Every year, as the technology advances and attracts more developers, mobile games become even better. Here are some of the best mobile games released in 2012.
There were so many great mobile games released in 2012, from Fireproof's deeply atmospheric The Room to the fast-paced difficulty of Super Hexagon. All the games on this list have been chosen not just because they're really fun to play, but because we feel they bring something new and exciting to mobile gaming.
Please note that these games are in no particular order of excellence. It was difficult enough just picking the ones we did without having to rank them, too.
Do you have a favourite 2012 mobile game that you don't see on this list? Tell us about it in the comments below!
The Room is a puzzle-box game that sees you exploring in 3D a series of chests, boxes and cabinets that are scrawled with arcane symbols and scratchings and filled with clockworks and cryptic notes. You have to figure out how to open various hidden compartments, fix broken mechanical features to solve the box, collect the story clues and move on to the next box. It can be really tricky, but the marvellous thing is that it's never frustrating, with gentle clues that you can read (or ignore) to nudge you in the right direction — and we found ourselves, with each successful solution, feeling that excited "a-ha!" accompanied by a warm satisfaction that has us gleefully returning for more. Combined with the tactile experience of touch-based gaming, and minus the pressures of points and achievements, it's a title that's actually exciting to play.
Zynga has been struggling of late, and a lot of people have been steering away from its games. Then it goes and publishes Fat Pebble's Clay Jam, a sort of hybrid Katamari Damacy/The Red and the Blue. You roll a plasticine ball around in a stop-motion environment (we don't know how developer Fat Pebble managed it, but the game is entirely animated clay), squashing other creatures flat to absorb them and get bigger so you can squash bigger creatures. The bigger you get, the farther you can shoot the Bully Beasts at the end, and the more creatures you can make out of the clay you collected. It's something special, that's for sure.
The icon for Endless Road is a little misleading — the game is, in fact, about driving along an endless road, but the art style vastly differs, in a good way; we're actually really impressed with the extremely clean and tight graphics.
In fact, everything about Endless Road has been finely tuned: the controls are very well managed, the concept is great and the music is rockin'. As you drive along, the road and landscape (viewed isometrically) construct themselves ahead of you. The aim is, of course, to stay driving for as long as possible, steering left and right to avoid obstacles and collect coins and power-ups. With these coins, you can upgrade your power-ups, collect more vehicles and — perhaps most interestingly — upgrade and paint the landscape around you. It's heaps of fun.
One app that bears its maker's idiosyncratic style firmly on its sleeve is Beat Sneak Bandit (Simogo, of Bumpy Road notoriety). The dastardly Duke Clockface has nicked off with all the world's clocks — and it's up to you, brave hero, to get them back! This is where you'll need to turn up your volume: in order to sneak effectively, you have to tap the screen in time with the beat. It's certainly unusual — but it works splendidly.
Every now and again, a game comes along that blows us away with its brilliant simplicity. Last Fish is one of them. A little glowing white fish swims along in waters increasingly filling with black, deadly goo. You have to avoid the goo, collect the white orbs and complete challenges — surviving for as long as you can, collecting health points, swimming through an obstacle course. It's all painted in gorgeous monochromatic black and white, but it's the control system that blew us away: it's entirely tilt based, and every little shift of your phone moves the fish through the water. It's magnificently responsive and intuitive — tilt-based controls can be so hard to manage, but Last Fish has executed it to perfection.
Waking Mars is one of those mobile games that's just absolutely wonderful to play — about atmospheric exploration and discovery, rather than the bash-bash-pew-pew. As an astronaut on Mars, it becomes your mission, after being trapped underground, to restore life to the local flora and fauna. With beautiful art and music, it's an experience that absolutely shouldn't be missed.
Some people hate platform games with a heavy puzzle element, in which case Shardlands is not for them. If you do like puzzle platforming, though, it's fantastic: beautifully designed, and with a relaxed style that perfectly suits a bit of zen gaming.
You control Dawn, lost on a strange world, trying to get back home by collecting shards hidden throughout the world. The levels are filled with moving platforms, hidden paths, traps and monsters — and you have to figure out how to configure the platforms in order to get around, reveal the paths and evade the monsters (no combat!). You can replay to try to beat your time, but the only score that matters is whether you collect all the orbs and shards.
