You might have seen, thanks to its recent release, a bit of buzz about a game called Torment: Tides of Numenera. Its predecessor is a 1999 game called Planescape: Torment, an isometric RPG taking place in the world of Dungeons & Dragons. It's now considered a cult classic, renowned for its weird, engrossing and intricate story; strange characters; sense of humour and emotional impact. It's incredible -- you really ought to play it at least once.
Monument Valley by maker ustwo is such a wonderful, unique experience. While the sequel could never hope to capture that again (possibly also because designer Ken Wong moved on), and doesn't quite replicate the magic of the first in terms of story and feel, Monument Valley 2 remains an enchanting world, now with new characters, twisting and turning the buildings to solve puzzles and create new, Escher-style paths to reach the next level.
There's something of a Katamari Damacy feel to Silly Walks, a game in which you, a cocktail in a pineapple, need to rescue your fruit pals before they get turned into fruit smoothies. And it's delightfully clumsy. Your one action is tapping the screen to put the next foot down, but the pineapple (other avatars can be unlocked) has a sort of rolling, lumbering, wobbly gait that makes straight lines a bit of a challenge as you traverse hazardous kitchens.
We're not entirely sure why no one ever thought to combine Arkanoid and Space Invaders before, but the combination of Arkanoid's ball-bouncing and brick-breaking with Space Invaders' alien smooshing is perfect. Get it in your machine!
Layton's Mystery Journey sees Professor Layton's daughter Katrielle take the mantle of mystery-solver, setting up her own detective agency, with the help of an assistant and a talking dog. If you like Layton's style of clue-collecting, mystery-solving and brain-teaser puzzles, Katrielle and the Millionaires' Conspiracy boasts more puzzles than ever, daily puzzles, minigames and an all-new story.
The birds in Pigeon Wings ain't no walking slouches -- they're ace pilots, and only one is good enough to save the city. A high-speed side-scroller, you control your pigeon's altitude by tilting your device forward and backward, trying to avoid hazards like enemy fire and buildings. It draws on something of the spirit of Flappy Bird: simple gameplay, minimalist visuals and a difficulty curve that continually entices you to try again. And, of course, birds. It's a surprise little treasure, and belongs in your folder of favourites.
Designed to be played in quick, 10-minute sessions, civilisation-building card game Age of Rivals is not without depth and complexity. You're pitted against a foe, either a player or AI, and the aim is to get the most points by the end of four turns by building the best civilisation. You can also conquer cities with your army, provided it's stronger than your foe's army, and build decks to create strong characters. It's a really well executed mixture of rich gameplay in a more casual format.
This physics-based puzzler is minimalistic and heaps of fun, playing out in bite-sized levels. You manipulate objects to stay put on the screen, whether it's a ball or a Meccano-style articulated object that you move by tapping. It's the perfect balance of puzzle-solving, skill to keep the objects on the screen balanced the way you need to, and short levels ideal for casual play.
Puzzle game Linelight is a representation of the very best mobile gaming has to offer. It's such a simple and minimalist concept -- travelling along a wire, tripping switches and avoiding hazards to get to the next section -- and it's so beautifully made. Although there is no tutorial, the gameplay is completely intuitive, and each level fits neatly into the screen so that you lose very little progress if you need to stop playing (or crash your avatar and reset the level). And it's so peaceful and dreamy. You're going to want to give this one a shot.
If you like exploration survival games with a rich story and complex depths, Failbetter's steampunkish Sunless Sea is an experience not to be missed. You're the captain of a steamer ship, taking on passengers and trading jobs, trying to work your way up from humble beginner to Captain of the High Seas, according to the goals of your character. This involves amassing wealth, fighting horrific monsters, managing resources and crew, and making decisions at story points along the route.
We recommend a guide to start with, but once you're comfortable with the gameplay, there's hours of in-depth entertainment ahead.
I absolutely love the PathPix games. It's basically a colouring game, where you have to draw a line filling in squares between two squares of the same number, with the number of squares you fill in equal to that number. It's really quite tricky, especially when the lines get longer, because you need to leave space for other lines to be drawn. But so engrossing, and so satisfying. If you like this, consider giving the others a try. There's a bunch here for Android.
Created by a team of former Secret of Mana developers, Egglia is as strange, and as lovely, as you might expect. It's an RPG, drawing heavily from folk lore, in which you have to rebuild a broken fairyland by exploring areas, collecting materials, defeating foes in turn-based battles, and finding eggs, which crack open to reveal the next section of the realm. It's a little different from the standard RPG fare, though, also integrating crafting and timers (sans, thankfully, microtransactions) for a much more interestingly varied experience.
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.
Side-scroller Spin Addict is a fabulous take on the runner. According to the premise, you are a little piece of metal that loves spinning. You have to spin along the track, hitting rollers to continue your spin, and evading hazards by either jumping over them or flipping the track. It's wonderfully done, offering both an endless option and levels that you can play, and all wrapped up in a gorgeous glowing neon package.
