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.
In the first half of the year, 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.
Alfa-Arkiv is about as ambitious a multimedia project as we've ever seen. The core of it takes place in the iPad app where you, as a new operator at a mysterious organisation, are reading through documents pertaining to the detention of a young woman named Rhea, a member of a resistance movement called the Liberation Army of Dagestan.
While it technically falls under the definition of an alternate reality game, Alfa-Arkiv isn't easy to categorise. It's sort of an interactive novel, but it's so much more: nearly 10 years in the making, it will send you crawling the web hunting for clues planted by the development team years before the app's release in July of this year.
It failed to get the attention it deserves, partially because it's not easy to categorise as either a novel or a game; partially because it asks things of the user that go beyond a single screen; and partially because it's so very realistic. It is, however, a spectacularly executed piece of work, and a magnificent experience.
Wave Wave is one of those games that can best be described as "fiendish". It has a minimal interface, and the aim is to navigate a line through a jagged, zig-zagging path at a cracking pace. It's punishingly difficult, requiring hair-trigger reaction times, yet the gameplay and concept are simple enough to keep players coming back for more. Its creator, Thomas Janson, described it as "a savage arcade game" -- a perfect description.
Like Wave Wave, Smash Hit takes one core gameplay mechanic and revolves an entire game around it -- and the result is pretty close to perfect.
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 drop 10 balls -- is not. It's also been rather clever about monetisation, too. The full game is available for free -- but a one-time IAP unlocks checkpoints. It's a move that landed the game in the top 200 grossing iOS and Android apps for over a month.
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, which gently guides you to think about space and geometry in new and interesting ways.
There have been a few attempts to port the collectible card game experience to mobile, with varying levels of success (Solforge is pretty great). We don't know if Hearthstone is the best, but it's definitely up there, with all the polish and shine Blizzard can muster, and it's destined to become the standard by which all others are measured. It also has some decent strategy beneath the hood, with nine playable classes, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, as well as the ability to custom-build your own decks. There's more to it, of course, but the tutorials are breezily intuitive -- and you can get some in-game goodies for World of Warcraft, StarCraft and Diablo by completing achievements.
If you ever wanted to be the captain of your own spaceship… well, there are several simulators out there, but few with the appeal of indie darling FTL (Faster Than Light).
You play as the captain of a starship in a randomly generated universe, trying to deliver critical information to your allies while surrounded by hostiles. The game itself is strategy-based: you have to carefully manage resources to keep your ship moving, diverting them in times of crisis to keep from getting blown up. It can get crazy difficult -- but it's worth the ride.
It's very rare that you see a major franchise tie-in that works in a new or interesting way. Hitman: Go spins off from Square Enix's Hitman series, and it's very different from its stealth shooter forebears. It's a board game with a series of predefined paths laid out along a grid, and you have to move an Agent 47 piece to take out the other pieces. You can only take them out from behind or from the side, though, so it requires some tricky strategic manoeuvring. It was an unexpected offering, both for Hitman and Square Enix -- but one that is just beautifully made.
There aren't many mobile games we would recommend that have real-world elements (except maybe Spaceteam), but Bounden is a really clever piece of mobile design. It's a game that aims to teach you and a partner to dance, choreographed by the Dutch National Ballet. You and a partner place a thumb each on the screen. It then uses your iOS device's gyroscope to have you twist and turn the device in tandem to place markers on a rotating sphere -- and, once you get over figuring out how you're meant to do that, you find yourself moving together in a twirling dance.
If you like World of Tanks, well, World of Tanks Blitz will be your new favourite mobile iteration of blowing things up from giant armoured vehicles. It is, by necessity, scaled back somewhat, but it looks amazing on a tablet, with controls optimised for touchscreen, over 90 tanks from the German, US and Russian armies and seven-vs-seven PvP for shorter, more intense games.
Now this is one of the creepiest games we've ever seen on a mobile platform. Originally made for PC, the game sees you take on the role of night guard at Freddy Fazbear's Pizza. Why does a pizzeria -- an increasingly unsuccessful one at that -- need a night guard? Well, 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?
