50 best games for tablets and smartphones
Every day, millions of Britons are battling zombies, exploring new planets or solving murders – all on a mobile. We pick the best games apps for iOS and Android
Last year, 24 million Britons played mobile games, according to market research firm Newzoo. That’s a lot of smartphone and tablet gameplay, often involving people who had never previously owned a dedicated games console or handheld.
Mobile gaming has exploded in the five years since Apple and Google launched their app stores for iOS and Android. Today there is a huge variety of games available on a smartphone or tablet; from puzzle games and retro runners through to immersive adventures and hardcore strategy games, there’s something for every kind of gamer, however experienced. And the best of them have been designed for the touchscreen, rather than being clumsily ported across from consoles or PCs.
Angry Birds clocked up 263 million active players in 2012, while Candy Crush Saga is played more than 600m times a day. Many of these games have social features too, so you can compare scores with Facebook friends or play head-to-head against strangers around the world.
One key trend over the past year is the popularity of “freemium” games. These are free to download and play, but they make their money from in-app purchases of virtual items and currency – you might buy extra-level packs and additional characters to extend the lifetime of a game, or coins/ gems/ doughnuts (it varies) to use within the game to improve your chances of success, or speed up your progress.
For that reason, whenever you see below that a game is marked “free”, it probably contains in-app purchases. If you’re a parent buying these games for a child, make sure you’ve read your device’s manual to find out how to change the settings to ensure the kids can’t spend without your approval.
Another welcome trend in 2013 is that many of the best games are available on Android as well as iOS – which hasn’t always been the case. Particularly for games that have social and multi-player features, the more people on more devices who can play, the better. Sifting through the hundreds of new games released every week on the app stores can feel like searching for needles in a haystack. The 50 games below are a good entry point to the best that mobile gaming has to offer, but other high-quality titles are coming along all the time.
JETPACK JOYRIDE iPhone/ iPad/ Android/ Windows Phone (free) A one-button game that involves piloting the jetpack-toting Barry Steakfries through a succession of levels, earning coins to buy new power-ups that’ll help him go further every time. Seems simple but has bags of depth.
GRAND THEFT AUTO: VICE CITY iPhone/ iPad/ Android (£2.99) The console classic translates smoothly to touchscreen devices, as you explore the sprawling Vice City, dealing destruction and death in terrible 80s shirts. It may be more than 10 years old, but it still feels fresh.
RIDICULOUS FISHING iPhone/ iPad (£1.99) Fishing gets an explosive twist in this wonderfully characterful arcade game. You lower your line, reel in as much sealife as possible, then launch it into the sky to blast it with a shotgun. It’s not particularly wildlife friendly, but it’s very good fun all the same.
ANGRY BIRDS STAR WARS iPhone/ iPad/ Android/ Windows Phone/ BlackBerry (free) Like previous Angry Birds games, this sees you hurling birds at pigs. Except this time, the birds are dressed as Luke Skywalker, Chewbacca and friends, with lightsabers and anti-gravity included. The best Star Wars spin-off in years.
SUPER MONSTERS ATE MY CONDO! iPhone/ iPad/ Android (free) It’s hard to beat this game for pure fun but also pure weirdness. It sees you sliding apartment floors out from wobbling towers to make colour matches as Day-Glo monsters wiggle in the background. Insanely good.
WHERE’S MY WATER? iPhone/ iPad/ Android/ Windows Phone (£0.65-£0.79) Each level – and there are more than 500 – involves manipulating water in its various forms, collecting items and unlocking bonus levels as you go. Four brand new characters to play as.
NIMBLE QUEST iPhone/ iPad/ Android (free-£0.69) Remember Snake from the glory days of Nokia mobile phones? This takes the idea and slithers with it, except your snake is now a “conga line of heroes” shooting at enemies and collecting gems and power-ups. Accessible and addictive.
