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Christmas Gift Guide

Alto's Adventure

Monument Valley

Knights of Pen & Paper

Heart Star

Space Marshals

Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery

Riptide GP: Renegade

Mushroom 11

Battleheart

Out There

Apollo Justice Ace Attorney

Ingress Android

Reigns

The Room series

rymdkapsel

You Must Build a Boat

80 Days

Slayaway Camp

Lara Croft Go

Don't Starve

Crashlands

Rayman: Legends

Hearthstone

FRAMED

Kingdom Rush Series

Iron Marines

Super Hexagon

Xenowerk

Mystic Messenger

Spaceteam

Vainglory

Mini Metro

Human Resource Machine

Plague, Inc.

Machinarium

Leo's Fortune

Threes!

Beholder

Card Thief

hocus.

Onirim

Minecraft: Pocket Edition

Glitchskier

Chameleon Run

RunGunJumpGun

Snowboarding at high speed has never been so relaxing as it is in Alto's Adventure. Very simple one-touch controls let you guide Alto (and several other unlockable characters) down the mountain while getting big air, grinding edges and performing multiple back flips. 

With beautiful endless mountain scenery, amazing day-to-night transitions and a mesmerizing soundtrack (you should definitely wear headphones), this is a must have on any device. The developer for this 2015 game, Snowman, recently delayed the upcoming sequel, Alto's Odyssey, saying they want to make sure to get it right. Once you play the original, I'm sure you'll understand why perfection is important to the small development team.

You can read our original Alto's Adventure review here.

Trailer.

Google Play link.

Price: Free with in-app purchases.

Caption by / Photo by Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET

Escher-inspired puzzle game Monument Valley is a strange, lovely, deeply rewarding rabbit hole of an experience. You control the tiny Princess Ida on a mysterious mission in a place called Monument Valley, made up of non-Euclidean structures populated by belligerent black birds. The nature of her mission is part of the splendid discovery experience built into the game as you guide Ida around the monuments, twisting and sliding to shift perspectives in order to make your way through the levels.

What makes it so spectacular is that so much care has been put into every single aspect of the game to make it a wonderful experience for players. From the art and music, to the simple control system, to the story, to the gameplay, it gently guides you to think about space and geometry in new and interesting ways.

You can read our interview with designer Ken Wong here.

CNET Review

Trailer

Google Play link

Price: $4 | AU$6 | £3

Caption by / Photo by ustwo

What if you could be the Dungeon Master and the players? Knights of Pen & Paper is an old-school turn-based RPG, where you play through both the experience of running a pen-and-paper game and the actual game itself, all in retro pixel graphics. 

You have 12 adventurer classes and 17 characters, some unlockable, to play. You also pick the battles your players will go through. There are only two campaigns at the moment, but more are coming, giving the game fantastic replayability.

Trailer

Google Play link

Price: $5 | AU$6 | £4

Caption by / Photo by Paradox Interactive

Heart Star, made by developer Jussi Simpanen for Ludum Dare #48 in 2014, is another platformer. But this one requires the control of not one but two characters. 

You need to control them together to activate areas of each maze-like level so that both characters can reach their respective exit. It gets tricky, but the lack of penalties makes it a smooth, delightful experience.

Trailer

Google Play link

Price: Free

Caption by / Photo by Adventure Islands

Sci-fi and Westerns are the peanut butter and jelly of genre mixing, and Space Marshals really captures the things that make that union special. The game is a tactical top-down shooter with a significant stealth component that separates it from the pack. 

Trailer

Google Play link

Price: $5 | AU$6 | £4

Caption by / Photo by Pixelbite

Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP first launched on 24 March 2011, and it still stands out today as one of the highest points of mobile gaming. It's a strange, beautiful, sad, experimental adventure game about a warrior on a mysterious quest. 

The pixellated art style, gorgeous soundtrack and unique gameplay mechanics spawned a thousand imitators, but nothing has ever come close to the wonder of Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP.

