Well, it was another banner year in the world of iOS gaming, with so many great games released in 2015 that it made our head spin trying to whittle it down to the list you see before you. When it came to our Game of the Year pick, it really came down to the nitty gritty between two particular titles. In the end, one just barely inched out the other for reasons we’ll get to in a second. Following the Game of the Year and Runner Up picks are 25 of what we feel were the best games of 2015. Of course this list doesn’t include many other great games that came out this year, and to be honest it could have easily been three or four times the size. However, we thought this was a nice cross selection of genres and truly the best of the best of this year. If a game you adored this year isn’t featured here, feel free to list it in the comments below, we love hearing about what games people enjoy playing on their iOS devices.
Now, without further ado…
Game of the Year 2015: ‘Land Sliders’
Land Sliders, Free – [Review] – [Forum Thread] – It seems like the best mobile games latch onto a simple mechanic that feels natural on a touchscreen device and then builds an entire game around it. Slicing fruit in Fruit Ninja, drawing lines in Flight Control, even tilting back and forth in Doodle Jump are all great examples of this. Those simple actions spawned countless copycats and even entire genres in the mobile space over the years, but it’s rare that a game can come along and create a mobile game that feels truly unique and native to the platform.
In 2015, I don’t think any game accomplished that goal as well as Land Sliders, the first game from Australian developer Prettygreat, did. Land Sliders is a game that’s built around inertial scrolling. What is inertial scrolling? Well, when you’re scrolling through a list on your iOS device, say your list of emails or a list of songs in the Music app, inertial scrolling is the thing that allows you to scroll fast with a quick swipe and the screen will gradually slow down as it runs out of inertia.
It sounds like an incredibly boring concept for a game, but inertial scrolling is something that iOS devices have nailed since the beginning, and I believe it’s one of the things that truly put the iPhone ahead of the pack in the early days of smartphones. Early iPhone rivals had pretty janky touchscreens which didn’t have the smoothness of an iPhone. Scrolling around on iOS devices is fun and satisfying. Flicking a swipe fast and knowing you can stop the screen from scrolling on a dime if you want. It’s really cool.
It’s not a bad idea to try and capture that feeling and create a game around it, but how exactly does that work? I saw a very early prototype of Land Sliders at GDC this year and thought it was a clever concept and the sliding around the world felt great. But honestly I had no idea how they would craft a compelling game around it, and figured it would end up as one of those “hmmm, that’s neat!" tech demo type of games and be fun for a few days before being forgotten.
That ended up not being the case at all, and besides its unique concept, I think that’s shows the brilliance of Prettygreat. Not only have they created a full-fledged high-scoring game with endlessly replayable randomly-generated levels and a wide cast of neat characters to unlock, but they’ve created this is a way that’s easy to add on to, and given the popularity of Land Sliders this seems like the kind of game that can continue living on for years and years with a constant flow of new content.
Besides the game itself, developer Prettygreat also created an insane real-life meta game that they incorporated into Land Sliders that has kept our forums on fire for months since the game’s release. If you haven’t read the lengthy thread in our forums, but if you like treasure hunts or ARGs, it’s worth the read as the lengths Prettygreat went to to create this global game are pretty astounding. In fact, the ARG is still going and hasn’t been completely solved yet.
Sliding your character around the world of Land Sliders just FEELS right, and developer Prettygreat did a wonderful job of building a whimsical world and cast of characters around that unique mechanic. There were other great games in 2015, but Land Sliders is a great mobile game through and through, and isn’t the kind of game that could work on a platform other than mobile. For all these reasons it’ll be something that I continue to play daily and will always have a home on my device, and it earns our nod for Game of the Year 2015
GotY Runner Up 2015: ‘Downwell’
Downwell, $2.99 – [Review] – [Forum Thread] – Downwell is one of those games that had so much buzz prior to its release, I was worried it wouldn’t live up to the hype. I was very happy to have been proven wrong about that. Downwell is an action platformer about a character trying to make it to the bottom of a well while avoiding being killed by numerous types of nasty enemies and hazards. Your character accomplishes this by using gun boots – literally boots that fire bullets straight down – to both take out enemies and use as a levitation device while falling.
Kind of a wacky premise, but so are the plots behind some of the most beloved games of all time. The crazy thing about Downwell is that it doesn’t seem like much on first blush. I remember anticipating this game forever, and when it finally released and I laid into it for the first time, after a few minutes of playing I found myself saying “That’s it?" It wasn’t that I thought the game was bad or anything, I just was expecting something more, you know? It wasn’t until I read this excellent piece over at Polygon about Downwell that I was tipped off to some of the finer points behind the game.
