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The best mobile games of 2018

We live in a reality in which the phones in our pockets have more computing power than the technology that put men on the moon back in 1969. Mobile presents infinite possibilities, but we find ourselves using our phones and tablets for fun. For gaming. Sneaking in a few minutes of gameplay while waiting on a train or at a boring meeting is an under-appreciated luxury of the 21st century.

At the end of 2016, there was an average of 2.8 billion active monthly mobile gamers. Those billions of players are not limited to solitaire or even Angry Birds, either. In the same year, mobile games sales accounted for 90 percent of the Google Play Store's total revenue. Mobile gaming is big, expansive, with a game for every kind of player. As hard as it was to pick, here are some of our favorite mobile games that we found ourselves addicted to in 2018.

Donut County is a quirky relaxation session

Donut County is a game with simple, but addictive gameplay backed by the quirkiest concept ever. You play as a sinkhole controlled by a sentient raccoon who cares for nothing but his quadcopter. As you drag the sinkhole to consume the cutely crafted low-poly objects of the world of Donut County, the hole gets bigger and gains the ability to eat up larger objects, like buildings. Or people. Nothing is safe from the maw of this hungry hole in the ground.

Despite the disastrous results of the raccoon's actions, the game is frankly relaxing. The aesthetic is easy on the eyes and backed by a lo-fi hip-hop soundtrack. Paired with the almost obnoxiously relatable text prompts, this physics puzzle game is a product of the times. The most challenging part is figuring out the order in which the hole can eat up the objects. And reckoning with the moral ethics of eating up an entire town for entertainment.

The game was released in 2018 after five years in careful development by developer Ben Esposito. After Annapurna Interactive released a trailer for the game, cheap clones using the same gameplay mechanics gained thousands of downloads overnight. However, these knock-offs have none of the charm or inventive storytelling elements that the original Donut County does.

The Room: Old Sins makes creepy cool

The Room games have dominated the three-dimensional puzzle game market since the days of the iPhone 5, which is saying a lot. These games pack a lot of intrigue and mystery onto small screens. Today, in the age of phablets and full-blown tablets that rival the most souped-up of laptops, Fireproof Games are crafting mysteries that are more enthralling, visually stunning, and mysteriously alluring than ever before.

The Room: Old Sins is the perfect example of the marriage between today's pocket computing power and the tried and true puzzle game formula. The old sins in Old Sins are old — Victorian-aged to be precise. The newest edition to The Room series takes place in a dusty Victorian house, wherein the player must peruse through various items that have a noticeably Lovecraftian vibe. Slowly, they unravel the horrible events that happened within by placing the pieces together with satisfyingly tactile clicks. That's the thing about the touch-focused gameplay of Old Sins: you can practically feel the dust between your fingertips as you explore Waldegrave Manor. Into the strange, the unexplainable? Have a fond nostalgia for I Spy games? You'll want to dig your fingers into The Room: Old Sins.

We fell in love with Florence

Mobile offers the unique ability to forgo gameplay and laser-focus in on story and art. Forget levels, points, or score; let's talk about love. Specifically, the love poured into the love story-turned-game that captured hearts in 2018 known as Florence. Florence is part comic, part game, and all heart. The game is about Florence, a character that any twenty-something could relate to, caught in a mundane routine until she meets Krish, a musician who changes everything.

In the short but sweet span of just thirty minutes of gameplay, charming mini-games lead the player through their relationship and all its ups and downs. Despite its simple and cute art, Florence doesn't sugarcoat. It's honest and real, more of an experience than a game, but one that has left a lasting impression on players. However bite-sized the minigames that classify this experience as a true game are, they're thoughtfully crafted and fit seamlessly into the narrative — which is told entirely without dialogue, by the way. Florence is more than worth the thirty minutes of your time that it takes to play and its tiny price tag.

Shadowgun Legends packs a powerful, pocket-sized punch

The mobile market allows for a plethora of games that just wouldn't work on consoles: match three games, cat-collecting apps, and that one otome game where you court a horse. Nevertheless, mobile also has the power to support — and in some cases optimize — console and PC favorites like first-person shooters. Shadowgun Legends is one such title that tries and succeeds to pack the same punch that any Call of Duty title does in the most easily accessible platform of all.

