The best iOS games of 2018
People on social media enjoy saying 2018 was an awful year, but you’d never be able to tell it from the amazing selection of games that came to the iPhone and iPad. It was a year filled with fresh incarnations of old favorites, such as The Room: Old Sins, Alto’s Odyssey, and Reigns: Game of Thrones. But there were also surprises, such as Fortnite and its almost unbelievably effective port of its Mac and console counterparts. It was a year of art, of action, and optimism for the future of iOS as a gaming platform. From a pool of many worthy contenders, these games stand out ahead of all the rest.
Alto's Odyssey ($4.99)
Alto’s Odyssey is a game about maintaining momentum, so I’m not surprised it follows much the same design we saw in 2015’s beloved Alto’s Adventure. Back then, though, you were a snowboarder gliding down mountain peaks; in Odyssey, we’re sliding down slopes of sand in tranquil deserts.
It’s lovely, both in sound and sight. It’s deceptively simple, involving no more gameplay than tapping the screen to leap over rocks or pull tricks to gain momentum. And few other games do such a good job of mixing relaxation with exhilaration. When you’re in the groove, losing yourself in Odyssey’s minimalist music or the stylized scenery feels a bit like slipping into meditation.
Donut County ($4.99)
I’m always worried that donuts will be my ruin, but I’ve never imagined anything like the chaos in Donut County. In this brief but delightful puzzler, you deliver "donuts" that are actually movable holes that swell in size every time you use them to swallow something. Sometimes you’re swallowing chairs; sometimes you’re swallowing entire barns and hapless anthropomorphic citizens.
Donut County is never difficult, but it never fails to entertain thanks to creative physics puzzles and cutscenes featuring everyone affected by the donut disaster. And Apple itself certainly thinks Donut County is a treat: It called it the best iPhone game of the year.
Epic Games caught lightning in a bottle last year with its wildly popular battle-royale shooter Fortnite, and last March it jolted us when it managed to squeeze its digital blockbuster into the tiny confines of an iPhone. The shooting, movement, and building elements all work so well that this version leaves little doubt that Fortnite deserves many of the billions it earned in 2018.
Such a quality port would be impressive enough with a mobile-only game—like the worthy competitor PUBG Mobile, also released this year—but Epic manages to pull off these wonders with the same Fortnite account you use to play on consoles or desktops. You can even play with players on those systems, and frankly, that’s nothing short of epic.
The Room: Old Sins ($1.99)
I would have guessed The Room games would be running out of steam at this point, but The Room: Old Sins proves its 3D puzzles have lost little of the magic that first wowed us in 2012. In fact, Old Sins may be the best game of the series. In this case you’re digging through a creepy dollhouse to uncover its secrets, and you can tinker with individual rooms with the help of an eyepiece.
No other game really does as good of a job of making 3D objects feel weighty and real, and there’s a helpful hint system on hand if you ever get stuck. Don’t give up too easily, though, as the "aha" moments here rank among the best on the iPhone.
Stardew Valley ($7.99)
Stardew Valley is a pleasant bit of escapism that’s always sitting in your pocket, ready to whisk you off to another life where you manage an inherited farm outside a charming village. Its aesthetic looks old, but the concept is timeless.
You’ll clear land and harvest crops, but you’ll also strike up relationships with various folks in town and possibly even get married. Beyond that, you can delve into randomly generated caves for the chance of easy riches. It almost lets you do anything, and now that it’s on the iPhone, you can do that anything anywhere.
Shadowgun Legends (Free)
Shadowgun Legends is a first-person shooter about a group of mercenaries who hunt down aliens, which makes it feel a little like Gears of War and a lot like Destiny. That’s an ambitious pairing for a mobile game, to put it lightly, but Shadowgun Legends does the concept justice.
You’ll probably forget the story within a day, but the graphics, gunplay, and wealth of options all go a long way toward making up for that shortcoming. Whether you want PvP, co-op battles, or tense short missions you can drop into during a trip on the subway, Shadowgun Legends delivers.
Asphalt 9: Legends (Free)
This year is full of games that take full advantage of the faster processing power of today’s iPhones, but few harness it with such stunning effect as Asphalt 9: Legends. The latest entry in the long-running series is a gorgeous one, complete with highly detailed tracks for locations ranging from Macworld’s own San Francisco to Shanghai and Rome.
It’s an entertaining arcade racer filled with nitro boosts and destructible environments, and a new semi-automated "Touchdrive" mode makes it easier to play on the go. Watch out for those microtransactions, though.
Reigns: Game of Thrones ($3.99)
Reigns: Game of Thrones reminds us that the best games based on a major franchise don’t need to have massive budgets that rival that of an HBO series. In fact, this featherweight story-driven adventure resembles nothing so much as Tinder, as it’s all about swiping left or right to make decisions that bolster or diminish your power as you sit on the Iron Throne.
Nor is this simply an HBO rebranding of 2015’s Reigns: In this case, you’ll see everyone from Tyrion Lannister to humble Gendry take up the crown, and you’ll guide them through personalized scenarios that reveal a deep knowledge of George R.R. Martin’s world. You’ll fail frequently, to be sure, but in this universe, that’s part of the appeal.
No exaggeration: Oddmar is the best 2D platformer on the iPhone. It’s got the platforming creativity and playfulness of a game like Rayman, which is all the more remarkable since Oddmar was designed specifically for phones and not, say, the Nintendo Switch.
You play as Oddmar, a cut-rate Viking with no fighting experience who nevertheless must prove he’s worthy of Valhalla. This quest leads him through 25 gorgeous levels, each filled with coin collections for upgrades and puzzles that see Oddmar throwing down mushrooms to use as trampolines. Blessed with astonishingly good touch controls, it’s a saga worth revisiting more than once.
Pocket City ($3.99)
It’s tough to find a good city-building game these days regardless of which system you’re playing on, but fortunately we’ve got one of the best modern titles right here on iOS. That’s Pocket City, which is so good that it reminds us of the glory days of SimCity.
Microtransactions are non-existent, and it manages to deliver sufficient complexity while sporting an interface that’s ideal for small screens. Whether you simply want to build commercial districts or tackle crime and calamities like earthquakes, you’ll find that being a mayor in Pocket City is major fun.