Along with a myriad of little secrets and special features, it was really the combo system in Downwell that really busted the game wide open for me. It became a game within the game to try and stomp as many enemies in succession without touching the ground as possible so as to rack up a huge combo. The brilliant thing is that by doing this I actually found myself making it further and further in the game than I ever had previously. Downwell is a very difficult game, but it’s the kind of game where skill trumps all and you can actually witness yourself getting better at it the more you play and practice.
Downwell is a masterpiece of great game design, and is one of those games that can be played over and over for a lifetime as you continue to figure out its little tricks and secrets. It’s one of my all-time favorite games, and while it feels most at home to me on my iPhone it’s also a game that would be fantastic no matter what platform it’s on. I have no doubt that there will be a dedicated contingent of people still playing Downwell for decades to come.
Best iOS Games of 2015
AG Drive, $2.99 – [Review] – [Forum Thread] – Futuristic racers have been a staple of gaming for some time now, and AG Drive executes the formula flawlessly. Absolutely gorgeous visuals, an incredible sense of speed, a novel use of 3D Touch on capable devices, and a multitude of race types easily make this one of the App Store’s top racing games.
AirAttack 2, Free – [Review] – [Forum Thread] – AirAttack 2 may have only just come out in early December, but it immediately made an impact on the iOS gaming world. Absolutely jaw-dropping visuals coupled with tried and true shoot ’em up gameplay that wasn’t scared to divert from tradition made AirAttack 2 one of the most memorable games of the year even in just a few short weeks.
Alto's Adventure, $4.99 – [Review] – [Forum Thread] – Side-scrolling endless runners are a tough sell on mobile because there’s so many, but Alto’s Adventure had no problem setting itself apart from the pack with its incredibly stylish visuals, engaging scoring mechanics, and tons of hidden little details that made it worth coming back to throughout 2015.
BADLAND 2, $0.99 – [Review] – [Forum Thread] – The original Badland is an absolute classic, and is a tough act to follow. Somehow developer Frogmind was able to surpass their original work with Badland 2. Major changes to the formula like free movement, dastardly new hazards, and even more gorgeous visuals and lighting effects make this another mobile classic.
Call of Champions, Free – [GotW] – [Forum Thread] – The MOBA genre is one that’s trying hard to make an impression in the mobile world. Vainglory set the benchmark last year, but Call of Champions with its promise of five minute matches has swooped in and offered entertaining and competitive MOBA action that truly feels made for the mobile platform.
CHAOS RINGS â…¢, $19.99 – [Review] – [Forum Thread] – The Chaos Rings series is a staple on mobile and significant for being a mobile-exclusive series from a large, renowned developer – Square Enix. The third entry in the series mixes up the formula in many ways, and also ratchets up the visuals to a fully 3D world. Despite some changes, it’s still a Chaos Rings game through and through, and one of the best original RPGs on mobile this year.
Does not Commute, Free – [Review] – [Forum Thread] – A totally unique premise and polish out the ears made Does Not Commute one of the most entertaining games of the year. Route various vehicles across a map from point A to point B, but beware, as with each new vehicle you must route your previously routed vehicles are following the path you laid out for them. As more cars are introduced things get crazy, hectic, and tons of fun.
Don't Starve: Pocket Edition, $4.99 – [Review] – [Forum Thread] – The hit PC and console action-adventure survival game Don’t Starve made its way to iOS this year in a special Pocket Edition. It wasn’t very pocketable at first though due to it being iPad only, but a Universal update brought it to iPhones as well, and allowed even more players to see just how well this game could shine on the mobile platform. Punishingly difficult, but a total must-play.
Dust: An Elysian Tail, $5.99 – [Review] – [Forum Thread] – A passion project of a lone developer for over 4 years paid off big time when Dust: An Elysian Tail released for the Xbox to extreme critical acclaim in the summer of 2012. Given its button-heavy nature, an iOS port seemed unlikely, until it surprise released in early October. And you know what? Dust translated very well to the touchscreen and is an incredible journey everyone should take.
The Executive, $2.99 – [Review] – [Forum Thread] – If you thought fighting games, auto-runners, rhythm games, and idle clickers couldn’t be combined into one experience, The Executive is here to prove you wrong. Somehow that amalgamation of genres made total sense here, and it was delivered in an incredibly stylish, challenging, and content-rich package.
Furdemption - A Quest For Wings, Free – [Review] – [Forum Thread] – Platforming games can be heavy on action, heavy on puzzling, or heavy on both as was the case with Furdemption. Ingenious level designs really made this game shine, as did its stellar art style and animation. Plus, there was something oddly satisfying about seeing a cute bunny die over and over in a multitude of gruesome ways. Hooray!
