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 impian 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 jje-boutique.com 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. Action
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 i-yankees.com/ 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 insentif 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-£dua.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.Adventure
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 (£dua.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 aliran 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 (£dua.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 (£dua.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.