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. And there are also meaty options for both single-player and competitive multiplayer, and it's perfect for both 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.
This game marked 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. 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.
This Tomb Raider-themed puzzle game game is similar in style to the runaway hit Hitman Go, a strategy game where you move Agent 47 around a board to take out targets without them seeing you. In Lara Croft Go, the experience gets 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 massive amounts of 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.
Year Walk was such a breathtaking departure for developer Simogo, it really blew our minds as something special. It's based on the tradition of Årsgång, or Year Walking, in which a person may go for a ritual walk, a vision quest of sorts, in the dark of the night to see what the year ahead will bring. Thrown into a forest without a tutorial, you have to collect clues and solve puzzles in what is some seriously clever and creative gameplay that leads to an incredible twist ending. Don't forget to pick up the free companion app, which contains some puzzles of its own (and, by the same developer, puzzle-game-in-a-book Device 6, which was also excellent).
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 iOS 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.
The excitement generated by Pokemon Go has died down a lot, but for those still playing, the ground-breaking augmented reality title is still a blast. And it hasn't been replicated, either, which should tell you something about the work that went into creating it. Niantic is continuing to tweak and update the game, in which you scour the real world hunting and collecting monsters (and battling at gyms, which can be found in specific locations using the in-game map, if you're so inclined). Whether you still love it, or joined the (ironically, very popular) anti-bandwagon, you have to admit that there is, truly, nothing else like it.
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. 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.
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 have 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 onto the next puzzle as well as the next 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.
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.
So much care has been put into every single aspect of the game to make it a wonderful experience for players, and you'd be very hard-pressed not to fall head over heels in love with it.
Don't forget to check out the sequel, Monument Valley 2, released for iOS in June 2017.
German developer Andreas Illiger only ever released the one game for mobile, but what a game it is. You have have heard of 2011's Tiny Wings, a one-touch game that saw you racing a tiny bird across procedurally generated islands to get as far as possible before nightfall. In the intervening years, Illiger has continued to maintain and update the game, and it's remains a beloved favourite for its lovely setting and streamlined gameplay -- an early example of how to make a mobile game just right.
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. Its 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.
We don't think we'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. In deep space, you have to build a base using tetromino-shaped tiles, laying them down in a tight configuration to make sure you maximise 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, for example, and three resource types. Instead of complexity in that regard, 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 the mobile format.
This RPG is more on the poignant side. It's not about fighting foes, but helping an old man fulfil his dying wish by constructing false memories that send him on a trip to the moon. It's all about solving puzzles and stitching a memory together so you can move on to the next one. It's fairly light on actual gameplay -- story is where it counts. And it's quite emotionally affecting. Be sure to play it with sound.
Duet seems to be based on death, where you crash and burn and have to start the level all over again. But if you look for the thematic clues, the game is crawling with it: from the very minimal snippets of dialogue to the strange names of the levels -- the Kübler-Ross five stages of grief (plus a few extra). It requires your spatial cognition to navigate the levels and avoid hitting the obstacles with your paired red and blue dots, which can only turn on a wheel at the bottom of the screen. It's this that fills it, in spite of its difficulty, with immensely satisfying "eureka" moments. And it has a kick-ass soundtrack.
The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth won't be for everyone. You play a naked (heavily stylised) child, crawling deeper into the Earth's underbelly, slaying the monsters you find there (using your tears as bullets) in a grotesque bloodbath after the character's mother tried to kill him at the behest of God (it's all very Old Testament). If this does sound like it's up your alley, you're going to find a game of which you'll possibly never tire: a top-down, twin-stick, randomly generated, roguelike dungeon-crawler that feels like it always has something new to show you.
This is one of the creepiest games on a mobile platform. Originally made for PC, the game sees you take on the role of night guard at Freddy Fazbear's Pizza. It seems the animatronic robots that entertain the children during the day -- Freddy Fazbear, Bonnie the Bunny, Chica the Chicken, and Foxy the Pirate Fox -- become active at night. Active, and murderous.
From your base inside the security room, you can monitor them via staticky camera feeds, closing the doors when they draw near -- but you have limited power that you need to conserve, and the longer you work there, the more restless the animals become. Packaged up inside some terrifying gameplay is a mystery: What happened to the bodies of the murdered children? And why do the animatronics walk by themselves?
There are now five games in the Five Nights at Freddy's series, and you can find them all on Scott Cawthon's iTunes page.
Smash Hit takes one core gameplay mechanic and revolves an entire game around it -- and the result is utterly superb.
The premise is simple: break all of the things. It's a species of first-person rail shooter, only instead of shooting, you're throwing metal balls at glass objects. However, the game is over when you run out of balls, which means conserving balls is in your best interest, and smashing into things -- which makes you lose balls -- is not. It may not sound compelling on the page, but once you embark on the incredibly satisfying journey of smashing everything, you'll find it very hard to stop.
If you like the idea of going off sick jumps on BMX bike, the Pumped BMX series is probably the best in its class. You use the pump button to speed up, the left joystick to choose a trick as you get air, then hit the spin button, tilt your iPhone or both to pull off insane tricks. Be warned, if it's not clear already, the controls can be very complex, but after some practice, landing that big air trick is definitely satisfying.
