The 20 Best Mobile Games to Play Endlessly on Your Phone in 2020
Believe it or not, if you own a smartphone and have even touched Candy Crush, you're a video game player. Contrary to what Reddit threads say about "dirty casuals" who dabble in mobile games for fun, you stand with us, a perfect and fully formed Gamer™. Welcome to the club.
Sure, there are few gaming markets that are as controversial when it comes to microtransactions and over-saturation than the mobile gaming market. But that issue aside, you can find quite a lot of stellar downloads for your handy palm pilot in the App Store (or in Apple Arcade) and for Android. These titles range from free, to flat rate, to, yes, a few with microtransactional systems that ask you to pay for stuff in-game, which is not always a terrible model. You might as well download a collection of the newest releases, retro throwbacks, mind puzzlers, and more to pass the time.
So, when you don't have the wherewithal to boot up a console, the mental fortitude to read a book, or the apathy to stare at a wall all afternoon, take your mind off the world with the 20 best mobile games to play in 2020.
If you long for the days of juicing your dial-up connection to waste hours on Adobe Flash-running sites with names like putput4free.com, then the first mobile gaming move to make is adding the GamePigeon extension to your iMessage library. It's loaded with simplistic, time-passing activities like pool, poker, and Connect 4. You start a game with someone over iMessage, and you'll each get an alert when it's your turn to make a move. No flair and no fuss. Honestly, it's a far better way to make memories over digital devices than Zoom. Shit-talking recommended.
Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp
If all were fair and just in this world, you'd be able to play Animal Crossing: New Horizons on mobile. But this world is something of a downer. Fortunately, Nintendo preempted the release of New Horizons with 2017's Pocket Camp, which has nearly as much heart as the console title. Collect crap, make friends, dodge loan payments, and furnish your campsite—all that Animal Crossing charm comes to you sans the $60.
For more one-with-the-earth types, there's the cult-classic farming sim Stardew Valley. Its premise is simple: Inherit a plot of land, tend to its crops and livestock. What makes it joyful is its beautiful art style, its delightful soundtrack, and the engrossing tasks you take on around your farm and the community. You'll likely find if more relaxing than a mug of bourbon hot chocolate drunk next to a crackling fireplace. It'll last longer, too.
The New York Times Spelling Bee
You might've seen it on Twitter: This honeycomb of letters with the yellow hexagon in the middle, and users jokingly (or genuinely) angry that, per the rules, they can't string together words like "jawn" or "chompion" or "grogu" for points. The New York Times was already a gaming stalwart with its Crossword, but in the last few years it expanded its gaming center to include treats like the daily Spelling Bee challenge, which is good, wholesome fun that also makes you smarter, probably. You can play a limited version without a subscription, but the subscription is recommended.
Solar Explorer: New Dawn
A futuristic take on retro arcade game Lunar Lander, this graphically impressive title has you piloting a spacecraft through the atmosphere and onto safe land so that you can save civilization. Deft reactions and an understanding of physics are a boon. Speaking of which: This could be a smart skill to acquire now rather than later, what with the whole "evacuation of the imploding Earth necessary for human survival" scenario that's impending, according to every sci-fi book and show ever written.
Mini Motorways + Mini Metro
I’ve lost so many hours and gained so much gray hair playing these two games, both from Dinosaur Polo Club. They cast you as a road or metro manager trying to help people of a city get from point A to point B. The visuals are gorgeous, and the short-spurt gameplay is addictive for your own commutes. The best part of this game is the total absence of microtransactions, meaning you can play as much as you want for as long as you want. (Mini Motorways is included in Apple Arcade.)
Mario Kart Tour
Nintendo has made some missteps with mobile gaming, and while Mario Kart Tour got some flak for microtransactions, it's honestly not as bad as all that. Mario Kart Tour is an absolute blast to play, and it now even features online multiplayer so you can race your friends—especially those friends who love casual gaming but don't invest in consoles. While it may not come close to the quality of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe on Switch, it's still a lot of that relationship-ruining Mario Kart fun that we love to see. The game is free to play, and can remain free to play unless you opt to buy gems to purchase characters from random pipes. While this loot box system is inherently flawed, the game does a solid job of reigning in the odds. It's nowhere near the most offensive microtransaction system we’ve seen.
Exit the Gungeon
The sequel to the stellar Enter the Gungeon, Exit the Gungeon hails from the unparalleled indie publisher Devolver Digital. It is a self-proclaimed “Bullet Hell Dungeon Climber,” meaning it features an array of shooting and slashing, with tons of loot and fast-paced progression. I’ve played the hell out of this series on consoles, and now to have it anytime on my phone is a dream come true. Exit the Gungeon is currently only on Steam, Switch, and Apple Arcade, but chances are it’ll grace Android and Google Play in the near future.
