Best2015-big2015 is now in the history books and as I look back on the year in iOS gaming, for whatever reason it has been tougher for me to select my top iOS games than in previous years.

That’s not to say that 2015 didn’t bring us some great, memorable iOS gaming experiences, but choosing the best of the best for 2015 just isn’t as cut and dry for me as it’s been in previous years and there were no immediate and obvious winners. Obviously, I have not played EVERY new release that came out in 2015, but I did play quite a few of them.

Last year we saw a welcome resurgence in the point and click adventure genre with some excellent PC ports from Wadjet Eye Games, Daedalic Entertainment, and Phoenix Online Studios as well as iOS originals like Agent A, Rusty Lake Hotel and the satisfying final episode of Glitch Games’ Forever Lost Series.

digi_bg_2015The digital board game scene, while fairly busy, overall was a somewhat of a letdown (with regards to new games) for me after an amazing 2014. However, there were some nice surprises like Asmodee Digital’s release of Splendor, the unique solitaire game Card Crawl, Catroon Network’s humorous family strategy game Thirty Days & Seven Seas, Galactic Keep, Le Havre: The Inland Port, Kickstarter successes Boss Monster and Coup and the head to head word battle game Capitals.

There were quite a few fantastic content and app updates/complete rewrites for existing digital board game apps in 2015 including Ticket to Ride and Hearthstone (which both went Universal), Galaxy Trucker, Magic The Gathering, SolForge, Sentinels of the Multiverse and Star Realms.

Some exiting new digital board gaming experiences are on tap for 2016 and it’ll be interesting to see what effect iPad support for the new Tabletopia platform expected in the latter part of the year will have on the digital board gaming space.

Last year there were also a number of successful and engaging ports from other platforms including Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions Evolved, Fearless Fantasy, Lumino City, Scribblenauts Unlimited, PAC-MAN Championship Edition DX, Transistor, Octodad: Dadliest Catch and I am Bread, proving that iOS gamers want these same fresh, rich, indie gaming experiences that PC gamers have enjoyed for years.

iOS / mobile developers showed their originality with some fresh titles of their own like Her Story, Does Not Commute, Lifeline, Wizards and Wagons, Dark Echo and Progress to 100. These titles really showcased the ingenuity and creativity of the mobile development community.

hot-devs-2015Several studios made big splashes this year with Hipster Whale’s late 2014 release of Crossy Road becoming a massive success and the studio hitting it big again with Pac-Man 256 – Endless Acade Maze, their unique take on the arcade classic. Telltale launched and/or concluded several adventure game series including The Walking Dead Season 2, Game of Thrones, Tales from The Borderlands and Minecraft Story Mode and they show no signs of stopping with several new ones on tap for this year as well.

Tin Man Games was quite prolific in 2015, releasing three more titles in their award-winning Gamebook Adventures series as well as their first Warhammer 40k gamebook Legacy of Dorn: Herald of Oblivion. They also ran a successful Kickstarter campaign for a digital tabletop RPG with miniatures and launched a new subscription-based series Choices: And The Sun Went Out and released their humorous digital adaptation of Ryan North’s To Be of Not To Be.

Despite Amazon dropping the Apple TV from its online store, their Amazon Game Studios came out swinging on iOS, debuting an impressive slate of iOS games including Til Morning’s Light, Lost Within and Tales From Deep Space.

toca-kidIt was a good year for kids apps as well. Being the father of 6 and 8 year-old daughters this is an area I tend to follow pretty closely. Toca Boca launched Toca Life: City and Toca Life: School (as well as a few others) which quickly became favorites in our house, bringing Toca Boca’s total app count to an impressive 30 apps.

Tinybop released several more educational and fun apps for kids including Simple Machines, The Everything Machine and The Monsters. Finally we saw the triumphant return of the childhood classic, Carmen Sandiego in a modern, but familiar feeling package for a whole new generation of globe-trotting junior agents to enjoy.

Even some of the new titles that weren’t specifically made for kids-only were huge hits with my girls.