Shadowgun Legends manages to mimic in all ways a fully-formed console FPS. In fact, it looks like the unholy lovechild between Destiny and Fortnite with out-of-this-world alien/robot enemies and cartoonish, exaggerated violence. As simple as the gameplay is, Shadowgun Legends isn't a kid's game; the trailer features both frozen spurts of blood and robot erotica magazines, if that tells you anything about the plot. Not that there is much plot to begin with. Aptly named developer Madfinger Games has put all efforts into the dazzling, intricate world the player shoots their way through and the hours upon hours of content that requires nothing more than tapping like mad. This makes for a fun, frenzied experience primed and ready at any moment that refuses to get stale; a variety of missions, enemies, and online multiplayer modes make sure of that.  

PUBG on mobile levels the battle royale playing field

PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds changed the battle royale game forever. Naturally it did so on every platform it was ported to. From PC to console, and now onto mobile, PUBG proves time and again that it's a winner. What makes the mobile just as good as its big-screen counterparts is that the mobile version of PUBG sacrifices nothing. PUBG Mobile is just PUBG, which easily makes it one of our favorite mobile games of 2018.

While other shooters may pare down their complicated controls, crafted with keyboards and controllers in mind, PUBG on mobile is the whole game of hiding, seeking, and shooting on a small screen. So long as players are quick-fingered, they'll find that their experience on mobile is remarkably similar to that on PC. The graphics are just as clear, so players can be assured that they will be able to spot enemies coming a mile away. PUBG Mobile departs from its PC and console cousins in one key way that actually makes the mobile experience all the more enjoyable. When players parachute onto the map, the other 100 opponents are all mobile users as well. Opting out of crossplay between mobile, PC, and console makes it so that players using their fingertips aren't wiped out by more accurate keyboards and controllers.

Fortnite was released on mobile, and dominated that too

Fortnite arrived relatively late to the mobile game, but made up for its tardiness with a considerable amount of fanfare involving several Samsung commercials starring Fortnite streaming superstar Ninja himself. These washed-out white and neon sizzle reels debuted the stellar Android performance of the game on Samsung's Galaxy series of phones, the Galaxy Note 9 model of which gave players first dibs on the ultra rare Galaxy skin.

The commercials of course paint the mobile version in the best possible light, and aside from some dubious graphics and a lack of emote support (which may be a good thing considering recent scandals), the commercials are fairly accurate to the actual mobile Fortnite experience. The screen configuration is maximized for speedy shooting and material harvesting, but this is definitely not a game that players can button mash their way through. The building mechanic makes things a tad more complicated, but like the original, the quick matches and ease of accessibility of a free game has made Fortnite on mobile a smashing success.

Dandara is a pixel masterpiece worth the price

Forget games that make you "really feel like Spider-Man." We want to be Dandara, the gravity-defying star of the metroidvania-esque pixel platformer Dandara. Dandara is out to save the world of Salt from oppression one leap at a time. She dips and dives onto walls and ceilings with a smooth grace that tells tales of patient developers. There is a painstaking attention to detail evident throughout the game in the backgrounds, level designs, and intuitive touch controls.

Dandara's pixelated look harkens back to previous generations of gaming but feels fresh and unique all on its own, having gathered a slew of indie awards to prove it. The game is layered, with multiple backgrounds moving alongside the player as they vault along levels that require the same careful attention devs dedicated to design: there are many levels that are later well worth returning to, their secrets hidden for later plunder.

Dandara feels like a game that would be right at home on an old-school cartridge, except that the gameplay has been optimized for touch controls to the point that physically pressing a button would take some of the finesse out of the effortless play available on mobile. We really can't complain that this is a game that comes at a cartridge-level price at $14 because Dandara is more than worth the premium price.

Alto's Odyssey is a majestic Zen adventure

Before Alto's Adventure we would have never considered skiing as a Zen practice. However, the hypnotically chill backgrounds and easy-on-the-eyes aesthetic that developer Snowman favors has proven that extreme jumps and backflips can be as relaxing as any meditation session. This is proven once again in their newest endless runner Alto's Odyssey.

Our intrepid extreme skier Alto has traded his snowboard for a sand board and is gently silhouetted on the ruthless desert sun in this sequel title. The most challenging aspect of this supremely chill game might be that the atmosphere is too good; we find our fingers a little too lax on the screen as we enjoy lineless art of desert dunes, temples, and effervescent hot air balloons. These beautiful backgrounds are dynamic too, with day and night cycles and fickle weather conditions.

