Phone games are among the worst thing to happen to the industry since paid online subscriptions — at least that's what most hardcore gamers seem to think. It doesn't help that mobile games are a hit with more casual audiences that would otherwise not play video games. How much of the elderly Pokémon GO fanbase would go anywhere near Call Of Duty: Black Ops 4 or Super Smash Bros. Ultimate? Phone games' success at attracting new types of players has gone so far as to inspire major gaming companies to jump on board, only further disappointing their longtime gamers. Diablo Immortal, anyone?
So it's easy to disregard phone games as cash grabs. In fact, a huge amount of them are just that. A new franchise or game type becomes the latest fad, and it's like a thousand mobile clones of it appear overnight. We've collected some of the most offensive of these "games" as an example of the worst that 2018 has to offer. Alongside these are uninspired uses of childhood favorites, and concepts that are just plain baffling.
But phone games aren't all bad. At the bottom of the list, to restore your faith in game development, are ten stand-out titles that prove mobile gaming has the potential to deliver unique experiences. Stories you wouldn't find on consoles, new twists on beloved classics, or even a game that has the most catchy theme song of all time. Read below and enjoy, just make sure you're not using your data by accident.
25 Worst: Pocket Kitten Cat Go
Somehow, there are still Pokémon Go clones aplenty despite the game being over two years old. This one at least sticks to the idea of capturing animals. The problem is just about everything else. Assets from Pokémon are still blatantly stolen, and the cats aren't even animated. They're just JPEGs of kitties that sort of shake while you toss balls. If you're somehow still curious about this game, just know that the sound design is also awful. The meows don't match the onscreen cats at all. They aren't even cute. It's a no with this game.
24 Worst: Clash Royale (Yes, Still)
While perhaps not the most 2018 game on this list, its effects are unfortunately still felt in every mobile game made this year. The Clash games are an example of just how far a mobile game can go with microtransactions. There are whales that will feed this game money, and that's enough for the people behind it to keep up a restrictive energy system.
We also have Clash to thank for the stupid trend of mobile game icons consisting of angry screaming men.
Studies show people respond to the raw emotion, and Clash does well, so why not have every game do it? Nothing has killed creativity in mobile games like Clash Royale.
23 Best: Fire Emblem Heroes
To many people, Fire Emblem Heroes is just one of Nintendo's other mobile games. However, it's probably the best of the company's attempts to infiltrate the mobile market. Developer Intelligent Systems made the most organic transition to the new medium, keeping the strategy of Fire Emblem intact while still simplifying the experience for new fans. The emphasis is where it matters, on the characters, providing the opportunity for a mobile-friendly collection mechanic and for hardcore Fire Emblem fans to see the characters they love in new ways. This is how you turn an existing property into a mobile game.
22 Worst: Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery
You know what would be a great idea? An RPG that lets you be a Hogwarts student, exploring the halls of the castle and casting spells. It's surprising that WB hasn't ordered one of those yet. Sure, there's that rumored leaked footage of an RPG, but that's after how many years? So all we have to work with is Hogwarts Mystery. A fine game, for sure, with an original story starring a witch or wizard of your own creation. Too bad it's locked behind one of the worst mobile game energy systems in existence.
It's like they knew people would throw money at any Harry Potter game, and designed Hogwarts Mystery to drain these people of their earnings.
The rest of us just have to wait hours between everything we do.
21 Worst: Pokémon Quest
Nintendo isn't shy about putting out multiple Pokémon games every year and in many different genres. Of course, that doesn't mean they're all going to be winners. Enter Pokémon Quest. This game takes Pokémon (all from the first generation, because of course we can't confuse casuals with anything beyond the '90s) and puts them into cube form. From there, you collect them, wander around an island, and participate in very simple battles. It's a very standard mobile game, complete with a very standard energy system that encourages you to spend money to progress. Not the best use of the Pokémon license.
20 Best: Florence
Florence is actually less of a game and more of an interactive comic book, but it deserves your attention all the same. The story follows the titular Florence as she navigates the perils of everyday life as a 20-something-year-old. The gameplay consists of simple puzzles and matching, but the story gives these mundane activities a new context. Your puzzle skills decide if Florence says the right thing during a date, or how badly an argument goes. Before you know it, you feel invested in Florence's struggles, and that's only before the feels hit.
