The 10 greatest mobile games of all time

Without mobile games, every time we got on a bus or train we'd be left staring stupidly into the middle distance, slowly boring ourselves to death. Join us as we honour history's greatest timewasters...

Luke Westaway Senior editor
Luke Westaway is a senior editor at CNET and writer/ presenter of Adventures in Tech, a thrilling gadget show produced in our London office. Luke's focus is on keeping you in the loop with a mix of video, features, expert opinion and analysis.
Luke Westaway
9 min read

In days of yore, when confronted with a spare few minutes we would spend them pondering the nature of reality, or composing a delightful sonnet for our sweethearts. But it's idle timewasting of this ilk that prevented Wordsworth from becoming a Peggle Grand Master.

These days we're more responsible with our time, chasing high scores and ever more impressive virtual trophies on our cutting-edge mobile devices. But which digital timewasters have provided us with the most happiness over the years? We're listing our favourites, culminating with the greatest mobile game of all time.

A disclaimer before we begin -- if you think our list leans too heavily towards more recent titles, that's only because compiling this list has really brought home to us just how much progress has been made in the mobile gaming field since the advent of the smart phone. We live in a golden age for mobile gaming, and we hope this list reflects that.

Angry Birds

Angry Birds

Developer Rovio created a perfect storm of timewasting genius with Angry Birds, its avian-flinging app an overnight success. Since its launch in December last year, Rovio has kept up the hard work, constantly expanding the Angry Birds mythos with new updates, levels and themes.

Premise: It couldn't be simpler. Green pigs have stolen your eggs -- curse them! -- and to get them back your birds have volunteered to be flung from a catapult, using their various aerodynamic abilities to erode the pigs' fortress plank by plank, until every porcine pest is annihilated. Achieve better rankings by eliminating the pesky pigs using fewer birds.

Verdict: Rovio has done a wonderful job of bringing this mobile gaming phenomenon to just about every platform under the sun, including Palm, Symbian, Android and iOS. Addictive gameplay, chunky colourful graphics and a cast of surprisingly lovable birds make this title a winner. Updates come thick and fast -- most recently a delightful Halloween-themed level pack.



Nintendo was the first company to bring the legendary Russian building-block puzzler to the masses when it decided to bundle a copy of Tetris with every original Game Boy system. Phenomenally addictive, Tetris has since found a home on just about every platform in history, including a vast array of mobile phones.

Premise: Do we really need to go over this? Oh, alright. Seven different types of shape (they're called 'tetrominos', don't you know) fall from the ceiling, and your job is to stack them neatly by moving and rotating them before they hit the deck. Creating a solid horizontal line will eliminate every block in that row, which is useful because when the blocks stack up to the top of the play area, it's game over.

Verdict: Let's put it this way: we've played Tetris so extensively that sometimes when we close our eyes we still see the blocks falling. Tetris has taught us how to organise our desk space more efficiently, and the incredible 'Type A' music lulls us to sleep every single night. In some respects, Tetris is actually a terrible mobile game, because when the bus ride is over, you won't want to stop playing.

Cut the Rope

Cut the Rope

The most recent game in our top-ten list, Cut the Rope for the iPhone and iPad has grown on us faster than any mobile game in history. A cool physics engine coupled with traditional puzzle elements and the most adorable monster in videogame history make Cut the Rope easy to love.

Premise: A delightful green monster called Om Nom (seriously) wants candy. Understandable -- we all want candy, it's delicious. Trouble is, Om Nom is too lazy to get off his scaly behind and get it himself, which means the player must navigate said sweeties to Om Nom through a complex system of rope cutting, bubble bursting and winching. It's all controlled via the touchscreen, and bagging all three stars on every level will require not only expert timing but nerves of steel. Are you man enough?

Verdict: We love this game, with its easy to pick up, tricky to master gameplay. As a glorious bonus, swinging the precious candy close to Om Nom and then whisking it away will cause him to perform the most hilarious disappointed face. Cue merciless giggling.

Bonsai Blast

Bonsai Blast

A game our editors were particularly keen to see represented, Bonsai Blast represents the top branch of tree-based gaming. A template as old as the hills but with a few neat twists, Bonsai Blast is an essential download for anyone with too much time to spare and an Android device or an iPhone in their pocket.

Premise: Coloured balls roll down a track, winding ever closer to their goal. Your duty is to stop them getting there -- confusingly by firing more coloured balls into the fray. When three matching balls end up in a row, they combust, setting the whole marching line back a few inches. You'll have to fire balls accurately and quickly if you want to stay alive. As an added twist, you'll get power-up balls, and the ability to reposition your turret, which spices up gameplay.

Verdict: Android hasn't enjoyed the same massive surge in mobile gaming the iPhone has, so it's great to see a game that has its roots (chortle) in Google's OS, even if Bonsai Blast has since been ported to Apple's Jesusphone. Operating system politics aside, this is a great little game we can heartily recommend.



Canabalt is in this list for several reasons. Firstly, it's the best game to play for 20 seconds or less we've ever seen. It boasts the most atmospheric, moody visuals and music we've ever encountered in a game this simplistic, and having started as an online Flash game, Canabalt also serves to represent the power that gaming apps now wield -- the app stores of various mobile platforms acting as stepping stones for aspiring developers hungry for new audiences and more exposure.

