There really isn’t anything quite like the App Store. New games flood the market at an insane rate, and while there is a ton of crap released every day, there are also tons of amazing games. The crap-to-amazing ratio is heavily lopsided of course, but the sheer size of the App Store means that even if there’s only one amazing game for every hundred crap games, there’s still more amazing games to play through than any normal person even reasonably has time for. If you’re willing to put in a little effort to sort the wheat from the chaff, mobile devices can be incredibly rewarding as gaming platforms.
This year was another strong year of great games, and narrowing it down to a manageable “Best Of" list is no easy task. It took some tough decision making, and it goes without saying that this list easily could have been two or three times the size that it is. But sometimes tough decisions have to be made, so below we have a list of what we think are 25 of the very best games released in 2014. (Note: This doesn’t include games in our Game of the Year post. Also look forward to our staff’s individual best games posts as well as more Best Of 2014 stuff tomorrow and throughout next week.) I think it’s a nice, varied selection of genres and game types, and you really couldn’t go wrong with anything here. That said, there’s a lot of great games that we weren’t able to include, and as we all know no list can suit every single person. So let us know in the comments below what games you loved in 2014, and we look forward to another great year of gaming in 2015.
A Dark Room, $1.99 – [Review] – [Forum Thread] – A Dark Room was technically released in 2013, but didn’t hit critical mass until earlier this year. It starts out as an almost painfully simplistic text adventure, but its brilliant progression system keeps you coming back over and over until eventually the game evolves into something more than you ever could have expected. This is definitely one of those games that’s much more than meets the eye.
Banner Saga, $9.99 – [Review] – [Forum Thread] – While it initially found success on desktop computers in January of this year, Banner Saga was always envisioned as a tablet game. When it finally came to iOS in early October, it felt right at home on the touchscreen. Gorgeous visuals, a compelling story and highly tactical gameplay make Banner Saga a must-play for any strategy fan, any fan of great storytelling, or really just fans of games in general.
Battleheart Legacy, $4.99 – [Review] – [Forum Thread] – Mika Mobile’s original Battleheart was revolutionary not just for its genius line-drawing combat mechanics but also in the way it let you mix and match different classes into a party that fit your own tastes. For Battleheart Legacy, they kept that excellent open-ended character development intact but condensed it down into a single character while simultaneously making their first fully 3D game while maintaining their signature art style. The result is a dream come true for fans of RPGs and min/max’ing character builds.
Bean Dreams, $2.99 – [Review] – [Forum Thread] – The sequel to one of our all-time favorite platformers on iOS didn’t disappoint. Bean Dreams brings more of the constantly-bouncing platforming that we know and love but with many refinements and even a few twists to mix things up. Overall it’s much easier than the original Bean’s Quest, which should help it appeal to a wider audience, but developer Kumobius still has some challenging new levels planned to please their hardcore fanbase.
Candy Crush Soda Saga, Free – [Review] – [Forum Thread] – The original Candy Crush is a hard game to follow. How can any sequel of a puzzle game that managed to transcend pop culture to the point that your mom knows about it be worthy? Well, Soda Saga is, and while at its core it’s very much just more Candy Crush, the original was a great game, so add in a new set of levels, new obstacles to puzzle your way out of, and sky-high levels of polish on every aspect of the game and you’ve really got a winner on your hands.
Crossy Road, Free – [Review] – [Forum Thread] – Crossy Road takes the Frogger formula–crossing busy highways and dangerous waterways one step at a time–and turns the whole thing into a randomly generated, endless high scoring affair. I can’t believe nobody thought of that idea sooner. It works brilliantly as a mobile game, and with its bright, colorful art style and a massive list of quirky playable characters, Crossy Road will have a permanent spot on my iOS device for many years to come.
Eliss Infinity, $2.99 – [Review] – [Forum Thread] – The original Eliss is an absolute classic on iOS, but at 5 years old it was starting to show its age. Enter Eliss Infinity, a refreshed version of the full original game as well as some nifty new modes and features. The unique Eliss gameplay proved that it still holds up well today in Eliss Infinity, and now with a modernized version of the game Eliss can live on on our devices for a long time to come.
