I can’t believe another year is over. I’ve been running Appunwrapper.com full time for over a decade now and the years just seem to fly by. 2022 was a weird one, as Netflix kept releasing games I was interested in while Apple Arcade continued to focus on “plus” games that I already owned. Plenty of developers still released standalone games, but I also noticed that some of my old favorites were sold to ad farm companies — even some that are still available normally on other platforms. It makes me wonder if the future of iOS gaming is going to be either free-to-play like Genshin Impact or a bunch of different subscriptions. I’m worried that we’ll see fewer and fewer premium games outside of Apple Arcade and Netflix, but I hope I’m wrong. I am still glad those services exist, because without them some of my favorite games might not have even made it over to iOS. In any case, there’s no shortage of great games to play. And if you need help finding them, here is my Game of the Year list for 2022.
Game of the Year: Vampire Survivors
Vampire Survivors squeezed in during the last month of 2022, but for a solid two weeks I couldn’t put the game down. It was constantly on my mind until I completed all the available content. The core idea isn’t groundbreaking — it’s a survival game where you choose from different weapons and upgrades every time you level up. Controls are entirely one-handed, as all you do is move your character around and your weapons fire automatically. The idea is to try and last the whole 30 minutes, at which point Death comes and kills you. But that’s just the beginning. There’s a huge list of achievements and unlockables, and at one point you’ll even find an item that reveals a whole bunch of secrets to find. There’s a ton of playable characters to unlock, numerous maps to play through, and just so much to do that I never even noticed the grind. After all, this is a roguelite with permanent upgrades to buy. Normally that would be a huge turnoff because it tends to artificially drag the game out. But here, there was so much to discover with each session that it didn’t bother me one bit. On top of all that, it’s completely free with just a couple of opt-in ads I ignored. It also plays in either portrait or landscape mode. The only things it’s missing are iCloud sync and the new DLC that was released on other platforms. There’s really no reason not to play Vampire Survivors — unless you value your productivity. I didn’t review the game, but I have over 40 gameplay videos of it here.
I’m a big fan of point-and-click adventures, but I admit that I start a lot more of them than I finish. It’s a genre that can wear out its welcome if the puzzles start to feel too illogical or there’s too much backtracking, or the writing is a slog. Voodoo Detective commits none of these crimes and it broke the fourth wall enough times in the first few minutes that I instantly fell in love. It’s got gorgeous hand-drawn artwork, humor that’s right up my alley, fantastic voice acting, and a story that’s just plain fun. It was one of the most memorable games for me this year and I hope we see more of Voodoo Detective in the future. I had a lot more to say in my review, so I recommend reading that if you still need convincing.
Her Story is one of my favorite games of all time — if not my favorite — so I was desperately waiting for Sam Barlow’s latest game, IMMORTALITY. (Fun fact: I guessed the name back in 2020 but didn’t know until it was officially announced in 2021.) At first, it wasn’t clear whether it would come to iOS at all. Then Netflix announced it would be coming to their subscription service. It was initially meant to release at the same time as other platforms, but the mobile release got delayed and I was painfully waiting for it, worried it wouldn’t even make it this year. It finally made it over in November and I spent many hours combing through video clips from three different fake movies featuring Marissa Marcel. This time, you don’t search for clips using search words, though. Instead, you zoom in on a face or object and it brings up another clip featuring that person or a similar item. It took me a couple of hours of just playing clips normally to realize that some had hidden footage inside them. And that’s what blew my mind. Barlow actually managed to gamify video scrubbing. Once again, I got obsessed with finding new clips, but also the hidden ones. One clip even had a matryoshka doll thing going with several layers of hidden clips — all accessed through careful scrubbing. But that alone wouldn’t be enough to make this a memorable game. The clips vary from actual movie footage to script readings and rehearsals. But the acting is so on target that I kept forgetting these aren’t actual rehearsals for real movies, but staged. It’s also undoubtedly a film, but one that wouldn’t work without the interactivity of a game. The two mediums play off each other to make a fascinating and unforgettable experience. I didn’t review the game, but I do have all my gameplay videos here (except one that got removed because of nudity). I think I’m also probably missing some more clips, and I’d like to take some time in 2023 to look for them. Anyway, if you don’t have any issues with sex and nudity, definitely give IMMORTALITY a chance. There is much more to it than simply watching video clips.
