Writing a definitive list of the best mobile games is a tricky – some would say foolhardy – task at the best of times. We’re talking about a process that incorporates hundreds of thousands of games spread across iOS and Android, and covering a span of more than a dozen years.
So we’ve decided to approach this from a simple, if slightly out-there premise. If an alien were to land tomorrow and ask for a crash course in gaming, which of the best mobile games would you encourage it to install first? With such an unusual filter applied, we’re not looking for obscure gems or even necessarily run-away hits here. We’re looking at those important, genre-defining games that represent something essential to the history of smartphone gaming. A veritable greatest hits compilation of the App Store and Google Play.
All we stipulate is that the game has to still be active and great to play today. We’re also only going to include one game per series, so we’ll generally (but not exclusively) go with the first rather than the best entry.
Now, let’s get into our list of the best mobile games.
The best mobile games are:
Raid: Shadow Legends
It’s easy for seasoned gamers to get a bit sniffy about gacha RPGs. But the simple truth is, a quite startling number of people seem to play them, and Raid: Shadow Legends is the 800lb gorilla of this
particular loved-and-loathed sub-genre. You can’t really ignore it.
Who’s the biggest legend? Find out in our Raid: Shadow Legends tier list
Indeed, it’s pretty difficult to ignore a game that looks this good, with stunning 3D graphics and screen-filling pyrotechnics accompanying your every PVE campaign mission or PVP Arena scrap.
Thanks to the relentless marketing campaign behind it, we’re sure that many readers will already be aware of Mafia City. It’s a game we’d like to recommend due to the fact that it’s a unique blend of strategy gameplay mixed together with a storyline about becoming a new mafia boss.
While lots of other strategy games focus on history or fantasy realms, this one sees you running a crime syndicate in a modern day city, and that’s pretty darn cool. You choose which buildings you want to erect, and these get you new resources, and provide opportunities for training new types of units. Then you choose whether you want to play cooperatively with friends so that you can help each other grow your empires, or if you want to do battle and eliminate other players who stand in your way.
Do you like a bit of anime? Does the random excitement of a gacha game excite you like nothing else? Well, in that case, we recommend you give Epic Seven a go. This free-to-play game is all about building up a team of heroes and then taking them through turn-based RPG battles as you progress through the story.
Through the game’s writing, you really get a feel for its expansive cast of characters, and the gacha gameplay means that you’ll likely grow attached to a different set of characters than another player might. Add to that the fact that it has some really nicely done anime cutscenes and you’re left with an experience which is as engaging as it is addictive.
Looking for a new free-to-play game to play on your commute? Fan of strategy and city-building? Well, boy oh boy, are you going to like Elvenar. In this fantasy game, you’re responsible for cultivating lots of beautiful cities, all of which fit into a gorgeous fantasy aesthetic.
You have three main objectives: the first is to complete an endless supply of quests that are given to you. Some of these progress the games story, while others are more generic, looping tasks. You can also choose to invest time in research, which will help you to enhance your cities and buildings, allowing you to better gather resources. Meanwhile, if you focus on exploration, you’ll be able to expand across the world map, building more and more of your beautiful cities.
Forge of Empires
This free-to-play mobile strategy game is one that delivers on multiple fronts. First of all, you get the satisfaction of creating your own settlement, which you can build and develop as you wish, using resources you gather to invest in different types of research. Then there’s the fact that you get to see it pass through multiple real-world era of history, before moving on into the science fiction realms of the future. On top of all that, you also get to engage in turn-based strategy battles as other nations wage war against you.
There’s so much great content wrapped up in Forge of Empires, and it’s one of those games that you’ll easily pour hundreds of hours into as you come back to it every single day. Addictive in all the right ways, it’s a must-play for fans of strategy or history.
Rise of Cultures
Yes, you’re right: this is the third game developed by Innogames that we’ve included in this list, but don’t worry, we’ll focus on other developers soon (we promise), and this game definitely deserves its spot on this list. So what is it that makes Rise of Cultures so special?
Well, like Elvenar and Forge of Empires before it, Rise of Cultures is a game about building a civilisation which grows and expands throughout different eras of history (Innogames are good at stuff like that), but in this one, there’s a more human-centred approach. Not only can you choose different types of cultures to cultivate in your civilisation, but you can take direct control of individual workers, giving them the most productive work schedules you can (including time for rest), and deploying them to enhance your city as you see please.
Remember when we said we were going to focus on games from other developers? Well guess what? We lied. Actually, the truth is, we added those first three Innogames releases before we discovered Sunrise Village, and now we feel that it deserves a spot on this list. It’s certainly very different to the strategy games we’ve mentioned so far.