My 8 Year-Old Daughter Emily’s Top iOS Games of 2015

There were plenty of (often forgettable) free-to-play experiences to go around, and it was mostly the paid games which left a lasting impression, especially in the arcade, puzzle and platforming genres with games like the aforementioned Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions Evolved, Downwell, Super Happy Fun Block, HoPiKo, BADLAND 2, The Excecutive, Horizon Chase – World Tour, Divide By Sheep, PewDiePie: Legend of the Brofist, Lara Croft GO and The Room Three all offering solid experiences with a good deal of replay value.

As I said, narrowing down my favorites from last year to a definitive ‘top ten’ has proven to be a bit of a challenge, but without further ado..

My top 10 favorite iOS gaming experiences of 2015

01. Card Crawl

Released on March 12, 2015

card-crawl_950955524_ipad_01Card Crawl was a game that immediately appealed to my love of digital board gaming with its unique take on solitaire and a cool dungeon crawler theme. Players attempt to ‘clear’ a dungeon of 54 cards by playing these cards into either their two item slots or their backpack. Requiring a mix of skill and luck you must properly manage your inventory of health potions, swords and shields as well as your five special abilities to successfully slay all of the monsters and survive until the end of the deck. Banking treasures at the right time and cashing in inventory items will increase your score, but can be risky.

A big update late in the year added additional content including new dungeon decks, 10 new ability cards, iCloud saves and more. With 35 unlockable ability-cards, you can add some nice variety to your strategy as you are able to add them to your deck. Card Crawl offers a good amount of replayability and was one game I kept coming back to all year long.

02. PAC-MAN 256 – Endless Arcade Maze

Released on August 19, 2015

pac-man-256-endless-arcade_1002340615_ipad_01There have been several attempts to bring the PAC-MAN franchise to mobile devices in new and different ways, usually with disastrous results. Last year we had two excellent PAC-MAN titles, the more traditional PAC-MAN Championship Edition DX and Hipster Whale’s fresh PAC-MAN concept, PAC-MAN 256 – Endless Arcade Maze.

A new isometric point of view, cool power-ups, plus a neat, endless style of gameplay, yet still faithful to the beloved arcade classic, PAC-MAN 256 manages to be a brilliantly simple yet innovative design. The epitome of one more try gameplay and an endless supply of virtual quarters, the 256 strain of PAC-MAN Fever is a strong one that’s hard to kick (but then again, who’d want to).

03. The Executive

Released on July 02, 2015

the-executive_552227993_ipad_02This cinematic brawler / runner / platformer / rhythm / clicker hybrid features rich gesture-based controls and pits players against 120 levels of werewolves, boars, saw blades and more as they make their way through the world’s most terrorist filled office building since the Nakatomi Plaza.

There is a nice pacing to the game with frantic periods of gesture-based combat followed by more relaxed rhythm sections where you need to time swipes. Fantastic controls and a great art style coupled with a per-level grading system which compels you to replay levels to do better, The Executive is an absolute blast to play and was a great and welcome surprise midway through the year.

04. The Room Three

Released on November 04, 2015

the-room-three_918054748_ipad_03With each subsequent title in their ‘Room’ franchise, Fireproof Games seems to raise the bar and this latest 9+ hour puzzle adventure is their best one yet.

Combining a compelling story with engaging 3D puzzles and intuitive, responsive touch controls, this immersive experience is a MUST-HAVE for all iOS gamers (especially if you own an iPad).

05. Horizon Chase – World Tour

Released on August 20, 2015

horizon-chase-world-tour_991018252_ipad_01Horizon Chase was one of those little gems that comes out of nowhere, hits all the right notes and quickly becomes your next addiction. With its nostalgic feel (thanks in no small part to its charming 16-bit graphics and retro soundtrack), simple controls and challenging races, Horizon Chase fills a void in the iOS racing genre.

