Another year down, another bajillion mobile games played. We’ve seen the good, the bad, the weird; we’ve seen it all.
It’s hard to come up with a truly definitive list of the greatest iPhone and Android games of 2015 with so many different titles in the mix, but looking back at the year that was, there are a few standouts truly deserving of proper recognition.
These are our picks for 2015’s ten very best.
10. Land Sliders
Like most great mobile games, Land Sliders is simple enough to grasp. Swipe your finger around the screen to move the world beneath your hero’s feet, guiding them to their favorite items and dodging enemies along the way. There’s a soft challenge here; you’ll always hit a wall, yet you’ll feel yourself getting better at Land Sliders with every play. And with plenty of new heroes to unlock, there’s always something to work towards.
Even cooler than the base game, though, was a very mysterious meta-game that the team had concocted with partners all over the world. Elements of the game would lead to real world coordinates, and in those coordinates were USB keys containing clues to solving an in-game puzzle. BRILLIANT.
Fans of interactive fiction have found a lot of love on mobile storefronts in recent years. From the award-winning adaptation of inkle (80 Days, Sorcery!) to original fare by top companies like Tin Man Games, there’s always something great to read and play. Lifeline, by 3 Minute Games, brought something wildly original to the genre this year with something you could never find in a print book: real-time gameplay.
Players communicate with a fictional character as they explore their world in real-time, with text message-style updates whenever they need to reach out to you again. It’s the Tamagotchi of fiction. Lifeline was so successful that it has already spawned two sequels and plenty of imitators — and it’s a trend we hope to see continue in 2016.
When it came to games of pure action and finesse, few were as universally loved as Downwell this year. A game of descent, Downwell tasks players to survive as they journey deeper and deeper into a hole filled with monsters, using only their gunboots for protection. Lucky for players, the selection of footwear in Downwell is fairly comprehensive, offering everything from shotguns to lasers.
With upgrades, enemies, and combos galore, Downwell was the gift that kept on giving for twitch-loving action gamers in 2015.
If you’re a gamer of a certain age, you’ve probably spent a lot of your life quietly hoping for a game that gives you the same sense of side-scrolling wonder and joy that you once felt as a kid. Heroki is that game.
Reinventing 90’s quality platforming by removing the platforms, Heroki is a game about a propeller-headed protagonist flying through intricately crafted stages, unlocking pathways and collecting goodies along the way. Give your inner child plenty of reason to smile. Play Heroki.
6. Call of Champions
There are certain genres that seem like a natural fit for mobile, yet fail to gain much traction. Until 2014’s release of Vainglory, that would have been a fair way to describe MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena) games. 2015 saw a few new contenders try to perform at the same level, but only one really wowed us: Call of Champions.
The first MOBA from veteran mobile developers Spacetime Studios, Call of Champions works so well because it doesn’t try to copy the PC-focused MOBA template. Instead Call of Champions streamlines the experience, distilling the MOBA formula down to its bare essentials, and re-building the idea from the ground up for mobile. The end result? Accessible gameplay and five-minute sessions perfectly suited to gaming on the go.
5. Hitman: Sniper
Minimalism in games is commonly found in their art or gameplay — but what if we step back and look at minimalism as a design philosophy? It may sound strange to describe Hitman: Sniper as a brilliant example of minimalist game design, and yet with only one stage and nigh infinite replayability, that’s exactly what Square Enix Montreal has accomplished here.
Players are given a single, sprawling mansion as their target, and tasked with identifying different targets and completing different objectives each and every round. The replayability that’s been achieved with a single map is staggering. Hitman: Sniper is, without a doubt, the single best sniper game on the App Store or Google Play.
4. Lara Croft GO
Taking an existing franchise and turning it into something else isn’t just hard; it’s risky. Many developers who’ve tried have learned pretty quickly that a sub-par, off-genre release can wreak havoc on public perception of their brand. Square Enix, however, seem more than happy to do a little dabbling — and it’s paid off. Lara Croft, star of the Tomb Raider series, appeared in the turn-based puzzle game Lara Croft GO this year (and it was so universally loved that Apple picked it as their Game of the Year).
What made it work so well? The series has always had a strong puzzling element, so the transition to straight-puzzler didn’t violate the spirit of the series. Lara Croft GO still felt like a classic Tomb Raider adventure, even if it was one with plenty of moments to pause and scratch your head.
A winning art style and spectacular puzzle designs certainly didn’t hurt, either.
3. Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions Evolved
Few games took us by surprise quite as pleasantly as Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions Evolved. The third entry in the series that made twin stick shooters cool again, we approached this one with hesitation. “Could they really bring anything new to the table at this point?”
The answer was a resounding “yes.” Geometry Wars 3 took the twin stick gameplay we already loved, plenty of familiar modes, and then wrapped them — literally — around a 3D playing field. Players circumnavigate a variety of maps as they try to survive, rack up a high score, and more. The addition of level-based gameplay (you’ll move through a map Candy Crush-style) gives players a sense of progress that Geometry Wars had otherwise been lacking. This isn’t old school, endless, high-score gameplay anymore. There are stages and challenges.
This is the Geometry Wars game you never knew you wanted, and yet somehow had been waiting for all along.
2. PAC-MAN 256
In 2014, Crossy Road launched and gave the world something Konami never could: a Frogger game we refuse to put down. If you’re the studio behind that classic arcade homage, though, how do you follow it up with a release that’s somehow just as appealing?
Two words (and a hyphen): PAC-MAN.
In collaboration with Bandai Namco, Hipster Whale released PAC-MAN 256 this summer; an endless twist on everybody’s favorite arcade game. Players navigate the board in classic PAC-MAN style, but can never go backwards as a glitch (inspired by the very real level 256 glitch) is forever nipping at their heels like digital lava. This time around there are new ghosts with new behaviors, and plenty of power-ups and upgrades that can be unlocked roguelike-style between rounds with the coins you’ve earned.
Spry Fox have never let us down, and 2015 was no exception.
The creators of Triple Town (and Road Not Taken and Leap Day) decided to return to the world of adorable bears in 2015, creating a unique word game that harkens back to the days of their oft-forgotten web-based gem, Panda Poet.
Alphabear challenges players to grow their bears as big as they can by clearing away letters. You can spell a word using any letters on the board, but once spelled, every unused letter has a timer that ticks down. Once the timer reaches zero on a letter, it turns into an unmovable rock that will limit the growth of your ursine companions. The more you play, the more bears you’ll unlock. And they’re not just worth unlocking for their cuteness: each bear will have its own play bonuses attached to it, changing your strategy with every furry friend in play.
Was your favorite game not on the list? Be sure to read our picks for The 10 Best iPad and Android Tablet Games. Many of them are universal; we just felt they played better on a tablet.