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The best and most influential mobile games of the decade
Ten years ago, mobile gaming was still in its infancy, with both big and small developers still figuring out the platform. As smartphone tech evolved, so did mobile gaming. It has come a long way since 2010 and we are here to take a look at some of the best and most influential games of the decade — from the early pioneers to the big competitive titles of recent years.
The best mobile games of the decade
Editor’s note: The order of the games is arbitrary. They are not ranked from best to worst. All of the games on the list were included because of their quality, popularity or influence.
The arcade game pioneers
Angry Birds (2010)
Angry Birds is the quintessential mobile game. Today it is a global franchise with too many sequels and spin-off games to count and it even has two movies under its belt. Yet, when Angry Birds first came out it was just a small game with big promise. What turned it into a smash hit was its innovative and entertaining gameplay. It takes advantage of touch controls to create satisfying and intuitive gameplay, with every level presenting its own unique and inventive challenges. Angry Birds didn’t rely on microtransactions for progress either. Unlocking new birds was as easy as completing levels and mastering the game’s physics. Addictive, entertaining, easy to pick up and play — Angry Birds is without a doubt a mobile game classic.
Fruit Ninja (2010)
Before the novelty of touchscreens had worn out, tapping and swiping arcade games were everywhere. Yet, none had such a simple but brilliant premise as Fruit Ninja — slashing watermelons, oranges and pineapples with a swipe of your finger, as they fall rapidly across your screen. Every slash and subsequent splash are as satisfying as the next, thanks to buttery smooth gameplay. Of course, the game’s success brought about many knock offs, but none executed the idea with the same finesse as Fruit Ninja. Both challenging and entertaining, it is a great game to play on the go to this day.
Doodle Jump (2010)
While Angry Birds and Fruit Ninja utilized touchscreens to their best effect, Doodle Jump took advantage of another smartphone component — the gyroscope. This allowed for innovative motion-based gameplay. Tilting your phone is all you need to propel yourself up endless platforms. But Doodle Jump upped the challenge by placing many obstacles and enemies in your way, which you can shoot by tapping on the screen. Charming, fast-paced, but also quite difficult at times, the game was an instant hit on both iOS and Android. Like other arcade games of the era, it doesn’t have an ending — the goal is getting a high score. But that’s what made it fun and why it’s one of the best mobile games of the decade.
Free but not pay to win
Crossy Road (2014)
Simple and cute, this is Crossy Road. Another arcade-style endless game, which turned into a perfect way to pass the time on mobile. The gameplay is incredibly simple — just tap to cross the road avoiding cars and trains. Its charming retro-style certainly helped the game’s popularity but so did the various characters and maps you could earn simply by playing. Of course, you could also buy characters but compared to most games of the time, Crossy Road allowed you to have fun without spending a fortune. This is what makes it a mobile game staple and one of the most influential games of the decade.
Plague Inc. (2012)
At the peak of swine flu panic, Ndemic Studios had the brilliant idea to release a game that challenged you to infect the world with a disease of your own making. At the time, few strategy titles had made it to the Play Store. Yet, Plague Inc. proved the platform was more than suited for it with its tactical but at times unpredictable gameplay. It all starts with infecting patient zero. After that, you need to help the plague evolve and spread. You can choose different strains to evolve, help the virus adapt to different environments and much more. All without having to pay a single cent! Plague Inc. is a great game to play on your commute to this day and undoubtedly a mobile classic that will be a favorite for many even in the decade to come.
The made for mobile indies
Monument Valley (2014)
If there is one title that made people realize that purchasing mobile games is worth it, it is Monument Valley. This breakthrough indie managed to hit all the right notes. Its mysterious atmosphere, gorgeous minimalist visuals and impossible architecture puzzles made it an instant classic. Monument Valley is challenging without being too difficult and although short, its beautiful design can keep you coming back for more. Today, the game also has a sequel which is just as excellent as the original. Together, they are two of the best games on the mobile platform and certainly two of the most influential indies to ever make it on the Play Store.
