2017 is on its way out and what a year it’s been! The world’s kind of falling apart, but luckily this has probably been the best year for premium iOS gaming ever, so I was distracted during most of the apocalypse. Oddly enough, some of my favorite games were dark and apocalyptic themselves. But they still served as good diversions as sane society crumbled around me. Earlier in the year, I was a bit frustrated that so many PC devs weren’t taking iOS seriously, perhaps assuming there’s no longer any money in the market outside of free-to-play games that make you pay for extra lives or time. I actually went so far as to interview some of the developers who already ported their games to iOS, to see if they can share any wisdom or advice for others who think the App Store just isn’t worth the effort. Although I got a lot of great responses from developers, I think I bit off more than I could chew, as I simply never had the time to put everything together and write an article. But looking back at the year, it might have been a waste of time anyway. For whatever reason, iOS 11 brought along with it a slew of popular PC and console ports, with even more coming in 2018. Between those and some truly fantastic iOS originals, this year produced so many exceptional games that I’ve been agonizing over my Game of the Year list, trying to whittle it down a bit. For some perspective, last year was a strong year as well, but I got my entire list down to about twenty-five games. This year, I struggled to get it down to forty-five. To keep this list manageable, I’m posting my top fifteen on the first page and splitting the remaining thirty into two more pages. So don’t forget to look at those pages! I’m also linking each title to my reviews where available.
Playdead’s INSIDE had to be the most surprising experience for me this year. It’s such a masterfully inventive game in every sense, from the puzzles to the story (as ambiguous as it is), to the atmosphere and countless ways you can die. It’s disturbing, tense, and loads of fun. On top of that, it’s been ported to iOS nearly flawlessly. The controls are simple, there’s iCloud sync, and save points are frequent. You can even go back and replay your favorite parts, which I’ve already done a few times. And on top of all that, the controls are such that you can play whole game with one hand, though in landscape mode. I recommend diving in without knowing anything beforehand. You can play the first twenty to thirty minutes for free, so there’s no risk in just trying it. There’s a very good chance that if you like the free section, you’ll love the rest of it. I would have hated having any of the fun spoiled for me, which is why I’m being so light on details. It’s a game you just have to experience for yourself and do so before anyone can ruin it for you. If you still need convincing, you can read my full review here and see more gameplay video here. I recorded my entire play-through and it was such a fun game to record for an audience, as I was cursing and screaming and laughing the whole time. In short, just play it.
I’d been eagerly waiting to play Gorogoa ever since I tried the PC demo two years ago. That small taste of it was enough to emblazon it on my mind, but it couldn’t prepare me for just how magical the full game would be. Jason Roberts worked on it for seven years, and the effort shows in every detail, every panel, every puzzle. Like INSIDE, there are no words and the story is vague, open to interpretation. But Gorogoa is in a class all its own. The screen in divided into four sections and you can drag panels around. But the real magic starts when you realize you can overlap some panels or even move a panel to discover another one hiding behind it. You can also zoom in and out of a single frame to open up new areas. Though it’s a short game once you know all the solutions, playing through it the first time took me a few hours. There’ are some pretty devious puzzles, but it’s an accessible game that should be fit for all ages. It’s a game that will surprise and delight you until the very end and should be on everyone’s device. There’s also flawless iCloud sync and the game can be played in portrait or landscape mode. In short, they thought of everything. Do yourself a favor and play this masterpiece if you haven’t done so yet. You can also read my full review here and consult my walkthrough if you get hopelessly stuck.
