We say this about every year but it continues to be true: 2019 was a hell of a year for great iOS games. There was the usual slate of mobile original titles, but this year seemed to be particularly heavy in terms of high-profile ports of console and PC games too. And let’s not forget that this was the year that subscription gaming came into its own, mostly thanks to Apple leading the charge with Apple Arcade. Apple’s gaming service offers up TONS of excellent mobile-exclusive new games, but on the other side of the coin we had GameClub launch this year which is a similar gaming subscription but one that (for now) focuses on bringing back the App Store’s best classic games that have been lost to time. Both services compliment each other well and both offer a ridiculous amount of content for their price.
So for this year’s Best Mobile Games of 2019 list we’ve combined our favorite mobile originals and ports into one large list, and picked our favorites for Apple Arcade and GameClub in their own separate lists. We’ve also highlighted our favorite updates of the year since there were a lot of existing games that received either significant content updates that were noteworthy or were simply updated after a long time to make them playable again for a new audience, which is also worth celebrating. So please check out our picks below, but first…
Some hard truths about the future of TouchArcade.
As you probably already know if you’re a regular around here, we’ve had financial difficulties for several years now. Traditional web advertising has entirely tanked, obnoxious in-your-face advertising is something we don’t want to do, Apple killed the affiliate program that drove a good chunk of our income, and mobile games moving into free to play has almost entirely destroyed the need for traditional game reviews which have been our bread and butter for the past decade plus. We started up a Patreon back in 2015 when some of this writing started appearing on the wall, and it continues to be our primary source of income to keep TouchArcade running. We figured we’d be comfortable if we could get $5,000 a month from it, but set our goal at $10,000 just as a “pie in the sky” dream goal and were blown away and completely humbled when we almost hit that 10K mark.
As you can see, however, our Patreon support has been dwindling ever since, hitting an all-time low this month. A lot of this is on us as we’ve struggled to come up with interesting ways to add value to being a Patreon other than simply allowing us to continue existing. The most successful Patreons are ones whose creators are able to engage with the community and put together different rewards and bonuses for those who support them. As a two man show, we simply didn’t have the bandwidth to do that sort of thing, and we felt kind of icky locking any of our content behind a Patreon paywall. It’s something I’d love to rectify in 2020, and I would love to hear from any of our readers the types of things they’d want to see in terms of benefits for being a Patreon supporter.
Anyway, the truth is that at around this time last year we only had a couple of months left. We were planning on how to wind down the site and the type of “goodbye” content we were going to do. Then Eli, our former Editor in Chief and the OTHER half of TouchArcade, took a job with GameClub, and being able to take his salary off the books suddenly gave us a bit more runway to operate. So TouchArcade, against all odds, continued to exist through the rest of 2019, but I don’t see it lasting very long unless something changes pretty drastically in the next couple of months. If you value what we do in any way, please consider supporting us through the following means:
- You can join our Patreon, and with as little as $1 a month you’ll get a video version of our podcast and hopefully some other cool bonuses soon.
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I hate having to bring this sort of thing up, and indeed another reason our Patreon has been slipping is because we don’t really pimp it like we should be. I hate having to worry about this sort of stuff and instead would like to spend my time seeking out cool games to post about rather than spending it trying to keep the lights on. Such is life though, and hopefully we’ll be around to do yet another Best Games round-up at the end of 2020.
So with that out of the way, let’s move on to the main feature. Below is the Best Mobile Games comprised of original titles and ports, followed by the Best Updates, Best Apple Arcade, and Best GameClub. All in alphabetical order and there was no number quota I was going for, i.e. no Top 50 or Top 100. There will inevitably be games you think should be included in this list that aren’t, so feel free to let us know those games in the comment section below. Also look to the bottom of this post for links to our year-end Nintendo Switch coverage as well as links to our previous Games of the Year lists going all the way back to 2008.