Before you download, it's important to note that in Pumped BMX 1 and 2, the tracks are a bit more forgiving, so if you want to ease into these games, maybe try one of the earlier ones first.
Solitairica is what you get if you mix Solitaire with a turn-based roguelike. The gameplay is a little bit like Solitaire in that you have to create sequences of cards until there are none left, but you have to take down an opponent in the meantime by trying to evade attacks, and deploying powers that you power up by collecting card, which upgrade as you play. These disappear if you die, but you can unlock new decks and deck-based power-ups that give you a stronger advantage against your foes, each of which have different abilities. It's really well thought out, beautiful to look at and fun to play.
Crypt of the Necrodancer is a dungeon crawler like no other. It's basically a procedural death labyrinth, but the gameplay is based on rhythm -- you have to move in time with the beat using your choice of control system (taps or swipes), learning the monsters' rhythms to take them out without taking damage yourself. It's an odd mash-up, but a brilliantly inspired one.
Words can't possibly do Framed justice: it really is one of the more unusual concepts we have seen in some time. The entire game takes place without words; it's laid out as a completely wordless noir comic, with our protagonists avoiding 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 that 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.
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.
I wouldn't have thought it would be possible to improve much on the Crossy Road formula, but Disney Crossy Road has become one of my daily plays. It's the little tweaks, such as daily quests, the variety of gameplay in the different levels, the fact that doubled-up characters get cashed in so you can get more, the addition of blue coins that will buy characters you don't already have, weekend events with character rewards. Hipster Whale put a lot of work into refining the game, and the result is amazing.
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.
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 thought about -- 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 (and provide hazards that you need to avoid yourself), and you can even earn coins to unlock special kills. For such a bloodthirsty premise, it's an utter joy.
Lifeline is a text adventure, but one with a serious difference and much higher stakes than you might be used to. You're not the protagonist of the story... and your decisions could get the protagonist killed.
Taylor is the sole survivor of the crash of the Varia, on a barren moon somewhere in the vicinity of Tau Ceti. Reaching out on comms, Taylor is able to find a single person, a single lifeline: you. As Taylor sets about exploring the inhospitable environment, you'll help make decisions on what to do next. The troubling part is that none of the decisions are good ones and one wrong move could land Taylor in serious trouble.
The mechanics are what set Lifeline apart. It plays out in real-time, notifying you via your phone's alerts, through which you can also respond to and interact with Taylor, making this the first mobile game that I know of that can be played via the lock screen. It's also compatible with the Apple Watch, where you can receive notifications when Taylor is ready to talk.
And it's surprisingly heart-wrenching as you start to develop a connection with Taylor, knowing that hope for survival is, at best, slim.
Crashlands is kind of like Don't Starve for people who got frustrated by the unforgiving survival elements. You're a space truck driver, 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. You'll find yourself, as you progress through the game, fulfilling quests, which marks it further apart from Don't Starve, in which gameplay is more or less sandbox, 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.
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 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.
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 control it into new shapes that 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 very creative thinking.
Ridiculous Fishing is about as far from standing by a virtual pond waiting for the controller to rumble as we can imagine. There are three parts to the gameplay. In the first part, you have to lower your line, tilting the device to dodge fish. When you hit a fish, your line starts to rise, so it benefits you to get really good at dodging; and naturally, the lower you get, the more valuable the fish become, as well as a lot thicker in the water. Then you have to catch as many fish as possible on your way back up, tilting the device this time to hit them. And once your fish have hit the surface, they are flung high into the air, at which point you have to shoot them to haul them in, earning a pretty penny into the bargain to purchase line and gun upgrades.
The team has managed to nail the wacky premise that works just because it is so wacky, gameplay that never gets stale or feels hideously difficult, with constant feelings of achievement and gratification.
One of the great things about smartphones is their tactile touchscreens. But with Blackbox, you don't touch the screen at all. Instead, it uses every other sensor the phone is equipped with: gyroscope, camera, microphone, accelerometer. To solve the puzzles and trip the light switches, you need to first figure out what you need to actually do, whether it be travel, shout at your phone or tip it upside down. It's utterly diabolical and utterly brilliant.
This gamebook adventure is a bit of a departure from Tin Man Games' usual nostalgic sword-and-sorcery or sci-fi fare -- taking on the work of the Bard by way of Dinosaur Comics' Ryan North.
The result is an utterly hilarious, rollicking adventure which puts you in the shoes of either Hamlet, Ophelia or the recently deceased King Hamlet (investigating his own murder as a ghost, because of course). You can either follow the plot of Hamlet as we know it today or create an entirely new adventure where the evil King Claudius gets his just desserts.
And to sweeten the pot, it's brilliantly illustrated by some of the best webcomic artists working today.
Rayman: Jungle Run and Rayman: Fiesta Run are both an eye-popping explosion of gorgeous colours -- and a really fun to play arcade titles in their own right. Rayman runs automatically, and you control what he does by tapping or holding the screen using one-touch controls. The objective in each level is to collect Lums -- not as simple a prospect as it sounds -- in order to unlock new levels, new characters, and artwork, so there's actually incentive to collect a perfect score.