TEMPLE RUN 2 iPhone/ iPad/ Android (free) Hundreds of millions of people have played the Temple Run games, where you swipe the screen to make your endlessly running character turn, jump and slide out of the clutches of a giant monkey clomping in your wake.
RUNNING WITH FRIENDS iPhone/ iPad (free-£2.49) Available in a choice of free or paid versions, Running With Friends is another endless-runner game, this time based on a Pamplona-style running-with-the-bulls race. The friends are your Facebook friends, who you can challenge.
FISH OUT OF WATER! iPhone/ iPad (£0.69) This game takes the simple pleasures of skimming stones and replaces the stones with colourful fish, each with their own bouncing patterns. Your job is to skip them as far as possible for the highest score. It’s very moreish.
RAYMAN JUNGLE RUN iPhone/ iPad/ Android/ Windows Phone (£1.99-£2.29) Rayman is a familiar character from console games, but his latest mobile outing might be his best yet. It sees him running and jumping through 70 well-crafted levels, with controls that work well on the touchscreen.
MINECRAFT: POCKET EDITION iPhone/ iPad/ Android (£4.99) Minecraft has been a huge hit with children and adults alike, with its virtual world where you explore and craft using blocks. It works just as well on smartphones and tablets as on computers and consoles.
SKY GAMBLERS: RISE OF GLORY iPhone/ iPad/ Android (free-£1.99) This first world war dogfighting game has stunning graphics, especially when played on a tablet. Thankfully, the gameplay matches up, with a choice of solo and multiplayer modes, and finely tuned controls for wannabe pilots.
WHALE TRAIL iPhone/ iPad/ Android (free-£1.99) This gently psychedelic game comes with its own theme tune from Super Furry Animals’ Gruff Rhys. You have to guide Willow the whale through the clouds, collecting bubbles and building as big a score as possible as you go. Utterly charming.
WALKING DEAD: THE GAME iPhone/ iPad (free) One more in the eye for anyone who thinks mobile games can’t be as gripping as console games – or even TV shows. Walking Dead brings the zombie saga to iOS, with in-app purchases to buy the five episodes. It’s fantastic storytelling.
LIMBO GAME iPhone/ iPad (£2.99) Platformer Limbo is one of the creepiest, most atmospheric games currently available on any platform, let alone mobile. With stylish monochrome graphics and frequently fiendish puzzles, it’s a rewarding and original adventure.
INFINITY BLADE II iPhone/ iPad (£4.99) This is part beat ’em up and part RPG, as your hero battles a succession of enormous monsters and levels up his weapons, armour and skills. An innovative ClashMob feature lets you play challenges with friends and strangers.
RAVENSWORD: SHADOWLANDS iPhone/ iPad/ Android (£4.63-£4.99) If you like console games like Skyrim and can’t believe the genre would work on mobile devices, this may change your mind. It’s a huge open-world adventure with many hours of exploration and battle in store.
THE NIGHTJAR iPhone/ iPad (£2.99) The twist here is that The Nightjar is an audio-only adventure: you are denied the use of graphics, and can navigate only by sounds. The plot sees you trying to escape from a marooned spacecraft, and the spooky storyline is narrated by actor Benedict Cumberbatch.
YEAR WALK iPhone/ iPad (£2.49) This is one of the standout iOS games in recent memory. Based on Swedish mythology, it’s a first-person adventure set in a wintry landscape, in which you have to wander in search of a glimpse of your future. There are puzzles, characterful graphics and a creepily atmospheric soundtrack.
BROKEN SWORD: DIRECTOR’S CUT iPhone/ iPad/ Android (£2.49-£2.99) Originally rReleased in 1996, this point’n’click adventure has lost none of its appeal in the transition to swipe’n’tap. Your job is to solve a murder and uncover an ancient conspiracy, with tricksy puzzles and a healthy dash of humour.
WARHAMMER QUEST iPhone/ iPad (£2.99) Its roots as a tabletop role-playing game mean Warhammer has a wide fanbase, but its first mobile game should win it plenty of new fans, too. It offers dungeons, monsters and treasure galore in a series of immersive quests.
