Over the years, I've played many games on my iPhone and iPad — top-tier titles, puzzlers, RPGs, and even a Pokémon-themed game or two — but the ones that captured my heart and playtime were often the tiny titles. These games may not have been from top game studios, but they brought heart, wit, and charm to my iPhone or iPad.
As we close out the year, I wanted to compile a list of my all-time favorite indie games on iOS: Some are no doubt familiar to you, while others might be a little more obscure, but I recommend you try them all.
The matching game that started a 2048-clone phenomenon, Threes brought smarts (and some great background music) to the puzzling genre.
Threes may be a game comprised of numbers, but you need no real mathematical skill to excel at this game — just an open mind and a penchant for thinking ahead.
Best of all, you can always find new paths to pursue, new tricks to test, and new methods for matching; the game is always different, though the numbers remain the same.
Find Threes on the App Store (opens in new tab)
The gorgeous backgrounds and meditative music alone catapult Alto's Adventure up the indie game ranks, but it's the game's sweet and witty premise — a herder-turned-snowboarder flies down the alps while rounding up llamas and angering local elders — combined with a great challenge system and an array of delightful unlockable characters that make it one of my favorite iOS games. With sequel Alto's Odyssey on the horizon, now is the perfect time to hit the slopes.
Find Alto's Adventure on the App Store (opens in new tab)
Ding ding! If you've ever dreamed of redesigning your city's train lines, Mini Metro provides the perfect puzzler solution. The game's minimalist styling belies the complexity and delight of its many route options; like many of the other options on this list, it's provided hours of head-scratching fun — and the occasional power-trip — sometimes even while riding my town's real-life metro.
Find Mini Metro on the App Store (opens in new tab)
One stroke of meditative reflection on the golfing genre, three strokes puzzle game, and 3287 strokes of digital trolling make up Desert Golfing, a title that's both genius and endlessly frustrating. The premise is simple: Knock a golf ball into a procedurally-generated hole using the same sort of physics drag-and-swipe present in the Angry Birds (opens in new tab) franchise. The reality is a bit more complex: The game has no way to restart (save for deleting the entire app), no par requirements on holes, and no way to fail. And those aforementioned procedurally-generated holes? They're often exceedingly difficult — so much so that the developer himself never built a proper ending, trusting that two nigh-impossible holes in the 2000s and 3000s would stop all but the craziest players. (They didn't: Players have made it into the 60,000s.)
And yet, despite its strange premise and execution, I keep coming back to Desert Golfing. Maybe it's because I want to see the "evil" hole myself; maybe it's because the inherent physics puzzles, for all their trickery, still nag at my brain. Whatever my reason, I highly recommend finding your own by exploring this desert wasteland.
Find Desert Golfing on the App Store (opens in new tab)
Though Twofold was a relatively recent addition to my iPhone's home screen, it's clever enough to warrant inclusion on this list.
Tracing patterns for points is nothing new in the mobile game sphere, but Twofold puts a new spin on the style by taking away the stress of a timer, replaced instead by a finite number of lives and moves as you shift and trace your way to glory.
(Also, there's a cute robot. Did I mention that part?)
Find Twofold on the App Store (opens in new tab)
Choice of Robots
Speaking of robots… Want to build a robot army? Save the world from WWIII? Become one with the singularity? Choice of Robots, a text-based choose-your-own adventure game offers a peek into several visions of the near future, beginning with the building of your very own intelligent robot. I love the world-building that went into this game, and its various stories have stuck with me in the years since I first played.
Find Choice of Robots on the App Store (opens in new tab)
Sword and Sworcery
Sword and Sworcery is an adventure game with an eerie storyline, stick-figure characters, and a soundtrack I still listen to at least once a week. Its 140-character story snippets are instantly shareable online, leading others into the mystery of the Megatome and the Trigon Trifecta.
Find Sword and Sworcery on the App Store (opens in new tab)
Another puzzler with eerie visuals and a compelling tale, Monument Valley offers a variety of 3D maps to conquer — all while transporting you into a strange world of crows, block creatures, and breathtaking Escher-style landscapes.
