It's been another sublime year for mobile games new and old.
Don't believe us? Just for starters, check out the finalists for Game of the Year, Best Live Ops and the People's Choice accolades at the Pocket Gamer Mobile Games Awards 2018, which takes place on January 22nd.
Being the end of the year, the staff at here PocketGamer.biz (and a guest star appearance from Alex Calvin of our sister-site PCGamesInsider.biz with a Nintendo Switch choice) have picked their star games of 2018, along with a few honourable mentions.
Game of the Year: Helix Jump (H8 Games)
I’m a sucker for simplicity in my mobile games. I find much of the hand-holding and endless complex menus of some titles infuriating.
So the rise of hyper-casual largely has me pretty happy. The biggest highlight of the year for me in the hyper-casual genre, and mobile overall, has been Helix Jump.
All you need to do is rotate the platforms and avoid hitting the wrong colour to get the ball to the bottom of the level.
And yet through such a simple premise and easy to learn controls, there’s great satisfaction to be had in honing the skill it requires to rack up some serious points and complete each stage. Skipping past each platform at high speed is a rush.
Helix Jump is never unfair nor frustrating to play. It’s just pure fun - and that’s what hyper-casual is all about.
And that’s what other titles sometimes don’t focus on enough.
Honourable mentions: Brawl Stars, Empires & Puzzles
Game of the Year: Florence (Mountains)
Florence Yeoh is a strikingly normal person at the centre of a vividly unique video game.
The 25-year-old Chinese-Australian is a quintessential millennial caught in society's headlights. Her mother is overbearing in her insistence she should settle down with a man, and Florence finds herself stuck in a desk job despite dreams of being a watercolour artist.
Florence’s story is put into motion when she meets Krish Hemrajani, an Indian-Australian with dreams of becoming a professional cellist.
What follows is a typical tale of falling in and out of love, with feelings of warmth, regret and sadness explored throughout. What is atypical, however, is the novelty of games that delve into romance despite the growth in scope of the industry.
It’s not just the telling of a conventional story in an unfamiliar space that makes Florence so unique though, but how its design ties into that feeling of warmth.
The narrative tale taps into the design trend of tend-and-befriend, which presents itself as an opposite to fight-or-flight. Much like Stardew Valley and Tru Luv’s #SelfCare, Florence isn’t an array of escalating challenges and difficulty spikes, but a relaxing collection of menial tasks with a relaxing soundtrack.
The game's’ various puzzles often lead to rooms becoming clean or mirrors and pictures becoming clear, for example.
Despite its merit as a wonderful experience, however, one of Florence’s brightest accomplishments in 2018 is providing a reminder to the broader industry that mobile games can be just that.
Honourable Mentions: Donut County, Chuchel, Alto's Odyssey and My Child Lebensborn
Game of the Year: Holedown (Martin “Grapefrukt” Jonasson)
At some level, Holedown is game about mining rocks in space. But much like Grapefrukt’s previous titles, Holedown is minimal and loose with this setup. You’ll shoot grinning, adorable orbs at Tetris-looking blocks that wobble colourfully and gosh, isn’t it just delightful?
At the head of each Holedown run, you’re given a set number of shots to burrow through a vertical screen of blocks. Each block needs a certain number of hits to pop and will rise a little further after each shot. If a block passes the top of the screen, bam. That’s game.
Some smart tricks mix up this formula - blocks will break if the one below is popped unless they’re nailed down. You’ll also acquire more balls per shot over the course of a run as you continue to hit things.
Holedown is at its best as a resource management game. The experience caps off with an “endless” mode, where the player likely has an infinite shot count to take another crack at beating their high score.
But in the mid-game, Holedown is shockingly full of tension. Shot placement is vital, as you attempt to make it to the end of a stage with enough shots to take down the screen-filling final block.
Brute force will get you there, unlocking more balls per shot and more shots to play with between runs. It’s often challenging, but never a dead-end.
Holedown is just a delightfully joyful game to play. Your balls smile willfully as you slam them against blocks with a delightful boing. Getting a full salvo through a tight crevasse leads to an intensely satisfying carnage as balls accelerate and ricochet through tight spaces.
There’s also a delightful wormy-looking friend in the bottom-right corner, offering a cute beep and a mindful quote on tap. Gentle, sensible advice ranging from “eat your vegetables” to “seize the means of production”.
Holedown became my bathroom break, waiting-room and bus commute game this year by embodying my favourite things about small-scale indie games. It’s a simple, smart concept executed with flair and absolutely overflowing with personality.
Honourable Mentions: Old School Runescape Mobile
Game of the Year: Dead Cells (Motion Twin)
When asked to contribute to a Game of the Year list for PocketGamer.biz, being the editor of PCGamesInsider.biz, the plan was to unleash a savage attack against the mobile games market and remind everyone that PC gaming is the best.
Oh, and my mobile game of the year was going to be the PC version of Playerunknown's Battlegrounds. It would have been hilarious, you'd have loved it.
But upon reflection - and some stern words from the site's editor Craig Chapple - I decided to do write something sincere about a portable game that I truly thought was incredible this year.
That would be Dead Cells from French developer Motion Twin. As a long-standing fan of both the Metroidvania and roguelike genres, the idea of mashing those two up into one coherent experience sounded like a massive ask.
The two genres differ wildly - one focusing on exploration and map knowledge, with the other challenging the player to be ready for quite literally anything, equipped with quite literally anything.
But somehow the developer managed to get the game to work. What results is a polished and slick affair, with a gorgeous pixel art style, fluid animations and sound design that makes the fast combat a satisfying experience.
All of this is partnered with a rousing soundtrack that keeps you pumped and desperate to explore more. It's a compelling and addictive - no, good addictive - experience.
This game isn't an easy romp, either. Enemies can easily kill you in one go, so you need to be cautious while exploring the decaying world.
Oh, and it's available on PC too. See, got you nerds.
But I'm not mentioning that fact just to throw shade at the portable games sector. Dead Cells was released into Steam's Early Access programme in 2017, with Motion Twin polishing the project with the assistance of the community - and the game was much better off for it.
At a time when getting noticed as an indie is harder than ever before, Motion Twin had a mad idea, boiled it down to its core then had the fans get their say before the game went on to be a critical and commercial hit.
Those success stories are becoming fewer and further between in the indie market so those we see should be commended.
You can pick up Dead Cells on the Nintendo Switch.
Honourable mentions: Velocity 2X (FuturLab), Hollow Knight (Team Cherry), Just Shapes and Beats (Berzerk Studios)