Unheard first released on other platforms back in 2019, but we were lucky to see it ported to mobile this year. It’s unlike anything else I’ve played and features a very compelling core mechanic. In each scene, you get a bird’s eye view of the area, but you can only see and hear people you’re standing close to. The idea is to listen closely to what everyone says and then identify them all and usually solve some mystery — like who stole a painting or who was the killer. You can scrub back and forth as much as you want if you need to hear something again, and there’s no timer or penalty for getting things wrong. So it’s challenging yet relaxing at the same time. The bonus level was a bit too much for me since it featured so many characters and half of them were actors playing the others. I’m still in awe of it even if I never finished that level, and the rest of the game was satisfying enough that I didn’t feel like I missed out. I just had a great time solving all the mysteries and would highly recommend it to anyone with a little patience to work through it all. I also have more videos here for those interested.
We were lucky enough to get yet another quality hand-drawn point-and-click adventure with full voice acting and a ton of humor. Dexter Stardust did require a bit more backtracking and running around than Voodoo Detective did, but I had a great time exploring the galaxy with Dexter and Aurora. It’s especially impressive that this game was made entirely by one person and that he and his friends voiced the characters. While it was a fairly long game as is, only the first season is out and the second season is still being developed. I hope iOS is included when that happens, because I’m eager to see where their next adventure takes them.
The Past Within
After playing Tick Tock a few years back, I’ve been aching for more co-op adventure games. Rusty Lake, the folks behind the Cube Escape series, answered the call with The Past Within, a game that takes place in the same universe but requires two players to work together to solve the puzzles. Each person has their own device and then you communicate either in person or through voice chat of some sort. One player chooses the past and the other picks the future and then you share clues and sent certain items through time. I loved all the little details, but especially the 3D mode that’s like a puzzle box. We’ve never seen that before from Rusty Lake but it fits them so well because of their whole “cube” theme they have going. I hope this isn’t the last co-op game they make or the last 3D game. If you’re a fan of the series, I recommend grabbing a copy for you and a friend and take this journey together. I don’t have any videos of the game, but I did write up a longer review here.
Dicey Dungeons is another game that was first put on other platforms for a while before coming to iOS. But it’s absolutely perfect for touchscreens and I believe it was always planned for mobile from the beginning. It’s a deckbuilding roguelike in which you play as living dice who have to fight their way through increasingly difficult dungeons. The dice part means there’s a heaping of RNG involved, but like any good roguelike, you can mitigate your luck by choosing your cards carefully and building a strong deck. You also unlock new characters that completely change how you play, and each one has several difficulty levels to play through. There’s so much content and I never even got through it all. But it’s something I definitely want to come back to when I have some down time. It’s very streamlined so it never feels like it’s wasting my time, and the dialogue is very tongue-in-cheek. If you’re a roguelike fan, Dicey Dungeons is pretty much a must-have.
Square Valley is an aesthetically pleasing puzzle game that has you building lands by placing tiles in optimal positions to gain the most points. So for instance, houses usually like to be grouped together with a road passing through. Pigs and sheep like to be contained inside fences, with extra points for wildflowers near them. As you progress, you unlock new tiles that have more limitations and it becomes a lot trickier to balance everything. I got pretty deep into the game but never finished it completely. Other games came out and I got sidetracked and never went back to it. But I thoroughly enjoyed what I did play and this is another game I’d want to make some time for in 2023 so I can try and finish it. I have more videos here if you want to see some of the later levels, but I recommend just picking it up for yourself and giving it a try.
Chloe Puzzle Game
There weren’t a ton of straight puzzle games that held my attention this year, but Chloe did a nice job blending classic Sokoban mechanics with some new twists, all centered around a toy theme. In each of the game’s 72 levels, you need to help get Chloe the doll and Bunny safely to their targets. But they’ll encounter all sorts of obstacles, such as wind-up toys that move along a track, buttons that set off cannons, and even a grabber machine that you can control to pick up certain toys. My one main complaint was the lack of an undo button, which meant any fatal mistakes lead to a complete restart of the level. But the developer did add checkpoints to the final level that has a lot more steps to it than any previous ones. That helped and I liked the game enough to overlook the undo button and play through to the end. I believe the developer is even working on some new content for it, which would make it an even better value. But the existing content is more than enough to make it worth the asking price, so don’t hesitate to pick it up if you’re a puzzle fan. I also have a partial walkthrough here if you need help.
