Another year has come to an end and, once again, there were a ton of terrific games that released on iOS. It’s always a little difficult to choose my favorites, but I’ve narrowed it down to 20 this time. I wasn’t that impressed with Apple Arcade this year, but Netflix brought us some gems and they’re continuing to do so in 2024. Last year, I expressed my concern about subscriptions taking over the App Store. And, unfortunately, Crunchyroll threw their hat into the ring now, taking with them two fantastic games that used to be standalone purchases. As with streaming television, it’s starting to get to the point where you need multiple subscriptions if you want to play all the games. Crunchyroll is also more expensive than either Netflix (if you just want access to the games, you can pay $6.99) or Apple Arcade, so they’ll need to add more to their library before it seems worth it to me. Thankfully, standalone games are continuing to release at a decent rate and most of my favorites were not part of any subscription. It’s also nice to see some of my old Apple Arcade favorites that have been dropped from the service are now available to purchase separately. If you haven’t played them yet, definitely grab South of the Circle, A Monster’s Expedition, Tangle Tower and Assemble with Care. And now, without further ado, I bring you my 2023 Game of the Year list.
2023 Game of the Year: Storyteller
When Storyteller first released, I was bummed that it wasn’t on mobile, especially since it looked like the perfect fit for touch controls. Fortunately, it came to iOS and Android just a few months after its initial release, thanks to Netflix. The game reminds me a lot of FRAMED, since you rearrange panels in order to get the outcome you desire. Basically, each level asks you to create a specific story, such as “Knight marries Queen” and you place backgrounds and characters in the empty panels to get the results you need. As you progress it gets more complex and you really have to mess around with things to see what effects they have. It’s a very playful game that encourages experimentation, and that’s one of the best things I can ask for in a puzzle game. The Netflix version has everything that other platforms have, as it was released at the same time as a huge content update. I especially liked going back through the game and looking for the “stamps,” which are basically achievements you get for creating specific scenarios. I only wish that it was easier and quicker to navigate between levels. But otherwise, Storyteller was basically designed specifically for me and I hope we’ll see more content updates in the future, or perhaps even a sequel. Don’t sleep on this one. And remember, you can pay $6.99/month for ad-supported Netflix if you only want to play the games, since there still won’t be any ads in them.
CubeQuest – a QB Game
CubeQuest was in a very tight race with Storyteller for my GOTY. I loved Stephan Goebel’s first game, QB – a cube’s tale, but the lack of an undo button wore down my patience. The developer took my feedback to heart, though, and incorporated an undo button into the sequel, CubeQuest. The controls are simple, as you just swipe in the direction you want to move your cube. But it will react with different tiles it lands on, and that’s what makes the game so special. It’s about the path you take in order to make sure that you don’t waste tiles or work yourself into a dead end. But the inclusion of the undo button makes it much more relaxed so you can focus on the puzzles themselves and not have to start over from scratch if you mess up. The graphics have also been updated and everything looks fantastic. I especially liked the added secrets to find, which again encourage exploration and experimentation. I barreled through the game in a few days because I was enjoying it so much, but there’s a good amount of content for your money. It’s also free to try with a one-time IAP to unlock the full game if you decide you like it. Puzzle enthusiasts absolutely need to play this one. If you’re not convinced yet, I wrote a full review here.
Lost Words: Beyond the Page
This was a hard year for me, and those who have been paying close attention may have noticed that my cat of 15+ years passed away in February. I was also dealing with another loss in the family aside from that. It made it difficult to play games just for entertainment, especially during the first half of the year, as my head just wasn’t in it. But then, Lost Words got a mobile port just when I needed it the most. It has you take on the role of a young girl named Izzy as she creates a fantasy world in her journal as a way of dealing with grief. Rhianna Pratchett wrote the story and, even though it seems to be aimed at a younger audience, I found it to be mature enough to help me with my own grief. It didn’t preach or talk down to the audience, and it never felt cloying. It’s a game that acknowledges loss is a part of life and something we all have to deal with. I also liked how the game has the player use words to interact with the environment, making it a solid puzzle platformer in its own right. This was one the most memorable experiences for me this year and I highly recommend it for players of any age. It’s also free to try, so you have nothing to lose by downloading it. I wrote about it here back when it released if you want a better idea of what it’s like.