Galactic Keep, $3.99 – [Review] – [Forum Thread] – Galactic Keep is something of a legend around TouchArcade, as its development originally started way back in 2009 and started/stopped several times in the years since. Miraculously, it was finished this year, and somehow turned out to be the utterly compelling board game/RPG we always hoped it would be.
Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions Evolved, $9.99 – [Review] – [Forum Thread] – Geometry Wars is sort of the granddaddy of dual-stick space shooters, and dual-stick space shooters work supremely well on touchscreen devices. Which makes the stellar Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions a perfect fit for iOS, and it absolutely was when it launched on the App Store in the first half of the year.
Her Story, $2.99 – [Review] – [Forum Thread] – Full motion video games, or FMV games, are a black mark on the history of video games. They’re notoriously terrible. However, developer Sam Barlow utilized FMV sequences to create a compelling murder mystery with Her Story, proving that if put in the right hands FMV games can be a viable medium to tell amazing stories.
Horizon Chase, Free – [Review] – [Forum Thread] – Some “retro-inspired" games go full monty and actually feel like a game that came out decades ago. Others capture that retro essence while still making something that feels decidedly modern. Horizon Chase falls in the latter category, and despite its pixelated facade and retro nods it is actually a visually stunning and exhilarating racing experience.
Implosion - Never Lose Hope, $1.99 – [Review] – [Forum Thread] – Character action games are known for complex, button-heavy combat mechanics, which makes them ill-suited for touchscreens. Somehow developer Rayark was able to craft a combat system that played well on touchscreen while still feeling appropriately complex and satisfying. Coupled with incredible visuals and an exciting sci-fi universe, and it’s no wonder Implosion was such a critical and commercial success.
Lara Croft GO, $4.99 – [Review] – [Forum Thread] – It takes a talented developer to take a legendary action adventure franchise like Tomb Raider and turn it into a puzzle game, and somehow still have it “feel" like a Tomb Raider game. That’s exactly what Square Enix Montreal did with Lara Croft GO, just as they did last year with Hitman GO, and both are sublime experiences.
PAC-MAN 256 - Endless Arcade Maze, Free – [Review] – [Forum Thread] – It’s tough to mess around with a classic like Pac-Man, but somehow Crossy Road developer Hipster Whale managed to take the iconic Pac-Man arcade game and “Crossy Road-ize" it into an absolutely fantastic endless high-score chaser with tons of personality.
Prune, $4.99 – [Review] – [Forum Thread] – A game about pruning a tree sure doesn’t sound very exciting on paper, but developer Joel McDonald managed to craft something incredibly beautiful with Prune, where you’re doing just that. This is the perfect blending of art and puzzle, and although the experience doesn’t last all that long it’s one that will stay with you long after you’re finished.
The Room Three, $3.99 – [Review] – [Forum Thread] – The Room series of puzzle games are iOS classics, and the way in which they utilize the touchscreen to directly interact with its intricate puzzle boxes is a deeply personal experience. The third entry in the series does all that but takes it to the next level with tons more content and puzzles to solve.
Sorcery! 3, $4.99 – [Review] – [Forum Thread] – Inkle has set the benchmark for digital gamebooks with their Sorcery! series and 80 Days, but Sorcery! 3 takes things to a whole new level even for them. Crazy time-manipulation mechanics and a big open-world map to explore in any order you wish pushed this release head and shoulders above other digital gamebooks.
Space Marshals, $3.99 – [Review] – [Forum Thread] – Space Marshals dropped in the beginning of the year and proved dual-stick shooters could be strategic and stealthy rather than mindless blast-a-thons. Several major updates throughout the year added tons of great new content and cemented it as one of our favorites of 2015.
Spider 2 - GameClub, Free – [Review] – [Forum Thread] – The long-awaited sequel to our 2009 Game of the Year proved it was more than worth the wait with tons of interesting new places to explore as a tiny little spider, new puzzles to solve, and another compelling story to tell. New tricks like a tie-in to real world time and weather and multiple playable spider types (and a walrus!) made this new Spider game another memorable experience.
This War of Mine, $13.99 – [Review] – [Forum Thread] – War is almost always glorified in video games, but This War of Mine looked at what war does to the everyday people caught in the middle. It’s technically a strategy survival game, but more than that it’s a sobering and somber look at a part of war that’s often overlooked, and it’s incredibly powerful stuff. Despite hitting PC first, This War of Mine feels most at home on the touchscreen.