Also, note that this is not a definitive list. There are definitely more great older mobile games than these out there. What are some of your favorites?
Canabalt took a lot of people by surprise with its super-simple yet challenging gameplay, bleak setting (told with nothing but background images), and fantastic soundtrack. Endless runners are far more prevalent these days, but not many come close to striking such a perfect balance between aesthetics, accessibility, and difficulty.
I’m pretty sure I only found out about Fastar! by chance, thanks to having just gotten an iPhone 3GS and searching for well-reviewed games to put on it. Find it I did, and wow this game still holds up really well. It’s a basic left/right/attack action game where you race to the finish, improve stats and heal on-the-go, and you’re only enemies are colored squares (different colors behave very differently). There are several different difficulties and mode variations to keep you busy as well. If you haven’t heard of Fastar!, well now you have and you should check it out.
- App Store ($1.99)
Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP
Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP is the one game on this list that I had actually been excitedly waiting for months before its release. I instantly fell in love with the art style and the music, and I wasn’t disappointed with the final product. The puzzles are few and far between, and I wish there was a bit more combat, but I can’t help feeling compelled to once more follow the Scythian along on her woeful errand every now and then.
Bug Heroes Quest
Now I’m something of a fanboy, but there was once a time when I hadn’t heard of Foursaken Media. Bug Heroes Quest is where it all started for me. This follow-up to the wave-based survival original expanded on the Bug Heroes world by way of a variety of explorable locations, a developing plot, and giving the three heroes more character. It’s a pint-sized action RPG that’s well worth a look.
- App Store ($0.99)
Aliens versus Humans
Full Disclosure: I acted as a sort of advisor on the latter half of Aliens versus Humans’ post-launch development. That being said, I’ve yet to find another game that better captures the feeling of the original X-Com. What started simply as a collection of turn-based strategy missions against an encroaching alien threat has expanded into a much larger game of global defense that’s much more in-line with the game’s inspiration. Sure there are official XCOM games available on mobile at this point, but those are based on the more recent remakes. If you really want to play something on your phone that better holds to the spirit of the 90s PC game, this is the best option.
When Minecraft started getting huge (well, huge-er), there were a whole lot of games that tried to bring a similar experience to mobile. What sets The Blockheads apart is how it takes the survival, exploration, and crafting elements that you’d expect and combines them with character attributes like hunger, energy, and happiness (a-la The Sims). Tasks can be assigned and performed independently as well, which adds a bit of a strategic element to everything. That sort of indirect control is also a really good fit for mobile play as you can easily preset a few tasks and either watch them get taken care of or move over to another character.
Just about anything made by Rocketcat is worth playing. I mostly picked Punch Quest because it’s been around longer than Death Road to Canada, and because it’s a fun approach to making an endless runner. Aside from blocking, everything your character does is punch. Jumping is punching, running faster is punching – it’s all punching and that tickles me. The way you can knock enemies into other enemies adds a little more technique to the gameplay as well. Really just search for Rocketcat and download all of it.
The World Ends With You: Solo Remix
It was pulled off the App Store with no warning, and its future was uncertain, but this HD release of the extremely weird Nintendo DS pseudo-JRPG set in Shibuya is available once again. And of course it’s fantastic. The original has been out for 10 years at this point and I’ve still yet to see another game come close to replicating its visual or musical style. It’s a great port as well, with nicely smoothed out HD visuals and a much easier combat system that no longer forces you to split your focus between two screens. No, shush, going down to one screen is better.
Before Kerbal Space Program there were games like Space Agency. This is another one of those “where did this even come from” affairs for me. While it might not look it, there’s a surprisingly deep space program sim here. You get to build multi-stage rockets, send satellites into orbit, land on the moon, and more – provided your rocket isn’t built poorly and you’re able to ration your fuel well, of course.
Battle for Wesnoth
What Battle for Wesnoth has going for it, and I’m pretty sure this is where it stands apart from every other strategy game on mobile even today, is just how much content it offers. 6 different playable factions, online and local multiplayer, and a whopping 16 different solo campaigns are all available as soon as you install it. That’s kind of amazing. It’s also a pretty solid strategy game in its own right!
Speaking of strategy games, there’s also Hunters 2. This was also a sort of stand-in for X-Com back before 2K and Firaxis brought Enemy Unknown and Enemy Within to the platform. What makes Hunters 2 a standout is how your team of hunters is quite variable. Different classes can learn unique abilities as they level-up, armor weight will affect movement as well as durability, and there are quite a few different weapons you can outfit them with. On top of all that, there are special daily missions you can take on for added rewards (in addition to the campaign).
- App Store ($1.99)
The Quest Classic Gold
A lot of games have tried to do the open world RPG thing on mobile before, but as far as I’m concerned none of them have done it better than The Quest. The simplistic 2D visuals might look dated (I’d argue they’re intentionally so), but the game itself is ma-hoo-sive. Towns are filled with people, stores, quests, and secrets. Dungeons are sizable and have their fair share of hidden goodies (and a bunch of monsters). Plus, the Gold version includes several expansions, so you get even more game for your dollar. Don’t let the look fool you; The Quest is very much a worthwhile and time-consuming RPG.