The 10 Best Mobile Games of 2014

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The 10 Best Mobile Games of 2014

We’re used to it. It’s taken years, but the mobile game no longer feels weird, new or fresh. It’s like somehow over the course of 2013 we finally came to terms with tapping through a game on our phones or on touchscreen computers the size of magazines, accepting the future as our rapidly aging present, and making the mobile game world of 2014 feel surprisingly mundane. I’ll say it: I played less mobile games in 2014 than in any year this decade. What I played, though, was often fantastic. Here are the ten best mobile games of the year, focusing on games that exist exclusively or at least originally on mobile platforms like iOS and Android. (And yeah, we let Hearthstone slip through because, even though it came out on PC and Mac a few weeks before the iPad, it’s clearly much better on a tablet than a computer.)

10. Hellraid: The Escape

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Hellraid: The Escape’s greatest success is its diverse gameplay. One minute players will be mixing ingredients to make a potion, and the next they’ll be playing chess. One particularly memorable sequence involves learning and playing a simple piano tune. Even more, the game does a fantastic job of implementing various functionalities of the touch screen. After using my finger to dig out a key from under a pile of rotten bones, I knew that Techland had mobile in mind with this title from the get-go.—Matt Akers

9. Watercolors

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Simple is better. That’s the maxim behind Watercolors, a puzzle game based on the rudimentary relationships between red, blue and yellow. Using only these primary colors, Watercolors players are tasked with painting hundreds of tiled stages, all laid out in unique and increasingly complex patterns. The experience, at once meditative and mentally stimulating, is satisfying in either short spurts or at length, and is suitable for youngsters and grown-ups alike.—MA

8. Framed

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Short and stylish, Framed turns the panels of a comic book into interactive puzzles. You have to slide them in the right order so your shadowy characters can successfully avoid the many cops trying to catch them. It’s light on story despite the comic presentation, but it’s a novel hook for a game that’s custom suited for the touchscreen interface.—Garrett Martin

7. Sunburn!

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Sunburn is basically the movie Gravity if George Clooney decided the only thing to do was grab Sandra Bullock and commit suicide via the sun. A ship full of scientists and janitors and house pets breaks up in space, and the captain floats around, collecting the survivors and killing them all. It’s an absurd puzzle game built around gravity effects similar to Angry Birds Space, with an adorable retro aesthetic and stoner charm.—GM

6. Eliss Infinity

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Playing Eliss Infinity feels like juggling. While you’ve got one ball in the air, you need to be thinking about the one you are catching, as well as the new ball that is about to get thrown into the routine. In Eliss Infinity, you’re tasked with the mission of combining planets of the same colors that pop up and “scoring” them in same-colored portals, all while keeping them from touching other planets of different colors. It’s a simple idea, but things get hairy really fast—especially in the high score Infinity mode. The Infinity mode really is the big new thing here, and the classic Eliss gameplay absolutely shines in this new mode. Not since Super Hexagon have you had so much fun while being so utterly stressed out.—MA

5. Desert Golfing

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I can go on about how Desert Golfing is a knowing deconstruction of the mobile game, how its series of simple and repetitive swipes boils the entire form down to its most basic parts, with barely any embellishment at all. I mean it looks like an Atari game, just a two-tone background with a white dot for a ball, blocky white numbers and a small yellow flag. I could talk about how it locks us into our failures, preventing us from restarting and replaying levels. About how it pretty much never ends. But in that time I could add like another thirty strokes to my total on hole 2000 and something, so I’ll just go do that instead.—GM

4. Hitman Go

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Hitman Go transposes Hitman to the context of a board game, and in doing so makes every aspect it touches smarter. Guns and weapons are no longer tools of reckless aggression, but board tactics for puzzle solving and path opening, used only in careful consideration of cutting through the ranks of the other player’s men. People have always been pieces, and Hitman has always been about manipulating them to accomplish a grisly deed. Go focuses more on the former than the latter, to the effect of not burying itself in needless pulp.—MA

3. Hearthstone

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Hearthstone dominated the first half of my summer. It sent me bounding, with a moronic smile on my face, into a labyrinth fraught with meta-games, saying the phrase “boulderfist ogre” in public, and even, briefly, podcasts. After that initial introductory period, I tried to approach Hearthstone the way I’ve approached activities like playing music, programming, or cooking: How much time did I want to invest in it? How good did I feel like I needed to be? How much of my life did I feel comfortable dedicating to it? It seemed like the sky was the limit. Whatever amount of time, money, or mental energy I felt like throwing at Hearthstone,Hearthstone could comfortably accommodate it without the guarantee of any ROI.—Joe Bernardi

2. Threes

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Last year in the Atlantic Ian Bogost described Hundreds as “the haute couture” of videogames, important more as a “design object” than a “consumable media experience.” That could almost describe Threes. Its simple color palette—a soft grey rectangle on a white background, covered with tiles that are either white with small splashes of orange, or a muted blue and red—is almost as stark as Hundreds’. Threes is a more whimsical game, though—tiles have small faces and sometimes speak, saying hello to one another when they combine or muttering “bored” when the player takes too long between moves. Jimmy Hinson’s music has a strong Jon Brion influence, evoking the mannered but not quite icy early films of Paul Thomas Anderson. If Hundreds was a European art film, Threes would be its quirky American cousin. It’s worth getting obsessed over.—GM

1. Monument Valley

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Monument Valley is a brief, wondrous piece of art about structure and perspective. Technically it’s a puzzle game, available now for iOS and coming soon to Android, but its puzzles serve less as brain-teasers than as a vehicle to explore Ustwo’s beautifully crafted environments. The game’s artwork, which unfolds across ten succinct chapters, borrows heavily from the works of M.C. Escher, the Dutch graphic artist known for his “impossible constructions”—grand rooms filled with infinite staircases, balconies simultaneously above and below one another, spires at once in the foreground and background. Monument Valley isn’t entirely about optical illusion, but its pastel stages consistently channel this brand of imagination.—MA