Fifty apps that are reinventing mobile gaming

Solve a murder mystery, grow a tree, spend the day as a sailor, be a spider mobile developers are rethinking everything

Innovation is an overused and abused word in the technology industry but if you strip it down to the basic principle of new ideas, its clear that theres a lot of it going on in mobile games. When you gather some of the best examples together, you realise how many new ideas are out there. For example, there have been some creative experiments withthe idea of interactive fiction, from the round-the-world thrills of 80 Days tothe beat-the-censors story of Blackbar.

There are games that play with sound in new and interesting ways: Papa SangreII is played entirely by listening rather than looking, while Dark Echo visualises your sounds on the screen. Both are and this may notbe a coincidence among the creepiest mobile games available.

Some games get you moving in the real world: wandering in the case of Ingress; jogging for your (virtual) life withZombies, Run!; and even dancing with Bounden. Smartwatch games like Lifeline: Silent Night and Spy_Watch playwith the potential of storytelling onyour wrist.

Games exploring real-world issues include Endgame: Syria and Papers, Please and others splice together new genres, such as Framed, with its motion-comic puzzles, and ambient grow-em-up Prune.

Even for familiar genres, there are new ideas: Twofold Inc finds a new twist on match-three puzzling; Capitals reinvents the competitive word game; and Midnight Star finds a way for first-person shooters to work well on touchscreens.

Read on for a list of 50 games trying new things on your mobile devices, often below the limelight at the top of the app store charts.

One final, important point: the games in this list are innovative, but theyre also great. Technical invention or genre crossovers married to a poor game are of little value to players. What the developers of this selection have managed is to ally their new ideas with fun gameplay.


80 Days: Youll want to read and play it several times to try different routes.

80 Days
Android/iOS (3/3.99)
Phileas Foggs famous journey around the world, reworked as an interactive steampunk-themed novel. Its a very clever idea, but thatcleverness never gets in the way of the story: youllwant to read and play itseveral times to trydifferentroutes.

Adventure Time Game Wizard
Android/iOS (3.96/3.99)
In its regular adventure mode, this is a fun platform game based on popular cartoon Adventure Time. But the real fun comes when you start drawing your own levels on paper or on screen sharing them with other players and trying out their efforts.

A Study in Steampunk
Android/iOS (2.99/3.18)
Publisher Choice of Games has released a succession ofinteractive novels, with theinnovation being its enginefor wrapping the storyaround your decisions.This is a great example: 277,000 words of narrative with you in thecentral role.

Android/iOS (1.22/2.29)
One of the apps exploring ablend of literature and gaming, Blackbar is a game told through text censoredletters between itsprincipal characters whereyou have to guess thewords hidden by the blackbars. Also check itsprequel, Grayout.

Blown Away
Android/iOS (Free + IAP/2.29)
This is an engaging platform game starringa cheerful hero named Hendrik, who wears teleporting shoes. Theyre the key to the games twist on the genre: you teleport around the levels rather than jumping, which brings new puzzle-solving possibilities.

Android/iOS (2.99/2.29)
Youll want your partner in this game to besomeone with whom youre comfortable sharingpersonal space. Itsamix of Twister andballet as you both holdyour smartphone and follow its instructions todance together to classicalmusic.

Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons
iOS (3.99)
A beautiful story, as you control two brothers trying tofind a cure for their sick father. You control both brothers at once with onscreen joysticks, but itsthenarrative and a now-famous twist thatpacks an unusually emotional punch.

Capitals: Free Word Battle
iOS (Free + IAP)
Words With Friends did a great job of turning Scrabble into a multiplayer mobileword-battler. Capitals is really inventive, though: a word game that involves capturing tiles on a screen andconquering your opponent turn-by-turn.

Clumsy Ninja
Android/iOS (Free + IAP)
Clumsy Ninja may be gettingon a bit now but it remains one of the most innovative character-driven games on mobile. You train up the initially klutzy warrior through mini-games, but itsthe console-quality animation that gives him bagsof character.

Code Warriors: Hakitzu Battles
iOS (Free)
How do you make learning to program more entertaining for children? Getting them to battle giant mecha-robots with their fledgling JavaScript skills is how Code Warriors approaches it. Children can battlealone or take on their Facebook friends bots.

Android/iOS (4.22/3.99)
The developers say this game is a crafting RPG, which neatly summarises its gameplay. After crash-landing on an alien planet, you have to forage, fight and craft your way in the world. The way the game opens up the more you play is excellent.


Dark Echo: make pretty pictures as you bounce sound around the games terrain but watch out for the enemy

Dark Echo
Android/iOS (1.49)
A spooky game that relies onvisualised sound to explore its 80 levels. That means you make sounds which ping off the obstacles around you in the games world, making pretty pictureson screen. The enemy you face, though, isfarfrom pretty

Does Not Commute
Android/iOS (Free + IAP)
This tears up the traditional driving game format by puttingyou in charge of a smalltowns rush hour controlling all the vehicles. Expect plenty of crashes, although its fun rather thanfrustrating, andincludesapractice modeto refine your skills.

