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Jared’s 2018 in Review: Some Fun Trips, a Lot of Hard Work, and of Course TONS of Fantastic Mobile Games

As 2018 comes to a close, we can once again look back and marvel at a wild year of mobile gaming. We say this every year but it really is mind blowing how many great games come out on mobile ever year. It’s a shame that so many people can’t look past the many bad games that also get released, as once again this year we compiled a list of what we thought were the best 100 mobile games of 2018 and the variety of titles included on that list has a little something for everyone, even the most staunch anti-mobile gamer. The incredible thing is that that list starts out being three or four times the size, and it’s actually tough to trim it down to “just" 100 games. My wish for 2019 would be that more people realize that mobile gaming doesn’t have to be a replacement to any other gaming platform, and is simply just another avenue for enjoying great gaming experiences. Having tons of fun games to play on my iPhone hasn’t prevented me from also enjoying the heck out of my Switch and Xbox One this year, and when more games are available on all platforms it’s a win for everybody. Maybe wishing for the “mobile sucks" stigma to go away is just asking too much, but year after year of putting together these “Best Of" lists has me questioning how anybody could dismiss the entire platform for gaming.

But I digress. 2018 was a fantastic year of mobile games for me, as well as a year full of several fun adventures that were directly related to running TouchArcade. I feel incredibly lucky to be able to write about video games for a living, but as we detailed in our top 100 post, TouchArcade is really hanging on by a thread nowadays, and I have no idea what will become of us in 2019. If the worst should happen and I’m forced to go out and find “a real job" I’ll continue being interested in mobile games as a hobby, just like I have been for a decade now and just like I was before it became a job to me. I’m a lifelong gamer and mobile gaming will always have a special place in my heart. On that note, I thought for my personal best games list I’d forego the traditional list format (which we pretty much burnt ourselves out on doing the top 100) and would instead recount the year that was 2018 and mention the games that meant a lot to me along the way. Much in the same way hearing an old song can transport you to a specific time and place in your life, certain games were very much a part of my experiences in 2018, and while this won’t include ALL the games I enjoyed throughout the year it will include an eclectic mix and even some games that didn’t quite make it to our best of the year coverage.

The first week of January this year was spent down in Atlanta with Eli while we attended the Hi-Rez Expo 2018. Hi-Rez is mainly in the PC space with their smash hit MOBA Smite and their popular first-person shooter Paladins, but they did have some mobile projects to show off with their already soft-launched Paladins Strike (Free) and the newly-announced lightweight RTS Bot Smashers. This trip was so early in the year I was still reeling from the onslaught of high-profile releases as the end of 2017, and was mildly obsessed with Bennett Foddy’s Getting Over It ($4.99) and was trying my darndest to get into Arena of Valor (Free) to see what all the fuss was about. I also downloaded the soft-launched Paladins Strike, Hi-Rez’s top-down MOBA-lite take on Paladins proper, and enjoyed the heck out of playing that during the expo.

The rest of the month brought some of my favorite games of this year. The iOS port of Super Fancy Pants Adventure ($4.99) brought the series back to life on mobile, and is one of the best platformers around. Unept’s completely wacky “Track and Field but on unicycles" game Unicycle Hero (Free) brought me more smiles than I can count, and Pako 2 ($1.99) from Tree Men Games brought a great new spin to their original endless car chase simulator and plays fantastically well on mobile. Disc Drivin’ 2 (Free) brought a fresh new spin to an old TouchArcade favorite, and while I’m currently on hiatus from playing due to burning out playing so much after it released, it’s only a matter of time before I’ll be back. I always come back.

February brought the deceptively deep roguelite digger Dig Dog – Treasure Hunter ($2.99), which I continued to dip into throughout the year, and it also brought one of the most impactful games I’ve played in my entire life with Studio Mountains’ Florence ($2.99). As someone who has been through several tumultuous relationships in his life, Florence hit home on an extremely personal level, as I’m sure it did for many folks, and it really shows how you can make a story and characters have even more impact by using interactive gaming elements. It’s an absolute work of art.

