As a rule, mobile games suck. They’re typically surface-level, exploitative, money-gaubbing little pieces of bloatware, stuffed with ads or pop-ups letting you know that there’s singles in your area.
It’s a shame that it got this way. The main reason that the mobile platform became such a breeding ground for trash is how accessible and cheap it is. Not everyone’s got a PS4, or a specced out PC, but everyone’s got a phone. And everyone’s got time to kill. So games got designed around this.
People on their commutes – or in the back of their lectures – want short, low-intensity experiences. No time for stories, no time for mechanics. Swipe down to win, up to lose. Stick some ads at the bottom, some unskippable videos between sessions, and you’re done. Actually, you’re more than done: you’re rich.
And yeah, while this is a bit reductive, and there are a lot of great basic phone games that don’t try to actively waste your time (Candy Crush stands out as an example, which, despite its egregious microtransactions, is actually a banger), it’s still true for 90% of the industry.
So we’re not here for that. We’re here for some games that are actually worth sitting down and playing. They might cost you like a fiver, but come on. You’d spend that on a Vodka Red Bull without a second thought.
Florence is the story of a girl who falls in love. It is one of the most intimate and heartfelt games I’ve played, on any platform. It’s designed from the ground up for mobile. Throughout the game it invites you to brush Florence’s teeth with her by scrubbing your finger across the screen, or move in with your boyfriend by touching and choosing which of his items to display and which of yours to put in the loft. It uses actual game mechanics – touching, dragging, pressing, pulling – in a way that I’ve never seen anywhere else. The whole game left me amazed at the ingenuity of its design and teary at the honesty of its story. The soundtrack’s also fire.
This is so cool. Monument Valley is a puzzle game where you, a princess called Ida, navigate these impossible, paradoxical, M. C. Escher-esque settings to get to a finish line. The game uses an isometric camera to create levels with impossible geometry that you can actually walk on and move around. The levels are all gorgeous, with minimalist landscapes and beautifully rendered backgrounds. It’s also got a subdued but genuinely moving story. Along your way you meet a Totem pole, who, a bit like Portal’s Companion Cube, you’ll become inexplicably very attached to. It’s great. Play it. Go.
This is the biggest ‘time-waster’ of the list. Alto’s Odyssey is a game where you’re a little man who skis down a big hill in search of his lost llamas. Along your journey you can grind on rails and jump over rocks and do tricks in the air and all that fun stuff. What sets it apart from the pack of other pretty similar (and much worse) games is its attention to detail. The mechanics just feel so good. The designers have obviously spent a lot of time working on the weightiness of the main character, Alto, and fine-tuned exactly how long he jumps for and how hard he hits the ground. It all adds up to make it one of the most satisfying games to play on your 15-hour commute from Hull to York.
Stardew Valley was made by one guy. Which is insane. Because it’s probably one of the most complex and content-rich games that I’ve ever played. Basically, you’re given a farm by your grandfather in his will, and you leave the hustle and bustle of city life to move in there and start to cultivate the now-abandoned land. That’s the premise. From there, you can do everything from romancing your fellow villagers to learning dark eldritch magic. There’s also a fishing minigame. All the best games have a fishing minigame.
Many, many hours of my life have been dedicated to Dadish. Dadish is a Mario-esque platformer where you play as a Radish who’s a Dad. Dadish. He has lost his many, many children and goes on a quest through many loosely-defined worlds to find them. There’s some vague theme about healthy eating (he’s a radish and all his enemies are burgers and hot dogs) but it doesn’t really matter. Moment to moment gameplay is great. The controls are simple (left, right, and jump) and levels are really tightly designed on the all-important border between hard and annoying. You’ll be cursing it and loving it in equal measure.
Next time you’re on the loo, consider pulling out one of these excellent, lovingly-made games instead of scrolling through Instagram. Unless you’re checking out @york_vision. Then it’s fine. Only then.