This game was the first time in my life I found myself saying, "Heck yeah, necrosis!" It's a fantastic concept for a game. You control an epidemic, and your aim is to spread it throughout the world and kill everyone before humanity can develop a cure. You have a variety of tools at your disposal to mutate your virus: the ability to add symptoms, including fatal ones; methods of communicability, including animal-borne, airborne and body fluids; and resistances. Each of these can be built up in trees that interconnect, making your virus strong, and, as your virus spreads, you gain DNA points that you can spend on more abilities. You can watch the effects in a newsfeed, such as "Australia burning corpses" and "France removes drug research safeguards". It's tremendously exciting, especially when your virus grows strong enough to mutate on its own, as you race against the development of a cure. It's based on a real-world simulation, too.
Google's Niantic Labs is responsible for Ingress — a social AR-based game that turns the real world into a battleground between the Enlightened — who fully accept a mysterious invading energy, even if it does change our humanity into something else — and the Resistance, who will fight against it at any cost. Real-world landmarks become "portals" in a sort of capture-the-flag-type war, with both sides fighting to claim more territory than the other. It's not just about stealing landmarks, though; you have to communicate with your team to devise strategies for defeating the other side. AR games are few and far between at this point, but this is by far the best we've seen. It's still in closed beta, but you can sign up here.
Got a yen for town building with cute animals? Happy Street masks behind its adorable façade a sinister obsession with scatological functions. However, in between all the toilet talk, there's a pretty solid game to be played. Billy the fox has arrived in what seems to be a wasteland — so he does what any sensible young fox would do, and sets about taming the wilderness and building a little animal village. As well as being utterly adorable, for a freemium game, it works amazingly well: the game can be played continuously without spending money, and regular sales on premium currency mean you can stock up without breaking the bank. There's plenty to do, too. Other freemium devs, take note: this is how it should be done.
Doing two things at once can be a tricky prospect, even if they're two very simple things. Toybox aims to challenge that ability. It splits the game down the screen. On the left, you have a shooter, kind of like Galaga, with waves of UFOs coming at you like a spider monkey. On the right, blocks will drop down, and you have to match them in colour lots of three.
What blocks you get depends on the UFOs you shoot; the colours correspond, and if the light on a UFO is flashing, it will give you a lock of the same colour. In this way, you can try to plan out your block drops a bit better, but the farther you go, the more frantic it gets.
There's a new puzzle every week, too, so it will stay fresh and challenging for a long time.
Penny Skateboards have been around since 1983 (with no ties to Tom Penny), and their bright plastic bodies and neon wheels are instantly recognisable. Penny Time is the "official" Penny Skateboards game, but don't be put off by the product affiliation — it's bleeding aces.
It's kind of like a cross between an endless runner skater and a rhythm game. You skate through suburbia on your Penny board, performing tricks by swiping the screen. Ostensibly, you do this by hitting visual targets on the course; but, as you play, you'll notice that the targets occur in time with beats in the fantastically toe-tapping music. Rack up the points, and you can customise your skater — and, of course, your board. Gnarly!
For his 30th birthday, Pitfall Harry came back — in iOS format. Unsurprisingly, it is in the endless runner format (which we find complements the original game quite nicely), but before you dismiss it as just another Temple Run clone, it has a few pretty neat points of difference. Firstly, Harry runs through a variety of really cool environments, which keeps gameplay fresh and engaging — and, while this might seem to be a superficial change, the different camera angles really make the game seem like something new in the format. We also like the combat, which allows you to dispense with enemies in your path (implemented much better than the combat in The Hunger Games: Girl on Fire, we might add).
It also has a few nifty features to keep gameplay fresh: there's the Outfit of the Day, which gives you a different bonus every day, and Relic Rush, a super-hard treasure-hunt mode.
The work of swords-and-sorcery artists such as Boris Vallejo, Julie Bell, Frank Frazetta and Gerald Brom will be familiar, even if you've never heard those names before. Gracing the covers of hundreds of fantasy novels (Vallejo painted the iconic 1960s art for Conan the Barbarian, for instance), the style is broodingly otherworldly and atmospheric.
