Smartphone games have gone from terrible-looking, impossible to control abominations (N-Gage, we're looking at you) to triple-A fun generators. Here are some of our favourite ways to waste time on a smartphone (or tablet).
It’s Angry Birds, Jim, but not as we know it. Rovio’s latest avian-themed physics outing takes place outside the confines of the Earth, and it means more than a few stars in the background: gravity, or rather a lack of it in certain areas, plays a huge role, adding a welcome bit of variety to the classic “smash stuff up” gameplay.
Angry Birds Space
Old school “bullet hell” shoot ‘em ups may not be de rigueur on consoles these days, but they’ve found a good home on mobiles – and Shogun: Rise of the Renegade is one of the finest examples. Loads of weapons, loads of baddies and missiles on-screen at any one time, ace 16-bit music and even a decent plot – it ticks all the boxes.
As with Angry Birds, this puzzler is based on a simple physics model and basic controls: you swipe your finger to slice ropes in order to get sweets into the mouth of Om Nom, a hungry green monster; objects on the screen, like bubbles, trampolines and air blowers, need to be used in order to do this, and you’re awarded bonus points depending on how quickly you solve each level and by touching on-screen stars with the sweets.
Shogun: Rise of the Renegade
Arguably the most graphically impressive game on iOS (or just on mobile devices full stop), Epic Games’ Infinity Blade is a fantasy fighting game that sees you using simple swipe controls and combos to despatch armoured foes on your way to avenging your slain ancestors. Add in the RPG elements of levelling up and collecting sweet loot and you’ve got a total winner. An equally beautiful sequel is also available.
“Tower defence” games don’t come much more polished than this. Zombies are trying to invade your house, and they’re coming through the garden; good job you’re a green-fingered son of a gun with a greenhouse full of carnivorous plants, fungi and other gear able to slow down and destroy the increasingly fiendish waves of undead. Turns out gardening can be addictive as crack.
Cut the Rope
Mobile versions of “proper” console games are often a letdown, but EA managed to pull off this conversion by taking the parkour gameplay of Mirror’s Edge, flipping its 3D world down to a single plane and simplifying the controls. Tear across the roofs of the city at an adrenaline-pumping pace, dodging obstacles as you enter a “groove” of seemingly effortless free-running.
Not every game featuring birds has to be about smashing the living pork out of evil pigs. Tiny Wings is a game about building up speed and momentum in an attempt to get your bird across an entire island before the sun sets and he falls asleep. Attractively twee graphics and music make it something of a zen experience to play.
A game or a work of participatory art? We’re still not sure, but it’s certainly an experience. Sword & Sworcery isn’t really like anything else on the market: drenched in atmosphere thanks to its evocative soundtrack and pixellated visual style, it’s a thoughtfully paced exploration of a mythical realm. About as far away as you can get from the “snackable” style of gaming that dominates mobile.
Build elaborate structures using living balls of goo in order to allow other balls of goo to escape from each level. A glorious puzzle/construction game in the tradition of Lemmings, World of Goo isn’t just a brain-mangling challenge – it also manages to be surprisingly thought-provoking along the way.
Plants vs. Zombies
You’ve stolen the idol, now you need to escape from the temple, careening headlong down a crumbling, hazard-strewn pathway pursued by a band of bloodthirsty monkey-demon creatures. The thing with Temple Run is that you’ll always die eventually – the idea is simply to get as far as you can through the randomised 3D levels. The control system, all swipes and tilts, makes this a cinch to play anywhere.
Assassinate oranges and watermelons instead of people in this reflex-honing slice ‘em up, where finger swipes become sword strokes. Combos – i.e. multiple fruits pared with a single slash – gain bonus points.
Tetris meets Sudoku in this puzzle game, in which you have to eliminate rows and columns of discs by dropping other numbered discs onto them – if the number matches the number of discs in a touching row or column, those discs are eliminated. Yep, it’s one of those games you have to play to understand, but once you pick it up you may have a struggle putting it down.
At the time of writing, the iOS version of this footie career simulator has been pulled from the App Store (it’s rumoured to be returning soon once a technical issue has been ironed out), but the Android edition is still going strong. Combining a flick-kick action game with an RPG-esque quest to go from non-league journeyman to top division superstar. A must for any football fan.
The first “big” game to land on Windows Phone 7, The Harvest is a shooter set in the aftermath of an alien invasion of Earth. Boasting brilliant 3D graphics and a raft of RPG elements like skills and upgrades to keep you coming back, it’s a fine demonstration of what Microsoft’s OS can do.
This side-scrolling actioner (sadly no longer available on Windows Phone) rocks a cutesy-yet-blood-drenched visual style and gameplay that owes a debt to console games like God of War or Devil May Cry. You play a gun-toting nun battling evil by slaying zombies and other abominations in gory fashion.
Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP
A smartphone remake of the 11-year-old Rockstar Games classic, Max Payne’s touch controls may lack a bit of the immediacy and finesse of the original, but the film noir cool and bullet time craziness remain – and go a long way to making this a must-own on Android and iOS.
Mount your dirt bike and attempt to negotiate a series of mental obstacles in this physics-heavy 2D scroller. The rag doll effects mean crashes can be almost as entertaining as pulling off the required jumps and climbs.
World of Goo
A turn-based strategy game that sees you lead a ragtag group of zombie apocalypse survivors in an attempt to, well, rebuild society. Expand your camp in an infested city, scouting out areas, scavenging for supplies, managing resources and avoiding or eliminating a variety of hazards. Addictive, especially if you’re one of the many people who has envisioned their own zombie apocalypse survival plan.
When Grand Theft Auto III arrived on the PS2, few could have seen such an expansive 3D game ever being playable on a mobile phone – and yet 10 years later here it is, looking if anything even better than before. The touch controls work well, and everything else you love about GTA – the violence, the humour, and the way the two are mixed – remains intact.
This trippy title (named “Osmos HD” on Android) features psychedelic galactic motes absorbing smaller organisms while striving to be absorbed themselves, all to an ambient electronica soundtrack. A gorgeous visual experience.
The craze surrounding Draw Something has cooled somewhat, and it suffers from too much repetition – but the game remains one of the few that successfully combines fun with creativity. It’s social too, especially if you’re the sort who feels the need to impress friends – or even strangers – with the quality of your drawings.
This physics puzzlers tasks you to use a variety of “everyday” objects to solve its tasks. Once you’ve placed the objects and started the screen, there’s no more input from your end – so the idea is to set everything up to start the perfect chain reaction, collect all the stars and move on to the next screen.
This free grid-based puzzler is a little like Sudoku, but with the numbers replaced by earth, air, fire and water. Mixing these together creates element combinations that can clear the board, allowing you to move on to the next one.
Pinball video games are nothing new, but Pinball Arcade is a true simulator in that it actually recreates real life tables made by Midway, Bally, Gottlieb and Stern – i.e. the kind you might find in the back corner of your local dive bar. Beautiful 3D graphics, authentic sound effects and accurate physics round off the package nicely.
The indie building game that’s taken the world by storm is now available on mobile, and while it’s a pared-down experience from the desktop version, it’s certainly no slouch. You can create worlds and structures on the go (alone or with friends over Wi-Fi), and play the zombie-infested survival mode if you want to feel a bit of danger while you build.