Looking to use the last couple of dollars on that iTunes gift card? Look, Angry Birds got stale years ago, but there are tons of quality mobile titles out there, you just might not have discovered them yet. Admittedly, some of these games may be a few years old by now, but regardless of age, the quality you’ll find here will stand the test of time. So find a quiet nook, grab your smartphone, and clean off your touch screen for the five best mobile games you (probably) haven’t played.
Squids flings in at number 5 for being so full of charm and heart that I couldn’t possibly leave it off my list. Think of Squids as an underwater crossover between the game play of Angry Birds mixed in with some light tactical-RPG elements.
Gameplay consists of turn based movement and attacks as you and your enemies each try to find the best strategic positioning while you battle across a myriad of levels, each with their own environmental hazards and effects.Your team consists of 4 squids (with more recruitable through story progression) and movement consists of you “pulling” and releasing on their tentacles as they fly across the screen. Each squid only has so much energy for movement, and the farther you pull back, the more energy the squid expends, but the farther they fling across the screen. In addition, each squid has their own personal skill they can use. Some may allow you an extra boost to move quickly across the screen, while another may offer a powerful ranged attack, allowing you to conserve your precious movement energy. As you progress through the campaign, you’ll earn currency to unlock new gear that can boost stats as well as the ability to level up your team.
Personally, I find the art style gorgeous, but I’m sure some people might be turned off by the character designs. The game oozes charm and has enough gameplay to keep you engaged for as long as you feel you want to put into it. If you decide to plug those earbuds in, you’ll be rewarded with a fantastic, bubbly soundtrack with one of the catchiest and memorable theme songs of any game, mobile or not.
4. Run Roo Run
Run Roo Run is a super simplistic, time trial based game. It’s a game that won’t provide you with a giant, meaty campaign and most of the games levels can be completed in literal seconds. So why is this game on this list? Because what seems incredibly simple, is actually much deeper and more complex – if you’re willing to put the time in.
Run Roo Run starts off easy enough. Just get from point A to point B with a few obstacles to avoid using a simple control scheme. As soon as you touch the screen, Roo starts to run automatically and all you need to do is touch again to jump. As you continue to move through the increasingly difficult levels, you’ll never find anything that is too impossible to clear. However, Run Roo Run doesn’t want you to just clear the levels, it wants you to perfect them. Completing a level nets you a grade, from bronze to gold depending on how fast you you clear the level. Most levels will be done in less than 5 seconds, but you’ll need to be much faster than that in order to get the gold. And that’s where the genius of Run Roo Run starts to take shape. As you continue to progress, it starts to transition into a puzzle game of sorts as you do everything you possibly can in order to shave even just 1/10th of a second off your time. You’ll be restarting levels over and over again, but luckily the game looks and sounds great and it’s extremely fast and snappy, so restarting happens almost as quickly as it takes for you to fail…again.
In order to fuel this obsession of clearing the level as quickly as possible, leaderboards show you just how slow you actually are, as you desperately retry a level over and over again in order to try to climb just a little bit higher. Unfortunately, the game is several year old at this point and cheaters were plaguing the leaderboards even when the game was only in its infancy, so this motivation might not be as strong as it once was. However, if you can convince another friend or family member to start playing at the same time as you, you’ll be fiercely competing against each other wondering exactly how they cleared the level as fast as they did.
3. Puzzle Craft
At first glance Puzzle Craft looks like any generic “match” style puzzle game or some sort of shovelware crapped out by Zynga to bleed you dry via IAP. But in reality, it’s a clever little puzzle game/city builder hybrid that has an incredibly addicting game play loop that makes you say “just one more round” as you then proceed to play four more rounds.
At the heart of Puzzle Craft is the matching icons style puzzle. However, instead of the block you match just disappearing, everything you match becomes useful in one way or another. During the “farming” phase, you match grain, chickens, apples, and more that once matched, now reside in your storeroom to feed your villagers and power your explorations in the mine. In the mine phase, you’ll use the food you acquired to power the number of moves you can take in the mine as you acquire metals and ores. These metals and ores will help you with upgrades and to build new buildings which will help you become more productive and efficient during the farming phase, which in turn helps you get farther in the mine. See the loop here? Everything you do has a purpose and it all plays into making you better and getting you farther than you could before. The upgrades are perfectly timed to always make you want to give it another round.