Untame’s Mushroom 11 is another PC port, but I think it plays best on an iPhone. It feels like it was designed for touchscreens, as you use your fingers to push a green blob around, erasing it and forcing it to grow new cells where your thumb isn’t blocking it. It would be considered a puzzle platformer, but you don’t really jump. There are no on-screen buttons to worry about. Everything is done through pushing and splitting and squeezing your fungus. The puzzles are clever and constantly introducing new elements, forcing you to be creative in how you pursue a solution. It’s a tight game with no filler and you’re given very little guidance, as the game respects your intelligence. There are also plentiful checkpoints, making failure relatively painless, as you never have too much to retrace. The game is very mobile-friendly, as the checkpoints are permanent save spots, not temporary. You can quit the game at any point and then continue from the last checkpoint. There are a few more demanding skill-based puzzles that I was worried I wouldn’t get past, but I managed and it was so worth the effort. Sadly, the iCloud sync and other changes that were supposed to come in an update never did, but that doesn’t change how much I enjoyed playing this game. Those improvements would have been the cream cheese frosting on an already delectable cake. If you don’t mind some skill-based puzzling in your life, Mushroom 11 is another must-have. But you can read my full review here if you need more convincing.
Studio Fizbin’s adorable and quirky The Inner World was one of my favorite point-and-click adventures when I played it a few years ago. I wasn’t sure how they could possibly top that with a sequel, but they did. The Last Wind Monk is weird, it’s wonderful, and it’s chock full of references to social issues, though not directly. It’s a game with heart, a moral compass, and a healthy dose of irreverence. It’s also fully voice acted and the animations are even more impressive than in the first game. Cutscenes blend effortlessly with the playable sections, making it feel like you’re playing an animated movie. I really can’t praise the game enough. On a weaker year, it would have easily been my GOTY, but there was some seriously stiff competition in 2017. If you liked the original, this one’s a no-brainer. Just play it. If you haven’t, but you’re a fan of point-and-click adventures, rectify that and pick up the bundle right now. Or you can read my full review if you need more convincing.
The Witness is another puzzle adventure game that respects your intelligence, unwilling to hold your hand for even a second. While the iOS port isn’t perfect, it’s hard to deny how much I’ve enjoyed the game, considering how many hours I’ve invested in it. Yes, it does waste your time here and there, and being a fully open 3D world, it’s not quite as good a fit for mobile as some other games. But the puzzles are satisfying to solve and there are so many extra secrets to discover that you could probably spend years on it if you don’t seek out any help. I’m still not done, but I’ve solved over four hundred puzzles and plan to chip away at the rest at my own leisure. I may end up cheating on the sound puzzles, but I’m not ready to throw in the towel just yet. If you’re looking for a quality game with tons of content to sink your teeth into and a sense of adventure, Jonathan Blow’s The Witness is the game for you. You can also read my full review here and watch my gameplay videos here.
Like I said, this is the year of PC ports, and Linelight is another one that feels like it was designed for mobile. The whole screen is an invisible joystick and it practically reads your mind. It may seem effortless, but the developer put in a lot work to make it fit an iPhone and play with one hand in portrait mode. You can read more about that in my interview with him. While there are some reflex-based puzzles, much of it is relaxed and more about figuring out the solution than pulling it off. The mechanics are ever evolving and combining, keeping you on your toes. You might even build even an emotional connection with some bits of light. Its minimalist art style is anything but plain and the varied and upbeat soundtrack keeps you moving forward to the next puzzle instead of taking a break. I barely put the game down before completing all of the original content. It also got two new content updates since then, and I’ve not yet beaten the second one, as it’s much harder. But I’m glad to have some new puzzles to work on. If you haven’t picked up this gem yet, too really should. It’s only $1.99 for all that content, which is almost criminal. Again, if you need more convincing, you can read my full review here.
If I made a list of magical games, Vignettes would probably be at the top of it, possibly tied with Monument Valley and Gorogoa. It’s part toy, part puzzle game, all wonder. It’s one of the few in my top ten that actually originated on iOS and is a perfect fit for the platform. You start off with the name of the game and swipe anywhere on the screen to rotate it until it turns into something else. The game plays with perspective, as you need to rotate each object until you find a vantage point that could potentially turn onto another item. And it works like magic. It might be a hard concept to sell, since it seems like a simple toy at first glance. But there is so much hidden below the surface. There are secrets to uncover that are layered and sophisticated puzzles. What’s more, the game got a recent spooky update a bit late for Halloween but welcome nonetheless. It might be my favorite “world,” as it includes things like skulls, voodoo dolls and jars of eyeballs. The puzzles are also clever and so much fun to solve. It’s a shame Vignettes hasn’t gotten more attention, as it’s easily one of the most enjoyable games I’ve played this year or ever. Please, please, please play it if you haven’t yet. You can read my full review here and try my walkthrough guide if you have trouble finding all the secrets.
