iOS gamers were truly spoiled for choice in 2015, with at least two or three excellent new games released every week. Independent developers were fizzing with ideas, even if they often struggled to make their fortune from them.
Narrowing down a huge longlist to reach the 25 games featured here involved squeezing out some impressive titles, from Skylanders Superchargers and Real Boxing 2 to Attack The Light, Letterpad and You Must Build a Boat.
Here is the final 25: the Guardian’s pick of 2015 in iOS gaming. And, yes, there is a separate Android games roundup that you can find here.
A game based on one of the world’s most popular YouTubers might seem like a recipe for a cash-in, but this was anything but. Legend of the Brofist is a well-crafted platformer with lots of knowing references to gaming history. It also makes you rely on your skills rather than your wallet (for in-app purchases) to progress.
Every month in 2015 seemed to bring a new Star Wars mobile game, all of them good. This is the one that fans will relish most: a well-designed action game with an emphasis on collecting characters from the various eras of Star Wars, and then forming them into teams to battle it out in the universe.
23. Dark Echo
We’ve seen audio-only games such as Papa Sangre on iOS before, but this is different, using “visualised sound” to show its environments based on the sounds you make. Except those sounds also attract … well, we won’t spoil it. But this isn’t a game you’ll want to play alone late at night – it’ll have you jumping out of your sofa.
“We know. It doesn’t look like much. But we promise that it’s a very good puzzle game,” said developer Simogo – of Year Walk and Device 6 fame – and they were right. SPL-T seems very simple: you tap on the screen to divide it into halves (and then halves again, etc). But as you start developing your strategy, it sucks you in.
21. AirAttack 2
If you love a good shoot-‘em-up with bullets streaking everywhere, you’ll love AirAttack 2. Its second world war theme sees you flying through 22 levels shooting and bombing enemy forces, and while the spectacular graphics are the game’s main selling point, its gameplay is reassuringly challenging for fans of the genre.
The sequel to 2009’s (still worth checking out) Spider: The Secret of Bryce Manor, this is more eight-legged puzzle-solving, as you explore an abandoned mansion trapping insects and uncovering a supernatural story. Part of a trend (along with games like Prune and Beneath the Lighthouse) for less frenetic brain-stretching.
It’s a very different game, but if you loved Monument Valley in 2014, then Beneath The Lighthouse might be your next fix. It’s a puzzle game set below a lighthouse, where you have to turn mechanical wheels to find your young hero’s way to his lost grandfather. It’s bright and colourful, and tests your lateral thinking skills.
Downwell looks like a Spectrum game, and plays quite like one too – complete with on-screen buttons to control its action. Yet the game has won plenty of people over to its charms, as you plunge down a well looking for treasure. The depth (pun partly intended) comes from the weapons and power-ups that you collect along the way.
17. Stick Cricket 2
As much a rhythm-action game as a sports sim, Stick Cricket 2 has you hoicking fours and sixes against a range of opponents, with perfectly stripped-down controls and silky-smooth animation. The best cricket game on iOS, but its mechanics should make it appeal to more casual fans as well as cricketing buffs.
16. Fallout Shelter
By the end of 2015, Fallout fans were playing Fallout 4 on their consoles. But until its release, mobile game Fallout Shelter was their fill-in fix – but also a top-notch game in its own right. The game sees you running a post-apocalyptic shelter underground, like a radiation-dodging The Sims.
15. The Room Three
Both previous The Room games remain excellent touchscreen puzzle games, and the third in the series was just as good. Like its predecessors, it focused on physical puzzles, as you spin, tap and zoom in on various artifacts to figure out their secrets. The perfect showcase for recent iOS devices’ visual grunt, but a great game too.
14. This War of Mine
Another game that will give your emotions a good going-over, this is a war game played from the perspective of civilians in a city under siege. You’ll split your time between building your hideout and foraging in the dangerous city streets, with some very hard decisions to be made about the people under your protection.
13. Shooty Skies
Otherwise known as one of the things the Crossy Road developers did next: besides reinventing Pac-Man, they made this rapidfire shoot-‘em-up. It uses similar dynamics to Crossy Road: you’ll die regularly, but will unlock new characters as you progress. Plenty of charm, and refreshingly unaggressive with its in-app purchases.
One of the hardest games in this list – in its early stages anyway – but one well worth persevering with. Don’t Starve sees you abandoned in a wilderness, having to find food, set up camp and avoid being scoffed by wild animals. An inventive and unsettling twist on the exploration-and-crafting genre.
Minecraft maker Mojang’s decision to team up with developer Telltale Games for a narrative adventure could have been a mistake, but instead it was a triumphant success. A game set in another game’s world may sound a bit meta, but the characters, voice acting and fan-focused references made this a treat.
Vintage console franchise Rayman has become one of the most trustworthy mobile gaming brands too, with a series of marvellous touchscreen titles. Rayman Adventures didn’t break the streak, even with its freemium structure: colourfully-cartoonish platform action with controls that never frustrate.
We’ve seen snowboarding and skiing games before on iOS, but never one as lovely-looking as Alto’s Adventure. Its zoomed-out camera puts the focus as much on the carefully-crafted backgrounds as on your snowboarder, with physics that feel just right as you zip (and jump) across the undulating landscapes.
The original PC and console version of this has won dozens of awards, and deservedly so. It puts you through the wringer with its tale of a pair of brothers trying to save their father’s life. Clever controls and lush visuals will draw you in, but it’s the story that will keep you playing.
The Five Nights at Freddy’s series has built a devoted fanbase, and this final game didn’t disappoint them. Once again, you’re doing battle with genuinely-creepy animatronic enemies, except this time round the action has shifted to your own home. The best game yet in mobile’s premier survival-horror series.
Nearly four years after its launch, Triple Town remains one of the best mobile puzzlers. In 2015, its developer made an equally-addictive word game, Alphabear, which sees you spelling words from Scrabble-like tiles to earn points – and build cartoon bears. The perfect dip-in dip-out mobile game.
It might star a famous game face, but this was no lacklustre spinoff. Lara Croft Go – like Hitman Go before it – is a familiar brand applied to a rock-solid puzzle-adventure engine. Lara Croft Go puts the focus squarely on your mental ingenuity, with six chapters of perfectly-formed visuals to explore.
A wonderful idea for anyone who’s ever loved the roleplaying game (RPG) genre. Evoland starts as a top-down, monochrome adventure but gradually works its way through the genre’s history, ending up with whizzy real-time 3D battling. A gimmick? Thankfully it was backed up by an absorbing game.
There have been excellent mobile versions of Football Manager for several years now, but 2015 saw the gap between tablets and the desktop versions of the management sim narrow even further. Not least because of the cloud-save option to play your saved game on either.
Is this a game, or a gardening-themed meditation app? Either way, it was one of the best things to play on iOS this year. Described by its developer as “a love letter to trees”, it sees you nurturing yours with gentle touchscreen swipes. The game looks and sounds beautiful: the antidote to your mobile-inbox stress.
1. Her Story
An engrossing game that allows you to play detective, going over footage of police interviews with a woman whose husband has gone missing, sniffing out clues as you search the database, and get deeper and deeper into, yes, her story. Great enough to dispel decades of memories of awful “interactive video” games.
So, what have we missed? The comments section is open for your comments on the games above and your recommendations for other titles – ones released for the first time in 2015, if you don’t mind.
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