Archaica: The Path of Light
I’ve always been a fan of laser-reflecting puzzles, so when Archaica: The Path of Light was first announced for PC, I hoped it might get ported to iOS one day. Three years after its PC release it came out on Nintendo Switch, so I gave it a try on there. But as much I liked the game itself, I hated playing with a controller. It’s a game that feels much better when you’re interacting directly with the pieces instead of dragging pieces around with a thumb stick. So I waited again, this time unsure that it would ever come to my platform of choice. And then, out of nowhere, it was available on iOS this year. I played through the entire game over several days — not because it was short but because I was enjoying it so much. It felt like it was made for touchscreen controls. The port was optimized well for the platform and I got to finally play the game on my iPad. The puzzles get quite tricky at times, and the whole aesthetic is just gorgeous. It was an absolute pleasure to play through and any puzzle fans should enjoy it. I also have a full walkthrough here if anyone needs help.
Loco Looper had been on my radar for quite some time, thanks to the trippy video clips the developer would share on Twitter. Before I knew what the gameplay was even like, I was mesmerized by its 3D effect that made it look like it was jumping off the screen — without the use of augmented reality. When it finally released, I saw that it was path-laying game with the goal to make a train track using all the pieces. As you progress, you encounter new tiles, like tunnels and bridges. Even though there are normally multiple solutions for each puzzle, many of them were quite tricky and took me some time to get all stars. As I said in this preview piece, there’s far more to the game than its 3D gimmick. Again, if you’re a puzzle fan, this is an easy one to recommend. I also have a full walkthrough guide here.
The House of Da Vinci 3
When the first House of Da Vinci game released, I found it impressive but also wished it did more to differentiate itself from the Room series it so clearly was inspired by. The second game was far more ambitious and involved using time travel to manipulate the environment and solve puzzles. Aside from a truly bizarre and painful ending cutscene, I had a great time with it and felt it really stood on its own. This year, we got the the third and final installment of the trilogy and once again it features a lot of time travel. I was already sold within the first few minutes, where I had to bring a chandelier crashing down and then use it to manipulate other objects. Later on, you shoot arrows in the past to affect the future, and there’s a lot more like that. They really went above and beyond with the third game. I never reviewed it, but I do have a walkthrough here if you get stuck. I highly recommend playing it, along with the first two so you can follow the story.
I’ve been enjoying Glitch Games’ projects for almost as long as my site has existed, so it’s probably no surprise to see something from them on here. But what made Incoherence stand out to me was the meta game. It’s basically a series of small escape rooms, but every four rooms have an extra puzzle that involves going through them in the correct order to to solve one more conundrum before moving on to the next group. It wasn’t the hardest game they released, but it perhaps felt the most logical and I just really loved figuring out the correct order for the rooms. If you want to play a game from them that truly feels different, give Incoherence a try. I also have a walkthrough guide if you get stuck.
I’m a big fan of turn-based roguelikes that have short runs so you can keep replaying and learning from each run. Since there’s no actual skill involved (read: reflexes, before anyone jumps down my throat), it all comes down to honing your strategy. Pawnbarian is a great addition to this genre and it does so many unique things that make it stand out. First off, it all plays out on a chess board. You have a deck made up of chess pieces and each turn you draw a few and decide which ones to play. The cards literally just enable your character to move like that chess piece. So if it’s a pawn, you can move up one square if nothing’s in your way or attack an enemy if it’s sitting diagonally from you. A knight let’s you go in an L-shape, and rooks go in a straight line. Anyone who’s played chess before should be able to get into it pretty quickly. But on top of that, your cards could have extra abilities, like striking any enemies in four directions once you land. Others give you an extra move. But the enemies also have their own abilities, and later dungeons can get pretty overwhelming. But, like I said, the runs are short enough that losing isn’t devastating and it’s easy enough to jump back into another run. There’s also a ton of different playable characters that each offer a unique play style. The game is also free to try with an IAP to unlock the full experience, so you have nothing to lose. Just grab it!
