Mobile gaming has faced a plague of free-to-play junk and obnoxious in-app purchases for several years now. But we’ve had some truly fantastic iOS and Android games release in 2015 that prove that the sector isn’t all about cash-grabs.
Developers like Square Enix Montreal and Moppin show, and realize, the potential within mobile games to be just as fun and compelling as traditional home consoles and PCs. Square Enix Montreal’s Lara Croft Go, for example, is a clever and challenging turn-based puzzle game with a beautiful art style. Moppin’s Downwell is also one of the best platformers of 2015, and you can play it on your iPhone.
While we still haven’t entirely shied away from releasing and consuming lazily made iOS and Android games, it is definitely getting better every year. Whether it’s helping trees sprout flowers in Prune or solving puzzles as Lara Croft, 2015 was a great year for mobile gaming, and these are the best mobile games to show why.
7. Star Wars: Uprising
Publisher Electronic Arts’ Star Wars: Battlefront wasn’t the only Star Wars game to release this year, as developer Kabam came out with the excellent Star Wars: Uprising.
Uprising (available for both iOS and Android devices) is an action role-playing game that’s easy to get into and treats the Star Wars franchise with the utmost respect. It manages to capture the feeling, aesthetic, and wonder of George Lucas’ timeless creation despite being relegated to a small mobile screen.
It contains a well-written story that takes place after Return of the Jedi, great characters, and fun role-playing mechanics. Plus, the free-to-play elements don’t feel intrusive. While it isn’t an overly ambitious Star Wars experience, and it does constantly bombard you with notifications to keep playing, it’s still the best way to escape to a galaxy far, far away on your phone.
6. Fallout Shelter
With a surprise announcement and release at E3 2015, developer Bethesda Softworks’ first mobile game, Fallout Shelter, is a great example of how to pull off free-to-play correctly.
The only in-app purchases available are for optional gear that you don’t ever really need to buy. But people did plenty of times, as the game went on to become a commercial success. Shelter takes place in the Fallout universe and has you assume the role of an Overseer, giving you your own vault to maintain and run.
It’s essentially a challenging and addicting resource management game in which you’ve to build rooms, keep the lights on, the radiation away, and draw new inhabitants into your community. Trying to figure out what roles to assign each vault dweller, keeping them happy, and seeing if some of them can hit it off and procreate is a rewarding experience. Shelter also employs Fallout’s charming character design that makes you instantly fall in love with the people you’re trying to protect.
5. Alto’s Adventure
Developer Snowman shows that speeding down treacherous slopes can actually be quite relaxing with Alto’s Adventure. This iOS game is essentially an endless runner but with snowboarding.
The player-character automatically moves to the right of the screen through procedurally generated landscapes while collecting coins, pulling off tricks, and possibly capturing llamas. (Who wouldn’t want to have a llama as a pet?) In Alto all you ever do is tap once to jump, and hold down while in midair to pull off a trick. With such overly-simplistic mechanics, why is Alto’s Adventure any good? Its dazzling art style and atmosphere, that’s why.
Alto’s Adventure takes place on a sumptuous mountain filled with dark forests, crumbling ruins, and icy slopes. The time of day and even the weather constantly change, adding to Alto’s already impressive aesthetic. It’s a setting that you just can’t help but want to revisit time and time again. Snowman’s little creation can be best described as a piece of interactive art that wants you to be a delighted sightseer.
4. Lara Craft Go
Just like Hitman Go did for Agent 47’s tense assassinations in 2014, Lara Croft Go perfectly captures Lara Croft’s PlayStation days as a globetrotting treasure hunter.
This is classic Lara at perhaps her best, in a mobile game that features action-packed turn-based puzzles, quick pacing, and a bright and colorful art design. Donning her trademark blue tank and shorts (a design the recent console reboots have abandoned), you move Croft through board game-like puzzles while avoiding grueling obstacles and maneuvering through well-designed levels.
The difficulty ramps up at an enjoyable pace as it constantly tests what you’ve learned in previous levels; Lara Croft Go never feels frustrating. It has the same sense of adventure, environmental storytelling, mystery, and intrigue of the old Tomb Raiders. Developer Square Enix Montreal expertly distills it all into one easily digestible mobile title, while also creating something that sounds and looks just as good as some console games today.
3. Pac-Man 256
You just can’t beat the classics, right? Well, developer Hipster Whale has slightly flipped the script with its particular take on the beloved and timeless Pac-Man series with fantastic results.
Pac-Man 256’s concept is simple but clever: Hipster Whale took a game with a static, confined arcade board and extended it into an endless series of procedurally generated corridors. It gets its name from the infamous glitched 256th level in the original Pac-Man. The game infinitely scrolls in front of you in an isometric 3D view, disallowing you from getting any built-in breaks or the opportunity to learn patterns and calmly strategize.
But it still contains that classic Pac-Man arcade gameplay that people have grown to love for a few decades now. Run away from the pesky ghosts, achieve a high score, and collect those yellow power pellets. You’ll just be doing all of the running and collecting more quickly and dangerously. This makes for a suspenseful, unpredictable, and exciting good time that fits perfectly on your mobile device.
Prune is a game by Joel McDonald in which you spent all of your time trimming trees and helping them grow out of the grow and reach their full height.
You do so by drawing a line from the base provided in order to draw the tree upward, and from there you’ll be trimming off certain branches causing other parts of the tree to continue growing. The goal of each level is having your trees sprout a certain amount of flowers by exposing them to sunlight, which becomes easier the taller your trees grow. If this sounds a bit boring, don’t worry — it’s entertaining.
Prune gets slightly more complex as you come across more dangerous obstacles like pollination. It quickly evolves into a challenging, addicting, and aesthetically pleasing physics puzzler that highlights the importance of nature and the dangers of pollution. It’s soundtrack is relaxing and the game is stunning to look at, with a simple but effective art design that employs a striking color palette. Prune looks like a moving, breathing ink wash painting and is an absolute joy to play.
In Downwell, developer Moppin’s (Ojiro Fumoto’s pseudonym) shooter roguelike platformer, you only have one objective: get to the bottom. You’re constantly moving down a bottomless pit and combating enemies.
Downwell’s gameplay loop is simply starting, hopping down, and seeing how long you can survive with your limited amount of life. Your character sports awesome and powerful gun boots that only shoot down, allowing you to remain in midair for a bit longer and clear as many enemies and obstacles as you can.
Downwell is challenging, but dying never feels too frustrating as the gameplay sessions are short enough that you don’t feel like you’ve lost too much progress. It’s a fast-paced platformer with great level and enemy design, an awesome retro chic aesthetic and solid gameplay. The attention to detail in Downwell is staggering as you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better looking pixel art game on your iPhone, and especially one that plays so perfectly.