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The best games for your smartphone

Great games on iOS and Android.
Engadget, @engadget
09.27.19 in AV
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Sorry, but mobile gaming is the biggest player in the video game market. In 2018, it made almost half of the industry's global revenue. Smartphone games once existed separately from console and PC titles, but in the wake of titles like Fortnite, it's all got a little blurry. You'll find several games in our selection that are also available on your home consoles and PCs, but most of them sing on your smartphone, and the fact that you can play them absolutely anywhere makes up for any other pitfalls. Whether it's Android or iOS, here's some crucial games to start with. We'll be updating this list regularly -- this time, we welcome Pocket City to the fold.

The Banner Saga

Best Mobile Games

The Banner Saga, on both iPhone and Android devices, is as good as it is on PC. This tactical RPG involves humans, giants, centaurs and the sinister dreg, with each tribe capable of different attacks, skills and tactical flourishes. Like the bleak storyline, it's a tough tactical RPG that rewards careful thought. Augmented with a mature, illustrated visual style, stirring music and voiced characters, expect to make some hard decisions as you take your caravan and band of warriors across the nord...ish world and try to survive the apocalypse. This is a game where it's all about the journey, not the destination. MS

Fortnite Battle Royale

Fortnite is a cultural phenomenon, responsible for popularizing a new shooting-game genre and doing it in a way that has millions playing across mobile, PC and games consoles, like the Switch -- you'll see this particular game appear in several of our lists. It all started with a simple idea: survive. (Actually it started with a tower-defense-esque game where you built a fort to protect human survivors against zombies, but hey, it evolved.) Fortnite has a low barrier to entry (it's free!), and the sheer momentum behind the fact that everyone is playing it makes resistance futile. Parachute into the field, grab supplies, guns and ammo, build some defensive protections if you like and make it to the end. Sounds simple, but the best game ideas are. PUBG, Apex and the rest have a tough fight on their hands. MS

Journey

Best Mobile Games

Journey is an iconic, award-winning game that first appeared on PlayStation 3 -- something it has in common with another recommendation, Life Is Strange. This game is harder to classify though and you may even find it almost spiritual. No, I can't believe I just said that either.

You play as a hooded figure, bound for the summit of a distant mountain. Occasionally on your journey, you'll meet up with a fellow nomad, who can only communicate in melodic tones -- you can only do the same. These are actually other human players making their own journey, so expect some erratic behavior from them as your leap and glide through deserts, underwater tombs and snowfields. There aren't really any major puzzles to solve or monsters to kill and the journey is a short one -- expect to finish the entire thing in just several hours once you know what to do and where to go. But what a ride it is. Don't forget to connect your headphones to make the most of the game's sweeping musical scores. MS

Journey (iOS)

Life Is Strange

Best Mobile Games

Dontnod's iconic episodic adventure has appeared across major consoles and PC and is now available on both iOS and Android devices. The game's stripped-down aesthetic has seen better days, sure, but Life Is Strange was never about realistic skin textures: it's a story about friendship and trying to find where you belong. The touchscreen controls are a little awkward, but this is a critically acclaimed series that demands you play it through its entirety. And if the controls really do frustrate too much — it's still available to play elsewhere. MS

Monument Valley

Best Mobile Games

Both Monument Valley and Monument Valley 2 deserve a spot on this list. The casual puzzle games have a unique and truly jaw-dropping art style inspired by Dutch graphic artist Maurits Cornelis (M.C.) Escher. The visuals are also tied to the gameplay, which revolves around twisting and turning geometrically-impossible structures. It's a clever concept that slowly ramps up in difficulty with a subtle, dialog-free storyline and soothing soundtrack by Stafford Bawler, Obfusc, and Grigori. You can complete each game in a single sitting -- perfect for a long train ride or evening tucked up in bed. NS

Pocket City

Pocket City

Pocket City is probably best described as a pared-back SimCity 2000, with the same basic power/water system and residential/commercial/industrial zone balancing. Some of the simulation is discarded or simplified, but you'll still be managing crime, traffic, pollution, education and the like, building out your city to fill a fairly gargantuan map.

In a different timeline, we'd probably be slamming Pocket City as a blatant rip-off. But EA has treated its series so poorly that this game -- which has an up-front cost of $4 but no micro-transactions or ads -- feels necessary. If Cities: Skylines represents what EA should've done with the SimCity series, Pocket City is exactly what a mobile version of the classic city-building game should be. AS

Reigns: Her Majesty

Best Mobile Games

This narrative strategy borrows a Tinder-esque interface that has you swiping through decision cards and queries from your subjects. Every choice made affects various aspects of your kingdom, across finances, the church, public affection and the military. If your score in any of these topics gets too low -- or too high -- you're killed (usually in brutal fashion) and you start up again as a new ruler. It may sound like a simple balancing act, but things don't always go the way you might expect them to -- and you'll have to learn your lesson in the next generation. Despite the simple controls, the world of Reigns has a weird, wonderful lore that will keep you entranced. And since progress is done swipe-by-swipe, it's ideal for killing time. MS

Threes

threes

Playing Threes is like being wrapped in a warm towel after a hot bath on a rainy day. It's engrossing, with tile-swiping, number-adding gameplay that makes the minutes disappear into thin air, and besides, it's utterly adorable. The number tiles have personalities and backstories, and they make adorable cooing noises to encourage players as they swipe away. Threes is the original tile-based adding game, with a handful of popular copycats rolling out after its launch, but none of them can compete with the style, strategy and depth that this game offers. Oh, and adorableness, of course. JC

The Witness

Best Mobile Games

The Witness places you onto a strange island full of puzzles, and lots of questions. The only thing you can do is solve puzzles dotted around the island, gather clues and try to make your way home. The more you unearth, the more you appreciate how just darn well-designed this is -- it's unlike any puzzle game you've played before. Also, there aren't many games that make you feel smart like The Witness does. MS

The Witness (iOS)

80 Days

Best Mobile Games

80 Days is an interactive fiction (think Choose Your Own Adventure) game based on the Jules Verne novel Around the World in Eighty Days. You play as Phileas Fogg's faithful servant, tasked with aiding your master on a journey from London to... London. This is not the Victorian world of the original book, though: The game starts with an underwater train journey from London to Paris, and following that you'll ride all manner of Steampunk-inspired creations as you attempt to circumnavigate the globe.

Of course, you'll be making decisions along the way. With limited funds and baggage space, every decision is difficult: Should you pay a hefty fee to take an earlier train? Should you sell your coat to make space for a timetable? Do you talk to the train guard to get more information, or tend to your master's beard? The sheer number of choices would be overwhelming, were it not for the game's superb writing, and its imminent replayability: There's no such thing as a perfect journey, and with almost 750,000 words written for the game, you could play 80 Days eighty times and never have the same experience. AS

Contributors: Jessica Conditt (JC), Mat Smith (MS), Aaron Souppouris (AS), Nick Summers (NS).


Changes:
July 2019: 'Fire Emblem Heroes' replaced by 'Pocket City'
September 2019: 'Alto's Odyssey replaced by 'Journey'


All products recommended by Engadget are selected by our editorial team, independent of our parent company. Some of our stories include affiliate links. If you buy something through one of these links, we may earn an affiliate commission.
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