Top 15 mobile games of 2012

Mobile games continue to play a large role in gaming circles, with low-cost and ease of access driving record sales of app-based gaming experiences for iOS and Android devices. A ton of new games come out every week, which is both a blessing and a curse. Picking just a few for any top games list is often an exercise in futility, as there really are too many to count. What follows, then, is a list of the games that impressed GamesBeat this year, those that stood out above the flood of constantly released mobile games — and those would still be worth playing in 2013.

The Walking Dead
Released: July
Platforms: iOS
Developer: Telltale Games

Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead is groundbreaking in more than one way. An episodic adventure game in the classic style, today? Turns out, it’s a winner due to brilliant storytelling, solid controls, and, well, zombies. It’s based on the award-winning The Walking Dead comic book and television series, and by making this into a video game, it allowed for the introduction a new lead and set of supporting characters — a brilliant move. This enabled its authors to explore the same themes and ideas as the TV show and the comic book, but with a different emotional tone. Lee Everett and his young charge, Clementine, fill the emotional heart of the story in a way that Rick and his wife never quite do.

Curiosity
Curiosity
Released: November
Platforms: iOS
Developer: 22cans

The first release from Peter Molyneaux and 22cans is an experiment in massively multiplayer gaming with a simple yet compelling premise: “What’s in the center of the cube?” Like a huge virtual Tootsie Pop, the curiosity cube has layers upon layers of colored squares. You simply tap squares to remove them from the top layer of the world-sized cube — you and half a million players others using their iOS devices. Curiosity distills the very essence of its namesake, with teasing lines of prose scrolling across layers, various pictures buried in the skin of each cube layer, and some random coin earning mechanics. All of this seems to add up to one very innovative tapping experience that’s of a less game and more of a participatory experience.

Draw Something
Draw Something
Released: February
Platforms: iOS, Android
Developer: OMGPOP, Inc.
Draw Something was Zynga’s big gamble. Developed by indie team OMGPOP, Draw Something went viral and became as well known as Words With Friends or even Angry Birds. Why did this game become so popular? On the face of it, it’s a simple concept: This is nothing more than multiplayer Pictionary. Get a word and draw a picture that a friend attempts to guess. If they choose the correct word, you both get more points. Playing Draw Something is a lot more compelling, however. Artistic individuals challenge themselves to illustrate more and more abstract words with more and more elaborate, even painterly, images. Unfortunately, the Draw Something bubble burst soon after Zynga spent an obscene amount of money to acquire it. Still, the game continues to have a loyal following, with folks spending real money to buy new colors, word lists, and the like.

Baldur's Gate Enhanced Edition
Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition
Released: December
Platforms: iOS
Developer: Overhaul Games
One of the pillars of RPG gaming from BioWare recently showed up on iOS, and it still made a huge splash with retro enthusiasts and hardcore RPG fans alike. While the enhancements include new playable characters with new backstories and touch-appropriate controls, this is essentially the same game as came out for PC 14 years ago. The game uses Advanced Dungeons & Dragons rules, making it as hardcore and difficult as the original PC game. While RPG games continue to streamline and simplify to interest new players, this 1998 gem remains as true to the form as ever, which is a powerful draw.

The World Ends With You
The World Ends With You
Released: August
Developer: Square Enix

The World Ends With You made me sit up and take notice when it first released in North America in 2008. The J-Pop flavor of the score; the quirky angst of protagonist Neku and his spunky, optimistic partners, Shiki, Joshua, and Beat; the fun mechanics of searching for and then fighting demons; the overarching storyline of The Game and its Reapers — this is not a typical handheld game. When it came to iOS this year, the loss of the dual-screen combat mechanic proved to have less of an impact than I feared. It’s still a ton of fun to play, with an irreverent wit and unique gameplay mechanics I’ve not seen anywhere else.

Bastion_iPad_01
Bastion
Released: August
Platforms: iOS
Developer: Supergiant Games

Supergiant Games had a monster hit on its hands with Bastion, one of the best downloadable console games of the last several years. That it’s now available on an iPad or iPhone for five bucks is a revelation. Players follow The Kid through a dying world that somehow re-assembles itself ahead of the main character. The soundtrack is an oddly joyous combination of future-Western loops, guitar work, and haunting vocals — be sure to get the soundtrack if nothing else. The narration makes it all come together, as it tells its simple but compelling story about saving the world, one hammered monster at a time. It works exceedingly well on the touchscreen, too.

