Mobile gaming has really come a long way—who here still remembers playing Snake on their old Nokia phones? In just a couple of decades, the hardware on mobile devices has seen such huge improvements that some mobile games aren’t seen as any lesser than if played on home gaming systems.
In late 2019, yet another shift has occurred in terms of what we can expect from gaming. Apple released Apple Arcade, its mobile game subscription service; think Netflix for gaming, with access to over a hundred games for Apple devices. Most notably, these titles are free of in-game advertisements and microtransactions.
There is also GameClub, a similar subscription service focused on resurrecting the App Store’s best classic games that have been lost to time with incompatibility issues over the years. The market is currently oversaturated with money-grubbing games that focus on tempting players with in-app purchases, so we are very excited to see how gaming subscription can yield offerings that truly bring the focus back to quality gameplay.
With the current health crisis, it’s likely you’ll want to stay safe indoors, so here are our top picks for free, paid, and subscription-based mobile games to keep yourself entertained over the next few weeks!
If you’ve played Journey before, you’ll likely also enjoy the new offering from thatgamecompany. In the typical studio style, players are dropped into a beautiful landscape without much guidance and are left to explore a huge world with stunning stylistic visuals.
Central to Sky: Children of Light is a minimalistic social component: all characters are voiceless, but when you encounter other players, you can hold out a candle to greet them, sing to each other, exchange glowing butterflies, or explore together.
The wonderful visuals and sense of flight when a player takes another by the hand and brings them soaring across the sky are breathtaking. Sky’s entire experience is simple, meditative, and memorable. Available for iOS and Android
Image courtesy of TouchArcade
What happens when you merge an old-school point-and-click adventure game with an action RPG? Figment immediately springs to mind.
This surreal musical adventure is set within the human mind, and the world is filled with thoughts, memories, and inner voices. Fears and negative thoughts manifest as nightmarish creatures that spread darkness through the mind, and players must face these fears.
Everything is alive and presented in hand-drawn animations and whimsical visual mechanics, and the music plays an instrumental part in it all. Available for iOS
Escape dungeon levels through “creative use of friendly fire.” You play as a party of three: a knight, a mage, and a ranger, each with special abilities.
In order to progress through the levels, you’ll literally need to have your characters take one for the team by sacrificing them in inventive ways.
Say you need to get over a pit full of spikes; use your Mage to freeze a teammate into an ice block so you can traverse the danger! This 8-bit-style platformer is quirky, messed up, and just tons of fun. Available for iOS and Android
Image courtesy of Alpha Beta Gamer
Ever contemplated how the life of a firecracker is beautiful but sad? In It’s Full of Sparks, you are a sentient firecracker who needs to get to a pool of water to keep from exploding.
Get past obstacles by switching between corresponding colour-coded lens; for example, a red spikey wall will vanish when viewed through the red goggles. Only a single coloured lens can be used at once, so frantic coordination à la Guitar Hero finger work is eventually needed. The gameplay elements are well thought out, and its comical style lends to the overall charm. Available for iOS and Android
As with all other Civilization games, you build your own empire starting from the Stone Age, using strategy to defeat your enemies, and upgrading technology to eventually move your civilisation into the modern age.
Players can choose to proceed as 20 different historical leaders, each with their own skill sets and disadvantages. Vanquish invaders, evolve the tools you need for your empire, forge useful alliances then subsequently turn on them to your favour, and try to emerge on top. If you’ve always harboured big dreams of taking over the world, Civilization VI is your game. Available on iOS
Imagine a book that isn’t just a static completed work, but an ongoing progress being written by a bunch of unhinged authors who can’t decide on one coherent plotline and are also wasted on absinthe.
AI Dungeon starts by having you select the setting for the story (fantasy, mystery, or apocalyptic), then responds to your inputs by drawing upon OpenAI’s text generator, which reads the internet.