Trailer

Google Play link

Price: $5 | AU$5 | £3

Caption by / Photo by Capybara Games

Riptide GP: Renegade is one of those games that seems like it would be impossible on mobile, the graphics are just so jaw-droppingly gorgeous. It really reminds me of a late 90s Sega arcade game in the best possible way.

A jetski-style racing video, it sees you, a disgraced former champion, competing against other racers, performing stunts and defeating bosses for a chance to reclaim your former glory. It's built on the developer's own engine and plays like a dream, honestly. It's also a fantastic way to test your mobile device's horsepower.

Trailer

Google Play link

Price: $3 | AU$4 | £3

Caption by / Photo by Vector Unit

This side-scrolling platformer is unlike any other. You move through the levels by "pruning" cells from a blob of fungus, which causes new cells to grow elsewhere on the blob. 

By constantly pruning and reshaping the fungus, you learn to guide it into new shapes. It can be moved around to solve puzzles on the levels, collect other organisms and reach the end. It's a remarkably clever take on the platformer that requires some creative thinking.

Trailer

Google Play link

Price: $5 | AU$6 | £5

Caption by / Photo by Untame

Oh, the hours I've lost enjoyed playing this game. With a simple combat engine, awesomely cute, cartoonish art style and menu screen music that I still find myself humming even when I'm not playing, Battleheart is absolutely worth your time. Especially now that it's free.

Trailer

Google Play link

Price: Free

Caption by / Photo by Screenshot by Eric Franklin/CNET

Out There is a game about survival and strategy, carefully managing your resources as you travel the stars. It's also a tale of ultimate, lonely isolation. 

It tells the tale of an astronaut who wakes from cryosleep to find that he's no longer in orbit around Jovian moon Ganymede -- in fact, he's not even in the solar system. He has no idea where he is and has only unreliable alien technology as a guide home. 

You have to carefully manoeuvre through dangerous situations and manage resources as you navigate the stars -- because when your astronaut dies, it's game over. And all the while, you have no way of knowing if what you seek is truly the way home.

Trailer

Google Play link

Price: $4 | AU$6 | £3

Caption by / Photo by Mi-Clos Studio

This game might leave you with a bit of sticker shock, but Apollo Justice Ace Attorney will be worth the price for some. 

The game follows Apollo Justice, a defense attorney, who collects evidence from crime scenes, questions witnesses and brings his case to trial. If you have a soft spot for lawyers and courtrooms, this is one to check out.

Trailer

Google Play link

Price: $16 | AU$21 | £15

Caption by / Photo by CAPCOM CO., LTD.

Before Pokemon Go hit the scene, Ingress was Niantic's best known augmented-reality game. Join up with The Enlightened or The Resistance team and play with users all around you. If you find yourself liking the play style of Pokemon Go, but wishing it had 100% less Pokemon, Ingress is worth checking out. 

Trailer

Google Play link

Price: Free

Caption by / Photo by Niantic

Play a medieval monarch and try rule without destroying your family's dynasty. The game style is a bit like Tinder: You swipe left or right on your subjects' many requests and try to bring order and balance to your kingdom.

Trailer

Google Play link

Price: $3 | AU$4 | £3

Caption by / Photo by DevolverDigital

Fireproof's The Room series is, everyone can agree, one of the most spectacular puzzle series ever produced on any platform. Now that the third game is out, I can confidently say that they've been growing in both scope and complexity as the series progresses. 

The basic format remains the same throughout: Solve a series of puzzle objects to progress to the next puzzle and small piece of the story.

All three games in the series hit that brilliant, elusive spot between mentally challenging and satisfying. And they're gorgeously tactile, beautifully designed down to the finest detail. I recommend full immersion: A dark room, a pair of headphones and no other distractions.

Trailer

Google Play link

Price: Various

Caption by / Photo by Fireproof Games

I don't think I've ever seen a real-time strategy game as pared down as rymdkapsel. It's as much about battles as it is about building and exploration and every aspect of the game is as minimalist as it gets. 