Hatoful Boyfriend is a pigeon dating simulator in which you can fail at love and die, and really feel like shit about it. It is also from the aforementioned Devolver. If the whole "pigeon dating simulator" thing didn't sell you, I’m not exactly sure what will, but it has phenomenal writing and works as sort of a puzzle game, challenging you to unlock all the different endings. It’s hilarious and does not take itself seriously in the slightest—ideal for picking up and putting back down when you need a good laugh.
It’s here, it's there, it's everywhere. You can quite literally play Fortnite on anything. Hell, I wouldn't be surprised if they ported it to a Speak & Spell. The best part about Fortnite mobile is that it is cross-platform and enables cross-play, meaning you can play alongside your console and PC friends on your tablet or phone, and all your progress, skins, and other in-game assets will unite so you're always making headway. This game is a little tougher to play without a controller extension, and the mobile version is nowhere near as polished as the console and PC versions, but it’s still Fortnite at its core. Plus, it's pretty damn cool that such a sophisticated, 100-player game can run in our hands.
Monument Valley 2
The whole Monument Valley series is just absolutely beautiful. It’s dressed in some of the most artful and polished visuals in gaming as a whole, let alone mobile gaming. And it's therapeutic, allowing you to lose yourself and focus on something that brings up emotions from limited storytelling. Do yourself a favor and turn your phone to "do not disturb" while playing to fully digest it. Monument Valley deserves that.
This game, the one that lit the world on fire for a summer, still has a surprisingly large number of hardcore fans. While Pokémon GO may not be great for extended periods stuck indoors, it's definitely a title that makes walking and getting out more fun. Plus, Pokémon Home has further integrated with Pokémon as a whole, and Pokémon GO soon will be supported on the Pokémon Home app, so you can collect Pokémon from all titles in one super Pokébank. This game really sparked a whole new wave of Pokémania.
The sandbox, pixelated builder that took gaming, and even more so YouTube, by storm is available on your phone. And much like Fortnite, it allows for cross-play, meaning if you want to play with your friends who are on PS4, Xbox, or PC, you can absolutely do so, which is ridiculously cool. Now, Minecraft comes at a price tag of $6.99, and while that's often more than people want to spend on mobile games, it's a steal for this title. Minecraft is one of the most chill, relaxing games out there, especially if you play in creative mode. Escape reality for a bit and lose yourself in your block-based world.
Hearthstone is one of the biggest card-based strategy games out there, and it's the perfect large-scale game to bring to phones. Utilizing characters from the World of Warcraft series, it requires intense, in-depth strategizing, with easy-to-handle controls and some extremely intricate deck builders. If you're into strategy titles, this is a must play.
Sayonara Wild Hearts
One of the most stylish games of 2019, Sayonara is an action-adventure title that puts a massive emphasis on music and rhythm. It's the closest you’ll get to feeling like you're playing through the experience of listening to an album. This is one of my favorite titles on Switch, and the fact that you can play a title of this artistic caliber on your phone says a lot about just how far mobile gaming has come. The music is great, and the gameplay is an absolute ball.
Words With Friends
Words With Friends is a frustrating spelling game that will make you want to end friendships and accuse your opponents of every type of cheating under the sun. The game encourages players to use only respectful language in the app, which is laughable. Yes, I lost in the first round of a WWF bracket started among the Esquire team. Anyway, it's a nice way to feel a little more connected to your friends and get some Scrabble smack talk going over the phone, especially in a period of social isolation.
Snapchat recently released a series of games that are playable in group chats—kind of like the GamePigeon extension, but in the Snapchat app. What's shocking is a lot of these games are really fun. There’s a Mario Party-esque title, a battle royale, and my personal favorite, a tennis game, plus a lot more. The games are pretty basic but utilize your bitmoji and some other cool Snap tech thrown in there. All said, it's a fun way to play multiplayer matches with friends without everyone needing to buy a console.
Marvel Contest of Champions
Remember how good Marvel vs. Capcom was (before, of course, its most recent release)? Well, this game is the closest you can get to that, just take out the Capcom. It's a great fighter with a ton of deep-cut Marvel characters and some truly magnificent costumes and alternatives. It feels like a title you’d play on a console. If you're a comic book nerd, or, like us, looking for something to do, it's definitely worth a try. Although we’d much prefer to have a true-to-form Marvel vs. Capcom: Contest of Champions.
This one is Tony Hawk's Pro Skater for your phone, kind of. Listen, we’ve made it abundantly clear that we’re skater bois here at Esquire. We talk about skateboarding all day, and we only play skateboarding games. Well, at least, we spend an unhealthy amount of time talking about skateboarding games. Skate City brings back that joy of stringing together combos and then utilizing timing to pull off awesome strings in a much more phone-friendly way. It’s one of our most-played Apple Arcade titles, and is easily worthy of the hype.
The app stores of the world are stacked with amazing retro titles, including a slew of Final Fantasy, Mega Man, and Sonic games, among other classics. They often come at more of a price than we’re used to, what with the free-to-play or subscription models that most phone games utilize. But it's absolutely worth it to have some of these titles in your back pocket. If I could only give you one mobile game recommendation, this would be it.
This story originally appeared on Esquire.com. Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.