Freemium is big business. Mobile gaming is big business. It was only a matter of time until these two got together, and this year they got together a lot. While not every game was gold (in fact, a lot of them were downright terrible), there were a number of freemium mobile games that really shined in 2011.

The following list doesn’t include anything that also appeared on Facebook, but that wasn’t by design. Are Facebook developers not as quick to embrace the mobile platform as the rest of the world? It’s an interesting question – and one we’re hoping to see answered in 2012. In the meantime, though, here are some great freemium gaming you can enjoy on the go.

#5 – Drag Racing

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When is a racing game not a racing game? When it doesn’t actually let you do any racing, I suppose. That’s certainly the case here, but as Grand Prix Story proved in our Best Android Games of 2011 round-up, racing games don’t always have to be about sitting behind the steering wheel.

Well… ok. Drag Racing does let you complete races by hitting the accelerator and the gear shift, but that’s not really what the game is about. It’s about upgrading your ride to get the best performance possible. Tires, engines, turbo – the whole nine yards. And then it’s about taking those rides online to try and best the competition. For car aficionados looking for a game that offers bite-sized, quick-fix gaming, Drag Racing hit the sweet spot in 2011.

#4 – Dragonvale

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There have been plenty of freemium zoo management games on mobile over the last few years, but how many of those put you in charge of a zoo filled with dragons? Dragonvale was Backflip Studio’s first foray into Facebook-style social gaming, and we’re really hoping it’s not their last. Breeding and raising a variety of dragons has a very “gotta catch’em all” appeal, and it’s something that’s hard to walk away from.

Besides, with millions upon millions of hours already put into the dragon-slaying RPG Skyrim this fall, who else is going to breed their replacements?

#3 – Poker Pals

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“Asynchronous multiplayer” became something of a buzz word in 2011. Basically, all it means is turn-based multiplayer where both players don’t need to be present at the same time. Think chess by mail – that sort of thing. A lot of games, from Hanging With Friends to Kard Combat did a great job of bringing asynchronous play to the masses. But none managed to feel quite as fresh or as fun as Poker Pals.

A little bit poker and a little bit Scrabble, players in Poker Pals take turns placing playing card-style tiles on a grid-shaped board. The object? To make a poker hand and earn points. Like everything on this list, the game is a free download, but unlike the rest, the only really “freemium” element here is that it’s ad-supported. If you want to do away with those, though, there’s a premium version of the game available for purchase that will still let you play against your ad-supported friends.

#2 – Tiny Tower

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Do you remember the old PC classic SimTower? Well what would I say if there was a game that stripped away all of its complexity, added in some adorable pixel people, and left you with a freemium title that’s simple to grasp yet impossible to put down? That, in a nutshell, is Tiny Tower.

Apple’s own pick for Game of the Year 2011, Tiny Tower puts players in charge of an ever-growing skyscraper filled with residences and businesses. The people who live in the tower have their own likes and dislikes, and it’s up to you to build, stock, and cash out stores that will best complement their skill sets. NimbleBit really knocked one out of the park this year, giving players a tower they’d all be proud to call home.

#1 – The Sims Freeplay

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What?? A game that’s not even out yet has made the list? How can that be?!

It’s a bold move to pick a game that’s not on the App Store yet as our #1 pick, but we’ve played it, and trust me – it’s that good. The Sims Freeplay isn’t simply “The Sims Social goes mobile,” it’s a brand new experience that blends the existing gameplay of The Sims 3 with new freemium elements that just make sense. Players will have to wait in real time as their Sims do things like sleep, eat, and flirt with the neighbour – and while you’re waiting, you can take control of any other Sim in the neighbourhood and help guide their lives. That’s right – The Sims Freeplay puts you in charge of an entire community of Sims!

It’s a highly polished title that doesn’t shove its freemium nature down your throat, yet at the same time embraces the free-to-play structure with both arms. Want to know what that feels like? The Sims Freeplay launches on the iPhone and iPad tomorrow, December 15th 2011.

Looking for more great freemium mobile games from 2011? Be sure to check our reviews of Blood & Glory, Shadow Era, Kard Combat, Snoopy’s Street Fair, Monster Pet Shop, and Dream Zoo.