While it may look like a game that is begging for you to open up your digital wallet and feed money in for as long as you play, I never spent any money besides the cost to purchase the game. I also beat the whole game and never felt like I hit a brick wall or needed to spend more money to advance (I can’t say the same for the game’s sequel though). If you can ignore the bland artstyle and realize that it’s more than just another “match” puzzle game, you’ll get a great little game that will keep you coming back for more.
Warbits is the definition of “labor of love”. A game created over 4 years, part time, by only 2 people who have never met in person can’t be called anything else. The amount of polish that shines through when you play is nothing short of astounding. A turn-based strategy game that fills the void that Nintendo left when they decided to stop making Advance Wars games, Warbits takes the genre to mobile with rousing success.
Outside of the slick visuals, snappy controls, lengthy campaign, humorous dialogue (I could keep going), is fantastic gameplay that feels like a more in-depth version of chess. I’m not going to go too far explaining exactly how to play, as it’s a pretty complex system, but the main idea is: build an army, capture bases to earn money to build more units, engage in combat with the enemy forces, and either wipe them out entirely or capture the opposing forces main HQ to win. Each unit has different movement, range, strengths and weaknesses, forcing you to really think about each move you make.
As you start to learn each of the unit’s traits, the game slowly ramps up the difficulty by introducing different terrain and conditions that can throw a wrench into your strategy. When you feel like you’ve mastered everything in the campaign, you can jump online and play PvP or locally with a combination of human/AI controlled players. Warbits is a truly wonderful game that deserves to be on every single iOS device. This game would have easily cemented itself as number 1 if it wasn’t for….
1. Game Dev Story
Everyone loves video games. Or at least if you’re reading this particular article on this particular website, you probably do. Have you ever thought about making a game and running a game company? Don’t worry, I’ve had that idea and watched it crash and burn a thousand times too. What about settling by playing a video game about you making a video game and running a game company? Interested? You should be.
Game Dev Story is a charming little game in the vein of “Theme” and “Sim” titles of old. The first (and in my opinion best) game to be released by developer Kairosoft, it was this game that set the tone for all their future releases. These games have been come to be known as “KairoCrack” – and for good reason. To this day, it’s still one of the most addicting little games I’ve ever been hooked on. I downloaded this way back when I got my first iPhone and I finally looked up and away from the screen about 5 hours after I started playing. It was THAT addicting and fun. Game Dev Story has you starting from the bottom as you build and run your dream video game company.
The idea is simple: Develop a game, release game, sell game, hope it sells well, get money, and re-invest money into next game. The interesting part is all the variables that play into that loop. You’ll need to hire employees. Do you spring for the employee with the expensive salary that has great experience? Or will the novice coder with the low salary learn enough to eventually become a master? You’ll need to decide what consoles to invest in and develop for, and what genres to create games in.
One of the coolest parts of the game is that it follows the same trajectory and evolution of the video game industry itself. You start off as a lowly company developing a game for old school PCs, moving on to NES type 8-bit consoles, all the way to current gen technology and beyond (the parodies of all the real life consoles through history are great). If you know your video game history, you’ll have an advantage of knowing which consoles to invest in, and which ended up with an extremely short life span.
As you progress through the game there are always dozens of things to consider and your decisions could have you set to become the next EA or bombing and becoming the next Factor 5. You’ll need to keep training your employees (of which can have several different types of careers inside your company) in order to create the best games possible. If you have a incredible game that becomes extremely popular – you’re able to craft a sequel. With a little bit of luck and proper management, you’ll have a number of hit franchises on your hands. I found myself obsessively creating backstories to each game I put out and imagining what the game I was creating would actually look like. Sometimes I knew it was shovelware to pay the bills, other times I sat on the edge of my seat hoping that my third sequel to the dating-sim that sold millions of copies was still popular enough to fund my next new AAA IP. As you continue creating games, you start to unlock a variety of new genres that you’ll want to try your hand in. Just be careful and watch the popularity of certain genres however, that way you don’t put out that robot-RPG nobody wanted like I did.
Running a successful game company isn’t just about creating games of course. You’ll need to manage advertising, events like trade shows and award ceremonies, employee training and development, R&D, as well as doing the occasional contract work to earn some extra income and to keep your employees sharp. While it may seem like a lot to keep track of, it never feels overwhelming and everything you do feels like progress and makes you feel like a savvy businessman.
It’s one of the first games I ever played on my smartphone and it is still installed to this day. Game Dev Story takes the cake for the most underrated mobile game you haven’t played. Now go rectify that.