The Diablo Immortal controversy has brought a lot of well-deserved negative attention to mobile games. Diablo fans, many of whom had little or no experience with mobile, sampled the game and quickly discovered just how devious and manipulative Gacha games can be. As a mobile gamer, I welcome this new wave of antagonism, and I hope people can sustain this energy long enough to start legislating against these slot machines disguised as video games – even if that means counting on Asmongold to get the ball rolling.
But there’s a bit of a baby with the bathwater dilemma here. Many are quick to accuse mobile of being a platform for game maker crimes, and I don’t think that’s fair. Mobile games have certainly earned their bad reputation, but it’s foolish to dismiss the entire platform when there are so many high-quality, non-predatory games to enjoy. For every Gameloft, Netmarble, and Kabam trying to use Disney characters to teach kids how exciting gaming can be, there’s another mobile developer who just wants to make games fun the old-fashioned way. If you’re willing to keep an open mind, here are five outstanding mobile games that aren’t trying to rip you off or ruin your life.
Rocket League: Side Swipe
When I first played the mobile version of Rocket League last December, I was confused about its lack of microtransactions. Between its seasonal battle pass and cosmetics shop, it’s perfectly set up for in-app purchases. Sideswipe is now in its third season and there is still not a single microtransaction in the game, which is already free by the way.
But Rocket League: Sideswipe isn’t just great because it doesn’t want your money – it’s also a great game. This 2D version maintains the control and high skill ceiling of the classic league while offering a simpler and shorter experience that fits perfectly on mobile. Jumping and boosting around these tiny arenas is just as chaotic and exciting as classic Rocket League, and there are enough different game modes to try and cosmetic rewards to pursue to keep things fresh. I don’t know how Psyonix makes all this content free, but I’m not complaining.
It would just be weird if I didn’t include Pokemon Go, wouldn’t it? I know the community has grievances about microtransactions, especially when it comes to remote raid passes and limited bag space, but Pokemon Go never makes you feel like you need spend money – at least not like Gachapon games do. I don’t want to let it go completely, but I also have to acknowledge what an amazing benefit Pokemon Go has been in my life.
Pokemon Go got me out of the house to move my legs and soak up the sun, and I think I’d be a lot sicker without it. It’s become a frequent activity for me and my non-gaming partner to do together, and a reason to have experiences together when we’d rather sit and, ironically, stare at our phones. I know a lot of Pokemon Go players have also found similar benefits to playing, and I can’t recommend it highly enough to anyone with even a passing interest in Pokemon. I criticize it often, but that’s just because of how much it means to me.
League of Legends: Savage Rift
I know I said this list is about games that aren’t trying to ruin your life, so you’re probably surprised to see League of Legends included. Wild Rift is the non-toxic little brother of classic LoL, which is one of the main reasons why I prefer it. Matches in Wild Rift are much shorter than League, and the item economy is significantly simplified. It’s a great introduction to League and MOBAs and I recommend it, despite what you may have heard about the League community. I’ve never gotten fired up playing Wild Rift, and thanks to the touch controls, it’s incredibly easy to communicate with the built-in tools without having to burn your eyes out on an actual chat box.
The real reason Wild Rift deserves attention is how it approaches microtransactions. If you’ve played a lot of free console and PC games, the Wild Rift menu will look pretty familiar. You can buy a Seasonal Battle Pass, characters, and cosmetic items like skins and profile decorations, but you can’t buy anything that will make you stronger or better than other players. Wild Rift only has acceptable microtrans, at least by basic gamer standards, and it would be good to see this kind of monetization adopted more widely by the mobile industry.
Riot’s other games, Legends of Runeterra and Team Fight Tactics are also available on mobile with equivalent in-app purchases, and Game Pass members will soon get much more value from them. For Wild Rift specifically, Game Pass members will get all legends unlocked later this year. If you can at least afford paid cosmetics, Wild Rift is worth a shot.
I’ve done my best to make sure this list only contains mobile exclusive games, but it turns out that almost all good mobile games end up being ported to other platforms. I considered highlighting a few here, including Florence, Kingdom Rush, Downwell, The Room, Ticket to Earth, Mini Metro, Reigns, and Solitairica, but the one that I think best represents the platform is the Simulacra series. Simulacra, Simulacra 2, and the upcoming Simulacra 3 are FMV mystery horror games that ask you to find a missing person by exploring their phones and social media accounts. The genius of Simulacra is how its virtual imitation themes are represented by the physical experience of using your own phone and pretending it’s someone else’s.
When you play Simulacra, your phone becomes the victim’s phone, and it’s up to you to rummage through their files, read their DMs, and text their friends and family to try and figure out what’s going on. happened to them. There’s an uncanny dissonance that comes from using your phone like it belongs to someone else, and the game does a fantastic job of stimulating that feeling and using it to build tension. You can play Simulacra on PC or console, but I don’t recommend it. Even if you’re not a horror fan, Simulacra is worth your time.
Lifeline is the oldest game on the list, and while the way 3 Minute Games tried to franchise the series can serve as a cautionary tale, the original Lifeline is still one of the most compelling games on mobile. Lifeline is a text-based adventure that takes the form of a conversation between you and an astronaut stranded on an alien planet, but the twist is that the whole story takes place in real time. So, as you get to know the astronaut, Taylor, and help him make choices about how to proceed as he explores the planet, you’ll frequently lose touch or find a natural end to the conversation. ongoing as Taylor leaves. a task that requires full concentration. Each time this happens, the game effectively pauses until Taylor needs your help again.
At some point, perhaps hours later, you’ll receive a push notification from the app designed to look like a text message from Taylor. You can pick up the conversation anytime you want, but I was pretty quickly invested in Taylor’s survival and found myself responding to her messages as soon as they arrived. Like all of the games on this list, Lifeline takes advantage of what makes mobile unique to present a story that would only work in that specific format. I haven’t played Lifeline in five years, but I still think about it all the time because it revealed something you can only experience from a mobile game. There’s so much more than Diablo Immortal and Genshin Impact out there, and hopefully the contempt for those games, fair as it is, doesn’t cause you to overlook all the good that’s out there too.
Next: You Should Be Very, Very Wary Of Disney’s Dreamlight Valley