Typeshift is a word game collaboration between Zach Gage and Merriam-Webster Dictionary and it’s the only game I can say I’ve played every day since release. It shakes up the word finding genre by putting the letters in columns that can be shifted up and down to form words. The goal is usually to use up all the letters, but you can also try to make as many words as possible instead of just going for the bare minimum. There are also clue puzzles that are more like crosswords, where you have to find specific words based on clues given. It’s free to download and some of the content is free, supported by ads. But you can also purchase more puzzles in packs. Any purchase will also permanently remove ads. There’s a generous amount of free content, though I do wish there had been a one-time price that gets you all future content. But even if you don’t have money to spare, there’s a new puzzle every day and it’s become a ritual for me to solve them either first thing in the morning or right before bed, depending on how late I got to sleep. It’s definitely my favorite word game and I highly recommend giving it a try if you haven’t yet. You can also read my review here.
Yes, another PC port. Night School Studio’s OXENFREE is one of those games that I couldn’t stop hearing about when it released on other platforms. I loved the look of it and I was jealous of everyone who was playing it. I even went so far as to buy it on my PC during a Steam holiday sale. But if you know anything about my relationship with PCs, you can probably guess that I never got to playing it. So you can imagine my excitement when it released on iOS almost out of nowhere, with the regular price being the same as the sale price on PC. It took a bit to win me over, but before long I was completely engrossed in its characters, atmosphere, and supernatural storyline. I especially loved the way it mimicked friends chatting as they walk through a forest. Instead of standing on one spot having a discussion, the dialogue happens in real time as you’re walking. It was more authentic that way and made me wish more games would be like that. It does make things a bit less relaxed, since the text disappears on its own without prompts from the player. So it can take some getting used to at first. But once you get sucked in, it’s hard to put down. There are also secrets to find and alternate endings. I’m pretty sure there’s some things I missed just because so much is packed in there. You can read my full review here and more gameplay videos here.
Loju Games’ Causality is — you guessed it — another PC port. Once again, it feels made for touchscreens, as the controls are a perfect fit for the platform. It’s a time-bending puzzler where you need to move colored astronauts to their respective goals. The way it works is you swipe down on the screen to make time move forward. This means the astronauts will start walking in the direction they’re facing. If they step on an arrow tile, they’ll turn in that direction. You can tap the arrow before they land on it to change which way it points. If they hit a dead end, they’ll turn around and walk the other way. It’s very tricky and new elements are continuously added, such as cracked floors and shadow astronauts that kill the regular astronauts. But it’s very user-friendly in that you can swipe up to rewind time and undo your actions. Even if you die, just swipe up to fix your mistakes. The puzzles are clever, sometimes deviously so, and on top of that the visuals are stylish and the soundtrack is relaxing but never boring. If you’re a puzzle fan, this should definitely be on your device. You can read my full review here and try my walkthrough guide if you get stuck and need help.
Remember that imaginary list of games that seem magical? Well, RAC7’s Splitter Critters would be on there. While the developer has shared video clips showing how it all works, I wouldn’t pretend to understand it. So I’ll continue believing that it works through magic, just like I do my iPhone’s touchscreen. It’s a puzzle game that’s broken up into bite-sized levels in which you need to help some cute little aliens to get to their spaceship. What’s special about it, though, is that you do so by using your finger to slice the screen and then move the torn pieces around. The aliens are auto-running, so you don’t control them directly. They simply walk where they can and your job is to lead them safely to their spaceship. There are several types of aliens that behave differently, and there are all sorts of obstacles, like alien-munching monsters, lasers, spikes, and even deadly lava. Things get pretty tricky as you progress, with very little filler. There was even a content update recently, along with AR mode, but I’ve been so busy with other games that I haven’t had a chance yet to tackle the new puzzles. In any case, if you haven’t played it yet, you really should get on that. But if you still need convincing, here’s my full review, as well as a walkthrough if you get stuck.
