I’m probably going to have to revoke my Pocket Gamer staff card here, but I didn’t properly get into mobile gaming until late last year. Maybe it was because I was mad into my Xbox in the years previously, but once I discovered the number of hidden gems available on Google Play I sunk a huge amount of time this year playing as much as the store could offer.
So it’s not like I have much of a reference point for the years previously, but I reckon 2020 has been a great year for mobile gaming. Not only has there been some modern classics released on the iOS App Store and Google Play, but device streaming has become more popular with services like Google Stadia and Xbox’s xCloud letting you play big budget AAA console and PC games on your tiny mobile phone. It’s really broke new ground for what we can achieve on these tiny handheld devices.
So to get to the point, here are my five favourite mobile games of the year 2020.
The Almost Gone
Maybe it’s because I grew up with hidden object adventure games, but The Almost Gone felt like the perfect evolution of this genre in a modern format. The levels are created out of these tiny diorama-esque stages where you have to search each room looking for hidden items, and there are also many self-contained puzzles that require you to search high and low for the solutions.
The game can actually pretty difficult, and you sometimes have to think outside the box to work out the solutions for each puzzle, but it’s never exactly what you would call a stressful game. In fact, with its pretty, minimal graphics and calm sounds, it’s the perfect way to destress after a long day at work. The isometric design and the soft colours really work well in its favour, and coupled with the emotional story it’s certainly one experience I’ll never forget.
The White Door
I thought The White Door was really clever in the way it blended routine with the point-and-click style gameplay.
It’s about this man, Robert Hill, who suffers from severe memory loss. He wakes up in a mental health facility and must follow the institution’s strict daily routine while also exploring his dreams to help him recover his memories. It features a minimal cartoon art style, which I think adds to the straightforwardness of the gameplay and doesn’t overwhelm you with too much complexity.
What I liked the most about The White Door in particular was how real the story felt. The voice actor playing Robert delivered his lines perfectly, while the monotony of how overwhelming simple every day tasks can become in a routine felt perfectly represented in this game. It was a little on the shorter side, but certainly was an experience worth playing from start to finish.
Available on: iOS
Genre: Puzzle, Strategy
Ovidiu Tepes has made a bunch of games which I feel are really strong casual mobile titles, but Not Chess’ simple idea was executed so well I have to include this on my list.
It’s a game of chess, but with a twist. Each stage begins with you controlling one piece, be it a Knight, or a Bishop, or even a Queen, and you have to move around the chess board corresponding to the moves that particular piece can make. If you capture a piece, you then become that piece and have to adhere to a new set of movement rules. You beat each level by collecting a coin located somewhere on the board.
Not Chess ramps up the challenge by featuring a limited number of moves you can make on the board, so it becomes a matter of trying to optimise your strategy efficiently enough that you can beat each stage within the move limit. This was all of the fun for me, of being able to approach a level and search for ways to beat it within the constraints of each chess piece available to me. It’s a strategy game that builds on a familiar idea in a completely innovative way.
Far: Lone Sails
Genre: Adventure, Strategy
This was one of those games that came out years ago on PC and consoles, but I’d never even heard about it until I covered it in a news article on here. I was tempted to check it out from the screenshots, and it’s ended up becoming one of my favourite mobile games of the year.
FAR Lone Sails is a vehicle adventure game where you pilot a giant mechanical vehicle across an empty wasteland. On your long journey you must maintain the vessel, as well as upgrade and tweak it so it can withstand all the various hazards that come your way. I really love this aspect of it; being able to feel like you’re on this epic journey that you have to plan ahead for and dynamically react to hazards is grand. It doesn’t feel as stressful as the description implies, especially thanks to its chill soundtrack and muted visuals which gives it a more relaxed aesthetic. I’d really love to check this out on a big screen on my PC now though!
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
Genre: Action, Adventure, RPG
It feels weird to put this in a Game of the Year list, as this was a game I played to death as a child, but it released back in March for iOS and Android so I’m using that as an excuse to add it to the list.
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is the perfect adventure platformer. It has a large non-linear world to explore with an absolute tonne of secrets to discover, and the interconnectedness of it makes the entire game gradually feel somewhat familiar the more you explore it. The darkly gothic atmosphere in particular is perfect, and I love that Konami took the time to port the game to mobile as its retro aesthetic, which was dated even at the time of its original 1997 release, is absolutely textbook.
I’ve always loved the monsters and dialogue in these games too, which are downright silly at the best of times but helped to create a vibe that I don’t think any similar game has been able to emulate. We’re certainly lacking a lot of good Metroidvanias on mobile platforms, but it helps we have one of the greatest ones of all time on there.