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.
If you liked Alto’s Adventure, you’ll love Alto’s Odyssey. The sequel to Snowman’s endless runner — sorry, endless snowboarder — is a stylish and highly-addictive sandboarding game with multiple biomes to discover. Just like the original, your goal is to ride for as long as possible while avoiding rocks, completing tasks and racking up high scores with a mixture of backflips and death-defying grinds. Odyssey introduces a new move, wall rides, that serve as both a gnarly trick and traversal mechanic for reaching higher lines. It’s a welcome addition to an already stellar iOS and Android game. NS
The Banner Saga
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
Fire Emblem Heroes
Fire Emblem Heroes is a mixed bag. On one hand, it’s a superb translation of Nintendo’s extremely complex tactically RPG for mobile devices. A fun campaign filled with new characters and series favorites is complemented by regular special events and a couple of engaging multiplayer modes.
On the other hand, it’s a disappointingly predatory game from Nintendo, a family company. You see, Heroes, like many popular Japanese mobile games, has you “summoning” characters using in-game currency. While Nintendo is generously giving away this currency, it’ll also happily sell you it at extremely high rates. Even buying the best-value pack (which costs $75), the cost to summon a random character ranges between $1.60 and $2.70.
If you trust yourself to not spend hundreds of dollars to unlock your favorite characters, Fire Emblem Heroes is a superb game that will keep you engaged for weeks and years. If you have any doubts about controlling your impulse, or any history with gambling addiction, steer well clear. AS
Life Is Strange
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
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
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
When Pokémon Go launched in 2016, there were some obvious omissions, such as trading and player-versus-player trainer battles. In early 2019? Almost every problem and missing feature has been addressed. The game isn’t perfect, but the fundamentals — walking around outside, spinning Pokéstop signs and catching critters — make this a truly unique and health-beneficial experience for Pokémon fans. The daily “research” quests and timed events, which boost the appearance of certain monsters, are a great excuse to log in every day. Niantic is slowly expanding the Pokédex, too, so that your collection is never quite finished. NS
Reigns: Her Majesty
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
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.
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.