Best mobile games of 2013

It's been an amazing year for mobile gaming, with more new games than ever before. Here are some of the best titles released in 2013.

Michelle Starr Science editor
Michelle Starr is CNET's science editor, and she hopes to get you as enthralled with the wonders of the universe as she is. When she's not daydreaming about flying through space, she's daydreaming about bats.
Michelle Starr
11 min read

It's been an amazing year for mobile gaming, with more new games than ever before. Here are some of the best titles released in 2013.

This was a tough list to curate. For the sake of not having a list 100 apps long, we decided to leave off sequels (which means you should still definitely check out The Room 2, Epoch 2 and Robot Unicorn Attack 2). All the games on this list are titles we feel have brought something creative and wonderful to the mobile platform, whether it be bite-sized bus-stop puzzling or a deeper, more immersive experience.

Please also note that these games are in no particular order of excellence after our mobile game of the year. You should play them all!

(Credit: Simogo)

Year Walk

Simogo had two killer games out this year, and it was tough to pick between them — but Year Walk was such a breathtaking departure for the developer, 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 (and the developer's other 2013 game, Device 6, which was also excellent).

You can read our full review of Year Walk here.

Platform: iPhone and iPad
Price: AU$4.49

(Credit: David Mondou-Labbe)


If you were stuck on an alien world, you'd be well and truly lost. You wouldn't know the language, the customs, even what was safe to eat and drink. Independent developer Devine Lu Linvega, aka Aliceffekt, wanted to create this feeling of helplessness, of complete mystery and, in turn, of discovery and accomplishment. His point-and-click adventure Hiversaires is a deeply atmospheric wonder. Without words, without tutorials, you're placed in a strange world to find the way home. One word of warning, though: if you want your hand held, this isn't the game for you.

Platform: Android; iPhone and iPad
Price: Free (Android); AU$0.99 (iOS)

(Credit: Kumobius)


Duet seems to be based on death, in more ways than one. There is, of course, a little death in video games — where you crash and burn and have to start the level all over again. Duet has a lot of that. But if you look for the thematic clues, the game is crawling with it: from the very minimal snippets of dialogue to the strange, void-like atmosphere to the names of the levels — the Kübler-Ross five stages of grief (plus a few extra). It also forces you to think outside the box, requiring your spatial cognition to go into overdrive as you navigate the levels to 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.

You can read our interview with the game's composer, Tim Shiel, here.

Platform: iPhone and iPad
Price: AU$2.99

(Credit: grapefrukt games)


We don't think we've ever seen a real-time strategy game as pared down as rymdkapsel. It's not so much about battles as it is about building and exploration. In deep space, you have to build a base, using colour-coded, tetromino-shaped tiles, laying them down in a tight configuration. Different colours represent different rooms; a green room is a garden, while living quarters are orange and kitchens are yellow. Meanwhile, you have to explore and mine the surrounding monoliths for resources, and occasionally, enemies will attack. Aside from its visual simplicity, it has also cut a lot of elements from the gameplay: there's only one type of unit to build, for example, and three resource types. Instead, you have to focus on planning out the best possible base to get everything done as efficiently and minimally as possible.

Platform: Android; iPhone and iPad
Price: AU$4.49

(Credit: Vlambeer)

Ridiculous Fishing

There are some activities that you wouldn't think would make a fun game. Waiting for a bus in the rain. Painting a house. We would have added fishing to that list, but then along came Ridiculous Fishing — and it's 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 — and then you have to shoot them to haul them in, earning a pretty penny into the bargain.

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 — and all without in-app payments.

You can read our full take here.

Platform: Android; iOS
Price: AU$3.24 (Android); AU$2.99 (iOS)

(Credit: Cornfox & Bros)


Drawing its inspiration from The Legend of Zelda, Oceanhorn is one of those games that proves the gaming power of mobile devices. It's beautifully designed, with a story that goes back 1000 years to a catastrophe that let loose a monster on the world: the mysterious sea-dwelling beast Oceanhorn. Our protagonist has to sail the world in his boat, solving puzzles and dungeons to figure out what Oceanhorn is — and why it's following him.

You can read our full write-up here.