March is historically our busiest time of year due to covering GDC, and this year we made it even busier by attending Train Jam 2018. Hey, what’s an extra 50+ hours and 2,400 miles of travel on top of the week we spend in San Francisco covering GDC? To be honest, it was absolutely worth it. Train Jam is one of the best experiences I’ve had in my life. For those who don’t know, Train Jam is a yearly event that sees hundreds of game developers meeting up in Chicago to ride the Amtrak Zephyr line all the way to San Francisco just prior to GDC. They use the trip as an opportunity to have a game jam and create a game during the two-ish days of travel. You can see a very condensed look at what Train Jam is like in this feature from Vice News. It was during Train Jam that Fortnite (Free) for iOS launched on an invite-only basis, and both Eli and myself had invite codes for the game. I’m not a Fortnite player at all, but it was downright magical to be playing the game on our phones, with extremely spotty cellular connections no less, while on a moving train. What a time to be alive. Of course there was also the actual GDC event which, as usual, we had tons of coverage from.

April brought the release of our eventual Game of the Year pick, Oddmar ($4.99). Funnily enough, while I was completely blown away in my initial impressions of Oddmar, it wasn’t the game that sucked up most of my free time during this month. That honor goes to Brew Town (Free). An idle clicker based on running your own brewery, Brew Town has one of the most compelling game loops I’ve ever seen in the idle gaming genre, but its star feature was its comprehensive label maker. You get to unlock and design tons of your own beers in Brew Town, from choosing the color of the can or bottle right down to naming and creating the label graphics. I’d be scared to know how much time I’ve spent perfecting my beer labels, but I know for a fact it’s significant. April also brought two other games I spent a ton of time with, the old-school Hang-On inspired motorcycle racer Retro Highway (Free) and Philipp Stollenmayer’s brilliant physics puzzler disguised as a word game Supertype ($1.99).

May was a jam-packed month for games I enjoyed. I became obsessed with Mgaia’s Minesweeper Genius ($1.99) which very cleverly blended Minesweeper mechanics with Sudoku. I simultaneously fell head over heels for Super Hydorah ($4.99), a side-scrolling shoot ’em up that feels like a modern classic in the genre. I also spent a tone of time playing Zach Gage’s Pocket Run Pool (Free), which was a completely unique and interesting spin on a classic billiards game. This was also the time Faraway 3 (Free) launched, the third and supposedly final entry in a surpringly great series of first-person puzzle adventures. However, Faraway 4 (Free) launched earlier this month, so I guess they aren’t done? That’s fine by me! Then there’s Baseball 9 (Free), a game that quietly launched and bowled me over with what has to be the best arcade-style baseball mechanics of any game on the App Store. Why is it so hard to get a good baseball game on mobile? The biggest drawback to Baseball 9 is that it’s free to play out the yin yang, but if you’re ok with that it’s easily the most fun baseball game around. Towards the end of the month two more of my favorites hit. Justice Royale (Free) is a side-scrolling beat ’em up with excellent animations, fantastic controls, RPG mechanics and tons of personality. Space Pioneer (Free) is a top-down arena shooter with tons of cool weaponry and style for days. Phew, what a month.

The first week of June was Apple’s WWDC conference in San Jose, CA which Eli and I both attended. This was another busy week covering all the gaming-related Apple news, but it was also good for spending time with co-workers from our sister site MacRumors in real life. Working online 99% of the time is strange, so it’s always nice to hang out with people you know so well over the internet in the meat space of real life. In terms of new releases, there was only a couple that really stuck out for me from June. Castle Pals (Free) is an adorable puzzle platformer from developer Brad Erkkila that features his son and his son’s best friend as playable characters. He promised long ago to include them in a game someday, and Castle Pals ended up being that game. So cute! June also brought the LONG awaited release of 3D platformer Suzy Cube ($3.99), which we had been following closely for several years. Suzy Cube is phenomenal, and featured as our runner up for Game of the Year this year.