Flappy Golf, Free – [Impressions] – [Forum Thread] – In “The Year of Flappy" it’s so easy to roll your eyes at all the Flap-likes that released, but Flappy Golf actually stood out as a game that used the flapping mechanic to create a game that rivaled–and some would argue surpassed–the excellent game it was lampooning, Super Stickman Golf 2. Flappy Golf fever spread like wildfire across schoolyards as friends battled each other in its manic multiplayer mode or competed for high score bragging rights.
FTL: Faster Than Light, $9.99 – [Review] – [Forum Thread] – FTL was released on the Mac and PC ages ago, but it wasn’t until it hit the iPad that the game felt like it was right. In the game, you desperately try to survive in the harsh realities of space to make it to your goal. Fuel and oxygen are scarce, danger is everywhere, and a series of tiny bad decisions can snowball into catastrophe. “Just one more run" is something you’ll be saying until your throat is sore.
Goblin Sword, $1.99 – [Review] – [Forum Thread] – One of the hardest things to do is make a game that’s a throwback to the older generations of gaming but have it still feel fresh and modern like a contemporary game. Goblin Sword pulls this off wonderfully. It’s an action-platforming game that can hang with the best in the genre, with fantastic pixel art, plenty of levels to complete and enemies to beat down, and a killer upgrade system that gives you a lot of choice in how you tackle the game’s challenges. This is the game my 12-year old self dreamt about making.
Hitman GO, $4.99 – [Review] – [Forum Thread] – When I first heard we’d be getting a Hitman game on iOS, but that it would be a tactical puzzle game, I was bummed. Often mobile gets a stripped down version of a bigger console or PC game and it felt like that’s what this would be. Oh how wrong I was. Hitman GO is not only one of the most challenging and satisfying puzzlers I’ve played, but it also captures the essence of the Hitman series with its stealth elements and carefully crafted scenarios. It may not be a traditional Hitman game, but it’s easily one of the best Hitman games around.
Hoplite, $2.99 – [Review] – [Forum Thread] – Hoplite is one of the cleanest and simplest roguelikes out there, but it hides some of the deepest strategy I’ve ever seen in the genre. Simply diving down and retrieving the special fleece is the main goal of the game, and can be a decent challenge, but the real test in Hoplite is going after its many achievements. These force you to stretch the core mechanics of the game to the limits and play in ways you might never have imagined otherwise, and it will require plenty of forethought and even luck to tick them all off the list.
Leo's Fortune, $4.99 – [Review] – [Forum Thread] – Leo’s Fortune could have made this list based on its visuals alone, with its stunning graphics and mustachioed main character, but luckily there’s plenty of stellar gameplay underneath making this one of iOS’s best platformers. One of the things that makes Mario games so timeless is the physics and “feel" of the game. Just running and jumping around is fun on its own, and Leo’s Fortune gives me that same sort of feeling. This will be a game I’ll love to pick up and play through every now and then for may years to come.
Mikey Boots, $1.99 – [Review] – [Forum Thread] – We’re huge fans of the Mikey games around that part, and one of the best thing about these games is how each one tackles some major new mechanic. Mikey Boots traded in the standard run-and-jump platformer for the cave flyer, but somehow still felt undeniably Mikey-like. Whether you’re blasting through the levels just for completion’s sake, unlocking outfits to deck out your character, or fiercely competing with friends for spots on the leaderboards, Mikey Boots has a little something for everyone.
Modern Combat 5, Free – [Review / MP Review] – [Forum Thread] – Gameloft’s Modern Combat series has long been the best full-blown first-person shooter experience on mobile. This year’s entry shook things up with a unified progression system across its single-player and multiplayer modes, and it broke its campaign down into more bite-sized, mobile-friendly chunks. As always it features cutting-edge graphics and takes advantage of all the latest technology of iOS devices.
MONSTER HUNTER FREEDOM UNITE for iOS, $14.99 – [Review] – [Forum Thread] – A game with the kind of depth that Monster Hunter Freedom Unite has doesn’t come around on mobile often. You could quite literally spend thousands of hours living a double life as a monster hunter in this game, and the fact that the whole thing fits snugly in your pocket is a miracle. This is the kind of game that can be very hard for newbies to get into, but if you take the time to get into the swing of things you’ll be rewarded with a lifetime of adventures.
