Even if circumstances in 2020 forced us all to be relatively stationary, it was a great year for mobile games. Amid new game consoles and the continued success of the Nintendo Switch, you could have plenty of fun with nothing more than your iOS or Android device.
The GameSpot staff decided on some of our absolute favorite mobile games of the year below. From fresh takes on classic genres to entirely new and experimental games, you can sink dozens of hours into these games from the comfort of your bed or toilet.
To see more of GameSpot’s favorite games of the year, be sure to check out our Best of 2020 hub. There you’ll find roundups of our favorite games for PlayStation, Xbox, PC, and Switch. You can also check out our top games of 2020. Each of our ten finalists will have a dedicated article describing why it stood out. Then on Thursday, December 17, we’ll reveal which one is named GameSpot’s Best Game of 2020.
The so-called “gacha” game has gotten a bad reputation, arguably deservedly. The name is defined by its monetization hooks, not the core mechanics or genre conventions. So Genshin Impact, a free-to-play gacha game that also feels like a full-fledged action RPG, gained notoriety in part for what it didn’t do. If you want, you can play all the way through the lengthy, well-crafted game without paying a cent.
But even outside of that notable difference with many other mobile games, Genshin Impact is a lovely Zelda-like in its own right. Clearly inspired by Breath of the Wild, it introduces a lush open world to explore, complete with dungeons and even a glider. Your variety of powers is expressed through the different characters who have their own weapons and elemental magicks. And adding depth to the game, swapping between them lets you stack elemental powers on top of each other for powerful combat effects.
And if you do decide to spend a little–or pay with the currency that’s generated through regular play–you’re rewarded with a ton of colorful characters who all have a striking amount of variety. It’s a package that feels like it could have done well at a budget price, but instead, it stands as a model of how to do F2P hooks right.
Word games are well-suited to mobile platforms, but there are countless options out there, making it a notable accomplishment to stand out. SpellTower+ builds on the foundation of its predecessor in small but clever ways that make it among the very best of the genre that you can play.
It retains the striking, minimalist look of its predecessor and combines it with a matching soundtrack–nothing too obtrusive, just catchy songs that keep the proceedings feeling light and fun (and which somehow never get old). The returning modes from the first game see some new adjustments, such as bonus tiles that provide you with new considerations in how to construct words, letting you rack up higher scores.
But the real highlights are the new assortment of modes to complement the existing offerings. Search asks you to create the best word you can using a highlighted letter on the board, while Blitz adds a timed element to the standard word-making as you’ll have to rush to avoid having the board fill up. There’s a delightful assortment of relaxed modes, more intense ones like Blitz, and daily competitions that let you see how you stack up on the leaderboards. While the free version offers plenty of fun, the premium one and its wide assortment of modes will guarantee this a place on the Home screen of word game fans.
Good Sudoku is, like SpellTower+, developed by Zach Gage, who again puts a distinct spin on an established concept. But what sets it apart from the average sudoku app that you may have tried or looked past is how Good Sudoku is intent on getting you to understand and enjoy sudoku.
It does this not just with a solid tutorial and note-taking system (though those are included as well), but with an intelligent hint system that provides you with just the right amount of help to ensure you aren’t losing the satisfaction of solving a puzzle. It also has options to do away with some of the busywork, helping to fill in squares where you’ve eliminated any other possibilities.
A huge number of puzzles are available of all difficulties, including some that require advanced techniques that are detailed in-game but that we can never hope to utilize. Still, whatever type of sudoku experience you’re looking to get–even developing an appreciation in the first place–Good Sudoku is your best option, thanks to these features and its pleasant visual style, soundtrack, and sound effects.
Song of Bloom is a brilliant puzzle game that revolves around repetition and discovery. To share much would be to spoil the joy of playing it for yourself, but at a high level, it presents you with a series of abstract images and environments to interact with, and it’s your job to find the various “exits” that allow you to unravel the narrative.
The path of your journey is initially limited, represented as a few short branches on a tree. The initial steps within leave you confused and at a loss, but as you begin to poke and prod at the possibilities, you’ll uncover secrets and pathways and the tree that serves as your hub world grows, its branches stretching further to give more life to your story. Small hints will help to nudge you in the direction you’re meant to go, but Song of Bloom leaves enough room for experimentation to ensure that each discovery you make feels earned and satisfying.
These puzzles are accompanied by an intriguing story and performance from its protagonist that will push you to keep digging through its many crevasses (though the enjoyment of solving its puzzles will ensure you keep going, too). Suffice it to say it’s an experience that makes a strong case for it being a mobile game, and it’s one that you should absolutely play for yourself.
Slay the Spire fuses roguelikes and deckbuilders to come up with something altogether new. Faced with a gauntlet of enemy encounters and the occasional rest stop, you begin with a core deck and start your journey through the spire. As you go, you’ll randomly find new cards and even get prompts to burn parts of your existing deck. The journey through Slay the Spire is one of constant refinement, finding new cards, leveling up existing ones, and removing the ones that you no longer need, as you face ever-tougher challenges and a hazardously dwindling health bar. Reaching the end is no easy feat, but even once you’ve conquered all the spire has to offer the random nature of its gameplay will tempt you to come back again and again.
In GameSpot’s Slay the Spire review, which gave it 9/10, Chris Pereira wrote, “Because starting up another run and trying something new and different is such a tantalizing prospect, experimentation is encouraged. While it’s still disappointing to fail before reaching the end, more often than not that failure can be traced back to a specific decision or series of decisions–be it an ill-advised card acquisition, the choice to upgrade a card rather than heal, or something else. You never know what the next layer of the spire will bring, but the next delightful quandary to tackle is always right around the corner.”