Early July saw the release of Best Rally (Free) from one of my favorite developers, Oddrok. It’s a super polished rally racer with bite-sized tracks that are a perfect fit for mobile. We finally saw the release of the forever-in-soft-launch Galak-Z: Variant Mobile (Free), which was a mobile version of the popular desktop shoot ’em up. A lot of people were disappointed that the mobile version was sort of a weird, free to play take on the original, but I found the controls to be fantastic and the gameplay itself to be so much fun it felt like a good match for that typical style of free to play grinding. Teen Titans GO! Figure ($3.99) also launched in July. It’s the sequel to Teeny Titans, one of my absolute all-time favorite games on any platform. The sequel was largely more of the same, which isn’t a bad thing per se, but it also included several pretty significant new features and as of now also includes online multiplayer which should give it legs for a long time to come.

In early August, I had the opportunity to go on a trip of a lifetime. King flew out games writers and content creators from all over the world to Sweden for a big event celebrating their newest game Legend of Solgard (Free). I wrote up an extensive summary of my time in Sweden and what it was like to spend a night in the famous Ice Hotel. In preparing for the long flight to Sweden I made sure to charge up my Nintendo Switch and load up my iPhone with tons of games to keep me busy for the nearly 20 hours of travel that lay ahead of me. In reality, I played just one game during that entire time: Pocket City ($3.99). While this city builder isn’t quite up to the level of the classic SimCity, it’s still one of the most fun city builders around and it’s basically the only premium one on mobile. Beyond the great memories of things I did in actual Sweden, I’ll also always remember all those hours of fun I had on the plane with Pocket City.

Once I’d settled back in from my trip to Sweden, a game called Wonder Blade ($2.99) low-key launched on the App Store and created quite a buzz in our forums. Eager to see what all the fuss was about, I downloaded the game and my jaw hit the floor. This was a side-scrolling beat ’em up with obvious inspiration from the classic Castle Crashers that played like a dream on the touchscreen, and you could feel the love that was poured into making it. I still marvel at how much fun Wonder Blade is to play. Later in August saw the release of Armed Heist (Free), a Payday-like bank heist shooter broken into bite-sized chunks for mobile. It too is super fun. Then came Bendy in Nightmare Run (Free) which was a unique spin on your typical behind-the-back runner with its “from the front" point of view and focus on boss fights. It also has an incredible art style and animation. Golfing Around (Free) from Colin Lane gave us a simplified golf game that is tailor made for mobile touchscreens, and is more fun than you think a golfing game can be. And finally Donut County ($4.99) also arrived in August bringing super enjoyable hole-swallowing gameplay along with a charming story and characters.

The first week of September was PAX West 2018, which both Eli and I attended. Our first day there we were invited to an event at Nintendo’s North American headquarters where we previewed a ton of upcoming Nintendo Switch games. Visiting Nintendo was a childhood dream come true. The actual PAX show floor was filled with more stuff than we possibly had the capacity to cover, but we did our best. We checked out a ton of games that were heading to mobile, as well as a ton of games that weren’t officially announced for mobile but sure seemed like they’d be a good fit on the platform.

September also brought the third game in the Greatest Game Series of All Time: Bacon – The Game (Free). Following in the footsteps of its predecessors Pancake – The Game and Burger – The Game, Bacon – The Game again has you using a frying pan to flip food onto… well, just about anything you can imagine. And not just food, but the ultimate food: bacon. We then saw the release of Cube Escape: Paradox (Free), the latest in the long-running Cube Escape series of creepy adventure games. This one was a step above the rest though as developer Rusty Lake actually created an entire short film to accompany the game’s release, a first as far as I know. The short film is bloody fantastic, and really brings to life the creepy atmosphere and weird characters of the Cube Escape universe. It’s a must watch, and the entire Cube Escape and Rusty Lake series of games are absolute must plays. Then came the iOS port of the 2017 3DS game Monster Hunter Stories ($19.99). I am not a Monster Hunter person, and I am not a Pokemon person, but for whatever reason this Pokemon-esque take on the Monster Hunter series struck ALL the right chords for me. This game has so much content and such a compelling game loop that it would qualify as a “desert island" game for me. It’s pricey as far as mobile games go, but worth every penny and then some.

