It’s an age of abundance in the iOS gaming scene, with everyone from Apple to indie enthusiast blogs weighing in on what the best games are for our beloved iOS platform.
We’re here to focus on the best mobile games we have actually played and loved, rather than just the blockbusters everyone’s already heard of. If we kept a game on our iPhone for more than a few days and dug right in on a regular basis, it’s on the list.
I really don’t much care if this is the first adventure game from Tim Schafer in 16 years, or the first massive crowdfunding success story for a video game. What I enjoy most about Broken Age ($9.99) are its whimsical environments, like the spaceship built to safeguard a child (now a teenager named Shay). Or the weird cloud-city full of birds that our second protagonist, Vella, must traverse to find her way to kill a great monster.
Sure, there are flat moments in the game, and even reminders that the genre is outdated for a reason (so tedious!), but the double storyline packs an emotional punch along with its funny moments, many of which come from the incidental stuff, like the overly helpful transporter who can’t seem to say anything in a quiet voice. Get this one now and play it through over a weekend and you’ll see what I mean.
Yes, alright, it’s a cat-collecting game. But Neko Atsume: Kitty Collector is the most adorable cat-collecting game you ever did see. It’s given me and my family hours of fun as we compare the in-game photos we take of our feline friends, the playthings we’ve purchased from the game store (with silver or gold fish, naturally) and our ever-expanding play areas for those little balls of fur with funny names, like Tubbs (who always steals the food) or Breezy (who always seems to get her head stuck in a plastic shopping bag).
There’s not a lot of complexity in this originally Japanese title, which might turn off some players, but I find Neko Atsume: Kitty Collector (free) to be the ultimate zen of mobile gaming – I check in a few times a day, make sure the food bowl is topped off, and pick up all the gifts the kitties have left for me in gratitude for an awesome play area. Gentle, amusing, delightful fun is what it is.
I’ll ‘fess up to not liking this game much on my PlayStation 4, where my expectations from SuperGiant Games’ previous outing, Bastion, overshadowed this mechanically complex and tonally different title.
Playing Transistor on an iPad, however, somehow made the difference: The touchscreen made the horribly confusing controller layout make sense to my poor brain, while the personal touches worked far better on a smaller screen that I used up close. Transistor‘s ($9.99) trippy future-noir story revolves around Red, a singer in a far-future city, who’s targeted for assassination only to end up carrying around a giant sword that’s been empowered with a dead man’s consciousness. The iOS version of this game encouraged exploration and taking my time with the strategies involved in combat way more than the big screen version ever did.
I’m not totally sure why this build-and-battle game captured my attention when many others did not (including one from the very same developer — Next Games’ Compass Point: West). The Walking Dead found a sweet spot in its core gaming mechanics that had me returning to it more than once per day to snipe at walkers, work through the story campaign, and level up my survivors.
The character models are grungy and all look tired, something you’d expect from someone who’s always hungry and stressed out from the undead constantly attacking. The strategy you need to employ to make it through some harrowing levels was enough to encourage my continued play time in Robert Kirkman’s imagined world, and there really was very little need to purchase anything, though I tend to buy some sort of in-app purchase for games I really enjoy. The Walking Dead: No Man’s Land (free) is the best free-to-play game I’ve played all year, and I play a lot of them.
I’ve not watched much of this Cartoon Network show about a young boy and his three gem-created super-beings, but my oldest child loves it. I picked it up mostly due to his interest; what I found is a delightful game that’s full of fun along with compelling battle and leveling-up mechanics, all wrapped up in the sweetness of the Steven Universe, well, universe.
While it hasn’t quite sucked me in as much as The Walking Dead game did, Attack the Light – Steven Universe RPG (free) is a great game to scratch that turn-based combat itch that fans of games like Final Fantasy will recall with nostalgia. The dialogue is internet-meme funny, the environments are brightly colored without being garish, and the price is certainly a big draw. If you’re a fan of the show, or just know one, you’ll not regret trying out this one.
I think I’ve made my love for the Room series pretty well known around here, what with the enthusiastic reviews I dropped for the first and second entries. But somehow, The Room Three ($4.99) makes the other ones look like the developers weren’t trying.
It has better puzzles, a full-on villain, and multiple endings that will keep you exploring the spooky old castle in which the game takes place for hours. You won’t want it to end, but when it does, you’ll want to start it over immediately just to experience its perfect touch controls and unique challenges one more time.
When new development team Eidos Montreál reduced Agent 47, one of gaming’s most fearsome killers, into a board game piece in puzzle title Hitman Go, I assumed the company had completely run out of ideas. And then I played this companion game, Lara Croft Go ($4.99), and realized that the people behind these things were actually really smart.
Instead of just trying to port these complex franchises over, the team made something new that would actually make sense on a touchscreen. And so we have these isometric, turn-based strategy/puzzle titles that manage to do right by their respective properties without making something completely unplayable. Lara Croft also has some of the most terrifying spiders I’ve ever seen in a video game, and that’s saying something. They’re all leggy and creepy.
If someone from Bethesda told me the developer made Fallout Shelter (free) to be the exact opposite of every free-to-play game ever, I’d believe them. It came out just about as soon as the company announced the game at this year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo trade show, and it’s a people-management title that puts you in charge of one of the Fallout series’ trademark Vaults. You know, the ones that a huge corporation built, ostensibly to protect humanity from nuclear war, but which were secretly a bunch of terrifying social experiments.
You don’t have to run your underground bunker like a crazy person, and you probably shouldn’t. You’ll be too busy expanding, recruiting, sending inhabitants out for supplies, and fighting fearsome infestations of gigantic, radioactive cockroaches to even have time to be a jerk. Fallout Shelter does contain in-app purchases; don’t get me wrong. But in the dozens of hours I poured into managing my people and resources, I never came close to needing to make one. I’m pretty sure Bethesda just included those as a way to tip them.
It doesn’t snow like ever in Phoenix, Arizona, which sucks if you like hitting the slopes. Alto’s Adventure ($2.99) has been a breath of frozen air for me this year in the desert.
Not only is Alto’s Adventure a super-fun snowboarding game that lets you grind through picturesque towns while chasing llamas and catching coins, it’s also drop-dead gorgeous. The simple graphics are stunning, whether the scene is during the daytime, nighttime or at sunset. It’s a game you play for the art as much as the action, making it a special snowflake in the App Store’s sea of games.
Whether you play this one on an iPhone or an iPad Pro, you’re going to love what Telltale’s done to Notch’s breakout hit Minecraft. The original game has no story and no characters, per se; Story Mode turns that on its head, adding a fantastically written script about several young builders on a quest to find ancient heroes and save the world.
It’s like watching a great TV show with puzzles and choices you must make that will affect the outcome of the entire game. Released in manageable episodic parts, Minecraft: Story Mode ($4.99) will keep you coming back for more.