In Sunrise Village, you play as somebody who’s leaving the stressful city life behind in order to go and lead a simpler existence on a farm in Sunrise Village. You gather crops and resources so that you can fulfil orders and then purchase new buildings and items in order to expand your farm. It’s a really relaxing game, and one which could easily become a part of your day-to-day routine.
Daily Themed Crossword Puzzles
Now crossword puzzles may not be the first thing you think of when asked to choose your favourite mobile games, but that’s the beauty of mobile gaming – it encompasses just about everything, including casual games like Daily Themed Crossword Puzzles, and this is one of the very best of its kind.
We suspect that this game doesn’t need a lot of explanation – it’s exactly what it says: an app that gives you new crossword puzzles every day. You can spend in-game coins to play more puzzles, and you can watch adverts to gain clues (if you don’t consider that cheating). It’s got a really slick interface and if you want a word game to play on your commute, this would be a fantastic choice.
Hero Wars is a game that you may well have come across before, because the adverts for it are rather prevalent. Unfortunately, they’re also pretty misrepresentative, in that the sliding doors puzzle game that they show is actually only a very small part of what Hero Wars is. Having said that, the real substance of this game is still good fun.
The game follows a formula that many mobile gamers will be familiar with: it’s all about building up a team of heroes and watching them make their way through dungeons. If they’re not up to the challenge, you have to grind and enhance them, or you have to work to unlock other heroes who might be better suited to the challenge. It’s a game that’s really easy to get sucked into, and those who play it will soon find that it has become a part of their daily routine.
Genshin Impact wears its The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild influence quite shamelessly, with a familiar anime-inflected fantasy world and action-RPG mechanics.
Who’s the best? Take a look at our Genshin Impact tier list
But you’ll forgive the obvious tribute act because it nails the formula so well, and because it does so in the form of a free-to-play mobile game. Which is quite amazing.
Monument Valley – and especially its sequel, Monument Valley 2 – is one of those rare video games that has crossed over into the mainstream. The kind that’s referenced in TV shows and played even by non-gamers.
If there’s another mobile game that has kept people coming back for as long as Pokémon Go, you’ll have to remind us what it is. Having launched way back in 2016, it’s still going strong.
Want more like this? Check out our best games like Pokémon Go list!
Slay the Spire
When the ultimate deck-building card battler came to mobile, it felt like it had finally come home. Plenty of other mobile games have lifted Slay the Spire’s formula wholesale, some of them quite successfully.
If Jetpack Joyride represents the glorious past of the endless runner, then Alto’s Odyssey is its stylish present. The first thing you’ll notice is an art style so sharp and silky-smooth it belongs on the cover of a magazine
Call of Duty: Mobile
Neither Android nor iOS are lacking for quality online shooters, but Call of Duty: Mobile is arguably the most comprehensive package of the lot. It bundles together a slick, fast-paced multiplayer shooter with a more expansive Battle Royale mode.
League of Legends: Wild Rift
MOBAs continue to be big news in the world of eSports, and on mobile just as on PC, League of Legends is the king. Choose your hero and embark on a classic 5v5 lane-running face-off with your fellow players.
What’s remarkable is how true to the original formula this mobile version is. If you’re interested in trying it out, make sure you check out our League of Legends: Wild Rift tier list.
There are plenty of fast, attractive arcade racers that seek to emulate the console experience on mobile. But there’s only one that actually achieves a straight 1:1 conversion.
Grid Autosport is the full classic console racer, transplanted to your phone in all its in-depth glory. It remains a startling achievement.
Jetpack Joyride wasn’t the first endless runner to hit mobile (shout out to Canabalt), but it was one of the earliest and best. Just as importantly to this list, it’s still going strong, with ongoing support from legendary developer Halfbrick.
RocketCat games hit gold with Wayward Souls, a roguelike action RPG that takes the classic top-down action of 16-bit Zelda and applies some procedurally generated magic to it.
Like The Room, you could take any entry from the four-strong Kingdom Rush series, and you’d have a shining example of the genre – in this case, tower defence.
Among Us is a free-to-play online whodunnit takes a fresh and oh-so-modern approach to online multiplayer gameplay, demanding careful communication and no small amount of skulduggery.
The game that launched a thousand imitators, Clash Royale combines card-battling strategy with MOBA-like base raiding. Playing cards here spawns 3D units onto a simple two-lane battlefield.
There are three Reigns games on iOS and Android, and all are brilliant examples of how to update the narrative-led adventure genre for a modern mobile gaming audience.
The key, it seems, was to add a hefty smack of humour and apply a card-swiping control system lifted straight from the Grindr dating app. Who knew?