You're in deep space and have to build a base using tetromino-shaped tiles, laying them down in a tight configuration to make sure you maximize resources. Meanwhile, you have to explore and mine the surrounding monoliths, while defending against enemy attack. 

There's only one type of unit to build and three resource types. So instead of complexity, you have to focus on planning out the best possible base to get everything done as efficiently and minimally as possible. It's an absolutely perfect RTS design for mobile.

Trailer

Google Play link

Price: $4 | AU$6 | £3

Caption by / Photo by grapefrukt games

Like its predecessor 10000000, You Must Build a Boat is graphically raw, but it's nevertheless pretty danged close to a perfect mobile game experience. It mixes a tile-matching casual game with a dungeon crawler to excellent effect.

The premise is that you need to, well, build a boat, by collecting supplies and monsters to serve as crew. Each run, you have to try and last as long as you can by sliding rows and columns to match attacks, shields, keys and other items to help you face the perils ahead.

The gameplay keeps you keen with quests to upgrade your gear and boat. The end goal is to complete your boat and get out -- just as the goal in 10000000 was to reach the 10,000,000 points needed for freedom.

Trailer

Google Play link

Price: $3 | AU$4 | £2

Caption by / Photo by EightyEight Games

80 Days is based loosely on Jules Verne's "Around the World in Eighty Days" and combines steampunk aesthetic and engaging story telling. You'll play a valet named Passepartout and must pick a path from city to city. Oh, and you can travel around the 3D globe on a mechanical camel. Score!

Trailer

Google Play link

Price: $5 | AU$5 | £3

Caption by / Photo by inkle Ltd

Slayaway Camp is, at its core, a Sokoban-style puzzler, but it's what's wrapped around that core gameplay that makes it brilliant. 

You play the villain in a series of slasher movies and you need to hit (and slay!) all the teen counselors at a summer camp. The graphics are voxel-based, which keeps the gore-fest entertainingly cartoony and every detail has been lovingly designed -- from the "rewind" option when you fall to the scattered bones you leave in your wake. 

Some levels have limits or special features such as fires to help you dispatch your victims -- but be warned, they also provide hazards that you need to avoid yourself. You can also earn coins to unlock special kills. For such a bloodthirsty premise, it's an utter joy.

Trailer

Google Play link

Price: $3 | AU$4 | £3

Caption by / Photo by Blue Wizard Digital LP

This Tomb Raider-themed puzzle game game is similar in style to the runaway hit Hitman Go, a strategy game in which you move Agent 47 around a board to take out targets without them seeing you. 

In Lara Croft Go, the experience is more complex: Not only do you have to take out enemies from behind or the side, you have to navigate crumbling ruins and solve obstacle mazes. Luckily the move counter has been removed so you can take your time. And each level is short enough that you don't lose too much time if you have to start again. It's a fresh new take that manages to capture the old-school spirit of the original Tomb Raider. And since it doesn't require an internet connection to play, it's great for plane rides. 

Trailer

Google Play link

Price: $1 | AU$1 | £1

Caption by / Photo by Square Enix

You're going to die in Don't Starve. You're going to die a lot. An inventor and scientist kicked out of your safe, warm home, you have to rely on your wits and the landscape to build the means to stay alive as long as you possibly can. The dark can kill you. Spiders can kill you. Hunger and fear can kill you.

Each day, you must gather materials to survive the night, while making sure you get enough to eat, while resources such as grass, stones and wood allow you to craft materials. When you die, it's game over and back to the beginning to start all over again.

It's brutal, tense and rewarding. Plus it's art seems inspired by a mix of Tim Burton and Edward Gorey, which is like human catnip to me.

Trailer

Google Play link

Price: $5 | AU$6 | £4

Caption by / Photo by Klei Entertainment

Crashlands is kind of like Don't Starve for people who got frustrated by the unforgiving survival elements. You're a space truck driver who's crash landed on an alien planet. You have to gather resources, build a base and gradually craft your way to getting off-world. It's not all aimless, though. As you progress through the game, you'll find yourself fulfilling quests. This marks it further apart from Don't Starve, which is more or less a sandbox game with the aim being to stay alive as long as possible.

