There's no getting around it -- mobile games have become an alarmingly important part of this industry. The space has grown to encompass millions upon millions of players, and arguably threatens to eat into the long-established handheld console market.
With the space growing so rapidly, it's no surprise that mobile games have evolved considerably over the last 12 months. The games we're seeing today are far more diverse, and often more robust than their predecessors, and this rapid progress suggests that the space will continue to evolve for quite some time.
For instance, games like Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP proved that even mobile games can be moody and atmospheric showcases, while titles like Jetpack Joyride demonstrated the value of designing around a single, easily-understood mechanic.
In addition, this year also marked the rapid propagation of the freemium business model in the mobile space. Games like NimbleBit's Tiny Tower and even CrowdStar's recently-released Social Girl have proven that the free-to-play approach is perfectly viable even on mobile platforms.
With all these exciting new developments, we can't wait to see what mobile games will look like in the coming year. For now, however, here are our top mobile games for 2011:
5. Monsters Ate My Condo, (Adult Swim, iOS)
Match-three puzzle games are all too common on mobile devices, but Adult Swim's Monsters Ate My Condo is so frenetic that it stands far in front of its competition. In the game, players manage a continually growing condominium complex flanked by a pair of giant (and silly looking) monsters. To keep the game going, players need to prevent these monsters from destroying the tower; to do so, they must feed these monsters tower floors of the appropriate color to appease their destructive urges. In-between keeping the monsters at bay, players have to match floors of the appropriate color to clear out the tower and build up their score.
The game does a great job balancing fast-paced action and careful strategy, and it is this multi-layered design that makes the game so fun to play. In addition, the game has a charming cartoon aesthetic that makes the whole experience feel whimsical and lively from beginning to end.
4. Tiny Wings (Andreas Illiger, iOS)
Simplicity of often the heart of a good mobile game, and no title proved that as much this year as Andras Illiger's Tiny Wings. The game borrows some basic design elements from auto-running platformers like Canabalt or Robot Unicorn Attack, but mixes things up with a fluid and deceptively deep traversal mechanic.
As a small, almost-flightless bird, players swoop along the game's rolling landscapes to launch themselves into the air, hopefully maintaining a nice rhythm to cover fly as far as possible before nightfall. The game is at its best when everything clicks, and you're soaring over the clouds at breakneck speed -- there's almost nothing more satisfying. Yes, it's crushing when you slam yourself into the face of a hill and lose your valuable momentum, but that just makes you want to give it one more try.
Making the game even more interesting is its combo-driven objective system, which gives players a change to accomplish pre-designated goals to increase their combo multiplier for subsequent runs. These optional objectives offer some nice variety, and present some surprisingly tough challenges for even the most skilled Tiny Wings veterans.
3. Groove Coaster (Taito, iOS)
While console based rhythm games are in a lull right now, Groove Coaster proves that elsewhere, the genre is still very much alive. The game's fun electronic tunes are great to tap along to, and its colorful, almost minimalist visuals give the game a real sense of style.
Much like Taito's own Space Invaders Infinity Gene, Groove Coaster takes a lot of artistic cues from classic arcade games -- from sprites to sound bites -- and repackages them to give the whole experience a decidedly retro feel, even if the music itself is anything but. The game's lengthy tracklist spans a healthy range of genres, and nearly every track fits in great with the game's tap-based mechanic.
Sure, it might not be the most complex rhythm game out there, but what Groove Coaster has going for it is its slick sense of style. The arresting visuals and its accessible gameplay make Groove Coaster one of the most appealing mobile music games we've seen yet.
2. Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery: EP (Capybara Games, iOS)
Few mobile games this year took as many creative risks as Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP. The title is a point and click adventure game on the surface, but what makes it stand out is its unwavering dedication to its atmosphere and aesthetic. The fantastic score and beautifully crafted pixel art work together to create of the most unique and cohesive artistic styles seen in games all year.
The game also makes great use of the mobile platform, cleverly adapting the classic adventure game framework to a touch-based interface. In fact, even the game's story and tone feel reminiscent of other classic games, giving the whole experience a nostalgic bent. When looked at in its entirety, Sword & Sworcery is both a stylistic homage to games gone by, and a vanguard for new experiences in the mobile space.
1. Jetpack Joyride (Halfbrick Studios, iOS)
Halfbrick established itself as a major player in the mobile realm with its 2010 hit Fruit Ninja, and the company has further proven its chops with its newest title, Jetpack Joyride. The game is a masterful rendition of the one-button platfromer, offering tight arcade mechanics, constant gameplay variation, and loads of bonus content to unlock.
More than anything, Jetpack Joyride stands out this year by establishing a simple, refined gameplay mechanic that still manages to offer a surprising amount of depth and variety. The game's power-ups, for instance, still use just one input, but provide a whole new way to navigate the game's never-ending corridors. Even the procedurally-generated obstacles throw out some surprises once in a while, ensuring that players are always kept on their toes.
Much like Tiny Wings, Jetpack Joyride has its own internal missions system, which helps mix up the gameplay on a minute-by-minute basis. These missions give the player a constantly-changing set of goals, adding some variety to the game's intelligently simple design.
Another World, (BulkyPix, iOS)
Bumpy Road (Simogo, iOS)
Galaga 30th (Namco Bandai, iOS)
Tiny Tower (NimbleBit, iOS/Android)
Scribblenauts Remix (5th Cell, iOS)