There have been some utterly brilliant mobile games this year. And we're not just talking about top tier adventure and puzzle titles that have realised how much better they can be on touch devices, but bespoke games purposefully geared towards the pick-up-and-play immediacy of smartphone and tablet gaming. Speaking personally, my smartphone and iPad overtook my 3DS and Vita as my handheld gaming platforms of choice. Not because the latter consoles necessarily lacked stellar titles, but simply because the convenience and quality of mobile gaming has never been better.
What we said: If the mechanical nature of the game — the challenge of trying to circumnavigate the globe in eighty days — is what propelled me onwards in the game on a micro level, the imagination and invention that has gone into the narrative aspects of 80 Days are what kept me coming back for multiple adventures. The manner by which you can mould and shape Passepartout’s character through your interactions with others is a joy in this game, the subtleties and ambiguities in the relationships that you foster along the way are rare to experience in this medium, but 80 Days does a wonderful job of weaving the most beautiful and engrossing arrays of smoke and mirrors to hide the cogs underneath, and delights in fluid prose that musters its own incentives for reading on, rather than relying on blunt rewards.
What we said: One of the most addictive games of the year. Card-collecting games can be a niche proposition, but Hearthstone proved that anyone and everyone could get involved this year. And they did. In droves.
What we said: Turning Hitman into a turn-based mobile game might seem like some sort of weird bastardisation of all that is holy in Codename 47's world, but Hitman Go is fantastic, a brilliant slice of stealthy puzzle action, beautifully crafted and presented, and perfectly suited to quick bursts of play. It's the complete package -- challenging, stylish, easy to pick up and play, but with plenty of depth. You'll spend hours on later levels working out the perfect run, and you'll come back time and time again.
What we said: A true work of art, Monument Valley is the puzzle game equivalent of a beautifully decorated cupcake. It's gorgeous to behold, even better to consume, and we can't help but wish there was more. A pastel Echochrome in many ways, but with sumptuous aesthetics and a fantastical narrative to lose yourself in, Monument Valley is over too quickly, but it's a glorious journey while it lasts.
What we said: You can get FTL on iPad these days, but if you want an open-ended, resource-balancing, space sim that comes down to player choice on a moment to moment basis, Out There is a damn fine choice. Its soundtrack is brilliant, its writing just restrained enough to allow players to fill in gaps here and there and like FTL, it's all about the journey itself. You'll fail over and over, realising that deep space can be lonely and brutal and unpredictable, but sometimes just surviving to make another system jump can be incredibly rewarding.
What we said: A victim of its own elegance and simplicity thanks to some ruthless cloning, Threes is nonetheless one of the best puzzle games of the year, and one of the finest mobile games to date. Simple to pick up, yet difficult to master and reach truly top tier scores, Threes was charming, addictive, and perfectly balanced.
Winner: 80 Days
As a child, I’d always draw maps of the places that I read about in books. When I was really young, I’d spend days listening to Enid Blyton’s The Secret Island on loop, making detailed sketches of the island itself, before eventually using my imagination to draw the perfect island myself, full of traps and clandestine caverns, subterranean pathways and hidden lookout points. When I first read Around the World in 80 Days, I remember jumping on the relatively new PC that my Dad had bought, slipping in the CD-ROM of Encarta 95, and tracing the route Fogg took across the world, learning all about the places that he visited… until I got bored and just played Mind Maze. I remember defacing atlases with various coloured pens as I plotted my own route around the world.
Of course, in 80 Days, you don’t need to ruin perfectly good maps with Crayola. You can live those different routes through Passepartout’s eyes, carefully balancing time and money and health and the colourful cast of characters you encounter. And there are giant mechanical Aztec birds, steam-driven Autobots of the Victorian age, hover trains that cross continents, and airships decked out with minarets . Why? Because it’s awesome.
There have been some stellar mobile games this year, but 80 Days is the best of them -- brave, balanced, beautiful, and brilliantly suited to the tactile devices in our pockets, perfect for hastily-snatched moments of escapism and long gaming sessions alike.