19 Worst: Disney Emoji Blitz
There's an endless stream of games out there based on Disney properties. And yet, this exists. The actual gameplay is that of your basic Candy Crush-style puzzle game. You match like faces to make more faces drop down, seeing how many matches and combos you can get before the clock ticks down to zero. Your rewards for good performance are emojis based on Disney characters. Because people were really clamoring for that? Apparently, they were, and still are, because the game still has an active community and still releases new emojis based on the latest movies. So maybe there's something here we just don't get.
18 Worst: Toilet Time Mini Games
It is true that people tend to use their phones as a way to occupy themselves in the restroom, but maybe we don't need a mobile game to address that. Regardless, that's exactly what Toilet Time Mini Games does. The games themselves are actually alright. They're a collection of simple objectives that come at you one after another, in a manner similar to the Wario Ware microgames.
The problem is the theming.
The games are themed around, you guessed it, going to the restroom. How much value you get out of that depends on your reaction to gross-out humor. I, for one, will stick to mini-games without toilets.
17 Best: Animal Crossing Pocket Camp
Animal Crossing fans have a long wait ahead of them until the series makes its way to Switch. Fortunately, they can take the adorable animals of Nintendo's life management series on the go! Animal Crossing Pocket Camp finds a clever way to scale down the gameplay the series is known for. Instead of managing a town or apartment complex like in the main games, the player is in charge of a campsite. You can deck out your camp with furniture in all manner of styles, and invite the colorful critters to hang out. It's cute, simple, and a good appetizer for the next main series game.
16 Worst: Talking Horse
This bit of nightmare fuel works on a similar premise to the Talking Tom games. Or for '90s kids, it's a mobile game Tamagotchi. You have a digital horse that you have to take care of. You feed it, clean it, and even tuck it into bed as seen here. The main thing is that this horse talks. It says things to you in an unsettling voice. I get the notion that it's supposed to be cute and appealing, but the game's graphics, particularly the model of the horse, are just plain creepy. Just look at it. Do you really want to tuck it in and read it a bedtime story?
15 Worst: Dragalia Lost
Dragalia Lost seemed like it had all the potential in the world. A mobile game published by Nintendo and designed by the people behind Granblue, a super popular game in Japan that has a sizable Western following. But the resulting product is lackluster at best.
While there's nothing blatantly wrong with the game, there's nothing outstanding about it either.
It has a rather generic anime style, it hides characters behind randomized summons, and the gameplay is fun but too simple. You could do a lot worse, but you should also expect a lot better from Nintendo.
14 Best: Old School RuneScape
Sometimes the best new thing is the return of an old thing. That's what you're getting with Old School Runescape on your phone.
This is RuneScape as you remember it from middle school.
It's literally the original version free from updates. There's not much else to say about having one of the most iconic MMOs of all time available to play anywhere. You should definitely download it if you have an Android (iOS version is still being worked on). Just don't let anyone else trim your armor.
13 Worst: Draconius GO
There was a news story some time ago about Niantic, the company behind Pokémon GO, suing some indie developer for their game being too similar. A good number of internet denizens were incredulous about this. How dare the big corporation bully some indie developer just trying to get by! And are they really taking such pride in Pokémon GO, a game that could be called flawed at best? Draconius GO, the clone in question, saw a spike in activity after that lawsuit story. The new players, unfortunately, soon came to discover that the game really is just a shoddy Pokémon GO clone with uninspired creature designs. We don't talk about it so much now.
12 Worst: ZigZag
This is meant to be one of those simple time-wasting games. You tap your phone screen to influence the direction of a ball as it goes down an increasingly-narrow path. If the ball falls, you lose. Then you try again. The hope, anyway, is that you get addicted to trying to beat your last run. Some people probably do. The thing is, there are games that do the simple reflex test a lot better. And with much nicer visuals. Sure, graphics don't matter as much on mobile games, but if you're staring at it repeatedly throughout your day, it should look more appealing than this.
11 Best: Alto's Odyssey
On the more relaxing side of things is Alto's Odyssey. It's the sequel to the critically-acclaimed Alto's Adventure, a game about a snowboarder going down beautifully-rendered landscapes. The gameplay is the same here, only the landscapes get more diverse. Alto is now tackling a desert, complete with scenery like this gorgeous oasis above. This game is less about beating a high score or reaching the highest level, and more about just enjoying the ride. A beautiful, beautiful ride.
10 Worst: Super Neighbor World
Yes, this actually exists. Besides being a blatant rip-off of a very iconic game, it's also just a shoddy project in its own right. You have to watch the Vinesauce video that revealed this game's existence to get the full idea of its awfulness.
Super Neighbor is always twitching for some reason.
