IGR’s Top 10 Best Mobile Indie Games of 2020
Every year, in choosing our mobile list, we try to avoid just listing ports to smaller devices, instead selecting mobile-designed games or ones that play best on mobile. We are also pretty strict on keeping it to games actually released in the year of the list.
Further, we endeavor to cover as wide a range of genres as we can, so they may not all appeal to you, but some will and some will to others. We feel, for various reasons, that the following are excellent examples of some of the best indie mobile releases in 2020. Enjoy!
by Cipher Prime
“What may be the last game from Cipher Prime certainly makes a heck of a curtain call. IGR has been reviewing their games since the beginning, and they have always pushed the envelope in design and ideas. Lineweight, which we were personally shown by the devs at IndieCade 2019, is a super slick, thumb-scrolling social text adventure for the smartphone generation. Emergent dialogues and creative visual veering take you through a variety of scenarios to create a thought-provoking framework for future hybrids of interactive narrative for evolving form factors.” ~ Indie-Game-Freak
Platforms: iOS, Android
9. Bright Paw
by Radical Forge
Heavily inspired by games like Lara Croft GO, this card-based movement puzzle game puts players in the shoes – or rather paws – of a cat exploring the secret lair of a James Bond-style villain. Despite the seeming tension of avoiding armed security robots and kitten-torching laser walls, Bright Paw is, in fact, mellow and relaxing, thanks in equal parts to the calming, British-accented narrator and a forgiving puzzle approach that allows you to rewind after feline-frying failures.
(It may be worth noting that while some players have reported crashing and slow-down issues on the Android platform, Radical Forge has been responsive to such issues and released several updates intended to fix them.)
Platforms: Android (also available for Nintendo Switch, Windows PC, Mac, Steam)
by Mujo Games, Stuffed Wombat
“Ord.‘s novel concept of “choose your own adventure stories distilled into single-word prompts” makes it absolutely shine on mobile. It feels as atmospheric and absorbing as crawling into bed with a good book on a rainy night, leaving your brain to paint the scene as you navigate your way through one of its several branching stories. Equal parts funny, wondrous, and sometimes even terrifying, you’ll keep coming back even as you consistently take wrong turns and die in a myriad of ways that would make Zork blush.” ~ TheOvermatt
Platforms: iOS, Android (also available for Nintendo Switch, Windows PC, Mac, Linux, Steam)
Cartographers, from Keith Matejka’s extremely popular and well-regarded Roll Player board game world, hit the tabletop scene by storm with its lightning-fast easy play for one to 100 players (and it can easily handle more if you want; have the whole world play, if you want!).
In this fantasy-themed draw-card-and-write-game, you will be drawing – or in the digital case, tapping and selecting – shapes like Tetrominos from a deck of cards before each season ends. Various scoring qualifiers are drawn for each game, so it is never the same twice. The amazing thing about playing Cartographers is to see how five different people – with the exact same victory conditions – end up with completely different maps by the end.
The port is clean and competent but may be easier to grok for those who have played the paper-and-marker version first. That said, you will pick it up soon enough and enjoy something a little different from parts that might seem otherwise familiar!
The sound design is aggressive, epic and perfectly suited for a mobile device. It all sounds like one of them newfangled ringtones (but not so much as to be annoying). It plays only when stuff happens, too, so you don’t have to worry about it being constantly intrusive.
If there’s one gripe, it’s that the game is a bit granular for a smaller screen – even on a Samsung Galaxy S10+, it needs a bit of squinting to get it all – but on a tablet, you are golden.
Platforms: iOS, Android
6. Wide Ocean Big Jacket
Practically the Platonic ideal of a “slice-of-life” piece, Wide Ocean Big Jacket is a relatively brief short story of a family on a camping trip, complete with bird-watching, hot dog roasting and campfire ghost stories. Realistic, charming and well-written characters make this game far more memorable than its seemingly prosaic concept might suggest.
A simple control scheme and chunky, stylized visuals that effectively capture the feel of a beachside campground make this one especially well-suited for mobile play (and also earned developers Turnfollow the Jury Prix Award at IndieCade 2020).
With a memorable, charmingly flawed cast of characters that you’ll feel like you know personally after just an hour or two, Wide Ocean Big Jacket should appeal especially to fans of games like Oxenfree and Night in the Woods (albeit without the supernatural elements).
Platforms: iOS (also available for Nintendo Switch, Windows PC, Mac, Linux, Steam)
by Dire Wolf Digital
You wouldn’t think a tabletop game about little anthropomorphic animals in the woods would be so complicated – or so tense and engaging – but at heart, this is a war game (and a brilliant one, at that). The mobile version smooths out some of the complexities and keeps track of the rules so you don’t have to, leaving you all that extra concentration for scheming against your fellow furry (or feathered) would-be Machiavellis of the meadow.
“Root is a very hard-to-explain asynchronous game, and Dire Wolf has been quick to patch and update the app since launch to make it even better. With a great accompanying music score to boot, the diigital port will help to clarify and tighten the rules for those many, many people who have been playing the board game (one of the highest-rated on BoardGameGeek for the past few years. Technical details aside, Root is a world rife with wonderfully designed factions and perfect illustrative art for its woodland characters. Though there is nothing like having the wooden Meeples in hand, it is great to see this come to digital.” ~ Indie-Game-Freak
Platforms: iOS, Android (also available for Nintendo Switch, Windows PC, Steam)
by Amanita Design
Czech studio Amanita Design is a favorite here at IGR, thanks to the bizarre, playful worlds they create, their talent for wordless storytelling and – perhaps most of all – the sheer joyful weirdness of their games.