With no such constraints (you can die in Crashlands, but you respawn without losing anything), the game becomes a very different prospect, less fraught with careful conservation of resources and more guided and combative. It is, however, massively fun.

Trailer

Google Play link

Price: $5 | AU$7 | £5

Caption by / Photo by Butterscotch Shenanigans

If you were a fan of terrific game Rayman Origins, then it's worth checking out the sequel Rayman: Legends. Help save the enchanted forest by recovering the ancient stolen eggs. This game is great for kids in particular, but adults will probably enjoy it too.

Trailer

Google Play link

Price: Free

Caption by / Photo by Ubisoft

The mobile format is perfect for digitizing card games. And if you're looking for the best collectible card game experience, you can't go past Hearthstone, produced with all the polish and shine Blizzard can muster. 

The game is based on World of Warcraft, and each of the nine classes has a deck based on its WoW equivalent, which allows for a variety of play styles. There are also meaty single-player and competitive multiplayer options, so it's perfect for a quick play or something more in-depth. In short, it's extremely versatile and you can play it however you like. It's hard to imagine a more perfect digital CCG experience.

The latest expansion, Knights of the Frozen Throne is available now.

You can read our analysis of what makes it so great here.

Trailer

Google Play link

Price: Free

Caption by / Photo by Blizzard Entertainment

Words can't possibly do Framed justice: It really is one of the more unusual concepts I've seen in some time. The entire game takes place in a wordless noir comic. Our protagonists avoid being spotted by law while double-crossing each other. 

Gameplay is not action-based, but context-based: You have to examine each page, shifting the panels around to make sure events occur in the order that sees our hero escape clean, getting the jump on police or sneaking past. Although it may sound good, that's nothing compared to how magnificent it is to experience. And yes, a pair of headphones for the soundtrack is an absolute must.

A sequel, Framed 2, is coming soon to Android.

Trailer

Google Play link

Price: $3 | AU$4 | £3

Caption by / Photo by Noodlecake Studios Inc

The tower defense market on mobile, one could argue, is fairly glutted. But if you have just one TD game (or game series) on your device, it's really hard to look past any of the three games in the Kingdom Rush series. They're a few years old now, but they're still about as good as the genre gets. The first game, just called Kingdom Rush, is free, so you can test the waters before diving all the way in.

Trailer

Google Play link  

Price: Free

Caption by / Photo by Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET

If you like the style of tower defense the Kingdom Rush series does so well, you'll definitely like Iron Marines. This game is a newer effort from the same people, Ironhide Game Studio, and takes much of the same great action into the future. Instead of knights and archers, you'll be playing with futuristic soldiers and snipers. Fight aliens and mechas as you strategize the best way to beat the level at hand. But what's cool about this version, is there is even more focus on special characters -- individual heroes with unique abilities you can bring along for the fight with your other units.

If you've always wished you could play Starcraft on your iPhone or iPad, Iron Marines is your best bet.

Trailer.

Google Play link.

Price: $4.99 | AU$7.99 | £4.99

Caption by / Photo by Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET

This one ain't for the faint of heart. It's a bare-bones game, but as hard as anything we've played on mobile. Set to catchy electronica by Chipzel, the stages consist of shrinking, rotating hexagons with one or two open sides. Your goal is to get your little cursor into the gaps before the hexagons crush you — and it's extremely fast and tricky.

Trailer

Google Play link

Price: $3 | AU$3 | £3

Caption by / Photo by Terry Cavanagh

Xenowerk is a top-down, dual-stick shooter that has you blowing away mutants in the aftermath of a science experiment gone horribly wrong. You'll need to go deeper and deeper into multiple levels of an underground science facility as you shoot your way to objectives, grab new weapons and make your way to the exit. You also have a number of extra skills that do things like freeze your enemies to slow them down and heal yourself when the heat gets to be too much.

