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It’s easy to look at mobile and see it as a wasteland for content; particularly with all the casual, free-to-play games, and especially the ones that seem to de-emphasize actual gameplay in favor of stronger monetization. That’s only if you’re not paying attention. Serious, core games – some even free-to-play – had a great year on iOS.

Oceanhorn was hyped for a good reason: it was beautiful and ambitious. That ambition didn’t entirely pay off in my opinion, but for the game to have succeeded financially is a huge step forward for gaming on mobile.

Oceanhorn-3It also felt like the barriers between mobile and PC/console games started to blur a bit. Frozen Synapse, Mode 7’s highly acclaimed PC strategy game, landed on iPad at last. Limbo received an excellent port. Leviathan: Warships brought cross-platform online play – and the best trailer of the year. Space Hulk was not perfect, but it made for an exceptional transition.

But perhaps few did it as spectacularly as XCOM: Enemy Unknown. That game proved that it was possible to take a massive console and PC title – a fantastic modern take on one of the greatest strategy games of all time – and put it on mobile without losing any of the experience. Firaxis also absolutely stuck the landing with Sid Meier’s Ace Patrol and its Pacific Skies followup; original games that went to PC later.


xcomeu19Telltale treats mobile gaming seriously: they launched The Wolf Among Us on mobile as well as on console and PC platforms, and the first chapter in this series continues to show that games can be about storytelling – and they can exist on mobile, too. Poker Night 2, from the same company, was also one of the funniest games of the year.

010Simogo’s Year Walk was perhaps the most intense and emotional experience on mobile, if not of all of gaming – a scary game that played enough with meta-fiction to be mind-bending. Few developers get one amazingly brilliant and memorable experience in their existence; Simogo got two in one year with Year Walk and DEVICE 6.

Minecraft continues to be one of the most influential games of the past few years, with several other crafting games hitting mobile: The Blockheads was perhaps the finest mobile-optimized game, Junk Jack X made its exceptional side-scrolling experience even better, and Terraria had a solid landing as well.

JunkJackX-11Sonic had a great year, too. Both updated ports of the original Sonic the Hedgehog and Sonic 2 were wonderful returns to classic games, with fresh new ways to play them. Then there was Major Magnet, heavily inspired by the Sonic series, was possibly the best-looking 2D game of the year. And speedrunners had plenty to love with Mikey Hooks; a colorful game but with intense competition.

MajorMagnet-6Gameloft has always made games that felt like they were meant to be somewhere else, but Asphalt 8 was gorgeous and intense, a high-flying arcade racer when Real Racing 3 wanted to get real. And Dungeon Hunter 4 was one of the best hack ‘n slash games of the year – IAP be damned.

asphalt8Even indies got in to the fun. FIST OF AWESOME was a beat ‘em up that had a lumberjack fighting bears, and also had some of the best touchscreen controls for a 2D action game yet. Quadropus Rampage brought the uber-trendy roguelike genre to mobile with a goofy yet daunting hack ‘n slash aesthetic. Those looking for a more traditional roguelike could do worse than 868-HACK from Michael Brough, which is extremely challenging yet built for quick play. And it’s still a mobile-only title for now.

quadropusrampage11One of Apple’s picks of the year, Ridiculous Fishing, came from Vlambeer (possibly the most prominent indie studio), and for good reason: this was one of the best of the year. In a certain way, its conscious choice to not give in to free-to-play trappings made it just that much more pure and satisfying.

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Plus, what’s more hardcore than tossing fish in the air and shooting them out with heavy weaponry?

Don’t fall prey to the popular conception of the mobile wasteland – there were plenty of great core gaming experiences in 2013. And with hints that premium games might just thrive on mobile, 2014 could be an even better year.

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