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10 seriously innovative mobile games that redefine smartphone gaming

(Image credit: Mountains)

As mobile games expand in popularity, consumers are flooded with match-three games and other forgettable titles. There’s plenty of innovation to be found, though, for those willing to dive deep. Here we present the most innovative and creative mobile games around, the ones that really push the boundaries of what can be achieved on a smartphone, both in terms of technology and storytelling. 

1) Florence

Available on: Android, iOS
Genre: Narrative
Developer: Mountains
Price: $2.99 / £2.99
Released: 2018

Florence tells the story of the titular character, a 25-year old woman who is stuck in a mundane routine until she meets Krish, a cellist with big dreams, through beautifully drawn panels and some animated scenes. There’s no dialogue, and yet each story beat is intensely understood and felt. 

Players interact with slight puzzle elements in the game, some of which are quite clever (one moment has you shake your phone to develop polaroids). Others even help you feel the story more intensely. For example, you are literally putting together puzzle pieces as Florence stumbles over what to say on her first date with Krish. As the ease of their conversation and connection become apparent, the puzzles become simpler. The story of love and love lost is not a new tale, but the flair with which Florence tells a love story in a mobile game format is unforgettable.

2) Device 6

Available on: iOS
Genre: Adventure/Puzzler
Developer: Simogo
Price: $3.99 / £3.99
Released: 2013

Device 6 is a game that almost defies explanation. It’s perhaps most simply described as an interactive novella – though the player is only following the twisting narrative when they aren’t attempting to solve puzzles. The narrative is “twisting” not just because of unexpected plot developments, but the words themselves literally take the player through a haunted castle, sentences making paths and stairways for the player to venture through. 

The puzzle elements require players to not only read carefully, but also listen to musical and audio cues and use their Sherlock wits to get through. This is not a game for playing on-the-go, and needs your full attention.

3) Monument Valley 2

Available on: iOS, Android
Genre: Puzzler
Developer: ustwo games
Price: $4.99 / £4.99
Released: 2017

Monument Valley wowed critics and players alike with its colorful M.C. Escher inspired environments upon release in 2014. The sequel expanded upon the charm and puzzle elements of the first by having two controllable characters instead of just one.

Players will have to manipulate elements of the environment in perspective-bending fashion to navigate a mother-daughter pair through each level.

The puzzles are intriguing without being too difficult in such a way that would cause frustration; yet the satisfaction upon making it through each level is a joy to see, let alone work through.

4) Her Story

Available on: Android, iOS
Genre: Mystery/ Interactive Clips
Developer: Sam Barlow
Price: $3.99 / £3.99
Released: 2015

Her Story has players trying to unravel a murder mystery by searching a database of old police interviews featuring Hannah, a woman being questioned about the death of her husband, Simon. The clips are live action, and feature UK musician Viva Seifert, in an award-winning performance.

The player can search keywords (or really, any words) Hannah mentions to find new pieces of the interview, unveiling more of Her Story bit by bit with the unique gameplay mechanic.

As more clips surface, players may find themselves questioning the reliability of Hannah - though we won’t say more, as Her Story is better experienced than explained.

5) Peter Panic

Available on: Android, iOS
Genre: Musical/Adventure
Developer: James Marion
Price: Free (If you want to save progress it costs $2.99 / £2.99 to unlock that feature)
Released: 2016

If you love musical theatre and video games and haven’t heard of Peter Panic, you are in for a treat. Possibly the two unlikeliest hobbies to combine do so with incredible enthusiasm in this little free-to-play (but pay-to-save-progress) game.

Players help Peter revive his town’s community theatre by completing a series of rapid-fire mini-games, a la Warioware, before being treated to a musical number. The score is catchy and voice talent is lended by actual Broadway artists, including Emily Skeggs and Gideon Glick. There’s even a few game developer voice cameos, including Rami Ismail and Bennett Foddy.

