Editors' note May 21, 2015: This slideshow was first published in July 2014, and has been updated periodically with new games.
Let's kick off this list of great Windows Phone games with something of a classic, reborn: Snake Rewind.
Snake is the quintessential time-waster, a thumb exercise that's seen us guiding our reptilian friends toward non-descript fruit for time immemorial. Snake Rewind improves upon that timeless formula by adding more stuff.
You're still wrangling fruit, though snazzy lighting effects add a feeling of depth to the chase. And the fruit comes in different varieties now, serving up point multipliers or power-ups to make the score chase all the more exciting. And the game offers six different control schemes to choose from, so it shouldn't be too hard to find one that works for you.
Spartan Strike is nothing like the console-based entries in the series, but that's OK. This isometric shooter takes the frenetic pace of the popular first-person shooter and distills it into a mobile-friendly format. The controls feel pretty good, but this one will obviously handle better on a larger device. Fortunately, if you buy it on your phone you'll get the Windows version too, so you can play on a tablet or PC.
This isn't so much a math game as a puzzler that toys with space and sums. It starts with the numbers one and two, which add up to the eponymous three. From there, your goal is to pair identical numbers into ever increasing sums by swiping them across your screen. Every swipe moves the tiles on the board one space, but also tacks a new tile onto the board. Once the board is filled, the jig is up, points are tallied, and you'll see how much better you are at this than me. Threes is identical to its Android and iOS counterpart, but it's free on Windows Phone.
Gunhouse is a curious number, a sort of mishmash of match-three puzzlers and tower defense games. Colored tiles fill the titular gunhouse, and you'll arrange individual pieces into larger clusters, which you'll then swipe to the left or right to convert them into turrets or special powers. You'll use these weapons to combat the waves of enemies charging at you. It feels a little hokey at first, but once you get the hang of lining up color combinations to create stronger weapons, things can get pretty fun.
Dungeoneers is a game that's all about...well, dungeoneering.
You'll recruit up to four heroes to explore a dark, dangerous stronghold, choosing between distinct races and classes. You'll delve deep in search of great loot and fight off increasingly difficult foes, but there's no turning back: your only way out of the dungeon is to find mysterious portals that'll zip you back to town, or, well, die. Which would be unfortunate. If you've played classics light Might and Magic, or the more recent Legend of Grimrock, you'll be right at home here.
Drop Hunt is one of those deceptive puzzle games that takes a decidedly simple concept to fun places. Your goal is to get colored drops of goo into their respective jars, but you're limited to swiping in a single direction. That means making use of obstacles and walls on each level to guide your droplets about, maneuvering one into position while locking another in place. Complete a level in as few turns as possible to earn up to three stars -- you'll need to cash your stars in to unlock later levels.
Come on, you know Minecraft: you're dropped into a colorful, blocky world, and tasked with doing whatever you'd like. A few swift punches will level the nearest tree, and you'll amass wood you gather to build tools to to crack stone. Stone tools will cleave through precious ores, which you'll use to craft weapons and armor, and build mighty structures to showcase your glory. Until the dreaded creeper comes along and blows everything sky high, of course. Some concessions have been made for mobile, including a dramatically simplified crafting system. And there's no reason to go alone: Friends who own the game can get in on the action over a local Wi-Fi network.
This distinct take on the tower defense genre is slower than most, but also requires a bit more pre-planning. You're tasked with burrowing beneath your castle to root out monsters, who'll spawn from portals you uncover -- erect towers on walls to smash the critters as they pour out of their portals. After every wave you'll have a chance to dig a bit more: digging down generally reveals the next portal, but if you've planned your route correctly, you'll be able to scoop up resources, and give the baddies a long, winding road to travel. But if you're overwhelmed by enemies or dig yourself into a corner, it's game over.
I'll confess that I've never played a Candy Crush game before, as I've pretty much lost interest in the "match-three" phenomenon that was so popular once upon a time. The genre, as ever, requires you to match three or more items on a board to rack up points. Candy Crush livens up the formula by introducing particular goals you'll need to complete in a limited number of moves.
Lose a level and you'll lose a life: once you've run out of lives, you'll need to wait some time before more are added to your stockpile. Or, you could drop your friends a line via Facebook, if you're so inclined. If you don't have any friends (or are too polite to clutter their newsfeeds with game requests), you can also spend gold, which you'll need to purchase with real money.
Calling Terraria a mere Minecraft clone is a bit unfair. Sure, there's plenty of cave spelunking, undead hordes to ward off once night falls, plus palatial estates to erect with the goodies you've mined from the ground. But this 2D sandbox game offers so much more: namely, frenetic boss fights and a ridiculous arsenal that ranges from magic wands to rocket launchers. And there's multiplayer support too, so your friends can get in on the action.
Ilomilo is almost nauseatingly cute: these bug-eyed buddies just want to hang out, and you'll need to guide them through their felt-covered world. The pair has little regard for petty things like physics or the concept of "up," and you'll need to swap between them on the fly to solve the countless puzzles and obstacles keeping them separate. Me? I would've just called a cab.
