It’s been quite a while since I’ve done an iOS gaming round-up. Life has been, well, very busy. In my absence, however, some great games have come out and I think it’s time to give a rundown on what I think the latest must have iPad and iPhone games are. Here’s what I’ve been playing:

All prices were accurate at the time of publishing, 9/27/11.

Tiny Tower (Universal – Free, IAP currency)

Tiny Tower is a freemium, management-style game where you’re in charge of a tower that houses little, pixelated people called Bitizens. Your bitizens each have a unique appearance and skills in the various types of jobs you can discover as well as a “dream job” they’d like to work at. The game is essentially part management, wherein you check back every so often to stock your floors, ferry visitors up the elevator, and so on, and part puzzle where you’re trying to optimize where best to employ your bitizens for maximum benefit. Unlike other freemium games designed to milk you of as much money as possible, Tiny Tower, designed by NimbleBit (makers of Pocket Frogs, also free), is built from the ground up for players who don’t want to spend anything. As a result, this is one that’s had me coming back for more.

Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP (Universal – $4.99, iPhone-Only – $2.99)

Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP, or #Sworcery as it’s known on Twitter, is a collaboration between Craig Adams (aka Superbrothers), Jim Guthrie, and the folks at Capybara Games, makers of Critter Crunch and Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes. It’s equal parts fantastic pixel art, Commodore 64 adventure, and amazing music, but it’s really tough to pidgeonhole it into being any one of those things alone. Hands down one of the best experiences I’ve had with my iPad, this is one where you’ll want to block out some time alone in a comfy chair with headphones on. There isn’t anything else out there quite like it.

Dragonvale (Universal – Free, IAP currency)

Two freemium titles in one list? Surely something must be wrong with me, right? Dragonvale is much closer to your standard freemium fare than Tiny Tower, but it does so much right where others have gone wrong that I can’t not mention it. Also, it’s rife with dragons. Colorful, animated dragons that you can name, cross-breed, and level up. With me so far? The only real goal in Dragonvale is to improve your park, aka your series of magical, floating islands. You do so by purchasing dragons, which generate income for you, but that fundamental mechanic is complemented by a colosseum, a food-harvesting mechanic that’s at the root of leveling up your dragons, structure upgrades, and the process of clearing land on new islands. All of this means that you’ll always have something to do in Dragonvale, even if it’s just for 30 seconds every so often. The game slows down a bit around level 11 and it does require an internet connection, but neither of these have stopped me from checking on my dragons several times a day, basking in the brilliant colors, nice animations, and horribly catchy soundtrack.

Also, Slide to Play has a great, accurate review of the game here.

Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer (Universal full version – $4.99)

Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer is an iOS version of the card game, designed by some Magic: The Gathering champions and frequently compared to the popular board game, Dominion. It’s not a collectible card game, but it plays like one; you build your deck as you play, fresh each game. The rules take about 10 minutes to learn and are a challenge to master even for board game and CCG veterans. The art is stellar and the soundtrack still hasn’t gotten old to me. There’s offline 1-4 player play with human or computer opponents. There’s an almost fully-featured lite version, or at least there used to be (I couldn’t find it on the app store at the time of publishing). Oh, and the expansion pack is in beta right now. If you like card games or board games, Ascension is an excellent, easily-worth-the-$5 download.

Fractal: Make Blooms, Not War (iPad – $1.99)

Made by Philadelphia locals, Cipher Prime, Fractal is an iOS port of the puzzle game of the same name. It uses a “push” mechanic, wherein you tap on any open space next to pieces already on the board and new pieces are generated from the middle outwards, pushing everything in their way. It’s way simpler than it sounds, so watch this YouTube video if you’re confused. Between the simple, well-articulated visuals, the superb soundtrack, and the fascinating gameplay mechanic (showcased in three different modes), Fractal gives its puzzle brethren like Bejeweled a run for their money.

Jetpack Joyride (Universal – $0.99)

If you’ve played Fruit Ninja, you know who Halfbrick is and if you’ve played Monster Dash or Age of Zombies, you’re familiar with the lead hero, Barry Steakfries. Well, Barry’s back in a new “runner” type game that’s essentially the child of Chopper, Monster Dash, and several others. Everything about this game is awesome, from the humor to the smooth animations and how spot-on the hit detection is. To make things even better, you’re given missions that change how you play the game as well as a currency system where you earn money the more you play to unlock mechanical and aesthetic upgrades. Throw in Game Center support, a universal version, and a $0.99 price tag and Jetpack Joyride is a winner.

Extreme Road Trip (Universal – Free, IAP additional content)

For the low, low price of free, you get a game with simple controls (one button tilts clockwise and the other counter-clockwise) and a soundtrack by MP Souleye, composer for VVVVVV and several others. The gaol is simple: Go as far as you can, performing ridiculous stunts to boost your speed and distance. You start with two vehicles, you can unlock a third by posting on Facebook, and the other three are available for $1 each. I’ve certainly enjoyed my time with this one, a very straightforward, well-executed time killer.