I absolutely adored Five Dates from Wales Interactive, which released in 2021. So when the sequel, Ten Dates, was announced, I was thrilled. I even got an early copy and was planning to review it in time for release. But that was the same time my cat was sick and I was too focused on her to really find the time or headspace to give it the attention it deserved. I finally did spend some time with it and enjoyed it quite a bit, but I wasn’t able to get a review together in time. This one strayed a bit from the formula of the first game. The original took place during COVID and all the dating was done through video chat. You played as a guy dating women and that was the only option. This time, you’re speed dating in person and can play either as the male or female protagonist. There are even opportunities for same-sex coupling, so it feels like they heard those of us who wanted more options. Due to the nature of speed dating, this game moves a bit faster and you get to meet more people in a single playthrough. But it also lets you choose fewer matches on subsequent playthroughs if you’re just trying to get to know one person better. Overall, I think it did a great job capturing the essence of speed dating without having to deal with the actual awkwardness of it all. If you’re a fan of full-motion video (FMV) games, definitely give Ten Dates a try. I also wrote a bit more about it here if you’re interested.
My parents sold their house a few years ago and I basically just grabbed bins full of my stuff and brought them to my apartment to go through them eventually. I pushed it off until this year, when I finally started unpacking them and giving stuff away so I could actually have some space in my living room to, well, live. So the iOS port of Unpacking came at the perfect time for me to truly appreciate it. The game has you unpack all the belongings of the main character every time she moves into a new home. It’s incredible how well the environmental storytelling works to give you a sense of what her life is like at each stage. It’s also a game that allows the player to be as meticulous as they want. There are some requirements for where certain items have to be placed, but it’s up to you if you want to do the bare minimum and just get them into the right area, or actually put in the effort of making everything look just right. It’s also a great fit for an iPad, though I do think the controls could have probably been simplified a little more. If you’re still not sure if it’s for you, my review goes into more details.
I’ve been a fan of Rusty Lake’s weird and wonderful games for a while now, and they never fail to surprise and delight. This year, the team released Underground Blossom, which takes place in the same universe as all the others. It has you traveling from train station to train stations, each one representing a period in Laura’s life, starting with when she was a baby. I liked how it was broken up into chapters that were each self-contained but then gives you the freedom to revisit them all to solve a meta puzzle. The achievements were also fun to hunt down, and of course the game features the usual cartoon gore were used to. It was on the easier side compared to some of their other games, but I thoroughly enjoyed it anyway. I’m also impressed by the massive alternate reality game (ARG) they hid inside of it that you can access by digging through information on their website and social media accounts. I didn’t work it all out myself, but I saw the results from the community and it was just mind-blowing. I can’t wait to see what Rusty Lake comes up with next.
OXENFREE II: Lost Signals
I absolutely loved the original OXENFREE, so I was thrilled when the sequel came to mobile via Netflix at the same time as other platforms. OXENFREE II: Lost Signals is a follow-up to the original that can be played on its own, but it does have connections to the first game. It has you visiting Camena five years after the events on nearby Edwards Island. There’s a mysterious cult trying to open up new portals and you need to stop them. This one has a bit of a different vibe, since you’re playing as a couple of adults instead of as a group of teenagers. The same unique art style is back, though, along with some top-notch writing and voice acting. While it didn’t have quite the same effect on me as the original, it’s still a solid game worth your time. But if you haven’t played the first, I recommend starting there.
Those of you who have been following me for a while might know that I’m a big match-three fan, but not the IAP-filled kind. I seek out those that feel more unique and aren’t simply time-wasters. Bright Reappear is one such game, though I do wish I had a reason to return to it. It’s an RPG that utilizes matching as a weapon against your enemies. You can choose between four classes (the game advertises six but I’ve not been able to find the last two) that each have different abilities. The classes all play very differently, and I found some easier than others, thanks to the action point system that allows you to select a certain number of tiles per move. The more action points you have, the more tiles you can select, giving you more upgraded tiles to work with. I enjoyed the game so much that I played through it with all four classes. Sadly, there isn’t anything left to do after that unless you want to wipe your progress and do it all again. I would love some sort of endless mode or even just those two missing classes. But if you haven’t played it yet, there’s plenty of content so don’t be scared off by the fact that it’s not unlimited. Definitely play this one if you’re a match-three fan.