The Best Mobile Games of 2019
Alien: Blackout, $0.99 – Alien: Isolation is one of the most beloved games based on the Alien franchise, and fans have been clamoring for a sequel for years. So when a semi-sequel spinoff was announced exclusively for mobile devices, it… didn’t go over so well. However, if you look at what Alien: Blackout is rather than what it isn’t, it’s a tremendously atmospheric extension of the Amanda Ripley timeline and a super enjoyable piece of fan service. Sure, it apes the Five Nights at Freddy’s formula, but that’s actually a perfect fit for an Alien game. Maybe a true sequel to Isolation will arrive someday, but until that time don’t deprive yourself of experiencing Alien: Blackout. -JN
Battle Chasers: Nightwar, $9.99 – Based on the Battle Chasers comic book series which ran during the late ’90s and into the early 2000s, Battle Chasers: Nightwar is a turn-based RPG that originally launched on console and PC a couple of years ago. But as with many mobile ports, the game actually feels most at home on the touchscreen, and as someone who doesn’t love turn-based RPGs I can’t believe how much I enjoyed playing through this when it hit the App Store over the summer. No knowledge of the comic books is necessary to enjoy the characters and story here either, and even knowing it’s a port of an existing game it’s hard not to be impressed playing a game with this amount of depth and such a high level of quality on a mobile device. -JN
Bullet Hell Monday Black, Free – There are some really great bullet hell games on iOS now thanks to the likes of Bullet Hell Monday and Danmaku Unlimited 3 that are built for mobile. While ports are always welcome, the bullet hell games built for touch are always more fun to play on iOS and that’s where Bullet Hell Monday Black from Masayuki Ito comes into the picture. This is a remixed take on the original that offers a much greater challenge. The vertical scrolling bullet hell experience looks gorgeous and plays brilliantly on iOS. It is free to try and while the original game is probably a better option if you’re new to the genre, this is exactly the kind of experience we need more of on iOS. -MM
Call of DutyÂ®: Mobile, Free – Call of Duty is arguably the biggest gaming IP in the world, and it’s been no stranger to mobile platforms over the years. But Activision and development partner TiMi Studios/Tencent Games really decided to go the extra mile with Call of Duty: Mobile and try to make something designed explicitly for the mobile platform. That means controls with touchscreens in mind, quick access to game modes that can be played in short or long sessions, and of course a drip feed of cool items to unlock and things to upgrade and customize that will keep you coming back each day and maybe even dipping into your wallet once in a while. The crazy thing is that it all works incredibly well and Call of Duty: Mobile is an absolute blast whether you ever spend a dime on it or not.
Dead Cells, $8.99 – A few years back words like “roguelike” or “Metroidvania” would send me into a frothy frenzy. But to be honest games that trade on the elements of those descriptors have released in abundance in recent years, and the quality varies widely from game to game. So when people were buzzing over a new roguelike Metroidvania called Dead Cells that released on consoles and PC in 2018, I didn’t exactly go out of my way to check it out. I figured it was “just another one of those” games. Boy am I an idiot. Dead Cells is everything it’s cracked up to be and more, with truly skill-based gameplay and a nearly endless supply of items and abilities that change up the way you play each time. It’s easy to see why this is such a critical hit on other platforms, but what’s truly impressive is how with just a few tweaks the folks at Playdigious have brought a version of Dead Cells to iOS that plays phenomenally on the touchscreen, and actually fits into the bite-sized nature of mobile perfectly.
Figment: Journey Into the Mind, Free – With its astoundingly good voice acting, painterly environments, and item-based puzzle solving, you might think that Figment: Journey Into the Mind is an old-school point-and-click adventure game. And you wouldn’t be far off, except all of those fantastic elements have been molded into something more akin to an action RPG. It really is a nice blend of both genres in terms of gameplay, but taken as an overall package Figment is bursting with personality and an interesting world to explore, and has a level of polish that you don’t typically find on mobile. That’s probably due to Figment making its mark as a PC and console game first, but the mobile port sacrifices nothing and feels right at home on the go.
Flappy Fighter, Free – Sadly Flappy Fighter is currently not available on the App Store due to receiving an official complain from “somebody” and Apple removing it. The developers are working on rectifying the situation, but as of right now this is the only game on our Best of 2019 list that you can’t currently download. Still, it felt right to include it because of the expert way in which Flappy Fighter took the essence of fighting game mechanics and adapted them for the touchscreen. Instead of worrying about complicated button inputs to pull off moves, everything is mapped to just 4 large buttons meaning you can focus on your timing and quick reactions rather than hoping to pull off the right moves with unreliable touch inputs. The community at large has really embraced Flappy Fighter by constantly coming up with bigger and more elaborate combos, and before the takedown there was a constant drip feed of new updates for the game with many more planned. Perhaps they flew a bit TOO close to the sun in terms of being an homage to Street Fighter, but with such promising mechanics I hope Flappy Fighter makes its way back someday so it can reach its full potential.