Hunters: Episode One (iPad – $4.99, iPhone – $0.99)

A tactical RPG by Rodeo Games that’s earned numerous comparisons to XCOM, Hunters is one of my favorite iOS RPGs thus far. You get a squad where you have full control over how they level up, what perks they gain, and what equipment they use, and you get to bring them on missions with varying objectives like “Rescue the Scientist” and “Destroy All Generators.” To keep things fresh, the missions change every day at midnight. Hunters has enough content to keep you playing often, but not so much that you ever feel overwhelmed, and at its core it’s a tactical RPG that goes toe to toe with much larger, well-known franchises.

Peggle HD (iPad – $2.99, non-HD iPhone – $2.99, Peggle Nights via IAP)

Peggle? New? What? I know, Peggle came out in 2009, but the iPad version just came out in the last month and it plays better than any other incarnation I’ve tried. At the time of writing, there’s a sale where the game is $2.99 and Peggle Nights is $0.99, so for $4 you can have every Peggle level in HD glory. Additionally, there’s a zoom feature that practically feels like cheating, for an incredible level of precision with every shot. Peggle HD includes everything that Peggle’s done right so far and then some. Sometimes it’s a little unstable, crashing on opening, but I’ve rarely found that to get in the way of enjoying the game.

Contre Jour (Universal – $2.99, iPhone-only – $0.99)

I discovered Contre Jour late at night, unable to sleep, and I played it with headphones the first time I gave it a shot. I was immediately sold by the puzzler whose character is very similar to World of Goo’s, whose soundtrack is mesmerizing and heartbreaking, and whose gameplay is unique. In Contre Jour, you can deform the terrain to move your little eyeball character around, trying to collect lights (the clusters of small dots in the screenshot) and reach the glowing goal (the big flame at the bottom). There are ropes and elastics you can attach to your little guy, like Cut the Rope in reverse, and everything else is just physics and cleverness. I’ve personally only scratched the surface in terms of gameplay, but Contre Jour has been worth every minute so far.

Epic War Tower Defense (iPad Free, iPad Full – $0.99, iPhone Free, iPhone Full – $0.99)

I feel like tower defense and freemium games make up half of the entire app store, but when a good one comes along I feel obliged to help it stand out from the rest. Epic War TD is one of those “good ones” that gets it right. There are five tower types, numerous maps, a great upgrade system, tons of different enemy types, and a level of randomness to keep replay fresh. The TD essentials are there, too, like fast-forward and pause (you’d be surprised how often they’re left out of TD games) and the interface is crisp and responsive. I played the free version for weeks before realizing that it was just a free version, if that’s any indication of this game’s quality. There are no gimmicks are cash-grabbing tactics here: Epic War TD is just a solid, visually pleasing, crisp, clean tower defense game.

NyxQuest (iPad Free, iPad Full – $0.99, iPhone Free, iPhone Full – $0.99)

Apparently this one was out on the Wii and I missed it, but NyxQuest for iOS brings the Greek adventure/platform/puzzle game to your mobile device with just as much pizazz as a console game. You control Nyx, moving her left and right and using her wings to fly and glide, as well as a growing arsenal of magical abilities that let you directly alter the environment by moving blocks, raising and lowering towers, and so on. The controls are very responsive, an uncommon quality in an iOS platformer, and the magical abilities feel intuitive and natural. If you like platformer puzzle games but have been reluctant to play through the iOS platformers due to awkward touch screen controls, NyxQuest might change your mind about the genre.

Groove Coaster (Universal – $2.99)

There are two rhythm games I really like on iOS: Pulse (by Cipher Prime, makers of the aforementioned Fractal) and this. Groove Coaster takes a virtual jukebox and turns it into a psychedelic 3D tapping game like DDR or Guitar Hero for one finger. Turn out the lights and put on some headphones and this one is a lot of fun. Taito did a great job with spot-on controls, a stellar, diverse soundtrack, and visuals that will make your head spin.

Ticket to Ride (iPad – $6.99)

I picked this one up after playing the board game of the same name and I wasn’t at all disappointed. Ticket to Ride is a flawless, loyal port of the board game, bringing with it 2-5 player play (with AI or human opponents either on the same device or online), several expansions available for download, and the same great gameplay with the benefits of a touch screen interface. Whereas games in person might take hours due to board set up, manual counting of points, and constant reassessment of whether or not goals have been fulfilled, you can play through an iOS game of Ticket to Ride in 10-20 minutes. $6.99 sounds expensive, but for the quality you’re getting it’s an impossibly good deal; the physical version of this game sells for $50.

That about wraps it up for my September 2011 review of what’s awesome on iOS. I hope you found something fun to play! If you have any suggestions for games I should take a look at for future entries, feel free to sound off in the comments.