Lost in Play
Lost in Play is another game that I was hoping would come to iOS and then my wish came true this year. It’s a super charming point-and-click adventure where a young brother and sister get lost in their imaginations and go on a fantastical journey. The whole game is like playing inside an animated movie. It just looks so good. Not every puzzle was a winner for me, but the overall experience was an enjoyable one and I would recommend it to any adventure fans. It’s also free to try, so check it out for yourself. I wrote some more about it here and have more videos here.
Rocco’s Island: Pocket Edition
I hadn’t heard of Rocco’s Island before it got ported to iOS, but I was pleasantly surprised by it. It’s a point-and-click adventure in which most of the puzzles are either match-three or 2048, so it’s perfect for touchscreens. The art style stood out for me, as well as the quirky characters. The story is a bit out there, but you can tell a lot of love went into it. It’s another game with a free demo and a one-time IAP to unlock the full game, so give it a try for yourself. I wrote a bit more about it here if you need more convincing and I have more videos here.
I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with developer Appsir. Their games are brilliant puzzle platformers, and I enjoy them up to a point. But I always give up before I get to the end because the difficulty wears me down. I think I spent the most time with DERE Vengeance — 2 hours over 3 videos — and there were times I thought I might actually get through to the end. But at some point, it makes you replay the chapters you already completed but with a twist. Still, I managed to get pretty far in that section. But I eventually gave up when I reached a puzzle that I barely even got past the first time. I still respect the game and the developer and I got a lot out of it, even if I didn’t finish it. It’s also free to try, so check it out for yourself before judging it. I also wrote more here and have more videos here.
Kingdom Eighties: Summer of Greed
I’ll be straight with you here. Kingdom Eighties is not the best Kingdom game. But I love the whole Kingdom gameplay loop and more Kingdom is always going to be welcome by me. If you can’t tell from the title, it combines the mechanics we know with a 1980’s TV show theme. Your character is a teenager who rides a bicycle, instead of a monarch who rides a horse. And you get to use lasers to fight against the Greed. It does tie into the overall Kingdom story, so there is a connection to the other games. This is also probably the easiest game in the series, so if you’ve never played any of the others, it’s a good way to get your feet wet. I found it relaxing and even went through it a second time to try the Hard mode and pick up any achievements and mounts I missed the first time around. For veterans of the series who prefer a challenge, there’s a survival mode that I found too difficult. But I think people like me who enjoy playing the series at a lower difficulty will get more out of this one. Again, I wrote more about it here if you’re still not convinced.
How We Know We’re Alive
How We Know We’re Alive is a heavy, mature game that deals with loss and guilt. It’s short and light on gameplay, but impactful. It also surprised me when I thought I knew the direction it was taking. It’s hard to talk about without spoiling it, but it’s about a woman returning home after years away. You learn why she left and what brought her back. If you’re open to a short game that’s basically interactive fiction, it’ll be worth your money. Just know what you’re getting into.
Happy Game 🙂
A new Amanita Design game is always a treat and I was thrilled that Happy Game 🙂 made its way over to iOS, even if it was a bit later than other platforms. Don’t be fooled by the title, though. It’s a creepy game that I’m not used to seeing from Amanita, but contains all the same magic. It’s more like CHUCHEL than Samorost, as it’s broken up into little vignettes. It’s a very playful game, but a bit more puzzly than CHUCHEL. If you liked their other games, there’s a very good chance you’ll enjoy this one, too.
Apple Arcade didn’t have a whole lot that spoke to me this year, but I put in a few good hours with finity. and was impressed with the twist on match-threes. It’s a little difficult to explain, but you slide rows and columns of tiles to make matches of three or more. The tiles you matched will disappear and you’ll get points for them. Then new tiles will drop to fill in those spaces. But the catch is that the tiles you moved but didn’t match will lose a turn. And when they run out of turns, they get locked into place. That means you can’t move either row or column that they’re in. So if you’re not careful, you’ll end up stuck without any possible moves. It can get pretty tense as you progress. The game is primarily a high score chaser, but there are “ranks” that end your game and then add new mechanics for the next game. I found that aspect a bit odd, but overall it’s a solid game and worth checking out if you have an Apple Arcade subscription. You can also read more about it in my weekly roundups here.
The Wreck is another game dealing with loss and grief, all centered around a car crash. The main character has to piece together her memories and the player learns about her in the process. The mechanics reminded me a lot of Hindsight, the way you slowly move through the scene and look for words. I liked how the characters were flawed, as it made them easier to relate to. I do wish I noticed earlier that the different colored dialogue options just meant that the cursor was highlighting one. I kept thinking that the game was telling me which one to select. So I might have chosen differently otherwise. But it was still an impactful game and worth playing if you’re looking for a more meaningful experience. It’s also free to try, which seems to be a trend these days. I wrote more about it here and have more videos here.