80 days (2014)
Often regarded as the best mobile game of all time, 80 days is interactive fiction at its finest. Before it, the genre was largely ignored, but 80 days proved it was ideal for the mobile platform. You take on the role of valet Jean Passepartout and your goal is to help your employer circumnavigate the globe in 80 days, similar to the Jule Vernes novel. However, 80 days blends real history with steam punk elements, offering a huge variety of branching narratives. Choices matter! 80 days weaves an enthralling narrative and every game feels like a new adventure. Like Monument Valley, you will have to purchase it to enjoy it, but it’s a mobile classic that everyone should play at least once.
Alto’s Adventure (2015)
Alto’s Adventure is beautiful and masterful in its simplicity. This indie is the type of rare mobile game which offers a zen-like experience. It achieves it thanks to a combination of minimalist graphics, an atmospheric soundtrack and wonderful gameplay. Alto’s Adventure is simple to pick up, but the difficulty racks up quickly without being frustrating. On the contrary, mastering the game is a slow but satisfying process. All of these factors combined made it an instant hit that has influenced many mobile games that came after it. However, the closest you can get to the original experience is the game’s official sequel — Alto’s Odyssey.
The King is dead. Long live the new king — you! Reigns is a strange but captivating indie title which puts you in the shoes of a monarch. You must reign over your kingdom, while carefully balancing finances, keeping the populace happy, as well as controlling the growing influence of the clergy and army. The gameplay is simple — you can make one of two choices by swiping cards. The results can be strange, hilarious or horrifying. Reigns has a huge replayability value, making it an incredibly popular out-of-the-blue indie that managed to capture everyone’s attention. Today, the game has two sequels in the form of Reigns: Her Majesty and Reigns: Game of Thrones, which present their own unique challenges and weave their own entertaining stories. It is without a doubt one of the best mobile indies of the past decade.
The puzzles that dazzled us
A puzzle so addictive and simple, it spawned 2048 copycats — this is Threes. Another game with a simple but brilliant premise. In a 4-by-4 grid, you combine number cards to form higher numbers. All you do is swipe up, down and sideways. But although it might not seem like it on the surface, Threes is not a mindless swiping game. It is a puzzle with depth that allows you to test and employ different strategies every time you play. It is the Tetris of the mobile era, making it one of the best and most influential mobile games of the last decade.
The Room (2013)
The Room is the gold standard of mobile puzzle games. Today, it has a variety of sequels and spin offs, but when it first came out it was a unique atmospheric puzzle. It starts off simple — you find yourself in a room with a locked box. The goal is to unlock it and escape. A lens item allows you to cleverly uncover hidden secrets, while the story is told with the help of scattered letters found around the level. Although the story is a bit cliched, the music is excellent and provides a great ambience. The puzzles themselves are clever and challenging, providing hours of entertainment. It is a classic and one of the most influential mobile games of the decade. At time of its release was competing with Machinarium — another puzzle game which deserves an honorable mention.
The genre-defining mobile games
Ingress is the true augmented reality pioneer. When it came out, it achieved what at the time seemed impossible — brought video games into the real world. But the game that borrowed Ingress’ underlying systems made AR titles what they are today — Pokémon GO. It was a true global phenomenon when it came out in 2016, although its early implementation had its problems. It made you feel like you were a part of a real Pokémon adventure, appealing to both young and old. Pokémon GO has actually ironed most of its flaws out throughout the years and today it offers a full and rich experience that you can enjoy with friends. Despite its diminished playerbase, Pokémon GO remains one of the most influential mobile games of all time. And it couldn’t have made it as far without Ingress.
