25. Chu Chu Rocket Universe
A twisting series of puzzles, Chu Chu Rocket Universe invites you to plan a path of escape for your mouse pals. Deceptively simple at first, the complexity and challenge evolves across over 100 puzzles across a series of cute and creative galaxies. Making your way across these Mario Galaxy style planets leaves you with the kind of peace that can only come from meticulously planning (and ultimately succeeding).
24. The Pinball Wizard
Dungeon crawler meets pinball in this magically addictive experience. Control flippers to launch your wizard into enemies until the exit key can be obtained to go to the next, progressively harder, floor. The loop is even more satisfying than its brilliant sound design and lovely purple pastel art style. While more skilled players may fly through these levels, those who struggle can take solace in leveling up and getting the option to unlock new skills to make the next run easier. Plus, there are checkpoints every few floors that help make reaching the top of the tower possible for everyone. And if you’re looking for content beyond the campaign you can dive into Dungeon Mode, to see how long you can survive.
23. Marble It Up: Mayhem!
Played with a paired Bluetooth controller (the touch controls are an exercise in frustration), Marble It Up: Mayhem is a ridiculously high-quality and feature-rich spiritual successor to “marble platforming” games like Marble Blast Ultra. With simple and perfect analog controls you’ll roll your way through nearly 100 powerup-filled, speedrun-optimized single player stages. Even after all that, an embarrassment of riches remains. Global leaderboards and dozens of multiplayer maps across several game modes makes this one of the biggest and most feature-rich games on Apple Arcade.
22. Crossy Road Castle
Crossy Road Castle is a quality platformer that draws on classic genre tropes, like launching barrels and falling platforms, and wraps it an adorably charming package. This endless series of levels challenges you to survive as long as you can and the option to play alongside up to three other friends helps lighten the load. Progression is possible as long as at least one player makes it out of the room and they’re all short enough to feel manageable, regardless of how complex it can get. Crossy Road Castle’s refined controls and inviting, rainbow-filled towers make it worth the climb again and again; it’s a must-play for any platformer fan.
Free Range Games’ Spelldrifter is an innovative hybrid of deck building and strategy RPG that rose from the ashes of a failed 2016 Kickstarter called Labyrinth that later limped its way onto Steam before being shut down in late 2019. The game successfully blends the positional tactics of a turn-based RPG like Fire Emblem, and layers a deck-building system like Hearthstone or Slay the Spire on top to power your attacks, blocks and other actions. While initially seeming complex, it works remarkably well and provides some welcome depth at a pace that seems particularly appropriate for mobile play.
20. Steven Universe
Steven Universe: Unleash the Light continues the tradition of surprisingly great Steven Universe mobile games that can, at least somewhat, help fill the void in any Paper Mario fan’s heart. Unleash the Light captures the charm and wit of the show’s characters while offering a host of fun possibilities in its turn-and-timing-based RPG battle system. While not quite using a grid system, Unleash the Light forces you to not only pay attention to your party’s makeup, equipment, and accessories but also their placement on the battlefield for optimal damage. And it’s all wrapped in a series of bite-sized levels featuring battles, hidden collectibles, and more, making it perfect for a quick level or two or losing yourself in an extended play session.
Tint turns mixing paint colors into puzzle solving across 270 levels and counting. Meant to be more soothing than headscratch inducing, Tint invites you to take your time and match the color of the origami on the page. It gets more challenging over time as you’ll need to mix colors and work your way through what becomes a bit of a maze on the page. But in-game hint options and a nature-based soundtrack all support Tint’s ethos of giving players a place to unwind and, on that front, Tint delivers. From an accessibility standpoint, it’s worth noting that each color has its own tune and there’s also a colorblind and vision-impaired mode that adds unique patterns on each color.
18. Mini motorways
I’m not particularly good at Mini Motorways, but I keep going back to the fun infrastructure builder/roadway management game to try to improve on my score in its various levels. Most games play out the same way, and yet discovering how to incrementally improve at my road building brings me back again and again. Things start simply enough, as Mini Motorways asks you to connect a red house to a red factory, so cars can go to and from work as needed. But as days go by via the in-game counter, more colors are added, bridges, highways, bodies of water, mountains, and traffic lights get thrown into the mix, and suddenly the relatively simple plan I had for my city has given way to a patchwork of twisting streets hopefully preventing any major traffic jams. Inevitably, traffic stalls out and my city crumbles, but Mini Motorways so smartly makes success feel achievable at the start of each game that even when failure arrives, I know I can try to get at least a couple more cars to where they’re going next time.
Overland might catch your attention with its minimalist low-poly visuals and diorama-esque levels, but this turn-based survival game is anything but simple. Placing you right in the midst of an apocalypse, Overland tasks you with navigating carefully through levels filled with enemies and life-threatening situations. Unlike your typical turn-based strategy game, Overland is less about taking down every enemy on the board and more about implementing an effective escape strategy. Each puzzle-like level features obstacles to overcome with the help of your party members. Maybe the car is low on gas or one of your characters is in desperate need of a medkit. But you’ll need to find key items to survive, sometimes even rescuing a fellow survivor in need, all the while keeping your party out of harm’s way and getting them to safety. It has a challenging yet satisfying gameplay loop that can keep you preoccupied for hours, and with randomly generated maps and levels, has plenty of replay value long after you see the end of your first run.
