Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference took place earlier this week and featured a host of announcements about new iMacs, HomePods, iPads and iOS.
Amid all the high-profile hardware & software reveals, the event also boasted a particularly exciting surprise announcement - specifically the release of Monument Valley 2, a sequel to one of the App Store’s most beloved games.
The App Store hosts tens of thousands of games, most of them not very good at all. Despite the success of mobile games, the prevalence of ‘free to play’ timewasters means many game fans often regard mobile as a second-tier platform (at best). Encouraging people to pay even a modest amount of money for an app also remains an obvious challenge for many developers, and that’s not even mentioning the challenges with ensuring your game has some visibility...
Yet Monument Valley and its sequel highlight what can be achieved on mobile - how games can take advantage of touch-screen limitations, or do things that would not be possible on other platforms.
Here’s just a few of the best 'premium' games available for your devices. None of these will set you back much more than a fiver, and they're all well worth the price of admission...
Monument Valley (Android, iOS) / Monument Valley 2 (iOS, Android tbc)
Ustwo’s 2014 game remains one of the most acclaimed mobile titles, so it’s not surprising Apple gave such prominence to the sequel announcement and release.
Both games are bewitching experiences in which the player is asked to guide characters through stunning surreal landscapes. The twist is that the levels resemble MC Escher paintings that cleverly manipulate perspective. Turn a lever, for example, and you may suddenly find yourself on the ceiling. Walking up a stairs may see you end up at an entirely different angle than you expected.
Even without those smartly designed puzzles, these games - plus the exceptional downloadable expansions for the first - would still stand out from the crowd thanks to the peerless art direction, stunning soundtrack, and endearingly sentimental minimalist storytelling.
Threes! (Android, iOS)
Odds are you’ve played 2048, one of the big mobile hits of 2014. That game, unfortunately, was a rather underwhelming clone of a much superior original - Sirvo’s Threes!
This is the rare puzzle game that deserves to stand alongside classics of the genre, such as Tetris or Puzzle Bobble. It’s all about polish - as instantly appealing as the central premise is (slide matching numbers into each other to create ever larger multiples) it’s the extra care that is applied that allows the experience to really sing. Even the numbered blocks themselves are all given personalities that make the screen easier to read and understand.
The whole experience rests on a mix of luck and skill that never feels unfair, so you will almost certainly lose hours chasing high scores in this little masterpiece.
80 Days (Android, iOS)
Text-based games don’t always feel at home on a TV, so it’s no surprise that some of the more interesting text-heavy games of recent years have been on mobile. Three years after release, Inkle’s 80 Days remains one of the most remarkable attempts to marry interactive storytelling with literature.
It is effectively a loose adaptation of Around the World in Eighty Days, casting you as Passepartout - the man tasked with helping Phileas Fogg circumnavigate the globe. You travel from city to city, making a series of decisions that will ultimately determine whether the trip (and associated wager) is a success or not.
It demands forward planning - you might pick up an item in Vienna, for example, that will fetch a small fortune in Yokohama (if you can get there). But it also spins off in all manner of dizzying directions that require you to take risks and think on the fly. Will you spend the extra money to take a hot air balloon? Should you get off a train before it reaches its final destination? Can you afford to spend that extra night in Karachi?
A playthrough will only take a few hours, but it all feels suitably epic. The writing is exemplary, and even if your first journey is a success you might well be tempted to play through it a couple of times to see what all those dozens of destinations have to offer curious travellers...
Mini Metro (Android, iOS)
Oh, Mini Metro! Originating on PC, this was an already wonderful experience that has proven to be an ideal fit for mobile.
It is an inspired idea: take the iconic design of a subway map, and turn that into a game. It’s a management game, boiled down to its purest - passengers are shapes; individual lines are broken down to different colours; and your supply of essentials like tunnels, new lines and extra carriages are thrillingly finite. A session starts almost soothingly as your network takes shape, but soon turns into wonderful chaos as you desperately try to get an increasing number of passengers to where they need to go.
Few games in history have so artfully translated a recognisable real-world design into interactive form. Mini Metro is simply a joy to play.
Samorost 3 (Android, iOS)
The Czech company Amanita Design has long been known in enthusiast circles for their utterly unique fantasy games. Samorost 3 - a point and click adventure about a gnome’s journey from planet to planet in a homemade spaceship - was warmly received as one of their strongest efforts yet.
It is a game that’s as strange as it is beguiling. It encourages you to poke around at its alien environments, and rewards you with stunning sights, memorably odd setpieces, and even some unexpected musical numbers. There’s not a word uttered: the objectives and story communicated through sound and visuals alone.
Ultimately, Samorost 3 has charm and wonder to spare - it does its own thing entirely, and soars because of it.