The controls are also very stiff, which is the worst thing you can say about a platformer. As if that wasn't enough, the game doesn't just ape Mario, it also takes from other games. For instance, one flying enemy bears a striking resemblance to a certain aggravated avian. Overall, terrible idea for a game.
9 Worst: 2 Cars
There was a time when every mobile game developer was trying to capture the success of Flappy Bird. That game took the world by storm because it was a classic example of easy-to-play, hard-to-master. 2 Cars tried very hard to embody that same feel. Unfortunately, it leaned a little too hard into the "hard-to-master" part. You're controlling two cars at once, trying to drive over circles but avoid squares. The problem with having two moving pieces to watch out for over an extended period of time is that things get too hectic. There's a reason why you only controlled one flappy bird.
8 Worst: Granny
The premise of this game is that you're trapped in a creepy old house and must escape before a sinister granny finds you. That's already an odd concept for a game, especially when that's the only context you're given. Why is this grandma demonic and hunting you? Who cares!? Adding to this half-baked idea is that the granny looks like... Well, just look at the picture! I for one am not particularly spooked by this PS1 graphics-looking old lady.
7 Best: Riptide GP: Renegade
This is one of the mobile's most exciting racing games, and also one of the platform's most visually impressive. As you can tell, you ride these hover jet-ski bike things through futuristic tracks. It's got some of the most responsive controls for a mobile racer I've ever seen. In fact, it was so well-received on mobile that it eventually made its way to consoles, including the Switch.
6 Worst: Follow JC GO!
You might have already heard of this one thanks to our own Josh Coulson's news article about it. Still, it bears repeating on a list such as this one. Follow JC GO! is exactly what it looks like: a shameless Pokémon GO! clone that replaces the cool and cute monsters with religious figures. Of course, you talk to them about faith instead of capturing them. And instead of battling or gyms, there's education. That sure sounds like a fun, rewarding game design! Yet it must be doing something right because it has a ringing endorsement from the Pope himself.
5 Best: Battlelands Royale
Is that Victory Royale in Fortnite eluding you? Do you find that PUBG players take the game way too seriously? If so, then you might find comfort in Battlelands Royale. So what makes this one different from any other Fortnite clone? It carves out its own niche in the genre.
Matches in Battlelands Royale go up to 32 players and only last about 3-5 minutes.
It's basically a quicker, simpler version of Fortnite, great for those who want to play but don't want to get all crazy-Twitch-streamer serious with it.
4 Worst: Amazing Strange Rope Hero
Some poor souls couldn't play the new Spider-Man game this year, because they didn't have a PS4, or just couldn't afford the money or time commitment. Thankfully, there's Amazing Strange Rope Hero. This game is both affordable and works on pretty much any old phone. Even better, it's not just a Spider-Man game. It's also a Grand Theft Auto clone! That means you get to climb buildings, mow down swaths of cops, and steal cars. And really, isn't that what Spider-Man is all about?
3 Best: Smash Up
Smash Up is actually a card game, and this is an app version of that game. The concept is simple, yet amazing: Different fictional factions want to take over the world, and it's your job to make an army by "smashing" two of them together.
Ninja-Pirates, Dino-Zombies, or Steampunk-Wizards, the choice is yours.
The app includes the base game as well as one expansion, giving you 13 factions to choose from. The game is fast and frantic but doesn't skimp on strategy. The app is cheaper than buying the actual card game, too!
2 Worst: Battle Simulator: Counter Stickman
If you used to frequent Flash-based websites back in the day, you're probably familiar with stick person games and videos. Typically, the entertainment value is based on having these simple forms do violent things. Over-the-top animation is a hallmark of stick person media. Battle Simulator: Counter Stickman tries to embody that spirit but is held back by either technical limitations or just plain lazy development. The battles play out with explosions aplenty and even some ragdoll physics. Except, it doesn't look very good. Stickmen just sort of fall or flop as they fly away. The sounds are weirdly squishy like the stick people are fighting with nerf guns and water balloons. Not the epic battle nostalgic stick fans are looking for.
1 Best: Run Sausage Run!
Endless runner games might not be as big as they were in the Temple Run days, but there are still a few gems out there. Run Sausage Run!, with its quirky style and infectious soundtrack, is one of the top contenders.
Seriously, just listen to the song and try not to hum along.
The gameplay sees you guiding a sausage across a dangerous countertop, avoiding all manner of chopping knives and open flames. The sausage can also be traded out for other meats, sort of like costumes in other games. It's one of the most well-presented mobile games I've ever played.