40. The House of Da Vinci
The brilliance of The Room games — which you'll read about in this list's top five — have inspired other developers to create detailed, tactile puzzle games in which the player moves from scene to scene, manipulating the environment. The House of Da Vinci is the pick of the bunch: you can expect 10 hours of twisting dials, turning cogs, flipping switches and combining ornate objects in its Renaissance world, each challenge trickier than the last.
It looks and sounds excellent, and the story, which follows the work of the enigmatic Leonardo Da Vinci, pulls you in from the start with sharp writing and an urgent pace. Some of the items you find are fiddly, but the pay-off of solving its clever, mechanical puzzles is always worth it.
39. Mushroom 11
Mushroom 11 is quietly one of the best puzzle-platformers of the past 10 years. It came to PC first, but mobile feels like its natural home thanks to its tactile movement system. You move a gooey blob by destroying bits of it: smear one side of it with your thumb and the blob will change shape, the material you’ve arreased appearing on the other side, propelling you forward.
It’s intuitive, and the puzzles are clever. In one, you split your blob in half, sending one part to weigh down a power button while the other half slips through a door that’s just opened. In another, you morph your blob into a ramp to send a rolling bale of hay across a gap, slithering across after it.
Developer Untame knows exactly how and when to vary the pace—some puzzles require you to stop and think, while in others there’s no time for planning because you have to quickly transform your blob to stick a tricky landing, or avoid explosives shot out of a menacing, spiked wheel. It never stops surprising you for its full five hours, and you’ll want to go back and play it again to see if there were other ways you could’ve passed each challenge.
38. Pocket City
Price: Free or £3.49/$3.99 for the full version
A flexible city builder that’s powerful enough to let you build the town of your dreams but still easy to pick up and understand. The touch controls are simple and intuitive, and it never bogs you down with needless icons and menus, only presenting you with what you need to know at any given moment. Buildings and services unlock quickly, so you always have a new toy to play with, and once you get a picture in your mind about what you want to build it’s dangerously hard to rip yourself away. It’s like the mobile version of Sim City that EA never gave us.
37. Cultist Simulator
Genre: Narrative card game
A deep, addictive card game about setting up your own cult, sacrificial rituals and all. Through tight writing—no more than a sentence or two at a time—Cultist Simulator brings its twisted version of 1920s London to life, sucking you further into its world with every fresh start.
It’s a complex game that doesn’t really explain itself, but learning how it works is part of its appeal. Starting with just one card, you quickly work your way up to dozens, and you get better by experimenting with their interactions. Placing ‘Health’ in ‘Work’ slot will set you up for a day of manual labour—doing the same with ‘Passion’ will make you paint, for example.
Soon, you’ll be using these systems to send your followers on assassination missions, or enter a dream world that brings you ever-closer to immortality. It’s full of lore snippets to flesh out your journey, and the number of variables, which include pesky detectives trying to stop your progress, means that Cultist Simulator feels different every time you play it.
36. Lara Croft GO
The best GO game Square Enix has made, Lara Croft asks you to raid perilous ruins for ancient artefacts. Just like Hitman GO, you swipe to move as you make your way through levels. Unlike Hitman, you’re avoiding turn-based traps and whirling sword blades, and you’re also scaling cliffs from the start. That verticality makes it feel more varied, which is why this ranks higher than Agent 47’s efforts.
Tombs look luscious, particularly when the sun leaks in through cracks in a wall, and the puzzles constantly introduce new mechanics to make it feel fresh. It’s the perfect portable Tomb Raider experience.
35. Layton: Curious Village
It used to be that Curious Village was the only one of the much-loved Professor Layton puzzle games available on Android, but last year Diabolical Box (aka Pandora’s Box) made its way to the Play Store too. This is still the place to start: it’s the first in the series, one of the best in terms of its puzzles, and a HD remaster to boot. Curious Village’s cutesy anime presentation and simple premise – Professor Layton and his young assistant must solve a mystery in a quirky town – belies the complexity of the puzzles ahead.
Everyone you meet in St. Mystere has a brain teaser to solve, and they’re all individually crafted. You’ll complete logic puzzles and word games, spatial challenges and riddles, and when you’re done with one you’re only 30 seconds from the next.
The puzzles are not so difficult that you’ll be scratching your head for hours, but they’re challenging enough that it feels satisfying to figure them out without using the hint system, which is always there if you get into trouble. It’s a polished, fun puzzle game that everyone, mobile gamer or not, will enjoy. Play it, then try Diabolical Box.
34. Ace Attorney: Dual Destinies
Objection? Overruled. This visual novel about being the legendary lawyer Phoenix Wright is worth the hefty price tag thanks to its funny dialogue, constant plot twists and smooth touch controls.
You won’t find a single boring character on show, from your enthusiastic underlings to the compulsive liars on the witness stand. Piecing together the evidence for each case is never difficult, but you still feel smart when you draw out a key contradiction, and watching Wright deliver his rambunctious soliloquies—complete with flashy animations—never gets old. The story is over-the-top and silly, but that’s all part of the charm.
Originally a 3DS game, the touch controls work perfectly for the mobile port, and selecting the evidence you want to scrutinise is easy. If you play it and want more, Capcom has a few other Ace Attorney games available, and all of them are worth a whirl.
33. Desert Golfing
A lonely, meditative golf game without microtransactions or opponents: it’s just you, your ball, and endless miles of sand.
What makes Desert Golfing so addictive is how it never kicks you out of its world. From the minute you boot up the app you’re in the desert, and as soon as you’ve finished one hole the camera pans to the right to reveal the next flag. You can’t restart, so your only option is to embrace any mistakes your make, watching your total shot count tick up as you plod from hole to hole.
Golf is a notoriously frustrating sport, and golf games on mobile are usually no different. But Desert Golf doesn’t care about your score, and the feeling that nobody else is watching makes it a soothing space to spend half an hour.
32. You Must Build a Boat
Genre: Match three meets RPG
You Must Build a Boat starts you out in a dinky dinghy with only a skeleton and a zombie as your crewmates – but eventually, you'll be the captain of your own magnificent cruiser. It’s the sequel to 10000000 (another game worth playing), and like its predecessor, it’s a frantic match-three puzzler that has you shifting entire rows and columns instead of individual tiles.
You can’t afford to take it slow, because your explorer is ploughing through a simplistic 2D dungeon at the top of the screen, and you’ll have to quickly line up combos to help him persevere against a wide variety of monsters that you can later recruit to your ship's crew, or dodge traps that fly in from the right of the screen.
Unlike in 10000000, you can queue up your next move before your current one finishes, which makes it feel far smoother, and your objectives – such as finding a particular item – take on more significance. Each one gives you better rewards but hampers you in some way, making traps harder to avoid, for example. It’s little tweaks like this that make it the perfect sequel: it’s everything that we loved about 10000000, but bigger, brighter, and more involved.
31. Thimbleweed Park
Genre: Point and click adventure
Thimbleweed Park creators Ron Gilbert and Gary Winnick made classic adventure games The Secret of Monkey Island and Maniac Mansion – so you know it’s going to be good. You’ll spend most of your time with agents Ray and Reyes uncovering an increasingly bizarre mystery in a small town, but in total you’ll control five characters, including a potty-mouthed clown who lives alone in disused circus. The writing is smart, but the puzzles are smarter: some are devilishly hard requiring multiple character switches and several objects to solve, but when the solution pops into your head you’ll feel like a genius. Its relatively open world means you’ll always have another challenge to tackle if you get stuck.
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