STAR WARS: KNIGHTS OF THE OLD REPUBLIC iPad (£2.99) This RPG first came out in 2003 for Xbox and PC, before being revived this year for iPad. It remains an engrossing adventure, as you explore worlds, battle foes, run the gauntlet of hostile bartenders and bounty hunters on Tatooine, and learn to use the Force.
SUPERBROTHERS: SWORD & SWORCERY iPhone/ iPad/ Android (£2.99-£3.25) A quirky adventure, with beautiful “pixel-art” graphics, this action-adventure is full of surprises and boasts one of the best soundtracks on any gaming device, matching the action perfectly.
WORLD OF GOO iPhone/ iPad/ Android (£1.99) Originally released for PC and Wii, World of Goo found its spiritual home on tablets and smartphones. It’s a physics-based puzzler based on dropping and stretching blobs of goo and manipulating them to connect pipes and other structures. It’s gloopily great.
CUT THE ROPE: TIME TRAVEL iPhone/ iPad/ Android (free-69p) There are several Cut the Rope games, all fun, but this is the latest. You control cutesy monster Om Nom, swiping to cut ropes and guide sweets into his mouth, as well as collecting stars. Great fun for children and adults alike.
DOTS: A GAME ABOUT CONNECTING iPhone/ iPad (free) On an App Store full of addictive puzzlers, Dots is one of the best. It sounds so simple: make coloured dots disappear by tracing connections between them. Yet there’s a world of strategy required to nail high scores.
WORDS WITH FRIENDS iPhone/ iPad/ Android/ Windows Phone (free-£2.29) This has been around for years, but remains the best word-puzzle game for mobile devices. Scrabble, essentially, it is played across multiple matches at once, against Facebook friends, or strangers if preferred.
LETTERPRESS: WORD GAME iPhone/ iPad (free) Not every word game has to look like a board game, even if Letterpress might remind you of Boggle. It involves making words from a grid of letters, taking turns with friends over the network to score as many points as possible.
MAGNETIC BILLIARDS: BLUEPRINT iPhone/ iPad (£0.69) If you like pool or bar billiards in the real world, you’ll love this on iOS. It’s a game of angles and strategy, where you shoot balls around a table, creating clusters that stick together. Perfect tactile touchscreen fun.
THE ROOM iPhone/ iPad/ Android (£1.49) The Room is one of the cleverest puzzle games to be developed for touchscreen devices from the ground up, as you explore a house and solve puzzles by tilting and touching your device. The difficulty curve is just right, too.
CANDY CRUSH SAGA iPhone/ iPad/ Android (free) A bona-fide craze, with tens of millions of addicted players already. The game involves matching coloured sweets across more than 100 levels, with in-app purchases of lives and power-ups to help when you get stuck.
TRIPLE TOWN iPhone/ iPad/ Android (free) Against tough competition,Triple Town might just be the most addictive mobile game ever. You build a puzzle town by matching bushes, trees and buildings in clumps of three or more, fending off bears as you go. A time-sucker in the best of ways.
BLIP BLUP iPhone/ iPad/ Android (free-£1.49) Blip Blup will keep you occupied for many happy – if challenging – hours. Each level is made up of a pattern of tiles, which you complete by tapping (or “blipping”) to trigger pulses of colour. The idea is to change the colour of every tile before you run out of blips. Its 120 puzzles offer plenty of depth.
HUNDREDS iPhone/ iPad/ Android (£1.99-£2.99) An original puzzle game that requires you to tap on a ball with a number in the middle in order to make the ball expand, and its value (the number) grow. Grow it to 100 and you win, but as the ball grows, you have to make sure it doesn’t collide with the other balls. Stylish by design and very hypnotic.
BEJEWELED BLITZ iPhone/ iPad/ Android (free) Bejeweled is a famous jewel-matching puzzle game that’s been around for years. The “Blitz” element here means quickfire 60-second rounds to score as many points as possible, then compete against your friends on Facebook. Frenetic and fun.