Golf Blitz, Free – Noodlecake’s Stickman Golf series has been a popular title for many years now, with each new entry being bigger and more feature-laden than the last. Their brand of 2D side-scrolling golf made for a great mobile game for casual and hardcore gamers alike, but it was several years ago when the online multiplayer mode in particular went somewhat viral and for a while it seemed everybody was battling each other in Super Stickman Golf. Well Noodlecake embraced that and decided to create a game that was entirely built around online multiplayer, and thus Golf Blitz was born. You can really tell how long they spend poring over the details to ensure that Golf Blitz both played phenomenally well on a mobile device but also had the legs to keep fans engaged for many years to come.
GRIS, $1.99 – Devolver Digital rarely disappoints when it comes to published games and GRIS is easily one of their best games. The Nomada Studio developed exploration puzzle platformer hybrid has some of the most gorgeous visuals in gaming with a soundtrack to match. You play as Gris who is a young girl dealing with the various stages of grief and slowly coming to acceptance through adding more colours to the world. GRIS is one of those games where every screenshot you take is wallpaper worthy. I originally played it on Switch and it was phenomenal experiencing it again on both iPhone and iPad a little while ago. This is easily one of the best games you can play on iOS. Considering it launched only on PC and Nintendo Switch, I was pretty surprised to see it hit iOS before PS4 but that’s what happened and the iOS version includes all the content at a fraction of the price which makes this an even better deal.
Hyper Light Drifter, $4.99 – The last few years have been great for ports of indie games that were previously only available on consoles and PC that finally arrived on mobile, but 2019 was even better. I never thought I’d see Hyper Light Drifter hit iOS but here we are. Abylight Studios and Heart Machine brought over the game with all the Nintendo Switch exclusive content in a port that plays great almost all the way. If you’ve not played it before, the game feels like a hybrid between an older Zelda game and Sword and Sworcery. It has gorgeous pixel art. Hyper Light Drifter looks superb and plays well regardless of the iOS device I tested on and they even managed taking care of the aspect ratios well. The haptic feedback deserves a special mention because I haven’t played a game that implemented it as well as this yet.
Immortal Rogue, $4.99 – There’s nothing that gets my motor humming more than a developer who takes a tried and true genre from the console and PC world and comes up with controls that are tailor made for the touchscreen. That is exactly what developer Kyle Barrett has done with the hack ‘n slash action RPG genre and his mobile take on it called Immortal Rogue. The gesture controls are fluid and make you feel like whirling bad ass of destruction, but beyond that the open-ended nature of how you choose to approach or recruit the enemies you come across as well as a structure that is designed to be played and replayed over and over again makes Immortal Rogue a “hardcore” kind of game but one that is fit perfectly for mobile.
Journey, $2.99 – When Annapurna Interactive and thatgamecompany brought Flower to iOS, I was pretty surprised. This was the first time that game was available on non PlayStation systems and I was hoping that Journey would eventually follow. A few years later and we now have a superb version of Journey on iOS that has all the content from the PlayStation versions, including multiplayer, with a few extra bells and whistles to boot. On iOS, you can even tweak the visuals and frame rate and run the game at a much higher fidelity than the PS3 original, and even play with a controller. Journey is a must play on any platform and I’m glad it finally released on iOS this year.
THE LAST REMNANT Remastered, $19.99 – Not only did Square Enix surprise everyone by releasing a port of this previous Xbox 360 exclusive RPG on mobile with absolutely no warning, but I think they surprised everyone by choosing this game for remastering at all. The Last Remnant received middling reviews on its original run, and with all the games fans usually DO clamor for from Square Enix, I don’t think there was anybody asking for this one. That said, with a decade now in between the original release and the remaster, I think it’s easier to appreciate The Last Remnant for what it does well. This is especially true on mobile as with the ability to save anywhere and the overall structure of the game it can easily fit into bite-sized chunks of play. It’s not often that we get games of this breadth on mobile, so if you can stomach the massive 8.5 gig size and the expensive-for-mobile price tag, The Last Remnant Remastered is a real treat for mobile RPG fans.
LEGOÂ® Tower, Free – Nimblebit’s original Tiny Tower is an absolute classic in the mobile realm, and if you were going to compile a lit of the top ten games that defined the platform I’d easily include it in that group. They’ve also branched out a couple of times over the years with Tiny Tower spinoffs, one set in Vegas and one ill-fated Star Wars spinoff that wasn’t developed by Nimblebit themselves and ultimately suffered for it. So there was a sense of trepidation when LEGO Tower was originally announced. The world’s favorite building brick is a brand on par with something like Star Wars, so would this new entry suffer from the same stumbles and untimely death as Tiny Death Star? Happily the answer is no, as LEGO Tower is not only a solid take on the Tiny Tower formula with some additional new features that make it the best version of this brand of simulator, but it’s also an excellent celebration of all things LEGO and its extensive history.