Endgame: Syria
Android (Free)
Basing games on real-world wars can be tricky this exploration of the conflict inSyria had to be reworked as Endgame: Eurasia to get an iOS release. On Android, itsuncensored and, two yearsafter its release, still makes you think hard.

Android/iOS (3.49/3.99)
A love letter to role-playing games (RPG) in the form of a game that evolves its way through the genres history. It starts as the kindofmonochrome RPG thatyoumight have played ona Game Boy, and ends up as a lush-looking 3D adventure.

Android/iOS (1.74/2.99)
This has been described as amotion-comic puzzler the first in the genre. Its agood description, too: youplay the game by rearranging animated comic-strip panels to progress through its story. Anatmospheric jazz soundtrack adds to the appeal.

Guitar Hero Live
iOS (Free + IAP)
In 2015, console gamers were rocking out in their living rooms once more with a new Guitar Hero game. This time though Apple TV owners could join in: the iOS version of the game can be played on the TV, complete with its own guitar-controller bundle.

Her Story
iOS (3.99)
Fancy playing detective? HerStory is a gripping murder-mystery based aroundvideo footage of interviews with thechief suspect. Your job is to watchthe clips, think ofnewsearch terms to minethe video database, andfigure out the truth.

Android/iOS (Free + IAP)
Less a game, more a way oflife for its keenest fans: this is the best example oflocation-based gaming yet.You choose a side in its sci-fi plot, then explore the games environment asyouwander around the realworld, working alone orwith fellow players.

Letterpad: Free Word Puzzles
iOS (Free + IAP)
On iPhone and iPad, Letterpad is a simple, addictive letter-puzzles game, where you findwords relating to more than 200 themes in 3×3 grids.Its innovation comes with its Apple Watch edition, with the game working smoothly on the smartwatch.

Lifeline: Silent Night
Android/iOS (83p/1.49)
One of several games heredesigned to run acrossyour smartphone andsmartwatch. Like Spy_Watch, the gameplay here happens via notifications, with prompts for you to influence the game by interacting with stranded astronaut character Taylor.


The first-person shooter and the touchscreen are not natural bedfellows: Midnight Star has rethought the genre.

Midnight Star
iOS (Free + IAP)
First-person shooter (FPS) games can struggle on touchscreens, without a mouse and keyboard, or joypad,to control them. Midnight Star had an impressive crack at rethinking the genre to work well for touch, ensuring you can pinpoint-aim while moving.

Minecraft: Pocket Edition
Android/iOS/Windows Phone(4.99/4.99/5.39)
An obvious choice, perhaps, but even for seasoned players, Minecraft is capable of constant surprises as you explore its blocky landscapes. The game that forged a new genrefrom open-world crafting and one whose mobile version is improving fast.

Monument Valley
Android/iOS/Windows Phone(2.99 + IAP)
Some parts of Monument Valley are familiar but its theway this architectural puzzler puts them together that feels so fresh. You have to slide, twist and flip the scenery in its geometrically beautiful levels to solve themazes. Wonderful.

Motion Tennis
Android/iOS (Free + IAP/3.99)
Remember how you could play tennis on Nintendos Wii by swinging your arms in the real world? Motion Tennis performs a similar trick with your smartphone and an Apple TVor Chromecast plugged into your TV. Youll need a firmgrip on your phone, mind.

Neko Atsume: Kitty Collector
Android/iOS (Free + IAP)
The worlds only as far as were aware cat-collecting game. This Japanese game isas quirky as they come: youplace food in your garden to attract cats, logging themina virtual catbook and hoping forrarities. Cute and very addictive.

New Star Soccer
Android/iOS/Windows Phone (Free + IAP)
You can play FIFA on your smartphone or tablet, and its impressive, but New StarSoccer has done the bestjob of rethinking footballfor the small screen. Retro graphics belie deeply addictive gameplay and pixel-perfect touch controls.

Papa Sangre II
iOS (3.99)
Another older game whose ambition has yet to be bettered: Papa Sangre II is played with your ears. You explore its creepy afterlife world through sound alone, with monsters and traps toavoid, and the voice of SeanBean guiding you (youhope) to safety.

Papers, Please
iOS (5.99)
Papers, Please makes you a border guard for the fictional dictatorship of Arstotzka, telling its story through scanned papers and shiftytravellers. Bleak but thought-provoking, it may even shape your views on real-life immigration debates.

Android/iOS (Free + IAP)
PrideFest may not look thatinnovative: its a familiar city-building social game. Whats new is its focus: it celebrates the lesbian, gay,bisexual, transgender andqueer (LGBTQ) community, with Pride carnivals central to the gameas your city revives.

Android/iOS/Windows Phone(2.99/2.99/3.09)
A love letter to trees, according to its app store listing, Prune is one of the most relaxing games youll play, but also one of the mostimaginative. You havetogrow your tree with gentle swipes onthescreen, seeking out the sunlight.