Sports and gaming
REAL BOXING iPhone/ iPad/ Android (£2.49) Another game whose console-quality graphics will startle at first. Once initiated, you’ll be more focused on the bone-crunching gameplay – you will quickly learn how to jab, cut and hook – and deep career mode of this chunky box ’em up.
VIRTUA TENNIS CHALLENGE iPhone/ iPad/ Android (£2.99-£4.02) Got thumbs capable of emulating Andy Murray at Wimbledon? Sega’s latest Virtua Tennis game is a treat. Customise a character then play your way through tournaments around the world, with 50 players to test your skills against.
NEED FOR SPEED MOST WANTED iPhone/ iPad/ Android (£2.99) EA’s Need for Speed games have a firm following on console, and now on mobile. This street-racing game features more than 40 cars, lots of customisation and spectacular graphics. Oh, and a spiffing sense of speed, thankfully.
NEW STAR SOCCER iPhone/ iPad/ Android (free – £1.99) It looks like a football game from the 80s, but plays better than its biggest rivals in 2013. You play as an individual footballer – passing, shooting and intercepting with simple swipes on the screen. Unputdownable.
REAL RACING 3 iPhone/ iPad/ Android (free) The first time you play this you will be impressed with the gleaming, console-quality graphics, gameplay depth and fine handling. There are more than 50 cars to race, hundreds of events and innovative multiplayer features.
FOOTBALL MANAGER HANDHELD 2013 iPhone/ iPad/ Android (£6.99) It’s caused divorces on PC, and Football Manager is no less immersive on mobile devices. Oversee transfers, training and tactics to take teams to the top in 14 playable leagues. Real thought has been put into the mobile conversion, too.
THE HOBBIT: KINGDOMS OF MIDDLE-EARTH iPhone/ iPad/ Android (free) Craving more Hobbity fun between the new movies? This official game is faithful and fun, as you build a Dwarven or Elven city, battle other players and interact with characters from Tolkien’s fantasy world.
THE SIMPSONS: TAPPED OUT iPhone/ iPad/ Android (free) There have been dodgy Simpsons games in the past, but this one is anything but. It’s a freemium town-building game – the town is Springfield, of course – and the show’s humour makes the transition perfectly to a game.
WAKING MARS iPhone/ iPad/ Android (£2.99-£3.09) There’s something bewitching about Waking Mars, a game where you explore the red planet and grow an ecosystem of plants and aliens. It’s a game that rewards thought and persistence, and one that gets richer the more you play it.
GAME DEV STORY iPhone/ iPad/ Android (£1.60-£2.49) So, you like playing games, but what about making them? Game Dev Story is Japanese in origin, and puts you in charge of a developer making console games. It’s quirky and, once you start playing, you won’t be able tostop.
PLANTS VS ZOMBIES iPhone/ iPad/ Android/ Windows Phone (£0.69-£3.99) The sequel isn’t far off, but if you’re new to Plants vs Zombies, start with the original. Plant the plants to fend off the zombies across 50 levels, unlocking new powers along the way. Mini-games add depth and a fair few laughs.
CLASH OF CLANS iPhone/ iPad (free) One of the biggest mobile games in the world in 2013, and justifiably so. You build a village with all a warrior clan requires, train troops and then battle other players over the network, mastering the intricacies of warriors and defences as you go.
HAY DAY iPhone/ iPad (free) If you tired of Facebook game FarmVille but still hanker after the virtual farming life, Hay Day is the game for you. After a helping hand from a talking scarecrow, you’re off – raising crops and livestock, and trading with friends. But it’s the sly humour that really delights.
POCKET PLANES iPhone/ iPad/ Android (free) Ever fancied running your own airline? That’s the gist of Pocket Planes, with more than 250 cities to fly to, and a long-term challenge in planning your routes and upgrading your fleet. Cute pixel art adds to its appeal.