In 2016 thanks to various circumstances, not the least of which being my home acoustics as they pertain to our television and lightly sleeping toddlers, I lived a 2006 analyst’s vision of “The Future of Gaming.” By my count, I played around 370 games this year, 362 of them on my phone. As we heard predicted time and again back when I worked with the Giant Bomb squad, I was untethered from consoles, keyboard and mouse-less, roaming the mobile ranks. And when I wasn’t traveling at magnificent speeds around Star Trek Timelines, I was playing games for research as often I was in search of fun.
Predictably, exposure to so many games has changed my playing habits. Primarily, my patience has grown extremely thin for bad tutorials. And while it’s easy to choose to delete a free-to-play game the moment it has long initial loading times or confusing instructions, it’s maddening that a game I’ve spent $60 on now leaves me equally frustrated. For example, all signs indicated that I would enjoy Watch Dogs 2, but I had such a horrible time in the first thirty minutes of playtime I don’t know if I’ll ever pick it up again. And while I can bounce out of a free-to-play game with no emotion, I’m bummed by this sense of obligation to drag myself back to Watch Dogs 2 due to how much I spent on it. Previously I wouldn’t have had a second’s hesitation plowing through bad onboarding. Now I’m griping about finding a pair of pants in Marin County.
Who wears pants north of the Golden Gate bridge anyways? Anyways, you’ve likely read a ton of great console and PC game recommendations on this site, allow me to mention a few for your phone, too. I played dozens I could recommend in this space, here are my favorites:
Best 5-Second Rhythm Game: Tapt
The concept for Tapt is short, simple, and fun. Each level asks you to, get ready, tap out a familiar refrain. TapTap-Tap-TapTapTap--Tap. Boom, Super Mario Brothers. A+. It’s the perfect rhythm game for folks like me who can only be good at rhythm games for a few moments at a time.
Best Game Reminiscent of the Best Movie of the Best Octalogy: Thumb Drift
Thumb Drift convinced me that there are twitch reflex phone games that I can enjoy, conquering that challenging combination of a small screen and my big fingers. I hear the first drifters invented drifting by feeling it, and once you tune the controls’ sensitivity to your liking, Thumb Drift has a great feel. Plus the occasional Dominic Toretto quote!
Best Puzzle Game That Made Me Feel Smart: Human Resource Machine
Human Resource Machine, from the designers of World of Goo, is a game that teaches you how to code! Or, as in my case, it teaches you that after a couple dozen fun puzzles coding gets kind of difficult and you instead follow your natural instincts to question the production methodology and communication techniques of your in-game employer. Definitely not an Agile shop.
Best Puzzle Game For When You Have a Few Seconds: Rings
Rings presents you with a simple task--line up or stack circles of the same color in groups of three. What separates Rings from other puzzle games is it seems to do a great job of giving you a way out when the board is nearly full. I think it’s by design? When I lose it feels like it’s my fault, not the game being cruel, which is a tricky thing to get right.
Best Idle Game: Egg Inc.
Idle games have come a long way since Candy Box, and they all seem to share a similar laser focus on streamlining how the numbers go up, but with a distinct coat of paint. Some scratch a nostalgia itch, like He-Man Tappers of Grayskull or TapWars: Earth Defense Force 4.1. Many go humorous, like Doomsday Clicker or Soda Dungeon. My second favorite this year was Nonstop Knight for its unique approach to visualizing the genre, but my top pick goes to Egg, Inc. for nailing a smooth, polished and addictive experience. Keep moving those eggs, it distracts you from questioning why we can’t turn away from this growing genre.
Best Fishing Game: Fishing Break
Fishing Break features a surprisingly extensive variety of fish and controls that, with practice, allow you to cast with precision and then quickly cast again after your line breaks or a bigger fish ate your fish. There are lots of checklists that I felt compelled to complete, as well as a system that shows how your catches size up with every other catch in the world. If you are willing to trade a little bit of fishing mechanics in exchange for a lot more story, go with Rule With An Iron Fish, which is a close second.
Best Regal Disdain Simulator: Reigns
A member of your royal court approaches with a request. Swipe left to disagree, swipe right to agree, and balance the needs of your people, your army, your church and your bank account. It’s a lot of responsibility, and when I first played Reigns I carefully weighed each decision, as I thought a monarch should. After a couple of generations I realized it was more fun to barely pay attention and casually dismiss each advisor’s urgent plea with the flick of my hand, like a monarch would. Unfortunately this always ends up with me dead, but I can’t be bothered as now my next objective is to date a pigeon? Charming.
Best Game I Can’t Stop Playing: Cribbage with Grandpas
In junior high as some sort of educational initiative my friends and I got to take a class with my friends where we played cribbage, a lot. When we took family trips to the beach hours were spent recovering from sunburns trying to not get skunked by my dad. My wife and I regularly bring a cribbage board on our vacations, the stakes being claim to pieces of the globe like some sort of Cribbage/Risk hybrid. (I currently have the Caribbean, my wife has Europe. And Bermuda. And Vermont.) I am quite fond of cribbage, and Cribbage with Grandpas captures the feeling of playing a game like none other I’ve played before. It’s clearly made by fans of the game, plus you can customize your elderly opponent, both visually and personality-wise. What’s the statute of limitations where it’s no longer weird to virtually recreate your dead grandfather for the sole purpose of playing him in cribbage? I think I’m right on the edge at 15 years.
Best Mobile Game of the Year: Solitairica
Solitairica combines the mechanics of one of my favorite mobile games ever, Fairway Solitaire, with class-based deck building, and rogue-like combat progression. That mouthful sure sounds like a potential mess, but Solitairica pulls it off. It’s the first rogue-like game to hook me on a phone, and it’s currently the first game I mention to anybody who asks for a new game recommendation, unless I know they like cribbage.
Best Game of the Year: Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End
Yeah, so I only played a half dozen console games, but one of them was Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, with storytelling, acting and visuals unmatched by any of the 360+ games I got off the App Store. Some day soon there will be a mobile game of comparative scope and grandeur, made by a team with as much talent as displayed by Naughty Dog, but for the present Uncharted 4 is a loud reminder that my PS4 is meant to be more than a Netflix box. I could walk around just looking at the stuff in this game for hours. My only complaint is it needed more sequences where I swing really quickly at a sheer rock wall and clamp onto it with the grip strength of Lincoln Hawk.
Was that last reference over the top? Was that last pun? Yes and yes. Thanks for reading!