2016 was a year that happened. Frankly, that’s the best thing I have to say about it. But for mobile gaming, it felt like a transformative year. Nintendo finally got their feet wet on the platform. Supercell shook up the world with Clash Royale (Free) – and then we saw as it went through some uncharacteristic growing pains. And while I kind of felt like that 2016 perhaps wasn’t quite full of quality games as 2015 was, going through the list of great titles released in 2016 should serve as a reminder that we live in a time of too many games. There are some games excluded from my list solely because I didn’t have the time to play them. And I left off a lot of games that I did play that were worthy of mention. Even games that got five stars from me were left off! But I wanted to go by the ten games that were the most memorable and enjoyable experiences. Maybe in a review fashion, some games wind up as ‘better’, but recapping my year in mobile gaming, these ten games (in order from ten to one) are my ten favorites of 2016.
My Horse Prince, Free There are a ton of games I could have put in the number 10 slot that would be deserving. And My Horse Prince as a ‘game’ wears thin after a while, sure. But I would be unable to live with myself if I didn’t mention the game about a woman dating a horse with a man’s face. It would be a mortal sin to not recognize the audacity that it took to make a visual-novel-esque game about a woman dating a man-faced horse…and then releasing it in English. The first few minutes of this game are unforgettable. I don’t know if I can quite quantify why they’re unforgettable, but certainly, of all the things that existed in 2016, this perhaps existed the most.
Combo Critters, Free I really like Pokemon-style games, but my problem is that I’m more of a gaming tourist. I want a whole bunch of interesting experiences. But so many of these games require long, long investments of time to build up to the interesting points. And that’s fine, it’s just that it’s not ideal for me, personally. That’s what made Combo Critters so appealing to me. Its monster-raising and fusing gameplay scratches that itch for this genre, but it’s an experience you can get the totality of in about a few hours. Plus, the whole thing has a Game Boy Advance aesthetic that reminds me of my favorite years of gaming. Combo Critters didn’t last long, but I loved the time I spent with it.
Kathy Rain, $2.99 This was the year where I developed a greater appreciation for the point-and-click adventure genre, between some cool indies like Bulb Boy ($2.99) and retro ports such as Day of the Tentacle Remastered ($4.99). And I never got around to the metal-as-hell Tormentum ($4.99), either. My favorite in the genre this year had to be Kathy Rain. The retro style is well done, and the puzzles stride a good line between tricky and not too difficult. Plus, the story and writing do a great job at balancing out moments of needed levity with the intense darkness at the heart of the game. A memorable experience, and I hope future installments make appearances in future top ten lists.
Tennis Champs Returns, Free I’ve sunk way too much time into the Mario Tennis games on Game Boy Color and Advance. While this game claims a history from the Amiga, this took me back to the days of building up my own tennis super-behemoth. The tennis controls are just different enough to feel unique, and give you a tremendous amount of control of what your athlete does. Uprising Games also did a spectacular job with updates, adding in some fantastic features like iCloud support, and online multiplayer.
Reigns, $2.99 One of the most unique and gripping mobile games I’ve played this year. There’s an art to learning how to play with the luck of the draw, and what each card will do to your kingdom’s stats. The macabre levity to the game is rather unique. And nothing made me feel dumber than finding out the secret to ‘winning’ the game. But the fact that there was a meta-game in play, that it wasn’t just about a goofy core concept, gave Reigns some much-needed heft and longevity once the initial charm wore off.
Severed, $6.99 Drinkbox Studios just made a game that feels so cool. The world, with its dark fantasy themes with a Mexican flavor, is one-of-a-kind. The gameplay manages to evolve the Infinity Blade style of combat by having you fight multiple enemies and trigger different abilities. But it makes you feel like an amazing warrior by teaching you to fend off many enemies at a time. And it’s a really fascinating Metroidvania to boot, taking place entirely from a first-person perspective. An absolute must-play among 2016’s best, no matter what platform you play it on. But I sure am glad it came to mobile, because it felt like it was meant to be a mobile game the whole time.
Neon Chrome, $6.99 I love dual-stick shooter roguelikes. They are my favorite genre. And there were a few killer ones this year that hit mobile worthy of note, including Feral Fury ($4.99) and Leap of Fate ($3.99). But my favorite was Neon Chrome. I had zero clue how 10tons was going to bring this to mobile. But I’m sure glad they did, because I have spent way too much time, and wasted way too much battery charges on my iPhone and iPad, playing this game. In fact, the mobile version might just be the best one. Starting out can be too punishing on the desktop version – I know, because I tried and failed many times – but the slower pace leads to an easier ramp into the systems of Neon Chrome. Then, you feel like you have the tools to beat the Overseer on later runs, even though it is nowhere near easy to do so at all. But it is so nice to get that accessibility early on, and it helped me get hooked to the mobile version in a bad way.
Clash Royale, Free The game I’m the most ambivalent about here in 2016. Free-to-play is weird like that, because you can’t really end on a happy note like you can with a finite experience, you tend to stop playing a free-to-play game when it stops satisfying you. And Clash Royale did hit that point for me. But I had a ton of fun racking up hundreds and hundreds of wins for the months that this game was a going concern for me. The whole concept is still genius, and well done. I eventually fell out of the game and stopped caring, as I’m sure many did, but the good times were really good.
Crypt of the NecroDancer, $3.99 One of my favorite games this decade. My painful lack of rhythm, and my Leeroy Jenkins tendency to go in all guns blazing in games I play harms me in particular here, but oh does it feel so good to do well. The concept never fails to impress me even now. And not only is mastering the rhythm plus roguelike elements so difficult to begin with, the sheer amount of content and modifiers mean that you could play this game – and just this game – by itself for months on end. Considering this one was in early access back in 2014, got a full Steam release in 2015, and only hit mobile in 2016, I was hesitant to include it in the top 10 at all as anything other than a special mention. I want the original mobile games and ones that release within a reasonable amount of time as other platforms to get the recognition they deserve. But then I decided I loved this game enough that it had to be on my list. Heck, the only reason it’s not number one is because number one is so deserving…
Crashlands, $6.99 This game set the tone for what everything else in 2016 had to live up to, and nothing was as brilliant as Crashlands was. The surivival-crafting game for people who hate survival-crafting games, the fact that this alone managed to eliminate so much of the needless cruft around the genre was a great sign. But the world of the game was so expansive, and there’s so much cool stuff to do, that still worked in a mobile-friendly format, made this the premier mobile experience of 2016. Butterscotch Shenanigans’ unique style helped to make this game what it is. I knew Crashlands had promise the first time I saw it back in 2013 at GDC, before I was at TouchArcade and before Sam Coster went through the biggest brunt of his cancer ordeal. My greatest regret as a writer is not getting deeper into the story of this game’s development, because it’s so fascinating of a story. I don’t know if you can separate the game from the story behind it. Would it have been so meticulously made if it wasn’t meant to be a symbol of the trials its creators had to go through? Maybe you can’t judge Crashlands independent of the circumstances of its creation. But it’s a damn amazing game with a damn amazing story, and it’s worthy of all the accolades.