While other mobile racing games offer flashier graphics, more expansive and detailed tracks and seemingly endless vehicle upgrades, it is Horizon Chase’s satisfying simplicity that is its greatest asset. Good driving skills are rewarded, and mistakes can be costly, no rubber-banding effect will fire you into first place, instead patience, practice and perseverance is what will win you the race and make you really feel like a winner.

06. Lumino City

Released on May 14, 2015

lumino-city_958604518_ipad_02Arguably the prettiest game on this list, Lumino City’s gorgeous and imaginative world was entirely hand-crafted from paper, card, miniature lights, and motors. As a result, this puzzle adventure game has a rich texture and almost tactile feel to it.

You can help but want to tinker with and explore more of this whimsical world that the team at State of Play Games has created to help Lumi find her kidnapped grandfather.

07. Does not Commute

Released on April 23, 2015

does-not-commute_971756507_ipad_02Clever, fun and by no means mediocre, this time-twisting puzzle game is such a neat and memorable concept. In a race against time, players have to layer the paths of a variety of quick and slow vehicles such that there are no crashes, collisions or accidents and everyone can safely make it to their destinations during the chaotic morning commute.

This is such a unique and charming little puzzle game with beautifully rendered top-down visuals, a humorous story that plays out with the various commuters and a real treasure of the App Store. The one and only $2.99 “checkpoint IAP” is a necessity and well worth the investment.

08. Minecraft: Story Mode

Released on October 15, 2015

minecraft-story-mode_1001286466_ipad_01When I first heard that this series was coming, I (like many) was really confused how on Earth this was going to work.

After publishing several fairly violent series including The Walking Dead (and its sequel), The Wolf Among Us and Game of Thrones, it was great to finally see some family friendly fare so that I could share my love of the Telltale experience with my girls.

Going into this one I was only vaguely familiar with Minecraft, but my older daughter is a fan as are several of her friends at school, so I sort of suspected this adventure series would be a hit with us. Whether or not you are familiar with Minecraft, you will thoroughly enjoy the game and I love that Telltale even offers players the choice of being either a male or female character with professional voice acting for both selections.

An awesome addition to Telltale’s catalog, I hope this is a sign of future series aimed at players of all ages.

09. Her Story

Released on June 24, 2015

her-story_952658953_ipad_01Her Story is a game unlike anything you’ve ever played on mobile before. It is an engaging and memorable experience where you are trying to solve a nearly 20 year-old murder mystery. To do so, you interface with an old desktop PC, weeding through archival video clips in a police database which cover a number of interviews with an attractive British woman in regards to her missing husband.

By performing searches, watching the clips and listening carefully for new search terms you must work your way through the evidence to piece together “her story”. It is so unlike anything else on the App Store and well worth a look.

10. Ryan North’s To Be Or Not To Be

Released on March 18, 2015

ryan-norths-to-be-or-not-to-be_962986396_ipad_01I’ll happily sit down and watch Kenneth Branagh’s latest film adaptation of a Shakespeare play, but since graduating from college, you’d be hard pressed to get me to sit down and actually try to read the Bard. That is until Ryan North’s hilarious “restored original second-person non-linear branching narrative” version of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

Expertly and humorously translated to digital format by the team at Tin Man Games, Ryan North’s To Be Or Not To Be is unlike the Shakespeare you may have read in school. The text is chunked into easy to digest pieces (much like Inkle has done with their Sorcery! series). Players can switch between all of the main characters of the tale including Hamlet, Ophelia, and King Hamlet, Sr (The Ghost), making choices to drive the narrative forward.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the awesome artwork by a veritable who’s who of webcomic artists including Mike Krahulik (Penny Arcade), Matthew Inman (The Oatmeal) and Zach Weiner (Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal)…to name a few.

I never thought that I’d ever actually WANT to read Shakespeare, but this irreverent take on Hamlet is hard to put down. Even if it wasn’t a truly fantastic presentation, for the mere fact that it got me excited about Shakespeare, it earns a place in my top ten.

Honorable Mentions

These titles very nearly made it into my top ten and are worth mentionin as they represent some of the finest iOS gaming experiences of last year.