The eerie soundtrack and dark levels -- with only your flashlight to guide you -- make this game scarier than most, but the lighting effects and near constant action make it perfect for action gaming fans. 

Trailer

Google Play link

Price: $0.99 | AU$1.49 | £0.99

Caption by / Photo by Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET

This game plays out in a chatroom on a mobile phone in real-time, which makes it more immersive than many of its counterparts. You can also go back and play bits you miss, so it won't leave you behind if, say, you're at work and can't respond to your "digital beaux".

Trailer

Google Play link

Price: Free

Caption by / Photo by Cheritz Co., Ltd

If you have a lot of friends who game, Spaceteam may be up your alley. Its a cooperative party game for up to 8 players. It's a bit like a mobile app escape room, with timed instructions for you to follow. And your friends on Apple phones can play along as well, which is incredibly convenient. 

Trailer

Google Play link

Price: Free

Caption by / Photo by Henry Smith

Check out Vainglory if you're big into PvP multiplayer battle arena games. Play quick-match games or lengthier battles, depending on how much time you have to spare. There are over 30 characters to choose from and comes at the low price of free. So it's definitely worth checking out. 

Trailer

Google Play link

Price: Free

Caption by / Photo by Super Evil Megacorp

It turns out that building and managing train lines is a pretty tricky thing to do, at least if Mini Metro is any indication. It tasks you with building lines based on the metro map as designed by Harry Beck in 1931. 

You have to build lines to transport passengers, which indicate their destination with symbols that match stops. You'll also use your limited resources to supply extra carriages and trains to more populous lines and build bridges to more remote stops. It will definitely challenge your strategic planning skills.

Trailer

Google Play link

Price: $5 | AU$7 | £4

Caption by / Photo by Playdigious

From the developer behind Little Inferno (and set in the same world) comes Human Resource Machine, a game that tasks you with using basic programming to conduct menial office tasks. 

It's pretty easy to understand the gameplay, but will really make you think about the best order in which to automate a task. This makes it an awesome introduction to programming, a fun game for programming types or just a standalone puzzle game for those who don't wish to take it further. And, of course, there's a wonderfully sinister story that unfolds as the game progresses…

Trailer

Google Play link

Price: $5 | AU$7 | £5

Caption by / Photo by Experimental Gameplay Group

This game was the first time in my life that 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.

Destroying all humans has never been so much fun.

Trailer

Google Play link

Price: Free

Caption by / Photo by Miniclip.com

Fans of point-and-click adventures, hand-drawn graphics and artistically adventurous indie games, look no further. Machinarium is a gorgeously rendered journey through an ominous universe where the answers to the puzzles presented aren't immediately obvious.

Trailer

Google Play link

Price: $5 | AU$7 | £4

Caption by / Photo by Screenshot by Scott Stein/CNET

Leo's Fortune is visually stunning platform based game where you chase down a thief who stole your gold. Simply slide from left to right through the 24 puzzle-based levels. This adventure game had CNET writers absolutely hooked.  

Trailer

Google Play link

Price: $5 | AU$7 | £5

Caption by / Photo by 1337 & Senri LLC

In the first half of 2014, a free flash game on the web turned into a viral craze. It was called 2048 and here's the thing: It was a clone of a much more thoughtful game released a month earlier called Threes!

The premise of Threes! is pretty simple: Pair matching numbers, starting with threes. Your base units are ones and twos, which you can push together to create a three. From there, you have to place matching numbers next to each other, then push them together to create a single, doubled number.

The idea is to get the number higher and higher, until you hit the highest number achievable in the game -- 6144 -- on a 4-by-4 grid. It seems simple, but the gameplay has been very carefully balanced to provide a challenge and progression, capturing that elusive "... just one more go" feeling.

Trailer

Google Play link

Price: $3 | AU$4 | £2

Caption by / Photo by Sirvo

Beholder deserves a place of honour alongside brilliant dystopian titles such as Replica, Papers, Please and This War of Mine. As landlord over a block of apartments in a totalitarian state, you oversee the tenants -- quite literally your job is to spy on them for the government. 