Out There: Î© Edition, $3.99 – [Review] – [Forum Thread] – There are few things scarier than being lost in the vastness of space, and Out There captures that feeling perfectly. It’s a brutal game, often leading you to defeat through no fault of your own, which has made it a divisive title among gamers. However, the trepidation you feel as you make each move knowing it might be your last and the overwhelming sense of joy you get by a particularly strong run are the things that have turned Out There into a cult favorite.
Papers, Please, $7.99 – [Review] – [Forum Thread] – It’s hard to describe Papers, Please as “fun," since the gameplay loop the game itself hinges on is intentionally monotonous. What makes Papers, Please incredibly special and potentially one of the most memorable games you’ll play this year is how much it makes you question when it is and isn’t appropriate to break rules- Even if it means being punished yourself. It’s an incredibly clever game, and while it will only take a few hours to play, it’ll leave you thinking about it for much, much longer.
Seabeard, Free – [Review] – [Forum Thread] – The Animal Crossing brand of lighthearted sim game seems like it would be a perfect fit for mobile, and although several have tried, no one’s really nailed it just yet. Seabeard definitely comes the closest. While there is some freemium stuff to navigate, Seabeard has heaps of charm and a staggering amount of content to (slowly) play through. A few tweaks could make it even better, but as it stands now this is by far the best Animal Crossing-alike on iOS today.
Sometimes You Die, $1.99 – [Review] – [Forum Thread] – This is one of those games that will make you think, and challenges the whole concept of a video game. It’s a clever platformer that embraces the frequent deaths that are a hallmark of the genre by forcing you to use your own corpses in subsequent playthroughs in order to pass its levels. Beyond the unique gameplay, there’s a lot of deeper questions being asked by way of clever storytelling as you play, and it’s also one of those games that isn’t quite done even when you think you’ve beat it.
Threes!, $5.99 [Review] – [Forum Thread] – Threes! is like a guidebook of great design. From its ability to give huge personalities to a bunch of numbered rectangles, to the satisfying feeling of swiping to move the game board around, to its ingenious number-doubling gameplay, Threes! is about as close to a perfect mobile game as you can get. Often imitated but never duplicated, the original Threes! is still the leader of the genre it created.
Vainglory, Free [iPhone Version] – [Review] – [Forum Thread] – Many developers have set out to make a MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena, think DOTA) for mobile, and each have left a little to be desired. Vainglory is the best mobile MOBA we’ve seen so far, and they fully utilize iOS 8’s Metal. So, the game not only plays better than any other MOBA out there, it also looks significantly better, provided you’ve got a newer device to play it on.
VVVVVV, $2.99 – [Review] – [Forum Thread] – Lots of games have used the old “gravity flipping" mechanic, but no game has explored it as thoroughly as Terry Cavanagh’s VVVVVV. The controls are simple, and for such an exacting platformer it translates surprisingly well to the touchscreen. The level of genius in the designs of its massive Metroidvania-like world will constantly leave you with your jaw dropped, and completing each and very bit of VVVVVV has been one of the most rewarding gaming experiences I’ve ever had.
XCOMÂ®: Enemy Within, $4.99 – [Review] – [Forum Thread] – When the original XCOM, the tactical turn-based RPG that was a smash hit on console and PC, arrived on iOS last year it felt like it had landed on the perfect platform. This year, the massive content expansion Enemy Within also arrived on iOS, and this is now the definitive mobile version of XCOM. This game will take your strategy skills to the limit, and the expanded version offers all sorts of new ways to play.
80 Days, $4.99 – [Review] – [Forum Thread] – I’m not a big reader, and I don’t play a lot of gamebooks. Still, somehow developer Inkle was able to create one of my all-time favorite games with 80 Days, a gamebook-like adventure that’s based on a classic Jules Verne novel. Go figure. This is like the perfect blend of gaming and written adventure, and with so many routes around the world and so many crazy things to do along the way it’s the kind of unique experience that will keep on giving for a long, long time to come.