Dungeons of Dreadrock
I was instantly sold on Dungeons of Dreadrock by its fourth wall-breaking humor and jab at the damsel in distress trope in video games. But it’s the clever puzzles and delightful surprises that kept me playing. Sadly, I never actually finished the game because I got stuck on a level that was a bit hard for my reflexes to pull off, and then as time went on I got distracted my many other games. But I still spent several hours with this gem and loved every bit of it — even the moments that stressed me out. It’s a puzzle game at heart, but there is a helping of fast-paced levels that require quick reflexes. I’m a little disappointed in myself that I didn’t stick with it to the end, and I’d like to remedy that, hopefully, in 2023. It’s just such a special game and I know I can handle those harder levels if I’m just persistent. This is also another game that’s free, with just an IAP to remove ads. So again, there’s nothing to lose by downloading it. I also have a partial walkthrough if you get stuck.
Pine Tar Poker
Pine Tar Poker snuck in right near the end of the year. I also almost overlooked it because I’m not much of a poker player. But I was intrigued by the supernatural element. And it turned out to be a really solid game with a story, unlockables, and plenty of surprises. Most of the game is spent playing a solitaire version of poker, where you cash in different hands for points and try to go for a high score. But you also earn coins by playing and those coins can buy different objects from the shop that have magical powers. The best ones are tiles that allow you to change individual cards in specific ways. Those tiles also require more work to unlock, as opposed to simply buying them with coins. There’s also a second table that allows for higher scores, and even a surprise ending I don’t want to spoil for you. I never wrote a review for the game, but I do have more videos here if you’re not concerned about spoilers. The game should only take a few hours to complete, but it moves at a good pace and there’s always the option to try for higher scores once you complete the story mode. If you’re interested in poker with a twist, definitely give Pine Tar Poker a try.
Monster Train is a roguelite deck-builder that takes place on a multi-tiered train. It’s similar to games like Slay the Spire, but you place characters on three levels and the enemies move up each turn if they’re not dead. If they make it to the top, that’s where your crystal is. It can defend itself to a degree, but if it takes too much damage, it’s game over. There’s so many different types of cards to play with, and the deck you build is a huge part of the strategy. After each battle you also get to choose different upgrades or new cards to add to your deck. And if you do manage to win, there are a number of ways to make the game more difficult, so you’re unlikely to run out of content any time soon. To me, the game feels a lot better on mobile than Slay the Spire does, and perhaps more accessible, too. If you’re a fan of deckbuilding roguelikes or roguelites, don’t sleep on this one.
You wouldn’t know from the one awful video I made of Night Skate, but I did in fact unlock all the areas and even learned how to get long strings of tricks going to build up my multipliers. I tried to get a good video of it, but it got corrupted so I just decided to play the game for my own enjoyment and not worry about the videos. Night Skate is an endless runner with the goal to last as long as you can and try to beat your high score. It’s got sleek pixel art graphics and unlockable themes, but otherwise everything is pretty straightforward. The only grind is to earn enough points so you can unlock the next area and once you do that you just keep trying to improve your score. There’s a ton of room for improvement thanks to the tricks system, as keeping a long string of tricks going will be worth more than simply lasting longer and playing it safe. My mistake early on was that I just tried to avoid obstacles without realizing I could jump on most of them for extra points. Once I realized that, the game really opened up for me and I started to enjoy it… a lot. The final area is still extremely hard for me, so I prefer the Dark Forest. It’s harder than the starting area and offers more chances for tricks, but it’s far more forgiving than the Robo Aquarium. Anyway, just play it and don’t let my awful gameplay video turn you off.
It’s a bit hard to describe Arabilis. There’s a bunch of genres mashed up together, but somehow it works. It’s a farming arcade game with match-three elements, as you race against the clock to plant and harvest vegetables. It’s a lot trickier than it looks, as you have to connect plants in a way that makes them grow before the harvest season comes. The more vegetables you harvest, the greater your score. There are so many unique gardens that can show up, which keeps it from getting stale. There’s also three different game modes that should keep you occupied for a long time. If you’re still not sure, you can always try the free demo version before buying the full game.
