For mobile gaming, 2021 was a year of standout ports, exciting twists on established series, and plenty of strong indies. Genshin Impact continued its meteoric rise, as did the gacha genre as a whole, with the likes of Cookie Run: Kingdom releasing to little fanfare before erupting in popularity.
The breadth of new mobile releases is larger than ever before, to the point where you'd need several lifetimes to see even a percentage of what's worth playing. As such, just know that this is a personal list of favourites from the team here at Only Mobile Gaming. We are but five people.
With that in mind, these are our picks for the best mobile games of the past year.
Rocket League Sideswipe
Released in late 2021, Psyonix's new take on Rocket League limits gameplay to a side-on 2.5D perspective but retains the car football mechanics and wacky physics that have made Rocket League such an enduring hit.
As with the original, it's simple to pick up but increasingly hard to master, and you'll need rapid reactions and immense control of your touchscreen to bag yourself some wins against the AI or PvP opposition. It's laced with as much tension, speed, and competition as the base game, making it the perfect alternative for mobile players.
In 2014, Alien: Isolation felt thrillingly new, not just for the intricacies and effect of its Xenomorph AI but also for its developer, Creative Assembly, and the mainstream horror game market as a whole. With indies like Amnesia: The Dark Descent having proved the obvious modern-day viability of the genre, what followed was this lavish, and typically bloated, big-budget production that bent over backwards to respect its source material while still offering a thoroughly worthwhile standalone nightmare.
Incredibly, the areas where Alien: Isolation excelled—taking in the Nostromo, outwitting the convincing AI, and the sheer unwieldy scope of it all—are unharmed in the move to mobile. Much like its earlier Switch port, the visual and gameplay quality of Feral Interactive’s mobile versions just wasn’t something that felt possible in 2014, and still scarcely does today. Play it if you haven’t, and try it from this new perspective if you have.
If you were to cross one of Japan's killer apps with Mamoru Hosoda's award-winning Summer Wars and stick it on the SNES, you'd get the absolute blast that is World Flipper. This bizarrely unique and inventive gacha game turns pinball into a new and addictive way to do battle.
After building a team of three characters collected through a heart-racing little Pachinko mechanic, you make your way through a growing collection of world-hopping tales filled with colourful characters and boisterous cat people, flinging your units into enemies and carefully timing your swipes to execute their powerful abilities.
There's a long way to go until it catches up to its Japanese counterpart in terms of content, but coming from Cygames—a developer that's still supporting titles it released over six years ago—the sooner you get into World Flipper, the more you'll see it grow. At a time when every new gacha game is some take on the AFK RPG, World Flipper offers something truly fresh and exciting, and that earns it a place atop the best mobile games of the year.
Pokémon Unite boasts an ever-growing roster of beloved Pokémon with which to play as and do battle against in frantic MOBA action. Although the game doesn't follow the traditional type rules established by trainers, it's an authentic MOBA experience that's perfect for genre newcomers and boasts unique ways of using your favourite Pokémon.
You can upgrade and also modify the abilities present for each Pokémon in order to meet the needs of the respective match. And while there are in-game items, such as potions and stat-boosting buffs, your choice of Pokémon skills is ultimately what matters the most. Beyond that, the game is just a joy to play on mobile, with no need to worry about poor visuals or frame drops.
Night in the Woods
When I first played the narrative-platformer Night in the Woods, it reminded me of that trope about therapists using animal puppets to act out complex emotional trauma. But after a while, I stopped noticing the animals. Like Mei, I had just returned home from university at the time and was trying (and failing) to get a job, so she seemed especially human to me, as did her cast of oddball friends and neighbours.
As I wandered around the old hangouts, played bass badly in a garage band, and heard what had happened to the people and places Mei knew, it couldn't help but feel like a universal depiction of what hometowns are, and how our environment shapes us. Sometimes it seems like the past and our past selves are inescapable, but Night in the Woods is also about those guarded dreams each of us carry for the future. While we can never entirely escape the place that made us, we can at least come to terms with it, and find a way to keep moving forward.
Now you can experience Mei's story on mobile, too, and as a side-scrolling platformer, it's the perfect game to play on your phone if you're looking for a quirky yet profound narrative adventure.