It's one of the first titles I recommend to new mobile gamers, and no surprise that it was the most-mentioned game when I surveyed Twitter followers on their favorites.
Find Monument Valley on the App Store (opens in new tab)
If robots, Escher, and sci-fi aren't up your alley, maybe you'll enjoy a choose-your-own adventure set amidst a fictional kingdom that puts a crown on your own head — at least, until you're brutally murdered by your own citizens, that is.
Or you drown in a frozen river.
Or you get murdered by a vengeful skeleton.
Or… maybe all of the above?
Reigns puts you into the boots of a king cursed by the devil, doomed to repeat his tenure in the bodies of the sons and vengeful successors who take his place; while attempting to find a way to lift the curse through many lifetimes, you'll also have to balance the needs of your kingdom with those of the church, military, and your own coffers.
You will make mistakes on your first playthrough (and probably fail to defeat the devil), but hey, that's okay — you can always start again. And again. And again.
Find Reigns on the App Store (opens in new tab)
Thomas Was Alone
I discovered this game originally at a friend's birthday party, when it was naught but a tiny title on the PS3; though we only played through a few levels, the plight of Thomas (a tiny rectangle) and his other shape-designated friends stuck in my head many months after that night.
When the game came to iOS in 2014, I was overjoyed — I could find out what happened, at last! — and not the least bit disappointed in its execution on the iPhone and iPad. Whether you play Thomas Was Alone on iOS, Mac, Windows, Xbox, or PlayStation, the story and game mechanics hold up.
Find Thomas Was Alone on the App Store (opens in new tab)
Blend together pixel art, 1950s space age fervor, and a reverent nostalgia for the games of the last century, and — if you've engaged the team from Big Bucket Studios to do it — you'll get Space Age.
Bound together with an ace soundtrack from Cabel Sasser, the game reminds me of some of the worst (AKA best) puzzles from RTS games of yore, including its epic final boss battle.
Find Space Age on the App Store (opens in new tab)
Super Stickman Golf
An oldie but a goodie, Super Stickman Golf was one of the first multiplayer games I ever played on my iPhone. Like Desert Golfing, it puts its own spin on the golf ball, but it's anything but minimalistic.
SSG's many levels (and those of its sequels) invite you to use ice balls to freeze lakes, sticky balls to hang from the top of floating islands, and Mulligan power-ups to avoid getting eaten by spinning wheels of death.
The courses are fun enough to play on their own, but add in the local multiplayer experience and you'll find yourself cursing your friends and competing for glory — all while playing a golfing game. What?
Find Super Stickman Golf on the App Store (opens in new tab)
The other local multiplayer game on my list, Spaceteam, isn't the prettiest title on this list. But I'll be damned if it's not one of the most amusing.
I mean, the concept alone is ridiculous: Multiple people get together, enable Spaceteam on their iPhone or iPad, then yell wacky-sounding terms to each other to try and keep their ship from being eaten by a dying sun or falling into a wormhole.
In practice, it's even better; I've played with friends, family, co-workers, and complete strangers, and every time has been whimsical and unique.
If you're already going to be yelling at your family the next time you see them, why not yell about switching off the Eigenthrottle?
Find Spaceteam on the App Store (opens in new tab)
Last but not least, I can't make a list of best indie games without including the mystifying (and creepy as hell) puzzler The Room. If you liked playing Myst in your childhood, the Room is the perfect multitouch progression for you; it offers complex box-related puzzles along with an atmospheric storyline and unsettling clues to the reality behind the madness.
Find The Room on the App Store (opens in new tab)
Your favorite indie games?
What have I missed? What's stayed on your home screen for years? Let me know below.
Serenity was formerly the Managing Editor at iMore, and now works for Apple. She's been talking, writing about, and tinkering with Apple products since she was old enough to double-click. In her spare time, she sketches, sings, and in her secret superhero life, plays roller derby. Follow her on Twitter @settern.
Needs more This War of Mine. Sent from the iMore App
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