You can choose to play by the government's rules or covertly help the people under your care, but at great risk. Every action has consequences with high stakes and multiple endings to unlock.

Trailer

Google Play link

Price: $5 | AU$6 | £4

Caption by / Photo by Creative Mobile Publishing

Tinytouchtales' 2015 game Card Crawl combined a roguelike dungeon crawler with a solitaire-style card game. Two years later, the developer  followed up with Card Thief, a game that seeks to do the same for stealth-style gameplay. As the eponymous thief, you need to learn how to make the most of shadows, take out foes, steal treasure and make your escape. It sounds simple, but it's a game of richness and depth that slowly unfolds into something beautiful.

Trailer

Google Play link

Price: Free

Caption by / Photo by Arnold Rauers

Hocus is a game that takes a cue or two from Monument Valley, then moves in its own fascinating direction. It's pared the experience right back to a puzzle game based on Escher-style illusions. 

Each level consists of an impossible shape, with a red block and a red hole. The aim is to move the block around the shape and get it into the hole, working with the odd twists in perspective. There are no penalties, no timers and the result is a soothing series of puzzles.

Trailer

Google Play link

Price: Free

Caption by / Photo by Yunus Ayyildiz

Asmodee Digital is building a solid little stable of board and card games ported to mobile. Onirim is a single-player card game, but it's probably not like any other solitaire game you've ever played. 

You need to create streaks of cards to unlock door cards -- unlock the full complement of doors and you win the game. However, there are nightmare cards in the deck that cost you cards and when your deck runs dry, it's game over, whether you have the doors or not. If you're prepared to lose a lot (and once you fully grok how it works) it's utterly engrossing.

Trailer

Google Play link

Price: Free

Caption by / Photo by Asmodee Digital

It's Minecraft. For your phone. Shouldn't be much of a hard sell for fans of Minecraft: This app is an easy way for fans to get their fix on stretches away from their computers. 

If you've always wondered what all the fuss is about, on the other hand, Minecraft: Pocket Edition is a fairly low stakes way to check it out.

Trailer

Google Play link

Price: $7 | AU$15 | £3

Caption by / Photo by Screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET

Back in the days of floppy discs, games would sometimes be constructed from symbols on the screen that represented the elements of the gameplay. 

Glitchskier, a new shoot-'em-up, manages to almost perfectly capture that retro ASCII feel with a UI that's modeled on the old MS-DOS operating system, even down to the CRT monitor scan lines and screen flicker. The game itself appears fairly basic on the surface, but bosses and collectibles in the glitch-filled screens mean you'll be coming back to see what other secrets you can find -- and to chase down a new high score.

Trailer

Google Play link

Price: $2 | AU$3 | £2

Caption by / Photo by Shelly Alon

Chameleon Run brings a new twist to the autorunner. You leap across a series of platforms but you have to make sure the color of your little dude matches the color of the platform, or it's kersplat. Tapping the right side of the screen changes the color, tapping the left lets you jump. 

It's simple, and the levels are short, but that's good because timing the jumps and the colors just right can get tricky -- and that's without even completing the level objectives. Only one thing could make it better and that's an endless mode.

Trailer

Google Play link

Price: $2 | AU$3 | £2

Caption by / Photo by Noodlecake Studios Inc

What do you get if you take Jetpack Joyride, mix it with VVVVV, give it a fabulous sci-fi makeover, pare it down to just two buttons and make it punishingly twitchy? RunGunJumpGun wears its influences proudly, but it brings something new. 

The tech you use to "fly" is your gun, and you need to make split-second decisions: When to use it to fly and when to use it to blast through obstacles. And there's no time to weigh your options. It's a wonderfully balanced, tremendously fun game to play.

Trailer

Google Play link

Price: $3 | AU$4 | £3

Caption by / Photo by Gambitious Digital Entertainment
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