As we barrel into the golden age of app gaming, it can be hard to fathom how far we’ve come. But in this new age of console-level graphics and specialized control schemes, there are some titles that will always remain at the top.
Whether it’s through the innovative application of the touch screen or simple-yet-effective gameplay loops, the app games in this list are a stark reminder that the best app games of all time are those that turned mobile into a platform worthy of the gaming industry’s respect.
Sayonara Wild Hearts
This mesmerizing musical odyssey from Simogo should come with a warning: not suitable for gamers going through a breakup. Though if you do want to engage in a moment of masochism, then have at it. Just note that it’s hard to gorge on ice cream with your phone in both hands.
High-octane stages see players navigate a surreal endless runner rhythm game to the synthpop sounds of Daniel Olsén and Jonathan Eng, with vocals by Linnea Olsson. Marketed as a “pop album video game,” the soundtrack is arguably the title’s biggest boon and worthy of its many awards.
Award-winners are unsurprisingly rife in this list of the greatest app games, and Ustwo’s Monument Valley is a prime example. The pretty puzzler and its sequel are lauded as works of art in app game form, with stark similarities to the works of M.C. Escher drawings.
It’s difficult to fall foul of the frustrations of puzzle-solving in this supremely chill world of optical illusions and impossible objects. On the contrary, players might find themselves wilfully lingering in the beautiful mazes as the stellar soundtrack plays softly on in the background.
Downwell is one of the best app games published by the prolific and dependable Devolver Digital. It’s a high-energy shoot-em-up in which the gun-boot-totin’ protagonist drops down a well (hence the impeccably chosen name) and lays waste to the beasties within.
Downwell makes full use of the vertical orientation of a phone screen as players indulge in a no holds barred action-packed caper filled with ridiculous boot-based weapons, a banging soundtrack, and a vivid pixelated art style that makes use of just four colors. Chalk another of the world’s greatest app games to Devolver.
Has Monument Valley got you feeling a little too zen? Perhaps it’s time to balance things out with Super Hexagon – a brain-melting paragon of touchscreen gaming. Players control a triangle in the midst of a heart-thumping chiptune rave replete with flashing colors and a series of tilting walls that must be dodged in order to advance. It’s a wild ride.
The one-man dev team somehow took an incredibly simple gameplay loop and turned it into something that will send players reeling within minutes. But in an addictive way.
It’s hard to imagine that Blizzard’s recent foray into mobile gaming could ever yield results as favorable as its OG app game, Hearthstone. Set in the world (small ‘w’) of Warcraft, Hearthstone is the foremost card game on mobile, racking up more players than its card-based competitors for good reason.
Its recognizable cast of characters rendered in a beautiful hand-drawn art style are constantly bolstered with updates and expansions that keep things fresh year after year. With a thriving esports scene to boot, it’s hard to see any other title in the genre stealing its crown any time soon.
Released in 2012 by Danish developers Kiloo and SYBO Games, Subway Surfers has become the go-to endless runner in recent years, surpassing a mind-blowing three billion downloads in 2020. And it’s not hard to see why. The colorful world of hoverboarding graffiti artists holds an ageless appeal, and that’s not to mention its addictive gameplay loop.
Aside from infiltrating the magical world of memes, Subway Surfers has even earned its own YouTube-based spinoff series. And yes, that is 30 million views on episode one alone.
It’s our firm belief that if you can gamify every aspect of life, then it should be done. Thankfully, Duolingo ran with that ethos to help ensure the world becomes a multi-lingual paradise in the most accessible way possible. And it’s even got the stamp of approval from bonafide professionals.
Tapping away on social media can often be an unrewarding process at best and a downright depressing one at worst. We’re all subject to the morbid allure of doomscrolling. But next time you have a few minutes to spare, try substituting Twitter’s blue bird for Duolingo’s green one, and let the motivational chimes and speech bubbles of your overly-animated teachers carry you on your way to becoming a language pro yourself.
The greatest app games of all time are filled with birds aplenty, apparently. Angry Birds is a seminal app game from Rovio whose influence has become so ubiquitous that it was turned into an actual movie. Although the less said about that in this list of praiseworthy creations, the better.
Whether it’s the problem solving, the rewarding progression, or the ability to vent one’s anger on an army of hapless pigs, Angry Birds has deservedly won the hearts and minds of app gamers the world over.
Tetris is an elder among the greatest app games and almost needs no introduction. It’s hard to say which is more influential: the simple gameplay loop of sorting a series of descending bricks, or the seminal soundtrack. You’re welcome for that earworm, by the way.
Tetris is the oldest title on this list yet still holds up as one of the best app games of all time. And yes, we know that the original Tetris predated “the app” but there have been many modernized iterations of this groundbreaking puzzler. Tetris on mobile feels like it’s found its home. Who knew there could be so many ways of playing this stone-cold classic?
The Walking Dead
Picking just one Telltale game is difficult. But as the winner of multiple Game of the Year awards, it’s probably safe to settle on The Walking Dead as the jewel in their crown. The heartrending tale of this standalone story set in the Walking Dead universe is made more poignant by the fact that each of the player’s decisions brings them, by the scruff of the neck, to potentially heartbreaking consequences.
Although it doesn’t require fancy fingerwork or mental genius, The Walking Dead is one of the best app games of all time based on the emotional challenges alone. Make sure you have your tissues to hand.
Gacha mechanics can be a controversial subject. But Genshin Impact’s attempts to tread that fine line between ethics and gambling have won over millions of fans. And when compared to Diablo Immortal, it looks like an absolute saint.
But the fact that it pulled in the highest ever first-year launch revenue of any video game wasn’t simply down to its monetization model. Genshin Impact is stunning, with its winning visuals backed up by a cornucopia of content that HoYoverse just can’t stop adding to. And long may they continue.
Though it has nothing to do with the notorious movie from Tommy Wiseau, The Room app game has just as much of a cult following. This multi-award-winning puzzler from Fireproof Games is a problem solver’s paradise. Cryptic codes, tricky mechanisms, and hidden secrets provide a mental workout so thorough that you’ll feel like Sherlock Holmes after just one session.
And somehow, The Room manages to turn a quick game into the most enthralling five minutes of your life. Not bad for a game that can be played with just one hand.
It’s hard to overstate the ways in which Pokémon Go earns its accolade as one of the best app games of all time. There was a time when gaming was synonymous with idleness. There was also a time when wistful Pokémon fans cried over never being able to catch their own team of pocket monsters in the real world. Or, you know, so I’ve heard.
But what was once an April Fools joke became an augmented reality when Niantic took an outlandish idea and let it flower like a Bulbasaur’s back bulb. And to this day, Pokémon Go puts its core gameplay loop of going outside and exploring ahead of predatory monetization as it continues to deliver content so enticing that players feel persistently compelled to leave their houses and go a-hunting.
Those are 13 of the best app games of all time. But there’s plenty of room for more. Flappy Bird, anyone?
We can rest assured that over the next few years, with the arrival of some console favorites making it to mobile, there will be more contenders jostling for the top spot. But one thing’s for certain: these titles will forever sit comfortably in the greatest app games hall of fame.
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