If you like getting together with your mates and pretending that you're the crew of a spaceship, Spaceteam is brilliant. Actually, it's brilliant either way. It's a multiplayer game that you need to play in a room with other people -- local multiplayer, one might even say, which is rare for mobile. Commands will appear on someone's screen for controls on someone else's screen. The commands need to be spoken aloud, and the person with the right buttons has to execute them within a very tight time frame, or the ship will explode.
Dungeon Rushers is a really solid top-down RPG experience. You explore dungeons, square by square like a board game, encountering foes and defeating them with turn-based combat. There are 10 characters (most of them need to be unlocked), and your party can contain up to five, each with their own skill trees, and a crafting system means that you can experiment with making equipment -- and later in the game, you can make your own maps and play PvP. It's a strong combination of elements that works beautifully.
If you thought "Where's Wally?" was challenging, you're in for a real treat? The incredibly charming Hidden Folks uses a similar principle, but way more so (and with a delightful soundtrack made up entirely of vocalisations). The game is made up of hand-drawn, black-and-white scenes, in which you need to locate the people, animals and items displayed on the bottom of the screen. But the scenes aren't static -- you need to poke around, move things aside and trigger little interactions to find some of the targets. It's an absolute treasure of joyful discovery.
It's probably safe to say there's nothing else that looks like what DrinkBox is doing, first with the brightly-coloured Guacamelee, now with Severed. In it, you play a one-armed warrior named Sasha searching for her lost family in a land riddled with fantastic monsters. Severing and using their body parts allows you to get stronger as you quest through a land of wild nightmare, searching for Sasha's lost family.
Wonder Boy, the classic side-scrolling arcade game, sadly doesn't exist on mobile, but the next best thing has to be Miles & Kilo (not to be confused with Miles Kilo), the follow up to Kid Tripp. It's a perfectly balanced homage in which you play Miles, a boy who crash-lands on an island of monsters, then tries to collect the pieces of his shattered vehicle (and fruit). Gameplay is pared down to two buttons, jump and attack, and it's just about as perfect a game of its ilk as you'll find.
Sproggiwood oozes charm, and not just because of the adorable oozy jelly-monsters. It's a dungeon-crawler in which you, a farmer, have been spirited from your peaceful agrarian existence to the land of the Sproggi, which needs you to solve its problems. That overarching narrative allows you to stitch together a series of quests, in turn-based dungeons, where brain means just as much as brawn, and where you can grow more powerful by collecting loot. The combination of adorable art, fun dialogue, bite-sized dungeons and a clear sense of progression makes Sproggiwood pretty danged difficult to put down.
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 the three games 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.
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.
Limbo is another of those games that sparked the imagination so much that imitators proliferated like baby rabbits. It's the side-scrolling puzzle adventures of a nameless boy looking for his lost sister, which in itself isn't particularly original. But the game is stylish in a eerie, monochromatic, minimalist way reminiscent of old films and creepy children's books. It's this style that has made one of the games one of the most beloved indie titles released in recent years. The spiritual sequel, Inside is available on the Xbox One.
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."
Just as Kenny Sun's Yankai's Triangle was a love letter to triangles, so too is Yankai's Peak a love letter to pyramids. More structured than its predecessor, the aim is to push pyramids around a triangular grid and place them on their corresponding colour, aided by a few different mechanics, such as pinning a corner of a pyramid. The game can be almost punishingly difficult, but it's wonderfully satisfying.
Splitter Critters is one adorable and clever puzzler. You have to guide the little critters to their flying saucer by drawing lines to split the screen and move the pieces so that the critters can get to different levels. It's a simple enough concept once you get going, but as you progress, the game keeps throwing challenging spanners into the works, such as new obstacles and enemies that want to gobble up your critters.
On the surface, graphic adventure Oxenfree looks laden with horror cliches -- a group of teens, an abandoned location, spooky ghosts speaking over a radio. It manages to transcend these tropes, though, with some brilliant writing -- believable, relatable characters, excellent dialogue, wonderful art and sound design, and a deeply weird and compelling story.
We first clapped eyes on a preview build of Ticket to Earth at PAX Australia, and the final result did not disappoint. It combines isometric turn-based tactical strategy a la Final Fantasy Tactics with colour-based tile matching. You need to plan your advances, attacks and retreats, taking advantage of the tile colours -- yellow for physical attack power, green for magic and red for health. It makes for an excellent combination of elements, set against gorgeous art and a fabulous sci-fi story.
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 the treasure and make your escape. It sounds simple, but it's a game of richness and depth that slowly unfolds into something beautiful.
Cosmic Express is the latest puzzler from the developer of A Good Snowman is Hard to Build, and it's just as awesome. It's set in a space colony, where all the little aliens are waiting for a train to take them home. Problem: You can only take one at a time, and they can only be dropped off at specific nodes. This requires you to lay increasingly awkward sets of train tracks to get the adorable little guys home. It's all delightfully heartwarming and silly.