It seems strange, therefore, that no one had used it as a basis for a fantasy game — which is exactly what God of Blades has done, and the end product is appropriately epic. Drawing inspiration from the aforementioned artists, 1970s prog rock and high pulp fantasy, the game is a perfectly realised iOS expression of all three. You play a long-dead king who has arisen to fight the invading hordes in a 2D auto-side-scroller. As you run along, you swipe the screen in different directions to perform a variety of attacks, all set to a magnificent soundtrack.
And perhaps the coolest part — you can unlock cool weapons by visiting public libraries. We think that's a wonderful idea.
Indie game Cool Pizza is has style oozing from every pixel. A skater girl with a haunted board (and the cutest little ghostpanion ever), you're searching for something in the depths of the underworld, assailed by strange demons and monsters who want you gone. Gameplay is simple: you skate along the boost pads to get lift, then wail on the monsters by tapping the screen, tilting for positioning. But, as we mentioned earlier, it's the styling that shines, a black-and-white world highlighted with brilliantly fluorescent touches, and a fantastic soundtrack.
Letterpress is the most sleek social word game we've ever seen. Rather than a Scrabble-style board-game, it's more like a word finder. You select letters from a grid of 20 to make a word; those letters are then marked with your colour, and your opponent has to try to steal back as many as possible. The game ends when every letter on the board has been played at least once; the winner is the player who has the most territory at the end of a game. It's beautifully designed, and a competitive pleasure to play.
This one ain't for the faint of heart. It's a very bare-bones game, but as hard as anything we've played on iOS. Set to catchy electronica by Chipzel, the stages consist of shrinking, rotating hexagons with one or two open sides. You have to get your little cursor into the gaps before the hexagons crush you — and it's extremely fast and tricky.
Aside from the very awesome setting of caves in space, Dynamite Jack is bodacious fun. A lone space marine, you're stuck in caves, from which you must escape using just a torch and bombs. Everything is dark, and you must locate the light from the surface to find your way out. But it's not just a matter of finding your way; enemies patrol, and you have to stealthily sneak past, sometimes dousing your torch and feeling your way in the dark, with only bombs for weapons.
But wait, there's more! The game includes a map creator, which means gameplay is effectively never-ending: you can also download and play maps from other Dynamite Jack fans.
We don't know if any games will be able to replace Dungeon Raid in our hearts as the match-three dungeon crawler of choice, but we've not been able to unglue ourselves from 1000000 (which is the number of points you need to free yourself from the dungeon in question). It's a bit different to Dungeon Raid (and The Dungeon Saga), which sees you making chain matches by drawing a line; instead, you match by moving an entire line of items vertically or horizontally.
In this way, you fight monsters (by matching weapons and shields); unlock doors and treasures (by collecting keys); find loot (by matching satchels); and collect materials to repair your room (by collecting wood and stone). You also get some of that sweet levelling action going on, to make you bigger and badder against the monsters, unlocking more and better loots. There is nothing not to love. Well, except that the tutorial could be a little better. But apart from that.
Rayman: Jungle Run is an eye-popping explosion of gorgeous colours — and a really fun-to-play arcade title in its own right. It's divided into four sections — Jump, Fly, Wall Run and Punch — each of which is based around a simple one-touch control system. Rayman runs automatically, and you control what he does by tapping or holding the screen; for example, in Jump, tapping the screen anywhere makes Rayman jump, and so forth. The objective in each level is to collect all 100 Electoons — not as simple a prospect as it sounds — in order to obtain a Death's Tooth. Five of these teeth will unlock the next level, so there's actually incentive to collect a perfect score. It's not exactly deep, but Ubisoft has created the perfect balance between challenging and pick-up-and-put-down gameplay.
Generally speaking, "golf game" is not a phrase that makes us sit up and listen. Sure, there was the old golf game played on the IBM in the '80s that had you hitting the space bar to hit the ball when the gauge was at the right point, and apparently the Tiger Woods PGA games are popular, but it just doesn't sound as exciting as "save the kittens" or "chainsaw-wielding princess".
Then along came Wonderputt, and it truly is a wonder. It uses touch-based slingshot physics for you to get the ball from its starting point to the hole in a changing environment that is absolutely gorgeous to look at and play in. As you progress, the landscape morphs thanks to forces of nature, the interference of man and beast, and ... alien abduction. It's a delight to play and impossible to put down.