Omen Exitio: Plague
Omen Exitio: Plague is a gamebook that takes place in the 19th century and has a Lovecraftian twist to it. You play as a doctor in the army who’s haunted by his wife’s death and discovers a strange disease that seems to be man-made. It’s a fairly lengthy story that eventually leads you to a cult and other bizarre things. I can’t say it’s the best thing I’ve ever read, but the writing held my interest and I stuck with it to the end. I know there are other gamebooks from the same developer on other platforms and I would happily give them a try if they make it over to iOS. If you’re open to a game that’s primarily reading, give Omen Exitio: Plague a shot. And you can read more of my thoughts in my weekly roundups here.
As a fan of Vampire Survivors, I’ve been keeping an eye out for other games that scratch the same itch. Then along came Pizza Hero, which is basically Vampire Survivors but with pizza toppings. Thankfully, there are some innovations to make it stand out, such as pets to rescue and recipes that give you a bonus if you create them. While I can’t say I like it as much as Vampire Survivors, it’s a pretty solid distraction while waiting for new VS content updates. It’s also gotten a few updates of its own, including a Halloween map with on-theme enemies. I also appreciate the endless mode that was added recently, though I wish there was a way to save if you need to take a break. Overall, it’s an enjoyable game and I’m looking forward to whatever updates we get in the future. It’s also free with an IAP to remove ads, so give it a try for yourself. And you can see more of my thoughts in my weekly roundups here.
Hero of the Kingdom II
I hadn’t heard of the Hero of the Kingdom series until the second one released on iOS, but now I somehow missed that the third one got ported over, as well. Since I haven’t had a chance to play that yet, only Hero of the Kingdom II gets a spot on my GOTY list. The whole series is basically a combination between a point-and-click adventure, an RPG and a survival game. You don’t actually move your character around, but instead just tap on things in the environment to interact with them. You pick up items and complete quests for different characters you meet, it’s all pretty standard fare. But the layout just makes it so easy to get sucked into for long sessions, trying to complete “one more quest.” It’s very touchscreen-friendly, though I played on an iPad and I imagine things could be hard to make out on a small iPhone. I enjoyed the game so much that I played the first game shortly after. I could definitely see the improvements made between games and it has me even more excited to play the third game. If you can grab the first for cheap (it was free when I downloaded it), it’s a good way to get your feet wet and see if the higher price of the sequels is worth it for you. You can read more of my thoughts here and see more videos here.
The Longing Mobile
I was very torn on whether to include The Longing on this list. It’s a game that I’m fascinated with and annoyed with at the same time. You play as a “Shade” who has to wait 400 days to wake the king. You’re alone in some winding caverns and you walk incredibly slowly. The 400 days pass in real time, but there are things you can do to speed it up. There are also certain things that happen after a set amount of them. For instance, I was able to access a new area after taking a break for a few weeks so moss could grow. I’m now waiting a month (hopefully less since I sped it up) for some water to fill up a hole. I’m trying to spread out my sessions so I’ll experience new things each time and not just retrace my steps. Because if I do that, I’m sure I’ll get tired of it and move on. As long as I keep discovering new things, I think I’ll be willing to stick with it and see it to the end, even if it takes me close to a year. So yeah, this is definitely not a game for everyone and I’m not even sure it’s a game for me. But I applaud the developers for following through with their idea and making an intentionally annoying game that I somehow still want to play. I have more thoughts in my weekly roundups, as well as more videos.
And those are my absolute favorite iOS games that released in 2023. It was hard to narrow it down to just 20, so definitely scroll through my weekly roundups from the year if you want to see what else I played. And even though they didn’t release this year, I have to give a shout-out to Genshin Impact and Vampire Survivors for continuing to release regular content updates that I actually want to play. It’s ridiculous how many hours I’ve spent in Genshin Impact over the last three years and it’s also a little ridiculous that Vampire Survivors had at least four big content updates just this year alone. If you have time on your hands, those are both good games to fill it with.
2023 was quite the year for games and here’s hoping 2024 is even better! I know I’m looking forward to playing Hades on my iPad. Let me know in the comments section which games you’re waiting for.