Technobabylon is the first Wadjet Eye game I’ve finished and one of my favorite point-and-click adventures from this year. It made me seek out developer Dave Gilbert at a games conference so I could tell him in person how much I enjoyed it and play the demo of his next game, Unavowed. It’s set in the year 2087, where people plug directly into a virtual world, genetic engineering is commonplace, and your every move is watched by an omnipresent AI. It’s a dark but humorous game that asks questions of morality. You also play as several different characters, all fully fleshed out. It’s a game that completely sucked me in and and held my attention to the very end. If you’re a fan of point-and-click adventures, this is one you need to play. You can also read my full review here for more details and try my walkthrough guide if you get stuck.
Usually, I find hidden object games to be the least interesting of the adventure genre, and I think developer Adriaan de Jongh feels the same, as he sought to break the mold with his relentlessly charming Hidden Folks. If you don’t crack a few smiles while peeking behind trees, inside caves, and under rocks for characters and objects, then you must have a heart of stone. Unlike most hidden object games, this one has humorous descriptions for each item or character you need to find. They also act as clues, making it more of a puzzle game than a pixel hunting experience. On top of that, everything is animated and brimming with life, and the sound effects are all mouth noises. There’s really nothing not to like. The only down side is that it can be a bit hard to play on iPhone because you can’t see much of the scene at once. If you have an iPad, definitely play on there. But it has flawless iCloud sync, too, so you don’t have to choose just one device! There’s also been two content updates since it’s release, so you really get your money’s worth. You can read my full review here and find my walkthrough here.
I was a big fan of the original FRAMED, but like most people, I was disappointed by its length. I wanted more. With the sequel (or more technically, the prequel), aptly named FRAMED 2, Loveshack more than delivered, but not so much in length as in quality. The game is tight, with each level offering something new and fresh. The puzzles are trickier this time around and the game as whole is more humorous. The puzzles kept me on my toes until the very end. There are also hidden secrets to find in the form of polaroids. The soundtrack also stood out to me, as I found myself humming certain tracks long after completing the game. To this day, seeing a screenshot or gif of the game will trigger my favorite track in my head. FRAMED 2 is exactly what a good sequel should be, and I can’t wait to see what the studio offers us next. You can see my full review here and my walkthrough guide here.
Bertram Fiddle Episode 2: A Bleaker Predicklement‘s release got pushed off so many times, it would be understandable if you started to doubt it’s very existence. But after years of tireless toiling and sweating, Rumpus Animation got Victorian London’s most prestigious detective out of the soap factory and into our greasy hands. Still, it was off to a rocky start with game-breaking bugs that prevented players from completing the game. This was one of those rare instances, though, that I was enjoying myself so much that I was able to forgive the inconvenience and patiently wait for the bugs to be squashed. Episode 2 picks up sometime after the first episode ends, where crime has been almost nonexistent, so Bertram has been forced to work the soap factory he so despises. But of course, that wouldn’t make for much of an adventure game, so he’ll soon find himself in a predicklement, requiring the aid of his trusty cyclops butler, Gavin. Together, the two of them continue the hunt for Geoff the Murderer. While the game is a bit rough around the edges, I loved every bit of it. The puzzles are creative but nothing too difficult — just right to keep you entertained without getting frustrated. But rather than go on and on about it here, I’ll let you read my review. And yes, I have a walkthrough for this one, too.
And that’s it for my top fifteen games of 2017, but don’t be fooled! This was an insanely strong year for iOS gaming and you’ll find another thirty of my favorites on the next two pages. Click on the little numbers below to see the rest of them or click here.