Writing a definitive list of the best mobile games is a tricky – some would say foolhardy – task at the best of times. We’re talking about a process that incorporates hundreds of thousands of games spread across iOS and Android, and covering a span of more than a dozen years.
So we’ve decided to approach this from a simple, if slightly out-there premise. If an alien were to land tomorrow and ask for a crash course in gaming, which of the best mobile games would you encourage it to install first? With such an unusual filter applied, we’re not looking for obscure gems or even necessarily run-away hits here. We’re looking at those important, genre-defining games that represent something essential to the history of smartphone gaming. A veritable greatest hits compilation of the App Store and Google Play.
All we stipulate is that the game has to still be active and great to play today. We’re also only going to include one game per series, so we’ll generally (but not exclusively) go with the first rather than the best entry.
The best mobile games
We’re starting with a relatively compact list, but you’ll find us filling our selection out over the coming months – and perhaps even removing one or two entries as they’re supplanted or lose the ongoing support of their developers. But these 15 games are a great place to start with any mobile game collection.
Raid: Shadow Legends
It’s easy for seasoned gamers to get a bit sniffy about gacha RPGs. But the simple truth is, a quite startling number of people seem to play them, and Raid: Shadow Legends is the 800lb gorilla of this
particular loved-and-loathed sub-genre. You can’t really ignore it.
Who’s the biggest legend? Find out in our Raid: Shadow Legends tier list
Indeed, it’s pretty difficult to ignore a game that looks this good, with stunning 3D graphics and screen-filling pyrotechnics accompanying your every PVE campaign mission or PVP Arena scrap.
Genshin Impact wears its The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild influence quite shamelessly, with a familiar anime-inflected fantasy world and action-RPG mechanics.
Who’s the best? Take a look at our Genshin Impact tier list
But you’ll forgive the obvious tribute act because it nails the formula so well, and because it does so in the form of a free-to-play mobile game. Which is quite amazing.
Looking for a new free-to-play game to play on your commute? Fan of strategy and city-building? Well, boy oh boy, are you going to like Elvenar. In this fantasy game, you’re responsible for cultivating lots of beautiful cities, all of which fit into a gorgeous fantasy aesthetic.
You have three main objectives: the first is to complete an endless supply of quests that are given to you. Some of these progress the games story, while others are more generic, looping tasks. You can also choose to invest time in research, which will help you to enhance your cities and buildings, allowing you to better gather resources. Meanwhile, if you focus on exploration, you’ll be able to expand across the world map, building more and more of your beautiful cities.
Rush Royale: Tower Defense TD
If you’re somebody who enjoys a good tower defence game, then you should certainly give Rush Royale a try. It takes the familiar formula and adds plenty of nuance and intricacy. You build up a selection of wizards and warriors to defeat the enemy hordes, unlocking more units all the time. By choosing a different selection of characters to make up your team, you can cultivate your own strategy, but be warned, you may find yourself having to modify it for new challenges as you go.
The more you play, the more you unlock and eventually you’ll find yourself with identical units. By merging them together, you can find yourself with one stronger unit, but you’ll want to be careful about it and make sure that you’ve developed each unit as much as possible before you try and merge them. How you enhance your loadout is down to you, but there’s a lot of fun to be had in cultivating your team and using them to win level after level – you can even battle other players in the game’s PvP mode.
Monument Valley – and especially its sequel, Monument Valley 2 – is one of those rare video games that has crossed over into the mainstream. The kind that’s referenced in TV shows and played even by non-gamers.
That’s not to downplay its ingenious Escher-like spatial puzzles, or its achingly beautiful art style. It’s just to say that an awful lot of people like it an awful lot, including us.
If there’s another mobile game that has kept people coming back for as long as Pokémon Go, you’ll have to remind us what it is. Having launched way back in 2016, it’s still going strong.
Want more like this? Check out our best games like Pokémon Go list!
This was the game that really made a virtue of AR and location-based gameplay, as you battle and capture cute critters near real-world landmarks.
Slay the Spire
When the ultimate deck-building card battler came to mobile, it felt like it had finally come home. Plenty of other mobile games have lifted Slay the Spire’s formula wholesale, some of them quite successfully.
But Slay the Spire still rules the roost with its intuitive yet impossibly deep and varied card-based combat system.
If Jetpack Joyride represents the glorious past of the endless runner, then Alto’s Odyssey is its stylish present. The first thing you’ll notice is an art style so sharp and silky-smooth it belongs on the cover of a magazine
But it plays amazingly too, with an incentive-driven structure that keeps you coming back for just one more go.
Call of Duty: Mobile
Neither Android nor iOS are lacking for quality online shooters, but Call of Duty: Mobile is arguably the most comprehensive package of the lot. It bundles together a slick, fast-paced multiplayer shooter with a more expansive Battle Royale mode.
It all looks and moves beautifully too, with top-notch controller support and plenty of modes to try.
League of Legends: Wild Rift
MOBAs continue to be big news in the world of eSports, and on mobile just as on PC, League of Legends is the king. Choose your hero and embark on a classic 5v5 lane-running face-off with your fellow players.
What’s remarkable is how true to the original formula this mobile version is. If you’re interested in trying it out, make sure you check out our League of Legends: Wild Rift tier list.
There are plenty of fast, attractive arcade racers that seek to emulate the console experience on mobile. But there’s only one that actually achieves a straight 1:1 conversion.
Grid Autosport is the full classic console racer, transplanted to your phone in all its in-depth glory. It remains a startling achievement.
Jetpack Joyride wasn’t the first endless runner to hit mobile (shout out to Canabalt), but it was one of the earliest and best. Just as importantly to this list, it’s still going strong, with ongoing support from legendary developer Halfbrick.
As hero Barry Steakfried, run, fly, and smash your way as far as you can, making use of wild power-ups and randomly generating hazards.
RocketCat games hit gold with Wayward Souls, a roguelike action-RPG that takes the classic top-down action of 16-bit Zelda and applies some procedurally generated magic to it.
No two runs are the same here as you hack, slash, explore, and die. Repeatedly.
The Room and its three follow-ups are some of the most visually alluring, tactile, and downright atmospheric locked-box puzzlers on any platform.
Technically speaking, The Room: Old Sins is the latest and greatest of the four. But really, you need to start from the very first The Room and work your way through. You won’t regret it.
Like The Room, you could take any entry from the four-strong Kingdom Rush series, and you’d have a shining example of the genre – in this case, tower defence.
Lots of mobile games task you with carefully positioning and upgrading defensive units to fend off waves of enemies, but none do it with as much charm or attention to detail as Kingdom Rush.
Among Us is a free-to-play online whodunnit takes a fresh and oh-so-modern approach to online multiplayer gameplay, demanding careful communication and no small amount of skulduggery.
Join your fellow players in preparing your spaceship for departure, but watch out for the imposter. Unless it’s you, in which case go right ahead and murder your crew.
The game that launched a thousand imitators, Clash Royale combines card-battling strategy with MOBA-like base raiding. Playing cards here spawns 3D units onto a simple two-lane battlefield.
As so often with Supercell’s games, the presentation, learning curve, and balance are absolutely spot on.
There are three Reigns games on iOS and Android, and all are brilliant examples of how to update the narrative-led adventure genre for a modern mobile gaming audience.
The key, it seems, was to add a hefty smack of humour and apply a card-swiping control system lifted straight from the Grindr dating app. Who knew?