If there is one name that comes to mind when thinking of racing mobile games, it’s Asphalt. This game series is truly genre-defining. The Asphalt games even predate smartphones — Asphalt: Urban GT was the first mobile game of the series. It debuted on the Nokia N-Gage in 2004. Of course, the Asphalt games have come a long way since then. Today, they are not only the best arcade racing games on Google Play — they set the standard for graphics. Asphalt 9: Legends, the latest in the series, offers impressive visuals and smooth gameplay. Races are thrilling and competitive and range from Classic to Time attack and Hunted. Topped off with 82 cars to choose from, Asphalt 9 is the quintessential mobile racing game.
From small shooters to battle royale
Modern Combat: Sandstorm
Every genre has to start somewhere. In the case of mobile shooters, one of the pioneers that paved the way for today’s smash hits was Modern Combat. Together with N.O.V.A., these two Gameloft games were among the first true multiplayer FPS games on Google Play. And although Modern Combat launched in 2009, it still deserves a spot on our list precisely because it demonstrated that shooters can be a mobile staple. Its gameplay was similar to that of its Call of Duty console contemporaries and although not as advanced, it was smooth and entertaining for its time. The original game is no longer on Google Play, but the many Modern Combat sequels are worthy successors.
PUBG Mobile/Fortnite (2018)
PUBG Mobile and Fortnite might have a different approach to the battle royale gameplay, but what they have in common is their explosive popularity. They were the battle royale pioneers that defined the genre. Both games were created with PC and console in mind, but they transitioned to mobile with ease and success. Today both are among the pioneering mobile esports. They provide all of the excitement of their PC counterparts without the need for a high spec PC, along with smooth and thrilling gameplay that’s easy to pick up but difficult to master. They might have appeared at the end of the decade, but their influence can already be felt everywhere. We are sure they will continue to inspire and influence the competitive mobile shooters of the next decade too.
Call of Duty Mobile (2019)
Riding on the popularity waves created by PUBG Mobile and Fortnite comes Call of Duty Mobile. The game is was instant hit when it launched this year. With over 100 million downloads in a just a month, it is not only our pick for game of the year, but currently the most popular shooter on Google Play. As expected, the game doesn’t have a campaign, but it offers a variety of multiplayer modes, including a battle royale. Thankfully, although they exist, microtransactions don’t affect gameplay. Call of Duty Mobile also plays up the nostalgia with a number of classic maps and characters from the franchise making an appearance. The gameplay is as fun and as competitive as ever, and with numbers like these, Call of Duty Mobile will likely stay on top of the charts for quite some time.
The competitive non-shooters
In 2014, esports-style games of any genre were a rare sight on Google Play. But when Hearthstone came out, it was clear that it was a perfect fit. Blizzard’s competitive card game utilized its existing IP and lore to create a compelling and strategic experience. With multiple character classes and interesting mechanics, it quickly became a sensation. It was perfect for playing on your smartphone too, thanks to the relatively short duration of matches. Hearthstone also implemented a number of interesting elements like the Arena, which tests your skills without your favorite deck, as well as single player adventures you can purchase for a small fee. Although the game’s popularity has kind of fizzled out in recent years, Hearthstone is still one of the decade-defining mobile games.
MOBA or Multiplayer online battle arena is a notoriously competitive and difficult genre. In the early days of mobile gaming, it seemed impossible to have such a game on the Play Store, especially one that is balanced and one that utilizes touch controls well. However, we have just that in the form of pioneer Vainglory. Called the mobile DOTA by many, this game is a worthy mobile successor to the MOBAs of old. It features the familiar three-lane map with turrets, and the Vain crystal as the last obstacle you need to destroy. Vainglory is fast paced but it’s not a watered-down version of PC MOBAs by any means. Better yet, it doesn’t really have pay-to-win mechanics. You can choose from 50 well-balanced heroes, which are unlocked with in-game currency. However, the currency can be earned by simply playing and completing missions. This makes Vainglory not only a great MOBA, but the best mobile game of its genre from this decade.