Zach Gage is well known by now for his mobile games that take something familiar and add a twist to make them feel fresh. He’s done poker, solitaire, chess, and a number of different word games. His latest is basically crossword puzzles without the hints. Or rather, I should say a different kind of hints. The board is split up into sections that are made up of parts of different words. Each section lists all the letters that fit there and your job is to figure out exactly which tiles they go on. It’s a simple idea that works really well. There’s also several different modes to keep you occupied, though some are completely free and others are only available if you buy the full version of the game. Even if you stick to the free version, you should still have plenty to keep you occupied, since there’s new puzzles added daily. I find the game works best played alongside Wordle, instead of trying to do a whole month’s worth of crosswords in one day. Again, you have nothing to lose, so just try it.
Joel McDonald is best known for Prune, the game that blends art with puzzle. If you’ve been waiting to see more from him, that time has come with his new narrative game, Hindsight. It’s very different from Prune, as there aren’t really any puzzles. It’s more of an interactive story, but the way it’s told still feels magical in the ways Prune did. You play as a woman whose mother just passed away and she’s going through the belongings in her house. Each of the items brings up memories, and we experience her happy moments, as well as her regrets. It’s the kind of experience that leaves you thinking about your own relationships and whether you’ve been focusing on the right priorities. If you need your games to offer some sort of challenge, Hindsight is probably not for you. But for anyone open to a short and emotional journey, I don’t think you’ll regret it.
Kentucky Route Zero
Kentucky Route Zero is yet another game that snuck in right at the end of the year. I knew Netflix was planning to bring it to mobile, I just wasn’t sure when. And I knew I wanted to play it, as I started it on my Switch a while back but decided I would enjoy it more on my iPad. It is definitely a strange game and one that’s not so easy to discuss. It follows an antiques delivery man named Conway as he tries to find an address that may or may not exist. He meats all sorts of interesting folks on his journey and they join him on his quest. The game I broken up into five acts, but there are also interludes that are even more bizarre than the rest of the game. This is definitely more of an iPad game than an iPhone game, and you really want to give it the time and attention it demands. It’s not really something you play in short bursts, but rather curl up with it like you would a good book or movie. If you have a Netflix subscription already, it’s included with it, so just give it shot. I also have more videos here for those interested.
Obviously, Genshin Impact is not a new game. But it is a game I’m still heavily invested in even after two years. I’ve never been a fan of the gacha system, and that hasn’t changed, but I play it despite that because of how much I like everything else the game has to offer. This year alone, they added several new areas to explore, some permanent and others temporary. They introduced a whole bunch of new characters and some of them have become my absolute favorites. The music in each new area somehow tops the previous ones and I still can’t get over the fact that some of my favorite video game music of all time is in a gacha game. I’ve actually been buying the $5/month Blessing of the Welkin Moon and the $10 Battle Pass because I find they improve the experience without making me feel like I’m wasting a ton of money on a free-to-play game. I know some of you are sick of seeing me play Genshin Impact (I have over 1000 videos now!), but I’m afraid I have to tell you that I’m not stopping anytime soon. As long as the developers keep adding new areas that I can explore and the game still brings me joy, I’m going to keep playing. And I hope that those of you who are judging it without playing it first might give it a try and see for yourselves why it’s so popular.
Whew! 2022 was quite the year for mobile games. And this list doesn’t even include all the games I played and enjoyed — only my absolute favorites. If you need even more, I suggest going through my weekly roundups, where I write similar blurbs about all the games I’ve played over the week. I don’t write too many full reviews these days, so that’s the best way to find out what I think of a game. And I hate to bring this up, but if you appreciate the work I do, please consider supporting the site through Patreon. And most importantly of all, I want to thank all the developers who continue to develop mobile games even when the odds aren’t in their favor. I hope my little website is doing its small part in bringing attention to lesser known games that deserve to succeed. Here’s to many more years of mobile gaming!