Everyone and their mother has a smartphone these days, and lots of us play games on them, too — I get sucked in on the train, ferry, and bus, or when I want to relax a bit, and I know I'm not the only one. The thing is, though, that I'm really picky about mobile games: I like games that are pretty, mysterious, fascinating, and engaging. Less Candy Crush and more...well, if you read on, you'll find out.
If you share my obsession for puzzle games, adventures, games that push you to explore through mysterious storylines and absolutely beautiful graphics, carry on. Most are available for both Android and iOS, and some are also available in desktop versions, for those who prefer to go old school.
I've rounded up 10 developers I have on my watchlist, because I like nearly every project they make, and I think you will too.
Creators of "The Room" and "The Room Two," Fireproof takes its puzzle gaming to an extreme. Each game features a series of rooms that you have to logic your way through, examining every single object for clues to help you escape. Sound is critically important as you manipulate items in the environment, and you'll need to take advantage of your phone's accelerometer as well, because parts of the game force you to tilt your phone to get to the bottom of something.
How great are these games? They made me break my determined rule to never pay for apps ever.
Remember when everyone was nattering about "A Dark Room," the very basic text game that people can't adequately explain? If you haven't played it, you definitely need to — and try it with and without huts (you'll understand) to check out the radically different endings. If you fall in love, you'll like "The Ensign" as well.
"A Dark Room" isn't a visual feast, but it's still a thoughtful and engaging adventure, one that I'm particularly fond of because it brings back memories of gaming of yore. Also? It's frustratingly difficult (even more so with "The Ensign") in the best of all possible ways. Prepare to die. A lot.
The new hotness in mobile gaming right now is "Prune," which is about...growing trees? But not really. It's a total visual feast that involves solving puzzles and moving through incredibly graceful, elegant scenery. The minimalist design is clear, beautiful, and simple, and I can see why people are so into it — the game has won tons of awards and accolades, and I really want to see what McDonald does next.
It's "a bonsai tree for your pocket," and amazingly my lack of green thumb hasn't actually killed it just yet.
ustwo has their finger in a number of pies, but "Monument Valley" is the most stunning pie of all. If you like narrative games, puzzles, and Escheresque landscapes, you should be all over this. It's totally pretty and it lingers on my eyeballs after I play it in the best of all possible ways. The level of art development and care that went into it is so clear that it's really a pleasure to look at, let alone play.
For those of us who still miss "Glitch" with a passion, there are some parts of "Monument Valley" that really remind me of the playful, explorative world of "Glitch."
I really loved "Machinarium" when it came out for desktop, and the mobile version is equally delightful. It's a little steampunky, a little grungy, and very sweet — and it's also a strongly narrative-driven game. Take yourself through a delightful environment as a little robot creature, exploring everything around you in a highly tactile click-based adventure game.
You'll love their other beautiful games as well, many of which share the same visual aesthetic as "Machinarium," but not all!
Simogo produces almost disgustingly beautiful games with a side of deeply creepy mysteriousness. You will absolutely love their work, like "Year Walk," which has a tendency to make me miss my BART stop. The game is kind of loosely based on a Swedish tradition, but it's a much darker adventure, complete with dire warnings, mystical elements, and creepazoid characters.
Like "A Dark Room," "Year Walk" also has an alternate ending, and playing through both versions is recommended.
Nyamnyam's "Tengami" is a really beautiful concept game that puts the player into a popup world. It's inspired by Japanese art and culture, and you'll need to be creative about finding the elements of the game that move to uncover new world — a slide here, a flip there, a fold over there. It also has a really lovely soundtrack, for those who enjoy a bit of music with their gaming.
I'm really hoping for more artfully crafted games from these people, because "Tengami" is so amazing.
I'm not in love with all of their work, but "Adventures of Poco Ecco: Lost Sounds," a collaboration between POSSIBLE and I Am Yank, is an exception. You will absolutely need your headphones for this game as you navigate an environment searching through a series of puzzles to uncover missing sounds. It kind of reminds me of The Phantom Tollbooth, and fellow Norton Juster fans might get a kick out of it.
The creators of "Dark Meadow" are very into moody, atmospheric, kind of intense games. Yes, you will be chasing down monsters, but you will be doing it across creepy landscapes! It's a nightmarish fairytale that delves deep into tools from roleplaying and creative problem solving, and for those who like a bit more action and combat in their mobile games, "Dark Meadow" will definitely be delightful — yes, even the monsters are pretty. Sort of.
Their other projects, like "Corpse of Discovery," are fun times too. This entry in their lineup reminds me a bit of The Martian, as you wake up in a strange landscape and have to figure out how to get off a hostile planet and back to your home. As with "Dark Meadow," there's a lot of feeling out the environment to find solutions, and you will frequently stumble upon the unexpected.
10) Frogmind Games
"Badland" is an action adventure, but it's filled with color-saturated landscapes, weird creatures, and strange constructions. The music is also fantastic, and notably there are multiplayer modes for those who want to play with friends. Work your way through a serious of strange landscapes, take on bizarre challenges, and enjoy the lush scenery of Dawn, Noon, Dusk, and Night as the world turns on you.
Screenshots courtesy their respective game developers.