Lovecraft’s Untold Stories, $4.99 – We live in a world where roguelike dungeon crawlers with RPG elements are so bountiful that they tend to blend together, and while it’s among my favorite genre of games, it’s hard to get excited for each and every new kid that arrives on the block. So I can appreciate when new entries in this genre not only nail all the things you’d expect, but also set themselves apart with unique aspects and mechanics. Lovecraft’s Untold Stories does this first and foremost with a clever “sanity” mechanic that can see your character losing their grip on reality the more they’re confronted with eldritch horrors. This is Lovecraft-themed after all. It’s not the first game to implement a mechanic like this, but with its multiple playable characters that all feel quite distinct from one another and it’s emphasis on exploration, it really does serve to enhance an already great entry in the dungeon crawler genre.
Minit, $1.99 – It may have garnered attention for the all-star cast of indie developers who collaborated on it, and it really made the majority of its waves when it launched on consoles and PC last year, but if ever there was a game that felt like it had the soul of a mobile game it would have to be Minit. As the title suggests, Minit is an action adventure that you play 60 seconds at a time. During each of those minute intervals you’ll explore a bit more of the world, find useful items, solve various puzzles, and meet a host of interesting characters. Once your minute is up though, it’s back to the beginning for you. Luckily your knowledge and actions carry over in a way that allows you to get just a bit further each time, and Minit truly pulls off the impossible by fitting a fairly large and incredibly enjoyable adventure into tiny one minute chunks.
P1 Select, $2.99 – If this is your first experience with one of his games you may or may not believe me, but this is a kinder, gentler Brough game. It’s not as complex as Imbroglio, nor is it as hard to come to grips with initially as 868-HACK. As such, it’s a great introduction into the wild world of Brough’s creations. If you’re a veteran, don’t worry. There’s still plenty here to chew on, even if it may not quite have the longevity of some of his other titles. Your aim in P1 Select is to make your way through nine procedurally-generated stages, gathering as many Pontos as you can along the way. You’ll get one Ponto for every floor you clear, but you can earn extra Pontos by defeating enemies in a particular way. Whether you make it to the end of the nine stages or perish along the way, the number of Pontos you collect is tallied up and recorded. A single good run isn’t enough, however, as P1 Select keeps track of your average score across 20 sessions, and that’s what the leaderboard rankings are based on.
Photographs – Puzzle Stories, $3.99 – Luca Redwood aka EightyEight Games is no stranger to best games lists with the furiously fast-paced matching RPGs 10000000 and You Must Build a Boat under his belt, and that’s part of what made his latest game Photographs such a surprise. This is a puzzler, sure, and it features some fantastic pixel art from Octavi Navarro of Thimbleweed Park fame. But Photographs is so much more than a puzzle game, it’s actually a very heavy narrative game disguised as a puzzler. You’ll play through five different scenarios, uncovering bits and pieces by completing puzzles. Each scenario has its own unique type of puzzle game to play, and the stories that come forth are gut wrenching. It’s certainly not the sort of thing you’d expect by just seeing some screens of Photographs, but that’s sort of the best part about it. This is a game that can tell compelling stories through gameplay and perhaps even trick people who don’t typically enjoy narrative experiences into feeling something.
Layton: Diabolical Box in HD, $9.99 – The Nintendo DS is the most popular handheld gaming system of all time, and for many it was their introduction to the touchscreen. An extremely finicky touchscreen that required a stylus, but a touchscreen nonetheless. So it makes a lot of sense that when smartphones exploded on the scene several years later and introduced us to the wonder of capacitive touchscreens that touch-centric games from the Nintendo DS era would make a great fit on smartphones. The Professor Layton series is perhaps the best example of this, as its high production values and touch-based puzzle solving are a perfect fit for mobile. Diabolical Box is the second game in the Layton series, joining the original game Curious Village which arrived on mobile last year, and both titles feature high resolution graphics and look leaps and bounds better than they did on their original Nintendo DS hardware.