The original game was followed by a sequel in November, with updated gameplay, also available for Android and iOS.
Many scoffed at the news 2K was bringing 2007's BioShock to mobile, but the port turned out to be top-notch. Although the graphics have been scaled, they look fantastic on the iPad's high-resolution retina display and, after an initial crash problem (solved by rebooting the device), the game ran as smooth as silk on the iPad Mini 2. The controls are likewise well managed, and pretty par for the course for a touchscreen FPS: floating thumbsticks to move and control the camera, with fixed buttons on the right for actions, such as swinging a weapon.
There's no denying, of course, that it doesn't quite match up to the original; the jaw-dropping opening scene where you dive into Rapture for the first time, simply doesn't have the same depth and grandeur. But if BioShock had released for the first time on iOS rather than consoles, it would be hailed as a masterpiece of mobile gaming.
Rarely -- if ever -- have we seen an endless runner with as much style as Fotonica. It bills itself as "a first-person game about running, jumping, sense of speed, and discovery", and that's accurate. But it's also incomplete. Fotonica is hard -- and beautiful, in a minimal, wire-frame sort of way. All you ever see of your avatar are two hands in front of you as you run through the mysterious, neon environments, holding a finger on the screen to continue your momentum, and lifting to leap chasms. And it's all about perfection: the perfect speed, the perfect timing, the perfect score.
Ubisoft's Valiant Hearts -- made, like Child of Light, with the studio's UbiArt Framework -- has been hailed as a beautiful example of storytelling. The 2D side-scrolling puzzle game takes place in World War I, and you play through the stories of five characters: Karl, a German soldier separated from his love; Emile, a French farmer who becomes a POW; Anna, a Belgian battlefield nurse; Freddie, an American soldier; and George, a British pilot. Although interspersed with humour, the game aspires to show the human side of war, with the actual gameplay almost an adjunct. But the stories are so beautifully told that it's worth your time just to experience them.
The first chapter of Stoic's single-player Banner Saga campaign, originally released for PC earlier this year, has arrived for iOS, where it fits right in. The turn-based tactical gameplay -- similar to the Final Fantasy Tactics games -- involves moving a team of fighters around the board, deploying a variety of abilities to take out opposing units. It's engaging gameplay, but it's not precisely ground-breaking.
Where Banner Saga truly shines is in its setting, inspired by Viking sagas, its gorgeous art, with hand-drawn animation sequences, and its storylines, which bring an emotional depth as you form relationships with each of the characters.
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 silent 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.
Crossy Road has done for Frogger what Flappy Bird did for the arcade side-scroller. Although it is cosmetically superior, it takes a fair few cues from the latter, hitting that sweet spot between casual session length, difficulty level, and an obvious improvement curve the more you play. To the basic premise of Frogger, it's added "endless", "collectible" and "competitive" into the mix; even after you've unlocked all the road-crossing animals, the game displays the finish lines of all your Game Center friends, so that you remain constantly aware of who you have to beat -- and who's getting better, presenting you with a constant challenge.
Every now and again, an arcade title comes out that is just beautifully put together. One More Line has a simple premise, but everything about it is a brilliant example of elegant game design. You control a little icon, flying along a track, trailing a three colour-changing lines behind. Along the track are circles -- which will cause you to explode if you crash into them. However, by holding down on the screen, you can latch onto them, swinging around to latch on to the next at high speeds. And when you crash and burn -- which you will -- you're left with the lovely loops of your journey and that magnificent feeling that you'll beat your high score if you just have one more try.
We've seen quite a few older console and PC titles make their way across to mobile. What we hadn't really seen until now is a simultaneous release of a console game -- and the same game released for tablets at the same time. Skylanders Trap Team -- the fourth iteration of the wildly popular Skylanders franchise -- released, not a scaled-down port, but a tablet edition of the full game, complete with its own Bluetooth portal that doubles as a stand and contains a Bluetooth controller for the game.
Whatever you may think of Skylanders, the game marked something of a watershed moment: mobile platforms for gaming are powerful and popular enough to stand proudly alongside the other available gaming platforms.