The result of this collaborative world-building is an endless stream of dreamlike storytelling, mostly wildly inventive and at times hopped up on acid. You’ll undoubtedly have some bonkers content to share in your group chat. Available on iOS and Android
Image courtesy of OnTechEdge
The makers of the adorable Tsuki Adventure have come up with yet another idle game. Adorable Home is similar to the wildly popular Neko Atsume and Travel Frog, in that you slowly amass a collection of animals and upgrade your home.
Sending your partner off to work with a thoughtfully packed lunch box and interacting with your pets will earn you Love, the in-game currency, and when you check in every now and then, the critters will be doing something cute that you can capture as a photograph.
This is the perfect game to while away some peaceful hours with. Available on iOS and Android
In a bizarre twist to a single-player card game, Underhand blends rogue-like and resource management characteristics with a touch of the occult. Similar in concept to Reigns, this game has players manage situations that arise from overseeing a group of followers—only in this rendition, you preside over a cult.
Apart from appeasing ancient beings thirsting after human sacrifices, you also have to worry about taxes, rival cults, and suspicious police snooping around. Draw event cards from the deck and choose how to react, but make your choices wisely. Who knew it was this difficult being a Lovecraftian cultist? Available on Android
Some of the most gorgeous visuals in gaming are combined with a soundtrack to match in GRIS; every screenshot you take while playing is wallpaper-worthy. You play as the title character Gris, a girl dealing with the various stages of grief who slowly heals by adding more colours to the world. This game had originally launched on PC and Nintendo Switch, but the mobile version includes all the stunning content at a fraction of the price.
As the name might suggest, Minit is an action-adventure game that lasts 60 seconds at a time.
During each of these minute-long periods, players can explore a bit more of the world, pick up useful items, solve puzzles, and meet interesting characters.
When the time runs out, you’re booted back to the beginning. Luckily, your increasing knowledge of the game will allow you to progress a little further each time, and you’d be surprised at how much adventuring could fit into 60-second intervals.
Image courtesy of iDownloadBlog
Even back in the early days of the iPhone and App Store, Rolando was a title much loved for its original concept and being engaging with what mobile devices can do.
The 2008 original now only survives in collective memories, but the developer has rebuilt the game from ground up and released Rolando: Royal Edition as a remastering. Think LocoRoco mixed with Yoshi’s Crafted World, but on your phone. If you’ve missed the original, you need to try out this staple in mobile gaming history.
This title is very much an unconventional game that defies being pigeonholed into genres. Players interact directly with objects on-screen in an intuitive experience and sometimes work with the iPhone’s physical features as well. It is also non-linear; depending on what each player chooses to interact with first, the order in which your progress is unlocked will be different.
Song of Bloom is also outstanding at combining various art styles and mechanics into one cohesive experience. This game is also a reminder of the great capabilities of the mini-computers we all carry around.
Image courtesy of APKPure.com
In the totalitarian state of Beholder, you play as a landlord who spies on the tenants of your apartment for the government.
Play by the rules of the regime, or secretly help people, but whatever your choices, beware that everything you do has its consequences. The stakes are high and there are multiple endings to unlock, which makes this a brilliant dystopian title.
In this slow-paced, meditative game, players are put in charge of a tiny farm which is managed by just one old lady. As you help Talma feed her livestock, plant her crops, and even make cheese by churning milk, you discover notes and letters that let you glimpse her once-vibrant life.
The sometimes frustratingly slow pacing and delicate musical accompaniment are deliberate, highlighting the quiet air of solitude experienced by an elderly empty-nester. There is nonetheless an underlying sense of strength as Talma toddles around and carries on without complaint or being needy. The contemplative mood in The Stillness of the Wind might just make you want to visit your nan more often.
The lovely folks who have given us gems like the Cube Escape and Rusty Lake series have returned with a new point-and-click adventure. Unlike the previous offerings, however, The White Door looks much more simplistic and stark because it’s in black and white.
Players embody a man who wakes up with severe memory loss in a mental health facility, and as his memory returns, so does the colour in the world. The gameplay is also conducted with an innovative split-screen system, allowing players another level of experience. If you like suspenseful and surreal puzzlers, The White Door should be right up your alley.