6) A Dark Room

(Image credit: Doublespeak Games)

Mobile Devices: Android, iOS
Genre: Text
Developer: Doublespeak Games
Price: $1.99 / £1.99
Released: 2013

Sometimes, less really is more. This concept is perfectly illustrated — or rather, written — in A Dark Room. The simple mobile game gives text prompts to players, starting out with the lone sentence, “The fire is dead.” Players can then light and stoke the fire, wary of their depleting wood stores displayed to the side, before a stranger appears. Thus begins an adventure reminiscent of old-school text-based games, except now it’s available on your mobile device.

No images or flashy music taint the world that A Dark Room hints at, a departure from most mobile games of today.

Perhaps, though the most refreshing thing about A Dark Room is stated on its Google Play Store description: “No ads; No micro transactions; No data usage (playable without wifi); No elevated permissions.” 

7) Reigns: Her Majesty

Available on: Android, iOS
Genre: Strategy
Developer: Nerial
Price: $2.99 / £2.99
Released: 2017

In today’s world, swiping left or right for approval or denial is a part of the common vernacular because of popular hookup and dating app Tinder. Copycat meeting apps borrowed this feature soon after, and it was only a matter of time before a game followed suit.

Luckily for mobile game enthusiasts, the Reigns series set the standard by doing it with impeccable style. 2016’s Reigns had players swipe left and right to accept and reject the suggestions of the medieval king’s advisors. The followup, Reigns: Her Majesty, has players tackle the role of queen by once again swiping on decisions in an effort to balance the church, the populace, the military, and the economic stability of the monarchy. With its intriguing but simple gameplay mechanics and minimalist design, Reigns: Her Majesty is worth the download and should have players excited for the upcoming Reigns: Game of Thrones coming October.

8) Telling Lies

Available on: iOS
Genre: Strategy
Developer: Sam Barlow
Price: $6.99 / £4.99
Released: 2019

It might be a bit cheeky to include another title from developer Sam Barlow, but when both Telling Lies and Her Story are so good, you deserve to play them. Telling Lies takes the basic concept Her Story used – watching footage to unravel pieces of a story until you've got the entire thread – but instead uses it to tell a story about multiple characters, who are all somehow connected. However, the story is told over a number of years, and all might not be quite as it seems. 

You'll need to search for keywords to unearth different videos and work out who's saying what, and what exactly happens. However, you've got limited time to work through it all, as all the footage has been illicitly obtained from the NSA. You'll only get one side of a conversation at a time, so as the story unravels you'll eventually put it all together. It's rewardingly moreish. 

9) Pokemon Go

Available on: iOS, Android
Genre: Strategy
Developer: Sam Barlow
Price: Free
Released: 2016

Pokemon Go does something that few other games can do – bringing your Pokemon nostalgia and reinvigorating it on the device you carry with you everywhere. Pokemon Go fills your real world with Pokemon, turning local landmarks into Pokestops where you can gather supplies like potions and Pokeballs, or Pokemon Gyms where you can battle against other Pokemon Trainers. But of course, it also allows you to attempt to catch 'em all. Fill your Pokedex by catching Pokemon that will spawn in the real world. Whether you use the augmented reality option to catch your Pokemon against a real world backdrop, or just want to keep it all digital, there's nothing better than finding one you haven't added to your collection yet. And what's more, Niantic keeps adding new critters and features to the game so there's always a reason to check back in – if you're not already playing it on a daily basis. 

10) Fortnite

(Image credit: Epic Games)

Available on: iOS, Android
Genre: Strategy
Developer: Sam Barlow
Price: Free
Released: 2018

While Fortnite might not be the the most innovative in terms of genre, developer Epic Games has done some seriously awesome things in terms of mechanics and technologies that makes Fortnite a deserving member of this list. not only does it allow you to play with any of your Epic Games' friends, regardless of their platform – yes, including PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and PC – but it has a tonne of brilliant mechanics that really make it stand out. That includes brilliant visual audio cues that'll let you know if anyone's making noise around you, on-screen controllers that are easy to use and customise, as well as a game that's constantly evolving and delivering fresh content.