Plague, Inc. Global Map
Plague Inc.
Released: May
Platforms: iOS, Android
Developer: Ndemic Creations
You’d think that a game featuring the travel paths of a viral plague would be dead boring, but Ndemic Creations proves that a game that’s essentially a spreadsheet simulation of a deadly viral plague across the globe is compelling entertainment. It has no fancy 3D graphics, cutscenes, or voice work, just a map of the world, several choices about how to best spread the disease most effectively (rats? air travel? mosquitos?), and a well-built simulation of how the world responds to your pandemic infection. It’s a chilling and realistic look at how disease can and does spread from place to place.

Angry Birds Star Wars
Angry Birds Star Wars
Released: November
Platforms: iOS, Android
Developer: Rovio Entertainment
Rovio somehow put two of the strongest intellectual properties together into one incredibly lust-worthy combination. Star Wars plus Angry Birds seems like an odd match, but it hit number one in the iTunes app charts within the first two and a half hours of release. It likely sold a huge number of copies via the Google Play store as well: Who can resist Angry Birds with lightsabers and officially sanctioned Star Wars sound effects? No one, that’s who.

Letterpress
Letterpress
Released: October
Platforms: iOS
Developer: atebits
Letterpress is like Boggle with friends with a particularly nasty twist: When you tap out words using the letters provided in the grid, they turn blue, taking points and potential victory from your opponent, chosen at random or from your Game Center friends list. The longer the word, the more points you get, and the less your opponent can rack up. It’s Othello or Go with letters and words, all built with care and a clean, modern design aesthetic.

Fieldrunners 2
Fieldrunners 2
Released: July
Platforms: iOS
Developer: Subatomic Studios
Tower defense games are all over the various mobile platforms, perhaps more than any other type of game. The opportunity for deep strategy exists with the tower defense genre, as does quick, pick-up-and-play instant gratification. Fieldrunners 2 is the apogee of tower defense games, as it boasts a variety of sub-genres, like open fields, fixed path, and survival wave modes. It has plenty of towers for you to buy and upgrade, more enemy types, and three levels of difficulty to try your patience and skill.

Infinity Blade II
Infinity Blade II
Released: November 2011
Platforms: iOS
Developer: Chair Entertainment Group
Infinity Blade II came out in November of 2011, so it just missed our top iOS games post last year. Let’s rectify that now. This is a showcase title on any mobile device, though it does only exist on iOS at this point.  Infinity Blade II is a must-own title for iPad an iPhone gamers wanting to see the cutting edge of mobile gaming and visual design, due to the combination of console-level graphical quality and surprisingly tactile combat. It makes good on the promise of the first title, adding more story, more giant beasts to slay, and a continually satisfying challenge throughout.

Horn
Horn
Released: August
Platforms: iOS, Android
Developer: Phosphor Games
Horn surprises with a well-developed fantasy world, solid controls, and a quirky sense of humor that permeates across encounters, levels, and character design. Horn is a delight to play; it’s also farther away from Zynga’s core casual business as I thought was even possible. The platforming is well done, the three-dimensional environments are fun to explore and play through, and the enemies are a striking mix of science and magic.

Super Hexagon
Super Hexagon
Released: August
Platforms: iOS
Developer: Terry Cavanagh

Those who like punishing, tough retro arcade games are bound to thrill to Super Hexagon, developed by indie darling Terry Cavanagh. The point is to rotate your triangle-shaped avatar around a pulsating, spinning, chip-tune spewing hexagon, avoiding the walls that close in on the center in wave after endless wave. Survival is the point of Super Hexagon, moving minimally and staying one step ahead of things as they spin, flash, and pound like a bad trip at a rave.

Waking Mars
Waking Mars
Released: February
Platforms: iOS, Android
Developer: Tiger Style Games

Waking Mars takes you on a trip to the red planet to explore, trapping you underneath the surface. You’ll need to navigate a maze-like system of caves, teeming with varieties of plant life that you’ll need to harness to survive, and, eventually, terraform Mars with. If you liked Spider: The Secret of Bryce Manor, you’ll enjoy Waking Mars for the story, the gorgeous artwork, and a compelling science fictional storyline set on one of our favorite planets to dream about.

Rayman Jungle Run
Rayman Jungle Run
Released: September
Platforms: iOS, Android
Developer: Ubisoft

The smartest thing Ubisoft could have done with its popular Rayman franchise was to release it to iOS and Android, not as a copycat game full of poorly translated controls schemes, but as a mobile title built specifically for the platform’s touch-based control systems. Rayman Jungle Run is an endless runner, like Canabalt or Jetpack Joyride, but it trades on the glorious cel-shaded illustration, cartoony animation, and delightful ukulele-infused soundtrack that made the console version of Rayman: Origins such fun to play. That joy translates well to the mobile version of Rayman as you jump, swing, and soar across several well designed levels with smooth touch controls.

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