Vainglory takes one of the most hardcore PC gaming genres – MOBA – and makes it marvellously enjoyable (yet no less hardcore) to play on a touchscreen device.
At its best on iPad, it throws you into beautiful-looking three-on-three battles, with a system of in-app purchases that takes great care to avoid “pay-to-win” dynamics.
2. Monument Valley
Beautiful puzzler Monument Valley won bags of critical acclaim in 2014, deservedly. It’s a surreal shape-shifting game that sees you guiding a mysterious princess through a series of impossible-architecture levels by tapping and swiping. Short, but wonderfully sweet.
Threes! might have been the most moreish mobile game of 2014: a puzzler so simple in theory you wondered why no one had thought of it before. As it turned out, lots of people thought of it afterwards: there are hundreds of Threes! clones. But the original, adding 1s and 2s together, then 3s and upwards, remains the most addictive.
4. 80 Days
80 Days sits in between books and games as a piece of work: a retelling of Phileas Fogg’s journey around the world in 80 days, with an added layer of steampunk culture and technology. There’s plenty of reading, but also plenty of decision-making as you plot a route and explore the cities along the way.
5. Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft
Blizzard Entertainment’s card-battling spin-off from World of Warcraft found its perfect medium on tablets. Like Magic: The Gathering Hearthstone involves building a deck of characters and spells, then battling other people. It’s a deep, engrossing strategy game, but perhaps the best thing about it is the way it makes the genre accessible for newcomers too, with a well-designed tutorial.
6. Crossy Road
It might not have been the most high-profile game of 2014, but Crossy Road picked up intense buzz from players, critics and YouTubers alike for its simple-yet-brutally-addictive “endless arcade hopper” gameplay. Has one of the strongest “just one more go” factors in this roundup.
7. Leo’s Fortune
Leo’s Fortune is lovely: a platform game with puzzles that’s one of the most well-crafted iOS games of the year. It’s spread across 24 varied levels, but doesn’t outstay its welcome as you navigate fuzzy ball Leo through the game to recover his lost gold.
Dots was brilliant. Its sequel, TwoDots, was brilliant too. An ideal pick-up-and-play puzzler, as you connected coloured dots over 135 levels, challenging friends as you went. Some purists still prefer Dots’ more open-ended formula, but TwoDots was sufficiently different to pick up its own fans.
9. Best Fiends
Best Fiends is a polished puzzler that sees you matching coloured items to battle slugs, upgrading your own critters as you progress from level to level. And yes, the difficulty level starts getting genuinely... fiendish once you’re into the thirties and fourties, level-wise.
10. Boom Beach
Boom Beach was the third game from Supercell, the developer that’s enjoyed huge success with Clash of Clans and Hay Day. It was more like the former with its mix of base-building, defence and attack, except with a military theme rather than the fantasy characters of Clash of Clans.
11. Bean Dreams
If anyone ever tells you platform games can’t work well purely on a touchscreen, make them buy Bean Dreams. Honing the interface down to simple tapping enables you to focus on timing and exploration of the eight beautifully-crafted worlds. An indie treat that deserves a big audience.
12. Papers, Please
This “dystopian document thriller” has won sacks of awards, and deservedly so: Papers, Please is bleak but thought-provoking, as you play a border inspector for the fictional state of Arstozka, letting immigrants in or turning them away according to your orders from above.
If you ever fell in love with Animal Crossing on Nintendo devices, Seabeard is the best attempt yet at bringing its charms to iOS – albeit with plenty more added on top. It’s a piratical adventure game that sees you exploring, fishing, fighting and meeting a host of characters.
14. FTL: Faster Than Light
FTL was one of the hardest iOS games of the year, yet also one of the most rewarding if you stuck at it. This space-based thriller was a deeply addictive yet deeply challenging game of resource management. Complete with “permadeath” to ensure that if you made a mistake, you’d be regretting it well into your next game.
15. Thomas Was Alone
Already a hit on browsers, PCs and consoles, Thomas Was Alone brought its solitude to iOS this year too. And while a platform game where you play a rectangle called Thomas might not sound appetising, this is a lovely piece of work.
16. Twisty Hollow
In an app store stuffed with match-three puzzlers, Twisty Hollow was a breath of fresh air: a puzzle game involving rotating circles to match different items and characters, creating goods for a fictional town. It had originality and verve in spades.
17. Skylanders Trap Team
A proper, full Skylanders game, complete with its own joypad and tablet stand to use with the Skylanders figures. New to the game? Skylanders Trap Team is a monster-battling fest aimed at children, with new features including the ability to trap beasts then play as them.
18. Candy Crush Soda Saga
Yes, the Candy Crush games have plenty of haters. But they have even more fans playing on the sofa, on the train, in the loos at work... For them, Candy Crush Soda Saga was a sequel worth playing: the same sweet-swapping action, but with new touches (rising soda and hidden bears, for example) to provide new appeal.
19. Football Manager Handheld 2015
Still the top football management franchise in the world, on smartphones and tablets as on computers. Football Manager Handheld 2015 was well worth paying for even if you owned the last version, with its revamped match engine, tweaked scouting system and an in-game data editor for players who can’t resist the urge to give themselves some artificial assistance.
20. Game of Thrones
Telltale Games’ excellent Walking Dead games were accompanied by Game of Thrones, an official adventure based on the TV show. For fans, it was an absorbing chance to play within the world without just rehashing the plot. And for newcomers to GoT, it was an excellent introduction too.
21. Angry Birds Transformers
Can Angry Birds have a hit with games that don’t play like the traditional Angry Birds games? Rovio tried hard in 2014, although the jury’s still out on its performance. But quality-wise, Angry Birds Transformers was great: stompy robots (in disguise) shooting merry hell out of blocks and bots.
22. World of Warriors
World of Warriors is the work of Mind Candy, the company behind children’s virtual world Moshi Monsters. This game was for an all-ages audience, though, as you collect and train warriors from various historical periods, then send them out to fight. Well-crafted and very playable.
23. World of Tanks Blitz
World of Tanks has been very popular on PC, but this year the multiplayer tank-battler crossed over to iOS as World of Tanks Blitz. It’s very much focused on that multiplayer aspect too, with seven-on-seven tank battles and a big battalion of vehicles to choose from, according to military taste.
24. Desert Golfing
If your favourite iOS games developer (or journalist, for that matter) was distracted from their work this year, Desert Golfing was more often than not the reason. Described as “the best worst game in the world” by Kotaku, it was even more compelling than Flappy Bird, and became something of an industry craze.
The developer of Framed’s mantelpiece was already groaning with indie festival awards by the time it came out for iOS. It was worth the fuss though: part comic-strip and part sliding puzzle, as you swap panels around to affect the storyline.
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