The ports that shine on mobile
Stardew Valley (2019)
Stardew Valley is a farming sim, but it has much more to offer beneath the surface. It’s a wholesome RPG that any Harvest Moon fan will appreciate. It offers a fun experience that has near universal appeal, as well as a great, captivating story. What makes its mobile port so great is that it hasn’t made any compromises. All your favorite locations are still there — from the Pelican Town Community Center to the Calico desert. Fishing is actually slightly easier, and the touch controls don’t hinder the gameplay. It’s the same charming game with the added benefit of being able to play on-the-go.
Minecraft is another game that is a global phenomenon. When it first came out it was hard to escape — from the front page of YouTube to every gaming-related website, it had conquered them all. But its first mobile iteration, Minecraft Pocket Edition, was a scaled down version of the original. Smartphone tech at the time couldn’t handle the full game. But today, you can enjoy in its full glory on Android. Building, exploring, crafting — it’s all there. There isn’t much else we need to say. Minecraft is a classic and a game that’s made even more enjoyable when played on-the-go.
Final Fantasy 1-7 (and 9)
Square Enix was one of the first top tier game studios to take mobile seriously and it all began with their outstanding, albeit expensive mobile ports. Over the span of just a few years, Square Enix dropped Final Fantasy 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 9 along with Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy 4: The After Years. The company also released a handful of Dragon Quest ports, Romancing SaGa 3, Secret of Mana, The World Ends With You, and Final Fantasy 15: Pocket Edition. These games were never the absolute best in their respective genres and not every port was picture perfect. However, the sheer number of them perfectly demonstrates how much a developer can benefit from using a modern mobile platform to re-release old classics. Square Enix had a fun new port every two or three months for a few years and they were almost always titles big enough to talk about. That’s more than good enough for a mention on this list.
The quest for mobile RPGs
The Bard’s Tale (2012)
The Bard’s Tale spent a good portion of the early decade as being the definitive action RPG for mobile. It’s true that it’s actually a port of the PC game, but the mobile version was so good and so far ahead of its time that it would be a while before anything could gainfully compete with it. The game included reasonably decent on-screen controls and hardware controller support, a rarity at the time. Mix in quirky, fun dialog and a surprisingly good narrative, and you ended up with a popular game with a super high Google Play rating. It was a pay-once premium game and it eventually fell to the overwhelming popularity of free to play mobile RPGs. However, anybody who wanted a good RPG experience in the early days of the decade got this game as a recommendation.
Summoners War/Puzzles & Dragons
The gacha RPG is one of the most popular mobile genres, which begun its life during the last decade. It started innocently enough with releases of games such as Summoners War and Puzzles & Dragons. However, those games exploded in popularity in a very short period of time. This led the way for industry leaders like Final Fantasy Brave Exvius along with smaller, but still successful titles like Another Eden, Azur Lane and Fate/Grand Order. All Mobile gacha RPGs have similar mechanics. There is a narrative story that drives the player forward along with a bunch of timed special events that rotate to keep things fresh. Players summon new characters in hopes of pulling a top tier character and upgrade them to try and outlast the game’s eventual power creep. We know a lot of people dislike free to play games, but for some reason people love gacha games. They have some of the most ardent fan bases of any genre on mobile.
The money makers
Supercell games (2012)
One developer stands above the rest when it comes to longevity and revenue generated from mobile games — Supercell. Creators of Clash of Clans and Clash Royale, Supercell has dominated Google Play since 2012. Although their games often exemplify some of the worst aspects of mobile gaming such as pay-to-not-wait, we can’t deny the influence the developer has had on the mobile gaming industry as a whole. In fact, Supercell ushered in many trends we now see everywhere. We have seen a shift to cartoonish aesthetics in mobile titles, including the now infamous “guy with an open mouth” thumbnail which many copycats employ. But we also shouldn’t deny that games like Clash of Clans can be a lot of fun for the right audience and have a certain strategic and competitive appeal to them.
These are our picks for the best and most influential games of the last decade. There are plenty of other titles we wish we could have included, so let us know what your favorites are in the comments below. Let’s hope the next decade brings us even more amazing mobile games.