As the name suggests, Cat Quest is an open-world RPG about a cute little kitty-cat going on quests. Not just any quests, though -- your ultimate goal is to save your sister, and to do that, you'll have to get strong by ridding the realm of dragons and other monsters. It's inspired by games like Skyrim and The Legend of Zelda, but plays out across an overland map, and has been streamlined down for a more casual experience. This hybridisation is a delight for mobile gaming, and there are more hiss-terical cat puns than you can shake a tail at.
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.
Disparity Games' Ninja Pizza Girl is a delight. The star is a teenage pizza delivery girl, who zips her way over rooftops and obstacles to deliver piping hot pizzas to the customers of her dad's pizzeria, picking up collectibles along the way to unlock outfits, comics and cheats. But it's not all smooth freerunning. Obstacles slow you down and in later levels you have to circumvent jeering bullies. The gameplay is really well designed, and it tackles its subject matter with warmth and good humour.
Framed was another fresh and beautifully-designed game when released -- and Framed 2 really hits the mark, even improving on its predecessor. It feels like an entirely natural continuation of the first (even though it's a prequel), when you move comic book-style panels around a page to "solve" the story and find the correct sequence of events to keep your spy protagonist from meeting a sticky end. If you loved the first, grab the second. It's superb.
You're going to spend the first little while of Pavilion watching a little man run around, baffled as to what to do. That's OK -- it's all part of the experience, to poke at things and figure out what you need to do to solve the puzzle of each level. As you do so, the gameplay and the story slowly reveal themselves, totally without words. And the setting is absolutely beautiful, a strange series of art nouveau-style ruins and gorgeous soundscapes.
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.
There's usually a lot of depth to real-time strategy. It's a genre that invites careful long-term planning and execution, but Castle Battles has found a way to bring that depth to TS battles for the mobile format. Each battle takes place on an island, and the gameplay has been pared back to three core elements: collect resources, deploy troops and conquer enemy territory. There are four campaigns to play through, a wonderfully quirky sense of humour and gameplay that is served in shorter levels that are perfectly calibrated for pick-up-and-put-down play.
While the magnificent rainbow core of Robot Unicorn Attack has been retained across the franchise since the first game landed in 2010, each iteration has had its own spin. The third generation is Robot Unicorn Attack Forever, and it's awesome. It's taken the focus away from factional multiplayer (trying to beat the other team to a goal) and back to single player, where your aim is to level up your citadel, collect and level up unicorns, and complete challenges in exchange for currency that you can trade for more unicorns. Also try to not crash your unicorns as you run across the landscape, all set to Erasure's "Always".
I initially did not care for this game. However, something told me to persevere with it, and I'm so glad I did. It's a runner, but one that involves making giant, death defying leaps to tiny, tiny platforms. The control system feels sluggish at first, but that's definitely by design; the game's core strength is developing the ability to fine-tune your control of the character, and as you grow more proficient, you can complete missions to unlock more characters and outfits.
We'd like to see more environments to play in, but as it stands, Sky Dancer is a superbly balanced game that actually requires you to hone your skill at playing it.
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.
Prison Architect (coming as no surprise) tasks you with building a maximum security prison. It's kind of a town-building and management sim, but with a prison instead of a town. Gameplay involves building an efficient prison, then keeping it running smoothly, making sure both the inmates and the staff are happy. It's an incredibly detailed and well executed sandbox strategy game.
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.
Marc ten Bosch is still working on 4D puzzle game Miegakure, but in the meantime he's released 4D Toys, a little interactive toybox that aims to teach you about the fourth dimension. Basically, it's a 4D physics engine. There aren't really any rules to speak of, you just play around with objects in a box and observe how they behave. It's baffling and fascinating in equal measures. Learn more about it here.
If you want a gentle, bittersweet stroll of game, Old Man's Journey is just that. Completely wordless, the game follows an old man as he receives a letter and sets out on a journey. As he reaches milestones along the way, scenes from his memory play, showing him falling in love and building a life. The gentle gameplay is made up of hills and roads, which you move up and down to create new paths for the old man to wander through, littered with objects you can tap for cute animations.
Australian developer Gritfish (John Kane) is responsible for the Sokoban-ish puzzler Mallow Drops, and it's wonderful. You need to slide cute little pixel birds around the stages to collect the eggs that have fallen from their nest. But there's a (literal) twist -- large stones block parts of the levels, and you can only move them by physically turning your device to alter gravity. This combination of elements makes for a really interesting and engrossing experience that really elevates it into something beyond your average sliding puzzle.
Vignettes asks you, just for a while, to forget about goals a little. Not entirely, because you have hidden objects to find, but it's not the kind of hidden objects game you're thinking about. It's about moving objects around until they slowly resolve into other objects as you change perspective -- a bit like Shadowmatic, but without the shadows. As you discover more objects, they get added to pictures in frames, the titular vignettes. It can get a little frustrating at times, but it's never not utterly charming.
Asmodee Digital is building a really 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.
