Every year, I always honor my favorite mobile games by highlighting some of my favorites. For this year, I'd like to try to do more than just say "hey, these games are fun." So, with some inspiration from other Game of the Year honors from around the web, I've assembled a few categories of video game honorifics to bestow on the mobile games that most deserve it.
In the coming days, be sure to check in to see nominees and winners picked from this list as we count down the final days of the horrid year known as 2020.
For each of these categories, I'll make some nominations and choose a winner. Any game nominated or chosen for any of these catergories is then eligible for the final category, Best Game, where I will make a top 10 list of the best games of 2020.
Best Old Game
This is a somewhat easy and unsurprising pick. Among Us exploded in popularity this year, which is a huge boon to a multiplayer game that centers around social dynamics. It turned into a new kind of social event for everyone who was trapped in their homes. Politicians played it alongside streamers, and my friends turned playing it into a weekly event. Despite being relatively unknown for a couple of years, Among Us has always been a great game, so honoring it is long past due.
Best Streaming Game
When I first fired up Signs of the Sojourner using Steam Link, I found satisfaction in confirming that its card-based gameplay works well on a touch screen (you'd actually be surprised at how often this isn't the case with PC card games). As I kept playing though, I became fascinated with how the game uses its cards as communication tools for a game based around conversation. It's an incredible idea that I've never seen other games come close to examining, and Signs of the Sojourner makes it look easy with its nearly flawless execution on its truly unique concept.
Before I say anything about Embracelet, I first want to say that every game listed below in the runner ups has a fantastic soundtrack. This was about as contentious as this category could get, and Embracelet squeaks out the win because its gorgeous piano-laden soundscapes create powerful senses of place, emotion, and texture that fill in the gaps of its sparse world. The audio that fills this game gives it the life it is otherwise missing, and it's powerful enough to move you on its own without a game to back it up.
Sometimes categories or honors for "stylish" games devolve into a competition of who can be the flashiest, loudest, or on-trend game. But style can mean more than that, and Ordesa proves that. From the outside, what looks like a typical FMV affair is the smoothest cinematic experience I've had playing a game, and its method for stitching together video clips melds perfectly with its mechanics so that they feel imminently intuitive. Your control over the game isn't entirely clear, and Ordesa's ability to make its steering wheel invisible (yet surprising and functional) gives it a look and feel unlike most games.
Genshin Impact is without question the most impressive mobile release of 2020. This is thanks in no small part to the fact that its gigantic, gorgeous, and fun open-world can also seamlessly work as a playground for up to four players as they fight bosses, crawl through dungeons, or just goof off and take photos. I've had a hard time putting miHoYo's epic free-to-play action rpg down since I got my hands on it this fall, and a lot of my enjoyment and drive to keep playing has come from its community and the fun that I've had exploring Teyvat with friends and strangers alike.
If Found...'s story isn't just good by video game standards. It's heartfelt, clever, and the way it unfolds through the destruction of a journal makes it immensely personal. The game also makes great use of color, sound, and interactivity to heighten the words on the pages you're destroying. It would be a disservice to the game for me to explain much further than this, so I'll just say that you should really play If Found....
And now the category you've been waiting for: the ranked list of my favorite games of the year.
A Monster's Expedition is the only Apple Arcade release that really blew me away this year. It may seem like a simple puzzle game about pushing logs, but it is full of surprises and "pushes" its mechanics to incredible limits that had me gasping with delight as I played.
Diablo: Immortal is on the horizon, and folks have their doubts about whether it will actually be good or not. What those same people may not realize is that they can just play Book of Demons: Tablet Edition and get everything they might want out of a mobile Diablo right now. Who cares if we all have phones? Get a tablet and play this.
8. Juicy Realm
I was not expecting much of Juicy Realm when I booted it up this year, but it has become somewhat of a comfort game for me. This little action-roguelite shooter is packed with variety and is paced brilliantly to the point that I kept dipping back in for "just one more run." It also helps that it's one of the few action games on mobile I prefer playing without a controller handy.
I'm a bit of a lapsed JRPG fan, but the main reason for this is that so many games in the genre have gotten really intense, long, and overly complicated. The Greater Good reminded me I can love these games again, since it's basically a love letter to games like Final Fantasy VII, though with modern innovations of its own, most notably a compact, well-paced length of a dozen hours or so.
6. If Found...
If Found... is easily the most powerful narrative experience I've had with a game this year, if not in the last few. It's a game about destroying a journal that you can't help but read as you go along, and everything in it is gorgeously presented and has a deeply personal touch to it.
5. Good Sudoku
I never would have imagined that a Sudoku game would make it onto my Game of the Year list, but that's just the kind of magic that Zach Gage brings to his games. More than just a way to play Sudoku, or even a way to learn it, Good Sudoku teaches you to fall in love with the form and serves up plenty of puzzles to dive into.
This isn't a mobile game, but Signs of the Sojourner is excellent nonetheless, and it plays well on smaller screens using the Steam Link app. It's a game about communication and talking to people, but everything you say is represented by cards with symbols on them. It sounds strange (and is), but through these wordless mechanics, Signs of the Sojourner speaks volumes about what it means for people to connect and understand one another.
I haven't played a game with as much heart as There Is No Game: Wrong Dimension in a very long time. It's a goofy adventure "non-game" where your entire goal is to overcome obstacles preventing you from playing the "real" game. To say it's a bit meta is an understatement, but through all of the jokes about free-to-play mechanics and player agency, it's a celebration of games and the people who play them. It's simply delightful.
There's a lot of card-based roguelites out there these days, so it takes a lot for one to really grab and hold my attention. Meteorfall: Krumit's Tale is one such game. It's a follow up to the successful Meteorfall: Journey, but it's such a radically different game than its predecessor and nearly all of its changes are for the better. It's so good it's got a permanent spot on my home screen until further notice.
I feel somewhat conflicted about picking the uber-popular and extremely-ambitious-by-mobile-standards game as my top game for this year, but I can't deny my feelings for Genshin Impact. It is hands-down the game I've played the most this year, and I can't wait to keep playing more of it. The key for me is not just its scale or its art or its music, but it's pacing. I can log into Genshin Impact and get lost for hours hunting for chests or just pop in for five minutes to do a Daily Commission and feel satisfied doing both. This balancing act is far from easy, but miHoYo makes it look effortless.