Platform: iPhone and iPad
Price: AU$9.49

(Credit: Telltale Inc)

The Wolf Among Us

It's often the case that adapted content suffers for the transition, but with the Wolf Among Us, the video-game adaptation of Bill Willingham's Fables by Telltale Games, it's pretty bang on. The point-and-click adventure stars Bigby Wolf (or the Big Bad Wolf of fable fame), Sheriff of Fabletown, hot on the case of a murder in an original story written for the game. The cel-shaded graphics look amazing, the plot is tight, and the characterisation superb. Do not be fooled by the look or the medium, though — neither A Wolf Among Us or Fables is appropriate for children.

Platform: iPhone and iPad
Price: AU$5.49

(Credit: Michael Brough)


Michael Brough does not make pretty games. He does, however, make very interesting and clever games (see more on his website). 868-Hack is a rogue-like game that takes on hacking. In a 6x6 grid, you have to collect data, navigating carefully to avoid tripping alarms and taking out the foes that track you down. On each level, you need to collect data siphons, your tool for stealing the data, and the data comes in two kinds: currency, which gives you tools for fighting enemies, and score points, which contribute to your overall score. Meanwhile, each enemy behaves in a set way, allowing you to figure out the best way to take it out, because once you have three hits from them, it's game over for you.

Platform: iPhone and iPad
Price: AU$6.49

(Credit: Harebrained Holdings)

Shadowrun Returns

Cyberpunk fantasy Shadowrun got its start as a tabletop RPG, where it blended futuristic technology with magic, elves and crime noir. It's had a few video-game incarnations since then, and Kickstarter-funded Shadowrun Returns is a fresh, modern take that stays faithful to its roots. Like the first Shadowrun video game back in 1993, it's an isometric real-time action RPG, with five playable races and six classes to choose from. Where it wins, though, is where Shadowrun has always won: combining real-world tech with the fantastical world of myth and magic.

Platform: Android; iOS
Price: AU$10.95 (Android); AU$10.49 (iOS)

(Credit: Jundroo)


Want to tinker with rockets without worrying about explosives? SimpleRockets lets you be a mobile rocket engineer. The aim is to build rockets, then launch them, choosing parts that will help your rocket fly. It's a little bit educational — showing you what is involved in getting a craft into space and keeping it there — and a lot silly. The game encourages you to just get in there and go for it, which means a lot of trial and error, and the error is wildly, spectacularly hilarious.

Platform: Android; iPhone and iPad
Price: AU$2.18 (Android); AU$1.99 (iOS)

(Credit: 5 Ants Games)

Tiny Thief

Tiny Thief, released by Rovio's publishing program, is possibly the most adorable game about stealing ever made. You're a tiny thief, using your powers of thievery to right the world's wrongs, feeding the poor and helping the needy. Each level is a puzzle: you have to perform actions in sequence in order to win the prize. This involves hiding from guards, setting off chain reactions and making sure your timing is just right. In one level, for instance, you hide in a basement while a waiter walks back and forth. When his back is turned, you have to go upstairs, fetch a drink, hide from the waiter again, place the drink on the table, then sneak up behind a pirate in another room and ring the bell so the waiter brings the drink in, zipping back into the basement before he enters. It's tremendous, tricky, heart-stealing fun.

Platform: Android; iPhone and iPad
Price: AU$1.36 (Android); AU$2.99 (iOS)

(Credit: Vector Unit)

Riptide GP2

Racing games start to all look a bit samey after a while, but add water to the mix and suddenly you have all these fabulous wave effects as you whoosh and turn, and Riptide GP2, sequel to mobile game Riptid GP, has some really amazing water physics. It's worth it for the attention to detail alone — excellent tracks, brilliant graphics and water physics and some really pumping music — but the game plays splendidly into the bargain, with different modes and race types, nine different jet skis to collect and a new stunt system that lets you boost your speed and score. It's a must-have for any racing fans.

You can see our full review here.

Platform: Android; iPhone and iPad
Price: AU$2.99

(Credit: Flat Earth Games)


Aussie title TownCraft is the kind of game we'd like all town management sims to be: free from timers and in-app purchases. Basically, it's about building a new village from the ground up from a wilderness. A rather civilised wilderness, with lots of berries, eggs, trees and stones, yet a wilderness all the same. You start with nothing, and have to build basic tools such as a hatchet and a pickaxe to gather resources, experimenting with your supplies to see what you can make. The aim is to create a successful town, and it's some seriously addictive stuff. Think Doodle God meets Don't Starve — without the whole "starving" part.