Monument Valley, Hitman Go and a Rubik's Cube had a weird baby. Euclidean Lands was developed by an architecture student, seeing you solve a series of rotating, three-dimensional levels, taking advantage of the shifting geometry to remove foes from the side or behind. The comparisons to Monument Valley are inevitable, and developer Miro was clearly inspired by it, but Euclidean Lands is an entity in its own right.
Potion Explosion is a board game ported to mobile, and in my opinion it's the better for it. The board game has a lot of pieces, which can be very fussy, and the digital version has -- wait for it -- an offline single-player mode. The idea is to match marbles to collect the ingredients to make potions, playing against an opponent in pass-and-play mode or online multiplayer, and the person who does the best potion-making wins the game. It's a fair bit trickier than your standard match puzzler, and beautifully made.
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.
If you like minimalist exploration games with hearts that beat for discovery, Pan-Pan is for you. When the main character's balloon-ship crashes, it's up to you to explore the surrounding landscape, solving puzzles to build a new ship. Nothing is explained -- you need to figure everything out based on visual cues, so you might end up spending a lot of time wandering about touching things, trying to figure out what they do. But the game is an utter zen delight -- don't forget to pop on some headphones for the audio landscape.
After the End: Forsaken Destiny is a lovely foray into the exploration puzzler. You control a little horned guy with a backpack solving a series of puzzles in a desert land inhabited by monsters. These involve finding switches that change the landscape and paths, allowing you to collect gems, activate statues and progress on to the next section.
Remember "Ukiyo-e heroes", the art series that reimagined video game heroes as traditional Japanese woodblock prints? The creator of that art, Jed Henry, has now released his own video game, Edo Superstar, after a successful 2013 Kickstarter campaign. The art is based on a traditional Japanese style, and stars Masaru, a monkey who is fighting his way through Edo to enter the Zodiac Tournament, and be crowned the best fighter of all time (other characters are also based on the Japanese zodiac). It employs a gesture-based control system designed especially for the game, and the result is a genuinely unique and stylish game.
Death Road to Canada is another game that you need to play a little to have it click. It's a randomly generated adventure game that sees you trying to flee the zombie-infested US with a motley crew of allies, fighting your way through the hordes of the undead and making decisions about what to do that may get you all killed... It's all very tricky to balance, though. Having a larger group means strength in numbers, but it also means more to feed -- and a higher chance that group infighting could break out. It's weird, it's wild and it's a different experience every time you play.
When you land yourself in prison, there's only one thing to do -- plot an elaborate escape and get the heck outta there. That's the premise behind strategy game The Escapists, but it's not as simple as digging a hole and escaping. You need to carefully plot your method, gather and craft the tools and supplies you need, avoid attracting suspicion, learn the routines of the guards and the other inmates, and make your break for freedom when opportunity is ripest.
This is a game that puts you right at the ground level of trying to build a kingdom. It comes under strategy-simulation-survival-roguelike, and sees you attempting to build a kingdom from scratch, then grow it and defend your crown from the hordes of monsters that roam the forest. All you have is a horse and a bag of coins in a 2D side-scrolling world. You find and hire people living nearby to defend your settlement, and use your coins to expand and build.
And success every time is not an option -- you will fail, but hopefully come back stronger and wiser. It's a game of delicate balance and surprising depth.
Polywarp wears its Super Hexagon influence proudly on its sleeve, but it's absolutely its own beast. Sure, it consists of a rapidly ever-shrinking series of concentric shapes, but the idea is to make sure your shape in the centre is always the same as the next shape to shrink around it, moving in time with the beat. The colours (and unlockable palette) and music, as well as a genuine sense of progression through the game, elevate Polywarp in the field of twitch arcade mobile games.
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 and make new shapes that can be moved around to solve puzzles on the levels, collect other organisms. It's a clever take on the platformer that requires creative thinking.
At last, a game that combines hacking and witchcraft! Beglitched is a weird combination of Bejeweled, Minesweeper and all things pink and adorable. Taking over from the Glitch Witch, you have to "hack" your way through the networks on her laptop, taking out rival hackers hiding therein by a combination of match-three gameplay and Minesweeper-style hide-and-seek. The tutorial only gives you the absolute basics, so it takes some figuring out -- but that's part of the fun and boy is it worth the effort.
We first clapped eyes on Ticket to Earth at PAX Australia, so it's delightful to see it finally launch. 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.
Slayaway Camp is, at its core, a Sokoban-style puzzler, but it's what's wrapped around that core gameplay that makes it brilliant. Unlike Quell, where you collect drops, you're 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.
Tinytouchtales' 2015 game Card Crawl combined a roguelike dungeon crawler with a solitaire-style card game. Now the developer has 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.
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.
Heart Star, made by developer Jussi Simpanen for Ludum Dare #48 in 2014, is another platformer, but one that requires the control of not one, but two characters. You need to control them together to activate areas of each level (in the form of a maze) so that both characters can reach their respective exit. It gets really tricky, but the lack of penalties makes it a really smooth, delightful experience.
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.