GamCentral names the best smartphone games of the year, including Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales, XCOM 2, and Wilmot’s Warehouse.
It’s no secret that 2020 hasn’t been the most joyous or fulfilling year in recent memory, which is why it’s heartening that the games industry has been able to offer so many genuinely great ways of diverting you from that reality. Whether you’re into the tactical card collecting of Slay The Spire, the logical reasoning of Gladiablots: AI Combat Arena, or the intoxicating organisational genius of Wilmot’s Warehouse these are 10 of the best mobile games that emerged this year.
Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales
iOS, £9.99 (CD Projekt)
Blending The Witcher’s seminal deck builder, Gwent, with a role-playing game all of its own, Thronebreaker uses card battles as stand-ins for physical ones. You’ll get occasional, conventional games of Gwent but the majority of battles reflect the special conditions your characters have just encountered in the world.
That introduces a new set of buffs or limitations for almost every game, a feature that keeps things fresh and forces you to rethink your tactics based on what’s in front of you rather than simply leaning on a few well-worn card combinations.
And all that tactical brilliance is underpinned by a story of moral ambivalence and intrigue that’s every bit The Witcher. It’s a cracking game to have on your phone.
iOS, £4.99 (Finji)
Encouraging strategic thinking and freeform creativity, your job in Wilmot’s Warehouse is to organise batches of stock as they come into your storage area. How you categorise items is essential as your collection of random bric-a-brac gets larger and more diverse.
The reason it’s important is that as well as stowing items, you’ll also be called upon to find and deliver them to the service hatch, all against a time limit.
Although running a virtual Argos branch may not on the face of it sound much like a game, Wilmot’s Warehouse is enthrallingly addictive, providing a continual test of organisational skills and memory that gradually escalates in complexity.
iOS & Android, £3.99 (Plug In Digital)
Dropping you straight into the action, Unmemory’s captivating blend of puzzles and mystery uses every aspect of your phone, from touch to motion to sound and visuals, making it – ironically – a singularly memorable experience.
Interactive fiction immediately makes you think of choose your own adventure books, and while they have their place Unmemory stretches that genre in ingenious and surprising directions, using text, images, and other objects on the page to deliver puzzles that require logical deduction rather than trial and error.
With superb sound design and problems that actually feel good to solve, like Simogo’s Device 6 this is a game that will rattle around your head long after you’ve finished playing it.
iOS, £23.99 (Feral Interactive)
Provided your iPhone or iPad is new enough to handle it, XCOM’s brand of fast paced, turn-based combat looks good and plays like a dream, fully recreating one of the decade’s most accomplished triple-A games on a mobile device.
Okay, so your phone might also double up as a convenient hand warmer while you’re playing, and there’s a sense that enemies don’t move about as much as they did on PC or consoles, but it also adds useful features like a fully rotatable camera and an Overwatch All button.
While it may be expensive for a mobile game it’s still extremely good value for the amount of content you get and level of polish evident throughout.
iOS, £Free (Kamibox)
Sticky Terms is a word game with a difference. Rather than assembling words from scattered letters on a board the words and short phrases are pre-selected, but have been pulled to pieces, rotated, and then stuck back together.
Your job is to pull them apart again and reassemble them, each word fragment snapping together with its intended siblings with a satisfying pop.
As well as selecting extremely funny idioms from around the world, the way words have been dismantled and rearranged is in itself artistically brilliant, making this a relaxing and amusing joy to play through.
Slay The Spire
iOS, £9.99 (Humble Games)
Slay The Spire is a roguelike deck builder that needs little introduction, given its reputation on PC and consoles. In it, you battle with an expanding deck as you work out how different card combinations work and discover which unlocks will become mainstays of your collection.
As well as cards you also unlock characters, each of which has a significant influence on the way you’ll play and how your cards work, adding another dimension to an already complex game.
On a phone some of the interactions are tricky with human-sized fingers, and it still hasn’t arrived on Android, but for iPad owners this remains a treat.
iOS & Android, £1.99 (Tiny Touch Tales)
Puzzles lend themselves to touchscreen interaction, as do games that arrive in relatively short, bus journey-sized chunks, and Maze Machina is in exactly that sweet spot.
Your job is to hop a mouse around a small grid, first to collect a key, then to get to the exit. That process is complicated by the selection of killer robots that mirror every one of your mouse’s moves. The final twist is that any square you or the robots land on with a power up on it is automatically used that turn, making tactical forethought essential.
It’s a lot trickier than its small board and simple appearances make it look, and like its stablemate Card Thief, it’s a robust and long-term challenge.
iOS, £Free (Zach Gage)
Everyone’s knows Spelltower, 2011’s ultra-elegant game of mobile word search, where you don’t have to stick to straight lines as long as letters in your words are adjacent and only used once.
This year’s edition gives you all that and an array of longevity-expanding extras that includes daily puzzles, online leaderboards, and a lot of extra inducements to come back for one more go.
It’s remarkably effective at that, and is also free – which in this case means watching the odd video ad or stumping up £4.99 to remove them forever.
iOS & Android, £Free (miHoYo)
With Game of the Year awards on both App Store and Google Play, Genshin Impact has certainly made its mark around the world, and since it only launched in September it’s done it with remarkable rapidity.
Whatever your preconceptions may be about a free-to-play gacha game made in China it’s nothing short of stunning, presenting you with a sprawling Zelda-esque open world to explore, the green grass and blue skies looking beautiful thanks to console-grade production values.
Even the monetisation isn’t too in-your-face, although it does eventually start to get a bit grindy in the late game. Genshin Impact is easily the most accomplished and alluring Zelda-alike available for mobiles, easily outstripping paid-for rival Oceanhorn and its sequel.
Gladiabots: AI Combat Arena
iOS & Android, £6.99 (Sébastien Dubois)
Instead of putting you in control of your Gladiabots as they fight other robots in the arena, you’re instead responsible for programming them. During the fights themselves you just watch, making mental notes of any upgrades they might need before the next engagement.
With a long and detailed single-player campaign that puts you and your bots in enough different situations that you’ll have plenty of inspiration to refine their attack and defence strategies, you’ll eventually be ready to try your coding skills against other human bot-masters.
Although the lack of direct action may not suit all tastes, the sheer level of possibility as you tinker with sub-routines and make little discoveries creates an unusually deep and long-lived game.
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