October saw the release of another of our Game of the Year runners-up, Direlight’s Grimvalor ($6.99). It’s hard to find anything bad to say about Grimvalor, it just does practically everything right. It’s a Metroidvania style action platformer with a style and combat directly inspired by the Dark Souls series. The combat is fluid and effortless, and the dark and gritty environments you fight through are spectacular. Later in the month Fidel Dungeon Rescue ($4.99) came to iOS. I’d never heard of this game before its mobile debut, but it’s a turn-based puzzler that had earned quite a reputation on desktop last year, and translates beautifully to the touchscreen. Definitely one to check out. Siralim 3 ($2.99) also launched at this time and got its hooks in me pretty deep. If you’ve ever wanted an endlessly replayable Pokemon-ish dungeon crawler RPG roguelike crazy mashup, that’s Siralim 3, and it’ll likely never leave my device. Rounding out the month was Help! I’m Haunted ($2.99), a charming homage to an all-time favorite action platformer of mine Kero Blaster. It’s not quite on par with Kero Blaster in terms of design but the action is fun and I absolutely love the Ghostbusters-esque theme.

The first game to really grab me in November was See/Saw ($2.99), another gem from Philipp Stollenmayer. This is a single screen physics platformer similar to the N+ games but completely controlled using just two buttons. It’s a super fun challenge with tons of levels to keep you busy. In the middle of the month I was treated to two excellent shooters. The first was Hyper Sentinel (Free), a modern homage to the classic top-down shooter Uridium. It features completely over the top action and unique goal-oriented progression, as opposed to just being a blast-a-thon. Not that there’s anything WRONG with blast-a-thons, which brings me to the next game Black Paradox ($3.99). This is a side-scrolling shooter with roguelike elements and obvious inspirations from the sublime Steredenn. Black Paradox features super cool boss fights, tons of wacky weaponry to try and figure out how to effectively use, and copious amounts of ’80s nostalgia all wrapped up in a tight little package. I love it.

That brings us to December. I previously mentioned Faraway 4, and I’ll mention it again because it’s just such a good series that everyone should play, and it’s completely free to check out all the games in the series. I also got hooked on Crossgrams (Free) this month. I don’t typically love word games because I spend way too much time trying to find the absolute “perfect" word. You would not like playing Scrabble with me. But with Crossgrams it’s more of a puzzle to figure out that’s based around words, and I find it both highly enjoyable and highly challenging. It’s the perfect thing to pull out of my pocket and poke around with for a few minutes at a time. And last but not least the mobile port of the full Bendy game, Bendy and the Ink Machine ($6.99), totally blew me away this month. I hadn’t been in on the Bendy phenomenon but after playing Bendy an the Ink Machine I can totally see why it’s so popular. It’s a super creepy survival adventure game with clever puzzles to solve and a lovely Golden Age of Cartoons art style.

And there you have an (accidentally super exhaustive) look at my life of mobile gaming in 2018. If you’ve read this far, well, thank you very much. I didn’t intend for this to ramble on so long. And especially if you’re a regular reader of TouchArcade, I can’t thank you enough for caring about the mobile gaming news and reviews we work so hard to put out. It means so much to me to know there are people who truly enjoy what we do, and makes all the hard work worth it. As I said in the beginning, I’m not sure where TouchArcade will be in 2019 but I hope to be doing what I’ve been doing here for nearly 9 years for as long as I possibly can, and whether our little website is still around to cover it or not I have no doubt that 2019 will be an even more incredible year for mobile gaming than 2018 has been. Take care, I love you all, and have a Happy New Year!