It’s really incredible to me just how much mobile games continue to improve over the years, having been in the driver’s seat of our various “best of" features since 2009. This year, more than any other, I feel like mobile gaming really broke into the mainstream with the release of Pokemon Go, and it’s been neat seeing the halo effect of people getting into other mobile games since then. We’ve exhaustively covered all of the best games of the year, both through our best 100 article as well as everyone’s own personal lists. It’s wild to think that you could basically play a total different incredibly high quality game on your phone every day this year, and still be missing out on great games. Hell, it’s our job to play rad mobile games, and still we even manage to miss out on some.
Anyway, here’s some of my favorites of the year-
Hearthstone, Free WHAT THE?! Hearthstone came out in 2014! Yes, it did, but it doesn’t feel right to not include it in my best games list again. It’s hard to think of any other game I played on my iPhone and iPad more this year than Hearthstone. The addition of card rotation, as well as some seriously great adventures and card set releases has kept me totally engrossed in this card game for another year. I love everything about this game, from working with the awesome Hearthstone team at Blizzard to following the rad stuff the Hearthstone community is up to. It’s also neat seeing favorite Magic the Gathering pros of mine switching gears to streaming Hearthstone. I’m excited to see the metagame shift again with the next card rotation in 2017, so, don’t be surprised if you see this game again in my best-of list next year.
PokÃ©mon GO, Free Living in the suburbs, the novelty of Pokemon Go wore off quickly for me, but the first few weeks the game launched was like nothing else I’ve experienced in the world of gaming. If you shoulder surf someone out in public playing a mobile game, you might spot Candy Crush or Clash of Clans, but it felt like everyone was playing Pokemon Go. I even went to a few different Pokemon Go events with anywhere between hundreds to thousands of people in attendance. It’s too bad that Niantic wasn’t a little more prepared for how popular the game would be, but, it seems to be getting consistently better with updates.
Super Mario Run, Free Easily among the most controversial releases of 2016 in our community, it was really fun covering all the excitement related to Super Mario Run. Nintendo’s first “real" iOS game release is a ton of fun, and seeing the level of effort that went into Super Mario Run has me really excited for Animal Crossing and Fire Emblem eventually hitting the App Store. I still think Nintendo would have been better off releasing Super Mario Run as a more traditional free to play game, but, we’ll see if they learn that lesson for their next mobile release.
Return of the Zombie King, Free As far as clever gameplay elements that evolve through unlocking, Return of the Zombie King blew me away. You start the game with no ears, eyes, or even legs and so you’re pretty much limited to moving to the right. You eventually unlock the ability to jump through buying legs, the game gets sound when you buy ears, and the world changes to color when you unlock eyes. Eventually you unlock more “real" upgrades, and there’s a really cool feeling of gaining power as you play. The game has also improved greatly through updates, and is totally worth checking out.
Crashlands, $6.99 I love any game that gets people into gaming, and I was really surprised by the number of non-gamers I was able to get playing Crashlands. Crafting games are inherently complicated, as (for instance) someone who might only play Hay Day has zero experience with all sorts of various inventory management and RPG subsystems that often power these games. In Crashlands, all the annoying stuff is handled automagically to really just allow anyone, regardless of how much or how little they know about crafting games, to dive right in. That level of simplicity while still making a game that feels complex is seriously masterful game design… And really, the only thing that worries me about Crashlands is Butterscotch Shenanigans has a lot to live up to with their next game release.
Dashy Crashy, Free Yes, damn it, this is another game that technically didn’t come out in 2016, but I completely missed it in the shuffle of the onslaught of holiday game releases of 2015. We didn’t actually post a review of it until late January when it popped up on my radar, and Dashy Crashy has consistently been my go-to “I’m standing in line or waiting for a couple minutes what should I play" game. There’s a surprising amount of complexity between the different vehicles you can unlock, as well as how you handle your driving, in what initially seems like a very simple lane-based driving game. Also, it’s one of those games that’s way better when you turn the sound on, so definitely do that.
War Tortoise, Free I’m getting tired of clickers, as they all feel really same-y, but what I spent a lot of time doing in 2016 was playing different releases that experiment with somewhat similar idle gameplay but in new ways that aren’t just frantically tapping. War Tortoise is an idle shooter, which seems like a contradiction, but the way it all works is really cool. Additionally, the game has a prestige system which has you constantly starting over with more powerful upgrades, and it’s really fun seeing how quickly you can quickly obliterate the early game with your totally tricked out turtle.
Really Bad Chess, Free I’ve always liked the idea of playing chess, but I’ve been bad at it my entire life. There’s been oodles of different asynchronous chess games on the App Store, and I always download them, start a bunch of games, lose, and then just kind of get bored. I love how Really Bad Chess takes the basic ruleset of chess, but mixes things up completely so it isn’t about memorizing chess formations and strategy, instead it’s about making due with what pieces you have and figuring out how to beat your opponent’s similarly crazy pieces. The level of variety in the different daily challenges has me always coming back for more.
Reigns, $0.99 While I spent a ton of time playing Reigns wishing things about it were better (like the way it ends), it’s incredibly cool how they managed to build what felt like such a full featured game (and game world) entirely off swiping cards right or left. Reigns has won a ton of awards this year, and it has deserved every single one. I really hope they release followup titles, or expansion packs, or something that utilizes a similar mechanic in a different setting, as I could totally see a sci-fi Reigns working equally well.
Human Resource Machine, $4.99 While there were definitely times that Human Resource Machine made me feel like a total idiot, I loved everything about this game. As someone who doesn’t do a lot of programming work anymore, it was really awesome playing a gameified version of low-level programming as it was awakening a portion of my brain that had been laying dormant for years. If you have an iPad, make sure you play it on there, as the game is way better with the additional screen real estate.
I suppose there probably aren’t that many surprises in my list, particularly if you listen to our podcast, but damn was 2016 a strong year for mobile games. I can’t wait for next year, as I’ve been playing a bunch of Deathroad to Canada via TestFlight, and it’s going to make this list in 2017 a little easier as I really only need to come up with 9 other games to talk about. (Well, 8, because I’m sure Hearthstone will be in there again.)