Alto's Odyssey's majestic beauty isn't skin-deep, however. It's a genuinely good game with physics that feel nice and gameplay that refuses to get dull. Plus, there's the bonus that the whole game is accessible for just $0.99, Snowman forgoing the current vogue of in-app purchases. This, if anything, proves how chill Alto's Odyssey truly is.

Oddmar is anything but odd

Of course we had to include our favorite action-packed platformer featuring a well-mustachioed hero who hops about with red, spotted mushrooms in tow. This game has the perfect balance of challenge and fun, with a short but sweet campaign that both children and adults can love. Who's Mario? We're talking about Oddmar.

Oddmar isn't nearly as sympathetic as Nintendo's mascot, but we love him nonetheless. He's a round, red-bearded little Viking, complete with horned helm, animated beautifully against a whimsical background that is in constant motion, from the pleasing bounce of the mushrooms to the splat of fish against the screen. The painterly design and kooky characters make for a fun playthrough, but Oddmar does have a few challenges up its sleeves with inventive platform bosses that dare players to take the ultra-responsive controls to the next level. While there are only 24 levels in the game, there is much to appreciate about Oddmar, and thankfully the art and effort developer Senri put into the game has been recognized, earning Apple's 2018 Design Award.

The conquest is complete: Rome: Total War has come to mobile

Feral Interactive has made it dangerously easy to get a quick hit of The Creative Assembly's addictive strategy game, Rome: Total War, by porting it to your pocket. This is bad news for anyone who wants to stay undistracted and productive, but good news for those who don't mind sinking a couple hours into real-time battlefield simulations. Keep a charger handy, folks.

This game goes deep. What it lacks in graphics, which honestly aren't too shabby, it more than makes up for with in-depth features that intensely appeal to anyone's inner strategist. Between battles there is city management, diplomacy, construction, and recruitment to worry about. All this complexity and conquering works just fine on small screens, having been ported to iPhone and Android in 2018 (after an iPad-only 2016 port) in answer to long-held hopes of fans. All the option panels of Rome: Total War's original PC user interface have been carefully tweaked for mobile players' poking and prodding their way through empire erecting. The shiny and new version promises to keep the conquest going through the slow dopamine drip of "just one more turn."

Holedown is brick-breaking, but better than ever

The ancients tell of old Nokia phones that came pre-loaded with a brick-breaking game that players squinted into postage stamp-sized, green and black screens in order to play. We have come a long way since those days when it comes to mobile games, but the brick-breaking mechanic has survived. In fact, because of one utterly adorable game, the brick-breaking genre is in a kind of renaissance.

Holedown isn't overtly complicated. It doesn't really have a story to speak of. It could even be described as mindless, but in the best way possible. Players drag to aim little bouncing balls at numbered blocks in order to break them down, so that they can dig down deeper into the current level. While this doesn't sound revolutionary, it's the what happens after players release their ball that has managed to enamor players and game developers alike. Holedown, created by one-man-band Grapefrukt Games, has cute, jello-like physics and a wobbling, warbling mascot that melts hearts. Martin Jonasson, the man behind Grapefrukt Games, managed to make a uniquely satisfying game by slapping some faces on the brick-breakers, whose physics have been engineered to have just the right amount of bounce.

Holedown is simple and satisfying, with a well-honed aesthetic that anyone could love and accidentally spend six hours playing. (Whoops.)

Pokémon Quest is fun and challenge cubed

We'd be hard-pressed to leave out a Pokemon release from this list, even more so considering that Pokemon Quest managed to amass $3 million in its first week on mobile. We guiltily admit that we probably contributed to that hefty number. Although the game certainly isn't as infamous as others for pressuring players into in-app purchases, Pokemon Quest is sometimes too cute and addictive not to.

The game takes all your favorite Pokemon and turns them into hopping, skipping little cubed versions of themselves that can be persuaded to be the player's friend if they provide the right kind of soup. Weird? Yes. Fun? Also yes. Once a Pokemon has decided that your soup is satisfying, they join your team, which you can send out into the world on various adventures. These adventures, wherein your team encounters wild Pokemon and treasures alike, can be run via fast-tapping fingers or by the simple press of an auto-play button. Either way, the blocky battles are fun to watch and sometimes challenging to win.

Pokemon Quest is more than just cute creatures and auto-play buttons. Formulating the perfect team and progressing over the island takes some puzzle-solving and potion-making, in the case of cooking up the perfect stew anyway. Like the early Pokemon games, Quest is something of a grind fest and hides complexities that make the game all the more engrossing behind its cute façade.