You can read our full review and interview with the developer here.

Platform: iPad
Price: AU$5.49

(Credit: Level-5)

Layton Brothers Mystery Room

Professor Layton wouldn't be coming to mobile. That would be silly. This is his son, Inspector Layton, of Scotland Yard's Mystery Room. Alfendi Layton has a new assistant, Lucy Baker, who's learning the mystery-solving ropes. As you examine crime scenes and interrogate suspects (more in the manner of Ace Attorney than Professor Layton, to be honest), you have to sniff out the inconsistencies to deduce who the culprit is. The game is familiarly puzzling, and every bit as engrossing as its Layton predecessors — well worth putting down some extra dollars to unlock the full game.

Platform: iPhone and iPad
Price: Free

(Credit: Large Animal Games)

Color Zen

We're not sure what it is about Color Zen. It just works, in a way that is really relaxing. There's very little pressure applied — you can take as long as you like to solve a level, and there are no penalties for having to try again. Each level consists of shapes on a field in different bright colours, with a border. When two shapes of the same colour touch, it washes the screen with that colour, cancelling any shapes of that colour out. The aim is to make the entire screen the same colour as the border, and it can get quite tricky, but never frustrating.

We hadn't heard of Large Animal Games before Color Zen — its portfolio seems to consist mostly of gambling games and titles licensing popular TV shows. If this is what the studio can do when it cracks out the creativity, it has a bright future ahead.

Platform: Android; iPhone and iPad
Price: Free

(Credit: Betaworks One)


Dots is about as minimal as a match game can possibly get. It's just dots. You have 60 seconds to collect as many of the dots as you can, linking them together in groups of two or more. The more dots you get, the better your score — and those dots you clear will go into your dot bank for purchasing power-ups so that you can get even more dots. We don't know if it's meant to be a commentary on the nature of the pointless acquisitiveness often found in video games, but what the hell. It's still fun.

Platform: Android; iPhone and iPad
Price: Free

(Credit: Arman Bohn)


Adventure RPG Arranger, from composer-developer Arman Bohn, is one of the strangest games we've ever played. With its retro visuals, crazy mini-games, quests, really weird monsters, amazing soundtrack and a plethora of musical instruments for the purpose of combat, it really has to be experienced to be understood. You play the titular "arranger", the musical hero who is going to save the land of Musica and become the best composer of all.

Platform: Android; iPhone and iPad
Price: AU$0.99

(Credit: Wanderlands)


Although it's a matching game, Stickets has a certain je ne sais quoi we've rarely seen in the puzzler style. The aim of the game is to match as much as possible, but it's tricky. On a grid of five-by-five squares, you have to place three-coloured L-shaped blocks, matching up the colours to create blocks of three squares or more and clear them from the board. The bright colours and simple gameplay are deceptive; Stickets will have you coming back again and again for just one more go, because you know you can beat that last score, you just know it.

Platform: iPhone and iPad
Price: AU$2.99

(Credit: Ubisoft)

Rayman: Fiesta Run

Ubisoft has, to date, only released a small number of games with its Ubi-art framework, which allows hand-painted art to be transported directly into a game to gorgeous effect. One of those is Rayman: Fiesta Run, a stunning explosion of colour in a side-scrolling runner. Rayman is adventuring through a food fiesta-themed world, rescuing lums and banishing monsters. The control system is slick and simple, yet the game is challenging enough to keep you entertained for hours.

You can read our full review here.

Platform: Android; iPhone and iPad
Price: AU$2.99

(Credit: 2K Games)

XCOM: Enemy Unknown

XCOM is a strategy classic. Enemy Unknown, picked up, dusted off and polished to a shine, is a remake of the 1994 title UFO: Enemy Unknown. As a reboot, it's excellent, retaining the core gameplay and fine details the original was known for. Gameplay revolves around turn-based ground strategy as you lead squadrons of up to six soldiers against a new menace that is threatening the Earth: aliens seeking to use humans for their own ends, and you can train and upgrade a crack team to suit your play style. As a mobile game, it's likewise accomplished, with smooth, easy-to-learn controls taking you through the game's paces. It's one of the best strategy games we've seen on the iPad.

You can read our full review here.

Platform: iPhone and iPad
Price: AU$20.99

Did we leave out your favourite mobile game of 2013? Let us know what it is in the comments below.