Go get Horn right now. Preliminaries done, it's the finest action RPG we've seen on iOS, from the developers who made The Dark Meadow. You're Horn, a blacksmith's apprentice who awakens to discover his homeland overrun by strange robotic monsters (and a mysterious horn) (and he wears a helmet with a single horn on it). But they aren't really monsters — a curse has afflicted the land, and transformed the inhabitants.
Everything about it is superb; reminiscent of The Legend of Zelda series, the gameplay involves well-designed combat and puzzles, and the game has a sense of humour about it that is delightful. Unlike Infinity Blade (which the combat also echoes), you can move around the environments, and the art is excellent. And, unlike most of Zynga's other titles, there are no further micropayments once you've bought the game.
Punch quest is the most brilliantly '80s-arcadey iOS game we've ever had the pleasure of playing. We can almost smell the dank arcade cave smell of stale cigarette smoke and Redskins. It's retro to the core: an endless side-scrolling 2D beat-'em-up with two-button controls for punching and jumping, lots of explosive biff and graphics that could have time travelled from 1985.
Much like trivia games, we're always on the lookout for decent isometric fantasy RPG experiences on the mobile market. Pocket RPG is decent, Order & Chaos Online is fun (but pricey) and a few others such as the Dungeon Hunter games and the Zenonia series, as well as Square Enix's offerings, are all pretty cool, but we're always happy to see something new.
Heroes Call, we're happy to say, looks like it can join that list of the venerable. Rather than fiddly on-screen joystick controls, it uses tap-based controls — tap to move, tap to attack, tap to loot — which make navigation and control much easier. Frame rates and loading times are also smooth; both of these things make Heroes Call one of the more pleasant iOS RPG experiences we've had.
When the first LostWinds made its way to the iPad from the Wii, it was an absolute delight. Control issues experienced by Wii gamers had been smoothed out, and it looked fabulous on the iPad's screen. It's with glee, then, that we greet the arrival of its sequel, Winter of the Melodias.
Like its predecessor, it's genuinely fun, one of those games that you don't want to put down because every scrap of it is immersive and enjoyable. Once again, you play Toku ... with new powers and abilities, and a brand new quest to save mum. And a new hat! With an owl on! Spectacular.
The premise of Crow goes thus: you're a crow flying over the land. As you explore each level, you find fragments of story — one voice telling you to seek and curse the land's guardians so that it can take their power for itself, and another petitioning you to show mercy and not be taken in by the temptation to do harm. When you find the guardians, you must fight, using attacks and blocks, all the while dodging their attacks; and at each level's final boss, you have a choice: will you inflict the curse, or show mercy?
The smooth one-touch controls are wonderfully responsive, the gameplay intuitive and the story both intriguing and thoughtful. It's stunningly beautiful and superbly built.
Machinarium is one of the more gorgeous games on mobile. You're a cool little telescoping robot in a town made of scraps and gears, and you have to save the girl robot by solving beautifully designed point-and-click puzzles. It's one of our favourite interactive experiences on a tablet.
Bad Hotel is the magnificently odd result of someone thinking, "What if we made a tower defence game with music?" You have a little hotel — but unfortunately it's in territory owned by Tarnation Tadstock, the Texas Tyrant, and he doesn't want it there. As he sends in his army of rats, yetis, pteranadons and bees, you have to build rooms on your hotel to protect it: healing rooms, attack rooms, rooms that make money — and each room makes a new sound to create a complex layer of music over the entire game.
This is the kind of idea that's so preposterous it can't do anything but work. From the team behind the gorgeous Deathfall, the premise of Pizza vs. Skeletons is that the dead are rising, and you, as a puissant pizza pie of prodigious proportions, must roll back and forth over the growing hordes to squash them flatter than flat, while avoiding their pointy spears. This is achieved by tilting your iDevice from side to side. I'm usually a little dubious about games that require gyroscopic controls, but in Pizza vs. Skeletons, it's simple enough and well implemented enough to be actually fun. It's brilliant.
Don't be fooled by the thumbnail on this one — Mr Legs is a really interesting bit of work. You know those old flickery black-and-white cartoons where everything looks vaguely menacing? This is a bit like that. He walks along the street, and you telescope him up and down to swallow cherries and dodge obstacles. It's great fun that can be had in bite-sized chunks, coupled with a quiet uneasiness that he'll completely contort out of your phone and get all slenderman up in your grill.