As the spiritual successor to hit game Her Story, you can expect great things from Sam Barlow’s latest whodunnit Telling Lies. The lives of four characters are told through a series of recorded conversations, which players find by searching keywords. Put on your thinking cap (or a Sherlock Holmes deerstalker), because with some ingenuity and smart detective skills, players can unravel the truth from the lies, and piece together the overarching story from each single-sided video clip.
This is golfing like you’ve never experienced before. Really, the only characteristic What The Golf? has retained from the sport is getting an object into a hole.
For example, your on-screen character could be pulling back at the tee, but instead of hitting the ball when you swing, it’s the character himself who flies off down the green instead.
Surreal, unpredictable, and cheeky, What The Golf? is one of those rare breeds that is genuinely funny. Available on Apple Arcade
The world within Manifold Garden has been largely likened to the works of Escher; it is infinite, dizzyingly abstract, but has a sense of order nonetheless.
Rethinking linear rules is the way to figuring out the complex logic in this universe. Grapple with the physics of gravity manipulation as you navigate colossal towers, cubic trees, and neverending flights of stairs. The game is undoubtedly challenging, giving players just enough clues to puzzle things out and feel satisfied afterwards. Available on Apple Arcade
Think RPG merged with a colour-matching puzzle. Your avatar has to slice through a grid of multicoloured enemies, but can only chain kills together with creatures of the same colour.
The more enemies you kill in a single chain, the better you perform, with the possibility of linking your kills to another colour so you can change up the entire board with a single move.
Grindstone is cartoonishly gorey and incredibly satisfying when you manage to slice a slew of enemies into meat cubes in one go. Available on Apple Arcade
From the makers of the amazing Monument Valley series, here’s a shorter, narrative-driven game to supplement more time-consuming or heavier titles. Players embody a handywoman who assists secondary characters by fixing their belongings.
In the process, you learn the significance behind each item and also help repair their broken relationships. In this modern age where simply replacing broken goods is the norm, there’s something to be said about how soothing it can be to repair knick-knacks instead, even if it’s only virtual. Available on Apple Arcade
Image courtesy of Engadget
A showcase game for Apple Arcade, Sayonara Wild Hearts is a fantastic mishmash of rhythm gaming, platformer, and endless runner, all accompanied by gorgeous visuals and an amazing pop soundtrack. Run, fly, or drive through levels set to different songs as you collect hearts, attack enemies, and avoid obstacles.
Each level brings something different to keep you guessing and on your toes, but the common factor is listening to the music and reacting instinctively according to the rhythm instead of thinking too much. Available on Apple Arcade
The original Plunderland was released about a whole decade ago, but has survived the ages and is no less fun after its revival. The graphics may be cute, but your mission as a dastardly pirate is much less wholesome. Loot and pillage as much as possible to upgrade your ship and weapons so you can loot and pillage some more.
Much like the Pocket God of old, a huge part of the fun here is interacting with the game world itself: characters can be picked up and flung around, drowned, set on fire, and much more, and you can also manipulate inanimate objects lying around. It’s so sadistic but incredibly satisfying being a pirate overlord. Available for iOS; Android coming soon
Another old game was thoughtfully given a new lease of life by GameClub. In Spider: The Secret of Bryce Manor, you play as a little spider exploring a vast, detailed mansion. By casting webs, players can navigate the world and unlock the way forward, as well as catch a variety of bugs.
There is an overarching narrative as suggested in the title, but it’s tucked into the background, so players can choose to piece the mystery together or simply ignore it. If you want more, GameClub has also republished the sequel Spider 2: Rite of the Shrouded Moon. Available for iOS; Android coming soon
Dear Reader pulls excerpts from important works of literature and turns them into word puzzles. Expect to be filling in blanks, reshuffling words, guessing at letters, and cheating through CliffsNotes in a way that you probably haven’t since Year 12.
The sheer amount of books to be unlocked and different puzzles to unravel will blow you away. Players will most likely come out of this feeling either incredibly dumb or incredibly smart. Available on Apple Arcade