That new smartphone or tablet you just got for the holidays does a lot. It can help you keep in touch with friends and family, be more productive when you’re away from your computer, or even help you create through writing, music, and art apps. Most importantly, though, it can play games: no longer do you have to sit around on the subway or in line at the grocery store without anything to do. That device in your pocket is a window to a new world of video games, one that’s vibrant and varied, with a huge selection of titles across iPhone, iPad, and Android. Here are some of our favorites.
We've rounded up our favorite and most-used apps and utilities for the technology we use every day. Check out our picks for iPhones, Android phones, PCs, Macs, and game consoles. We've also listed our favorite games for iOS and Android from this year.
Threes - iOS, Android
Sometimes you just need a mobile game to kill some time — and Threes will kill a lot of it. The game has a simple premise — you add up numbered cards to create even bigger numbers — but as with the best puzzles the trick is in mastering it. It’s easy to spend dozens of hours honing your technique in pursuit of a new high score. Even better: the developers have released a new free version so you can try before you buy.
Alto’s Adventure - iOS (Android coming)
Snowboarding is usually thought of as an Extreme Sport, the kind best paired with a can of Red Bull. Alto’s Adventure goes in a different direction. It still features the steep hills, huge jumps, and crazy flips you’d expect, but it turns the experience into something serene, complete with gorgeous art and meditative music. Plus, you can chase llamas.
Neko Atsume - iOS, Android
Games don’t always have to be challenging. Neko Atsume isn’t about getting a high score, or beating up bad guys, or experiencing the thrill of fast-paced action. It’s about collecting cats. You have a home, you fill it up with toys, food, and other goodies, and then you wait. That’s it. There isn’t much to it, but that doesn’t mean it’s not exciting when a rare cat dressed up like a cowboy or pharaoh shows up.
Lara Croft Go - iOS, Android
Like Hitman Go before it, Lara Croft Go takes the essence of a blockbuster action game and completely reimagines it for your phone. In this case, it’s the vast tombs and epic thrills of Tomb Raider. Those things are still present in Lara Croft Go, but instead of third-person adventure game, it’s more of a puzzle, where Lara treks slowly through a level, one move at a time, trying to find the best way to the exit. And yes, there are snakes.
Monument Valley - iOS, Android
Monument Valley is quite possibly the most beautiful mobile game ever released, but there’s more to it than just good looks. The puzzle game puts you in tiny worlds filled with MC Escher-style impossible architecture, and figuring out how to navigate those buildings is very satisfying. It’s a bit on the short side, but offers an experience like no other game.
Ridiculous Fishing - iOS, Android
Sometimes a silly premise makes for an amazing game. Ridiculous Fishing isn’t just a game about catching fish, it’s also about throwing your spoils into the air and blasting them into tiny little pieces. It sounds ridiculous, and it is, but the perfectly-tuned gameplay also means that it’s very hard to put down. You’ll want to catch every fish in the game, and then you’ll want to shoot them all in their fishy faces.
Hearthstone - iOS, Android
Blizzard’s digital card game is absolutely perfect for mobile. Though it was originally released on PC, Hearthstone’s sharp, rapid matches work really well on the go, and your progress carries across all versions of the game. Perhaps the best part of Hearthstone is how it just keeps growing: since launch Blizzard has released multiple expansions, single-player adventures, and even new game modes. You’re never really done with Hearthstone.
Badland 2 - iOS (Android coming)
Since its debut in 2013, Badland has been one of mobile’s showcase games. Its dark, moody, beautiful visuals help it stand out on a platform full of me-too clones, and its challenging gameplay feels perfectly designed for a touchscreen. The sequel takes everything that was great about the original and makes it better: bigger levels, more freedom, and a lot more challenge.
Device 6 - iOS
Is it a game or is it a new kind of novel? Whatever you want to call it, Device 6 is a wonderful mystery that wouldn’t work on any other platform. In order to follow the story you’ll need to twist and turn the device in your hands, and use your fingers to solve puzzles. At one point you’ll have to stand in front of a mirror to play. It’s like reading a spy thriller on a device a spy would actually use.
Downwell - iOS (Android coming)
Touch controls aren’t ideal for fast-paced action games. Ever since the debut of the iPhone game developers have struggled with how to translate traditional console action onto a device with no buttons. Downwell succeeds by creating something brand new, a game about falling down a well and using gunboots — that is, boots with guns on them — both for killing bad guys and navigating your descent. It works brilliantly, and you won’t need to buy a controller.
Her Story - iOS
You probably spend a lot of time on your phone watching videos and searching on Google. Her Story takes those familiar actions and turns them into a deep, engaging story-driven game, where you’ll need to pore over interrogation videos and search through a police database in order to solve a complicated cold case. Who knew googling would come in handy for catching a killer?
Prune - iOS, Android
A game about growing bonsai trees doesn’t sound that interesting. But Prune takes that concept and turns into an inventive puzzle game that is unlike anything you’ve played before. The game has you trimming trees just right so that they can grow around obstacles and reach the sunlight they need. It sounds easy, but when you have to deal with wind and obstacles that will poison your tree, things get tricky. On the plus side, when you finish a level you’re left with a tree that looks like a work of art.