Angry Birds Stella is a spin-off of the dizzyingly popular bird-tossing simulator, and doesn't stray too far from the formula. Your posse of fowls have once again been wronged by their porcine persecutors, and it's up to you (well, Stella and friends) to right wrongs. You'll do so by charging recklessly into their strongholds, launching from slingshots into weakpoints that should bring their bases crashing down. Every bird also has a secondary trick up its sleeve -- Stella can change direction midflight, for example -- that will give you an edge.
In Mega Dead Pixel, you play as a single white pixel falling through a maze of black shapes and icons. Brush past these objects and you'll paint them in a rainbow of colors, earning yourself a few points and power up your megapixel meter -- once that's full, you'll become gargantuan for a few seconds and demolish everything in your path. Collide with objects when you're just a simple little pixel, and it's game over.
The game doles out quests as you play, challenging you to paint a set number of objects, or fall a certain distance without touching anything, for example. Completing these challenges will net you points you can spend on powerups, like the ability to start the next round a bit larger, or on entirely new pixel types with special bonus powers.
Remember Myst? Picture Myst in space, and you'll have a rough approximation of what Archangel has in store. It's an attractive, well-animated mystery game: there are no monsters jumping out of closets or foes to blast away. Just you on a seemingly abandoned Soviet spaceship, left to your own devices. It can at times feel like a pixel hunt -- tap everything on the screen until something happens -- but it's a nice throwback to old-school adventure games and an intriguing, atmospheric experience.
If you've ever played a racing game on a mobile device, you're already familiar with the general idea: dart about a race track or course, weaving through and blitzing past opponents as you barrel towards the finish line. Asphalt 8: Airborne takes an acrobatic spin on things, encouraging you to climb into increasingly awesome supercars and more or less take to the skies, ignoring silly ideas like physics and gravity as you take to the skies.
I like to think I've got a firm grip on words, seeing as how I spend my days arranging them into sentences for a living. It's a good thing I keep those thoughts to myself, as my performance in Wordament's perpetual worldwide tournament has been consistently abysmal.
The game's premise is simple: Boggle-style word searches, where everyone is presented with the same scrambled jumble of letters and 2 minutes to spell as many words as they can. It's a worldwide competition that never ends, with a minute-long interval to peruse how well you did (or didn't do) versus the competition before you're tossed in front of the next puzzle.
I lost a lot of time to the original Hexic on my Xbox 360, so I was a little wary of diving into Hexic Rush. I needn't have worried. While the original was content to let me stare at the grid of colored jewels and rotate them (in clusters of three) to make matches at my leisure, Hexic Rush starts tossing bombs onto the map at an increasingly frenetic pace -- 10 seconds, then 6 seconds, then 4 seconds. I'm sure it gets faster still, but once a bomb explodes it's game over, leading to nice, concise, and relatively low-scoring games. I'm sure you'll do better.
Rabbids Big Bang is part unabashed Angry Birds Space clone, part zany orbital mechanics simulator and actually kind of hard. But not Angry Birds hard, which is akin to golf: practice a particular shot again and again, and those piggies and blocks will eventually tumble into place. In Big Bang, the rabbids you're thwacking into the great beyond tumble aimlessly, their paths corrected only when you fire up the jetpacks on their back. Your task is to complete tasks as quickly as possible; orbit a moon three times, reach a particular top speed outside of a planet's atmosphere, or collect objects floating in orbit, for example.
Snap Attack takes everything about Wordament that makes me nervous, and institutes Scrabble rules. The basic premise is the same: you're presented with a jumble of letters to make words out of. This time, there are pre-existing words on a board to play from and you've got just over two minutes to craft as many words as you can before taking a peek at the worldwide leader-boards to see how you fared. It never fails -- just when I think I've made a solid effort, I learn how many different, obscure ways there are to use the letter Q.
Badland has proven to be a treat on iOS and Android, and its Windows Phone incarnation is no different. Tap to flap your puffball's arms, and stop tapping to deflate. It all sounds simple enough, but the challenge in these single-tap games has a way of sneaking up on you, throwing puffball-crushing debris and all manner of deadly hazards without so much as a warning.
I've waxed poetic about Rayman's endless runner series more times than I can count, but what's one more go-round with this colorful auditory adventure? Like its predecessor, Jungle Run (also available on Windows Phone), you play as the eponymous Rayman, running and jumping and punching your way through varied, colorful levels, collecting glowing fairy critters and generally trying to stay out of harm's way. I'd wager you'll mostly be in it for the music: the game's soundtrack is infectious, and you might not even mind restarting levels over and over again in an attempt to uncover every secret nook and cranny.
Skulls of the Shogun is getting a little long in the tooth, but if you haven't played this phenomenal turn-based strategy game, you owe it to yourself to give it a shot. You play as a samurai general who's bringing war to the underworld, leading undead forces in battle against demons and rival generals. It's also a universal app, so grabbing it on Windows Phone will net you the Windows 8 version, too. And that's a good thing. Since the game is compatible across platforms, you'll be able to take on friends and foes who are playing the game on Windows, Xbox 360 or iOS.