Race the Sun
iOS (3.99)
You may have seen futuristicracing games beforebut Race the Sun comes with a clever concept:the world that youzip yoursolar glider through changes every day,as you race constantly against the sunset. Its very hard but rewarding too.

Android/iOS (Free + IAP)
Roblox has been describedasgamings equivalent of YouTube: whereplayers make their owngames and share themwith the community. The results can be brilliant: even a quick browse will revealafew dozen that youllwant to play.

Ryan Norths To BeOrNotToBe
Android/iOS (4.88/4.49)
Shakespeare diehards beware: this game lovingly takes a sledgehammer to the play Hamlet, reimagining it as a second-person nonlinear branching narrative format. Its part book and part game, and always mischievously entertaining.

Scribblenauts Unlimited
Android / iOS (3.96 + IAP/3.99 + IAP)
A colourful puzzle-adventure with a startling twist: your characters magic notebook, which summons any object you want in an attempt to solve puzzles.Itshould be impossible but thesystem cancope with most things your imagination comes up with.

iOS (2.29 + IAP)
Another clever idea: a puzzlegame based on rotating objects to make shadow shapes on a wall. Yes, one of them is a rabbit, shadow puppet fans, but there are plenty more to provide a challenge. And forthose who find it tough, you can buy hints.

Skylanders SuperChargers
iOS (Free + IAP)
Activisions Skylanders games and their physical toys have been big hits withchildren. The latest iOSversion breaks boundariesby matching itsconsole versions and alsowith its physical tabletstand and portal thatyou buy separately.

Spider: Rite of the ShroudedMoon
Android/iOS (1.61/2.29)
Games where you play a spider are pretty thin on the ground but this makes the life of an arachnid a bewitching experience. You creep around a mysterious manor catching insects but also solving the mystery of why the mansion has been abandoned.

iOS (2.29)
Another inventive new approach to puzzle games. Here, you start with a blank black screen. Tap, and it divides in half. Keep tapping and it keeps dividing, according to logic that becomes clear as you play. Bends your brain inside out, in a good way.


Spy_Watch: use your Apple Watch to direct agents in the field.

iOS (99p)
One of the early examples of a game created just for smartwatches, this puts AppleWatch owners in chargeof their own espionageagency. Your spyreports in from the field onyour watch via notifications, and you directthem on missions.

iOS (79p)
Another puzzle game that involves matching three things of the same colour, butwith some inventive twists, Swapperoos uniqueness comes in the different rules by which certain tiles play, as well asfreeform stages that vary each time you play.

The Room Three
Android/iOS (3.99)
All three The Room games could qualify for this feature:they offer tactile physical puzzles to solve, tailor-made for touchscreensrather than any other gaming device. TheRoom Three is the bestlooking yet, with ingenious puzzles to solve.

The Sailors Dream
iOS (2.99)
Any game from developer Simogo is guaranteed to thinkwell outside the norm.The Sailors Dream is as mucha story as a game: asailors life refractedthrougha hazy filterof narrative and music.Its unlikeanything elseon mobile.

This War of Mine
Android/iOS (10.99)
The innovation in This War ofMine is that it puts you intoa war game but youre not playing the soldiers, ratherthe civilians trying tosurvive in a war-torn city. You craft, trade and scavenge for your life, withsome tough decisions to make.

Thomas Was Alone
Android/iOS (10p/79p)
One of the few games wherearectangle takes thetitle role and certainly the best story of the lot. This minimalist game aboutfriendship and jumpingpairs stripped-downgameplay with a storythat grabs you and doesnt let go until the end.

Toca Blocks
Android/iOS (2.99)
Aimed at children, this is as much an open-ended creativetoy as a game, with noscores or specific goals. Itslike a side-on Minecraft, with kids able to build and destroy different kinds of blocks to create anything theylike, with superheroes thrown in, too.

Twofold Inc
Android/iOS (2.99)
Another example of a developer finding new shapesinto which to twist thematch-three puzzle genre.Your task is to connect same-coloured tiles, emptying bars at the top of the screen, while planning several moves ahead. Its brain-dizzyingly clever.

Android/iOS (Free + IAP)
Vainglorys innovation lies in bringing one of the most hardcore game genres multiplayer online battle arena(MOBA) to touchscreen devices. It worksbeautifully, too, with the fast response times andthe frenetic action fans ofthegenre demand.

You Must Build a Boat
Android/iOS (2.29)
Endless-runner games have been popular on mobile since the excellent Canabalt. You Must Build a Boat does a great job of twisting the genre into a new shape, working in match-three puzzleelements as well as clever power-ups and personalisation.

Zombies, Run!
Android/iOS/Windows Phone (Free/Free/1.49 + IAP)
There are plenty of apps trying to get you jogging but how many of them involve being chased by zombies? Thats the sharp idea behind Zombies, Run! but its more than just scary sound effects: theres a great story here thatwill help you stick with it.


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