There is something of an irony in Eurogamer's technology editor drawing this particular game: there are no 3D visuals, it doesn't run on a state-of-the-art engine and you don't require cutting-edge technology to play it. And yet Firemint's Flight Control is a work of gaming genius that stands proud alongside the likes of Uncharted 2 and Assassin's Creed II as one of the best games of the year, and at 59p it's the cheapest too.
For those unaware of this iPhone classic, the gameplay is remarkably straightforward. Planes arrive on-screen travelling in random directions and it's your job to guide them into land, mapping a flight plan with what is perhaps the most brilliant use of the iPhone touch-screen interface to date. Touch a plane to take select it, then simply draw its approach to the right runway. Guide the fast planes to the main landing strip, direct the light aircraft to the smaller runways and point the helicopters to the helipad. Simple.
When the game begins, it is a vaguely curious exercise in simple plane management; oddly soothing and quite addictive. Graphics are cartoon-esque and minimalistic and there's a sense of sheer, unabashed, self-confident fun in the entire make-up of the game. Flight Control has a look and feel that will appeal to anyone, and I simply can't conceive of how this ultra-intuitive, superb control scheme can be improved.
The relaxed mood of an initial gameplay session soon begins to change as the game gets its hooks into you. After a couple of dozen successful landings, the traffic in the skies starts to build up significantly and it's then you realise that only with a combination of quick reflexes, immense forward-planning skills and insane risk-taking will you be able to rack up a decent high-score.
You'll feel an immense feeling of satisfaction as multiple planes land within a hair's breadth of one another, you'll come up with ever-more complex holding patterns for the faster planes in order to guide the slower ones carefully through, and you'll develop a deep, psychotic rage towards the ultra-slow helicopters whose only purpose in-game is to get in the way.
Once you're into triple figures on the score charts, you will know that Flight Control has taken over your life. Whether you're challenging family members (my wife is annoyingly good at this), or you're pitting your skills against gamers on the leaderboard in your GPS vicinity (a very cunning use of the iPhone technology), Flight Control becomes that greatest of things: unputdownable.
This is not a problem per se, since you typically take your mobile phone with you everywhere anyway. In that respect, Flight Control becomes less of a game and more of a constant companion - definitely so to a certain "Denis S" who, in October this year, became Flight Control world champion with a staggering 51,855 landings. That's only 51,695 more than my own "high" score. Firemint has even created an excellent series of online leaderboards that offer up some fascinating stats.
If the frustration level at breaking your current record gets too much - and believe me, it will - the game offers up three additional maps with which to test your skills, each requiring their own individual strategies.
My favourite? Probably the aircraft carrier stage. Fighter jets arrive at lightning speeds, so there's an instantly high challenge level with no waiting about as there is on the other levels. And there's no let-up - every game you begin puts you firmly in a Mr Joshua "take a shot at the title" frame of mind. Adding a little spice is the fact that the carrier is slowly spinning about on-screen, meaning that the key to a high score is somewhat dependant on finding the right angle. Even starting a new game at the right time becomes a challenge!
Of course, when Flight Control launched in February, it literally wasn't half the game it is today - there was only one level. Firemint has gradually upgraded it over the months, adding new levels, each with their own unique gameplay elements. When the iPhone software was upgraded to take advantage of ad-hoc Bluetooth multiplayer, Flight Control was there with a two-player upgrade. And best of all, every single DLC upgrade was absolutely free. It's the game that keeps on giving and all for just 59p: amazing.
Over and above the value this offers to existing buyers, it also means that Firemint has no real need to release a sequel. Why release a follow-up when the core audience for this type of game is growing by the thousands month on month? And just what could Firemint actually do to make a sequel conceptually viable, that couldn't be done in the types of upgrade added to the original release?
Firemint's chosen strategy keeps the game fresh and interesting and makes sure that Flight Control continually rides high in the iTunes charts - essential in attracting casual purchases. As it is, the overall combination of brilliant game and a smart business plan has paid dividends for the developer. Flight Control sold over 1.5 million copies via iTunes in just six months, and there's soon to be a Nintendo DSi version of the game too.
I've always loved the apps but I never quite bought into the iPhone as a proper gaming platform. A handheld without a joypad must be rubbish, right? Wrong. Flight Control was the game that made me change my mind.
Check out the Editor's blog to find out more about our Games of 2009.