Creaks takes things in a darker direction, both thematically and visually – it’s an exploration of a crumbling, dimly-lit manor full of haunted furniture – and retains the hyper-creative qualities that made us fall in love with so many of the devs’ previous offerings. There’s that sense of a living world (even if the concept of hungry, child-munching furniture is a little more menacing than a fruit-obsessed dust bunny), the secrets to discover, and the way the game teaches you its mechanics by letting you play it.
And as always, there’s that wordless narration, just as effective “showing” a haunted house story here as previous games were at slapstick comedy and enhanced by Joe Acheson’s Hidden Orchestra project.
Creaks is also Amanita Design’s first game outside of the point-and-click genre, instead opting for a side-scrolling puzzle game a bit like Inside. Though it’s been described as a platformer, it’s by no means twitchy, and a limited set of controls make it an excellent choice for mobile play (it was actually released for iOS by surprise before coming out on any other platforms).
Platforms: iOS (also available for Nintendo Switch, Sony PS4, Microsoft Xbox, Windows PC, Mac, Steam)
3. Meteorfall: Krumit’s Tale
There has been a seemingly ubiquitous trend of hipster, post-flat-design card-based battlers with Pendleton Ward-inspired graphic styles and funny voices. Developer Slothwerks, however, rules the roost right now, making a real go of it with half a dozen games in just a few years – each with a different idea and way to play. Of those, however, Krumit’s Tale is most like its predecessor Meteorfall, and that is all a good thing.
Meteorfall was one of our favorites of 2019, and Krumit rachets it up, giving you a simple grid to battle your way through with an ever-expanding deck of actions, equipment, tricks, treats, power-ups, buffs and debuffs as you slash and cast your way through an amazing and legitimately hilarious roster of baddies and booty to see how far you can venture through the madcap world. This is made for mobile, and it shows what a great medium it can be when done well; one-finger dungeon-crawls for all.
Platforms: iOS, Android (also available for Windows PC, Mac, Steam)
2. Finished! by Friedemann Friese
by Eric Snider
“Where do I start with this hell-beast? At first blush, Friedmann’s game looks like a casual solitaire variant for people stuck at work about…people stuck at work. In their cubicle. Reaching for too many candies. Because they are bored out of their minds. But the creator of tabletop games Friday and Power Grid (two of the most highly praised board games of all time) has something way more sophisticated in store for you. This game does the same trick as Aeon’s End, where you never shuffle your deck; you simply need to sequence it from one to 48 before eight coffees have been drunk (the 48 card).
Some cards let you bring back the last two and sort your hand. Others let you move your current hand into the future…or to the front of the past. It is brutal, mesmerizing and genius. For me, Finished! is quantum theory: the card game. It is Leonard Susskind fighting Stephen Hawking over whether the perimeters of black holes capture or destroy all information, leaving us gazing back across spacetime like a 3D hologram from a 2D paradigm (true story).
Moreover, the digital port nails it, adding procedurally-generated music that gets just a little more frantic as your hand starts to time out. Pure brilliance in the most unassuming package. Extra points for that exact reason – and for the point he makes with that. Now get back to work.” ~ IndieGameFreak
1. A Monster’s Expedition
by Draknek & Friends
A Monster’s Expedition stands out, at least in part, by how much the developers – previously known for similar puzzle game A Good Snowman Is Hard to Build – have done with such a seemingly simple mechanic. You push trees over. That’s the whole game. Except that pushing trees over expands into building bridges and even rafts, and the puzzles increase incrementally in complexity, a perfect difficulty curve that adds challenge without ever making things seem out of reach.
The way the game is set up – a series of small islands to travel between, each with a few puzzles to solve – makes this particularly well-suited for mobile play, since if you’re stuck on one puzzle, you can back-track to a different one to give your subconscious some time to work, rather than simply quitting in frustration. Little quality-of-life additions like level resets and the ability to rewind moves help make things feel like developers Draknek & Friends are on your side, encouraging you rather than competing against you.
And the calming, pastoral post-apocalyptic vibe – you’re a sasquatch exploring the long-gone remnants of humanity – and simple but colorful graphics make this an easy and pleasant experience to sink your teeth and your time into.
As TheOvermatt put it in his review, “A Monster’s Expedition is an essential puzzle game up there with the likes of Baba Is You. It’s gorgeous, it’s smart, it’s fun, it’s relaxing, it’s just flat-out great.”
Platforms: iOS (also available for Windows PC, Mac, Linux, Steam)
The Innsmouth Case
by Robot Pumpkin Games
From the first page, Robot Pumpkin Games apologize for H.P. Lovecraft’s problematic beliefs but reassure you that they are a company that cares about inclusivity while also being fans of the weird worlds Lovecraft’s mind invented. From there, you are treated to an actually funny and well-written choose-your-own-text adventure with some basic atmospheric music and nicely done sepia illustrations.
The best part about The Innsmouth Case – besides its constant anachronistic, breaking-the-fourth-wall humor, which really does have some laugh-out-loud moments – is that decisions appear to mean something rather than simply giving players the illusion of choice. At the time of this writing, the game has less than 600 downloads on Android, and somehow that makes how good it is even more appealing. We love dark, weird little corners of the universe to explore…
Platforms: iOS, Android (also available for Windows PC, Mac, Steam)