Rogue Legacy, $3.99 – It feels sort of odd including Rogue Legacy in our 2019 list because the game actually originally launched way back in 2013. However, that doesn’t make it any less fun and many people had been hoping to see the game arrive on mobile at some point. This year was the year and boy what a treat Rogue Legacy is on mobile. The core action platforming is perfectly tuned and has the exact right “feel” that a platformer should have, but where Rogue Legacy truly shines is in its variety of equipment and abilities that you can upgrade from game to game and of course the wacky traits that each of your characters will pass down to their heirs upon perishing. The progression system is extremely satisfying and the character trait system keeps things fun and fresh playthrough after playthrough.
Rolando: Royal Edition, $2.99 – Back in the very early days of the App Store, you saw a lot of simplistic, experimental stuff as developers toyed around with and explored what Apple’s new iPhone device was capable of. What you didn’t see a lot of was developers pouring time and effort into making meaty, wholly original games for the iPhone that were built specifically to suit the device’s unique capabilities. Rolando was one such game. Sadly, the 2008 original was lost to time, but thankfully developer HandCircus couldn’t stand their classic meeting such a fate so they set out to completely rebuild the game from the ground up in remastered fashion. Enter Rolando: Royal Edition. The same colorful world and characters that you remember, but bigger and better looking in every way. Whether you’re a fan of the original or missed out on it the first time around, Rolando: Royal Edition is a staple in mobile gaming’s history and should be experienced by everyone.
Romancing SaGa 3, $27.99 – This game originally launched on the Super Famicom in 1995, which was right around the same time Square put out Front Mission, Trials of Mana, and Chrono Trigger ($4.99). The year before that it had put out Final Fantasy VI ($6.99) and Live A Live. In short, this was one of Square’s finest eras, a period where the talented developers at the company were cranking out amazing hit after hit in the RPG genre. I’m not going to sit here and tell you that Romancing SaGa 3 is the best game from that time, but it easily hangs with that crowd. But while most of Square’s RPGs were headed down the path of being easier and more friendly to the player, Romancing SaGa 3 is quite happy to beat the stuffing out of anyone who underestimates it.
Rush Rally 3, $3.99 – There aren’t a whole lot of mobile original racing games out there, but the Rush Rally series has been the best of the bunch for several years now. This year marked the third entry in the series with Rush Rally 3, and it maintained the super satisfying balance of arcade and simulation while giving players enough stuff to do to keep them busy for years to come. It truly is a fully-featured racing game, and the fact that it’s largely the work of just one person makes it all that more impressive.
SaGa SCARLET GRACE : AMBITIONS, $23.99 – I could go on and on about SaGa Scarlet Grace: Ambitions. The more I think about it, the more I want to excitedly blather on about it. It feels like an RPG made for people who love RPGs, a confident and well-paced stab at the genre from a team of people who understand perfectly well how each part would affect the others. SaGa Scarlet Grace: Ambitions is the first game in the series that I feel like I can safely recommend to RPG fans in general. It has all of the things that make SaGa games so appealing and very little of the opacity that normally turns people away. It’s absolutely brilliant.
Sky: Children of the Light, Free – While Flow and Flower made some waves in their early years, Journey is the game that put Thatgamecompany firmly on the map back in 2012. And if you’ve played Journey before (which you have no excuse not to since it’s on iOS too and in fact is part of this same list) then it’s easy to see how Sky: Children of the Light is like a spiritual successor in many ways. The exploring of a huge world, the flying, the stylistic visuals. Everything about Sky has Journey’s fingerprints all over it. However, Sky tries to push some of the concepts of Journey even further, including the social component that is central to the entire game. It’s remarkable how Thatgamecompany was able to create a massive adventure that you can essentially play with a single thumb and just how well it suits mobile play.
Our Previous Best of the Year Coverage
We’ve been doing these types of lists since the very beginning of TouchArcade, which even pre-dates the actual App Store by several months. The formats have changed a bit over the years, but it’s actually really fun to go back and look at what were the hottest games of years past. If you want to take a trip down memory lane, here are our previous lists:
SwitchArcade Best of 2019
Thanks again to everyone who read and supported TouchArcade in 2019, our eleventh year in existence. We love mobile gaming and believe strongly in it, and we hope to continue bringing even more coverage and reviews in 2020. We are also huge Nintendo Switch fans, and since it’s technically a mobile gaming platform, it’s been fun including Switch coverage on our site for the past few years. I have to give a shout out to Shaun Musgrave who took over our daily SwitchArcade articles about a year ago, and has worked hard to make TouchArcade a destination to find all the best that Nintendo Switch has to offer. With the help of our other main freelance writer Mikhail Madnani they’ve put together some Best of 2019 coverage for Nintendo Switch, be sure to check these out:
Credit: The Best Mobile Games of 2019