving is one of my personal favorite gaming memories, mobile or otherwise.

Eric’s current high scores: 77:27 on Hexagon, 26:56 on Hexagonest

5) The Impossible Game

Truth in advertising: The Impossible Game really does feel impossible sometimes, but never so impossible that you want to delete it from your phone. It’s a game about reflexes, as you jump from platform to platform and try to avoid omnipresent spike traps, but it’s also about memory: Did I jump there last time? Or did I just let myself fall off the platform onto safety below? Juggling the onslaught of micro-decisions is stressful and aggravating, in the best possible way.

Eric’s current high score: Almost beat the first level, once.

6) Caveman Pong

At first, this one will seem familiar to those who’ve played the classic Atari game Breakout, or the schoolyard game wallball. In Caveman Pong, you play as, well, a caveman who is bouncing a ball against a wall. The game gets devious, though, once it introduces the blocky little mice that scurry along the ground where your ball might bounce. Hitting one of these mice might redirect the ball, slow it down, speed it up or create a temporary ceiling over the course, and it’s even possible to have multiple effects operating at the same time.

Eric’s current high score: 82

7) 15 Coins

Also deceptively simple is 15 Coins, which is a tricksier version of the all-time classic phone game Snake. You fly around picking up coins while being chased by a tail of enemies, and if you crash into any of those enemies, you die. The twist is that you can pick up special types of coins that will freeze those enemies in place and temporarily let you destroy them, Pac-Man style. And if you’re very, very talented, you can fly through the gaps in the chain of enemies behind you, who will mimic your flight pattern exactly.

Eric’s current high score: 15 coins in 55.51 seconds on easy, 6 coins in 23.01 seconds on medium

8) Retry

Retry sometimes takes a while to load when you open it, so this is probably the game out of the nine I touch the least. And that’s unfortunate, because it’s a superbly designed profanity inducer. Using just one finger, you fly a plane from airport to airport, and quickly discover that airplanes are complex machines and not supposed to be controlled with just one finger — not that you have a choice. Tapping makes you fly up and forward, letting go makes you level out and then lose altitude, and crashing (which you will do, early and often) makes you want to throw your phone against the wall.

Eric’s current high score: On level 14 with 40 stars

9) One More Line

Much like Super Hexagon, figuring out a “strategy” for surviving One More Line offered me a great gaming frisson, which I won’t spoil for others here. Describing the game in words is tricky; this is the best I can muster: You’re swinging on a rope from point to point to propel yourself forward, and if your body touches any of those points, you blow up. I especially love that the game’s title is also its only instruction to the at-first-clueless player: One more line! It’s either encouraging or zombifying, and maybe both.

Eric’s current high score: 256

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