Creepy and eye-catching, Creaks is a puzzle game based on manipulating the environment to walk and climb your way deeper into the surreal world hiding behind your bedroom wallpaper. While the puzzle-solving isn’t terribly complex, Creaks’ strength is the way everything is solved by carefully observing and interacting with the world and the bizarre creatures that inhabit it. This process is a joy to engage in because the art style is such a gorgeous, yet unsettling, steampunk collage of ladders and mechanisms. From the creators of indie classics Machinarium and Samorost, Creaks is an eerie delight where your additional exploration is with oil paintings that can take the form of minigames. You never know what’s around the corner in Creaks but you’ll be happy to find it.
15. Jenny LeClue – Detectivu
If you’ve only seen the trailer for Mografi’s sweet, charming, and beautiful Jenny LeClue, you’d be forgiven for expecting an old-school point-and-click adventure firmly rooted in puzzles and detective work, much like Revolution’s Broken Sword games, or Sierra’s Gabriel Knight series. It’s absolutely not though. It’s actually a lengthy (about 12-15 hours) piece of dialog-based interactive fiction evocative of Infinite Fall’s Night in the Woods. It cleverly weaves two different narrative threads together; one that follows the precocious wannabe-detective Jenny, whose mother has been framed for murder, and another of hackneyed author Arthur K Finklestein who has been writing stories about the fictional Jenny LeClue for decades, and now faces pressure from his publisher to reinvigorate flagging book sales. The game is almost completely reliant on dialog choice for progress, but it manages to remain witty and remarkably nuanced throughout.
14. No Way Home
Although initially seeming like little more than a very pretty reinterpretation of Asteroids, SMG Studios’ No Way Home soon reveals itself to be a sprawling, procedurally-generated, quest-based 2D space adventure that borrows more than a little from the early Grand Theft Auto games. While the quests are mobile-friendly and brief – mainly involving plodding from point A to point B while shooting at stuff – it’s held together by a charmingly daft storyline with some genuinely funny characters. It’s all presented in an indulgently simplistic cartoon style that manages to feel remarkably contemporary without just trying to be Rick & Morty.
13. Shinsekai: Into the Depths
Capcom’s complete commitment to Shinsekai: Into the Depths’ oppressive and alien underwater world is a bold decision – and it works. In the beginning this is a game that does not feel good to play. You’re slow. You slide and float everywhere, only somewhat in control. So much can (and will) kill you. The deeper into this surprisingly huge ocean you explore, the more of Shinsekai’s richness is revealed. In true Metroidvania fashion you eventually begin to feel more like predator than prey. And the wordless story packs a surprisingly complex punch, as you learn more about the true nature of the underwater world you’re trapped within. It’s an excellent, confident, and genuinely unique entry in the ever-growing Metroidvania pantheon.
12. Towaga: Among Shadows
While packing an impressively silly backstory featuring flamboyantly-named characters like “Metnal the Voidmonger” that initially seem like they might be important (they are not), ultimately this is purely a beautifully-animated 2D shooter where you’re just blasting the crap out of evil creatures. While its very basic gameplay was criticized on PC and Switch for being too simplistic, the approach works remarkably well on a phone or tablet. The blasting comes in two flavors: standing in the middle of the screen mowing down magical critters, or zipping around the sky blasting the same stuff twin-stick style. The levels are quick, frenetic and super stylish and actually make for an excellent mobile action game.
11. Bleak Sword
Bleak Sword has the best touchscreen combat system in any mobile game I’ve ever played. It is tuned to absolute perfection, and wrings the as much gameplay out of that perfection as it possibly can, throwing an ever-escalating gauntlet of hellish monsters your way to dodge, parry, and counter-attack. Bleak Sword isn’t “retro” — it is just fully boiled down. It is pure Souls-like tension and split-section reactions, with all distractions stripped away.
10. Tangle Tower
Tangle Tower is beautifully animated, generously written, and universally well-acted, but its true pleasure lies in how it transforms the well-trodden path of the locked-room murder mystery into something constantly game-y. Yes you’ll be collecting evidence, talking to suspects, and unravelling a Gordian knot of inter-family intrigue. But you’ll also be solving dozens of logic puzzles and learning the ins and outs of the mansion/crime scene your heroes have travelled to. Tangle Tower is a very enjoyable detective game but, even better than that, it refuses to be just a detective game, spinning you through new ideas as you uncover its mysteries.
Mutazione’s joy comes in the little, interpersonal moments along its journey. Its explorations of community, the ties that bind us, and what it means to care for others are at their most poignant in the quiet beats of a conversation — what’s unsaid can often be just as powerful as what’s spoken — or in getting to know the quirks, backstories, and relationships of a community largely forgotten by the rest of the world. Exploring as 15-year-old Kai come to take care of her ailing grandfather, you’ll bring life back where you can with new gardens via a calming, music-based planting mechanic, while also learning about the deep humanity rooted in misunderstood group around you in the Mutazione.