Premise: Canabalt starts out with you, a besuited character, running along an office corridor, before smashing through the window and beginning your epic escape across the rooftops of a dying monochrome city. The only thing you'll need to control the action is one finger -- tapping the iPhone's touchscreen will cause your character to jump. Keep him alive for as long as possible, while all around you the city crumbles. We don't know what he's running from, though we can see giant menacing machines roving the metropolis in the background...

Verdict: Canabalt's accessible, atmospheric gameplay will keep you coming back time and again to try and beat your high score. Beautifully executed, on occasion painfully unfair, Canabalt owns our hearts and minds.



So you think you can handle Peggle? You wouldn't be the first cocky chap to look at Peggle's super-saturated colour scheme and big-eyed unicorns and conclude this was an easy game. Little do you know that that cheery-looking unicorn is actually Bjorn, head of the Peggle Institute, and he won't rest until he's whipped you into shape. Son, you're about to become a Peggle Grand Master.

Premise: Developed by casual gaming geniuses PopCap and based on the Japanese game Pachinko, Peggle sees you firing balls at a sea of orange and blue pegs. You'll get more points for the more pegs you hit, with the goal of each round to eliminate every orange peg. Along the way you'll get bonus points for making nigh-on impossible shots, pulling off radical slides, hitting the free-ball bucket, nailing off-the-wall shots and making good use of the superpowers offered by the various playable Peggle masters.

Peggle is available for the iPhone, but PopCap insists it's working on Android versions, with Windows Phone 7 editions a definite possibility since the developer brought Bejeweled -- another hugely popular title -- to Microsoft's platform.

Verdict: It's a slow-burner, but if you're willing to invest a little time in Peggle, you'll soon be unable to live without it -- more than once the quest to become a Peggle Grand Master has consumed our very souls. Colourful, fun and ridiculous, Peggle is brilliant. Oh, and when you're confounded by the 750,000 points in one level challenge, get in touch -- we have a system.

Space Impact

Space Impact

Space Impact takes us back to the halcyon days of early monochrome mobile gaming. Available on a handful of Nokia handsets including the immensely popular Nokia 3310, this side-scrolling space shooter might look tired by today's standards, but at the time it blew our tiny minds.

Premise: Thematically identical to about a thousand other shooters, Space Impact sees you piloting a tiny spaceship through a hellish field of alien nasties. Hammering away at your phone's buttons, you'll be blasting those (possibly peaceful?) freaks out of the sky with no mercy.

Verdict: While Space Impact was never a superb game, and didn't benefit from the exposure some other monochrome games enjoyed, it pushed the boundaries in terms of what was possible on a mobile. A game of this length, breadth and complexity seemed completely beyond phones at the time, and while it might not be the most perfect game ever created, anything that pushes the envelope like that deserves recognition.

The Secret of Monkey Island

Monkey Island

Space Impact might have pushed the boundaries way back then, but LucasArts' bold port of Monkey Island for the iPhone moved mobile gaming beyond simple puzzlers and into the realm of fully fledged adventure.

Premise: You wanna be a pirate? So does Guybrush Threepwood, the brilliantly named protagonist of the Monkey Island series. To help him achieve his goals, you'll need to navigate the quirky point-and-click world he occupies, solving puzzles and winning at insult-swordfights. The Monkey Island series is revered for its oddball characters and excellent sense of humour.

Verdict: Not only does The Secret of Monkey Island on the iPhone deliver a blunderbuss blast of nostalgia to the faces of thousands of long-time fans of the series, it offers nifty controls, brilliant voice acting and gives the original game a glorious makeover. This is proof positive that mobile gaming isn't limited to timewasting arcade games, but is capable of handling genuine adventures. Arrr!

WILD CARD: Parachute for iPod


Alright, we know the iPod isn't a phone, but it's mobile enough, and dammit we've wasted too many hours of our life playing Parachute for it not to make the list. This pocket-bound game makes great use of the iPod's iconic click-wheel too.

Premise: Shoot everything. You control a turret under attack from vicious-looking helicoptors, which are dropping pesky paratroopers. Aim using the click wheel and hit the centre button to fire off a volley of lethal ammo. If you miss you'll lose points, but if you manage to destroy a chopper, the debris might just take out a few other foes. The aim is to take out all the on-screen enemies as efficiently as possible. Ice cold.

Verdict: It lacks the sophistication of other games on this list, but Parachute was great fun, and gave us something to do while we rocked out to our music collection. It will forever hold a place in our hearts.

But which game is the greatest mobile game of them all? We have an inkling you already know, and if you don't, prepare to kick yourself...



A game as old as time itself, destined to forever be mentioned in the same breath as such classic Nokia handsets as the 3210. Pre-installing Snake on its mobiles not only gave Nokia an edge in the burgeoning yoof market, it was a proof of concept that portable gaming was possible on a device primarily used for making phone calls.

Premise: You're a snake. You gotta eat. Trouble is, every time you snag some food, your body gets longer, which is a problem because the walls of your enclosure are deadly, and you really don't want to be eating yourself. You can make the game more difficult by stepping up the speed at which your snake moves. We spit upon anybody who rides at less than stage 9 difficulty.

Verdict: For the longest time, Snake was the hottest ticket in town, and made owning a Nokia phone doubly cool. Snake 2 was great too, and even though the series went downhill after that, we remember being huddled on a dingy schoolbus surrounded by our friends -- everyone's faces glued to their mobiles, frantically trying to one-up everybody elses' scores. Snake, we love and salute you.