8. Dear Reader
Dear Reader turns the literary cannon into a delightful series of word puzzles. Pulling from over 80 literary classics, dozens of different word puzzles appear: from filling in the blanks to simple spell checks. Literary aficionados will be thrilled to use prior knowledge for a legup but anyone can logic their way to the solutions (or lean on in-game hints). While those who found Jane Austen boring or difficult to understand can quite literary just play with the words. And players looking to further gameify things can ramp up the difficulty setting and focus on the next unlock. Dear Reader steps away from literary analysis to turn classics into word games that are fun in their own right. It’s a welcome and refreshing way to experience these texts.
7. Speed Demons
Since EA discreetly removed the chaotic 2D Burnout Crash from the App Store in 2015, there really haven’t been many games that capture the frenetic thrill of Burnout in a way that feels native to mobile. Radiangames’ Luke Schneider – who made his name releasing seven games including Inferno and JoyJoy, in under a year for Xbox Live a decade ago – released Speed Demons as part of the Apple Arcade launch lineup in September 2019, and has continued to refine it since. Although deep down it’s actually a clever variation of an endless runner, it captures the joy of weaving through traffic and performing takedowns with the simplest of controls. It’s also remarkably huge for a game like this, packing about 20 hours of gameplay that intensifies beautifully.
Cardpocalypse is a love letter to anyone that grew up with Pokemon Cards and has now “retired” with Hearthstone. All the students at the extremely 1990s Dudsdale Elementary School are obsessed with the CCG Mega Mutant Power Pets. What makes this card-battle RPG shine is how it triples down on the concept of this being a group of kids playing a game in a schoolyard. You’ll trade candy for new cards. You’ll put stickers over them to change their stats. You’ll (shudder) tear cards in half and tape them back together to make something new. In the end you even get to house-rule the entire game itself, changing how you play and how you win. The charming, surprisingly lengthy Goonies-esque storyline – the evil Mutant Power Pets have come to life to take over the school! – will keep a smile on your face throughout, as will the inventive, surprising, and deep deck building and card combat.
Atone: Heart of the Elder Tree is an astoundingly accomplished first release from New Zealand indie Wildboy Studios. It’s a real pleasure exploring Atone’s take on Midgard, a Superbrothers-esque world of Norse magical realism, filled with secrets, deceitful characters, and truly tricky puzzles. The branching storyline is full of meaningful choices and genuine pathos. Atone’s musical, DDR-inspired rhythm combat initially seems like an odd fit, but it too completely rises to match the rest of the game’s style and depth. There’s never been a game quite like this, but I hope this won’t be the last.
4. Sayonara Wild Hearts
Matching music to your movements is the core of any rhythm game, but Sayonara Wild Hearts sucks you in further by matching every stage to a mood too. Each song is a unique level, and the way emotion, music, and twitch-reflexes are seamlessly blended together makes simply calling this another rhythm game far too reductive. Instead it’s part concept album, part fast-paced action, and entirely captivating. You’re not going to make your fingers bleed frantically trying to survive any given stage, but that won’t stop you from wanting to replay the best Sayonara Wild Hearts has to offer (or just the entire thing from start to finish) again and again.
3. Manifold Garden
Manifold Garden is a wildly creative puzzle game that not only features but is built around a fascinating minimalist art style. It takes somewhere from 6-10 hours to make your way through its labyrinth of twisting, turning, gravity-and-physics-defying puzzles based on the famous works of M.C. Escher. These spatial puzzles combined with its unique aesthetic make Manifold Garden one of the most intricate and innovative brain teasers in recent memory, and we’re sure it will remain one for years to come.
2. What the Golf?
If you’re not inclined to try a golf game because you think golf is slow and boring, Danish studio Triband’s bonkers reinterpretation of the sport is aimed squarely at you. Few games manage to be genuinely funny, and fewer still are able to convey that humor simply through slapstick absurdism and visual gags, but the journey this game takes you on – from simply knocking a ball into a hole, through levels that see you rag-dolling through thematic worlds based on space, cars, other sports and even other video games like Superhot and Flappy Bird – is a marvel of comedic escalation. What the Golf won our Best Mobile Game of 2019 award, and the studio continues to support it, adding 30 new levels in July 2020 with an update glibly dubbed “Sporty Sports.”
It’s not often that a matching puzzle game has as many grueling risk vs reward decisions to make as Grindstone does. Chaining together cartoonishly gory kills is as satisfying to execute as it is challenging to optimize, and that drive to figure out how to go just a little bit further while still realizing when to hold back for a better opportunity is endlessly rewarding. There’s also an absolute mountain’s worth of levels to tackle, upgrades to try out out, and baddies to hack through, making Grindstone one of the most consistently entertaining games Apple Arcade has to offer.