The 20 Best Mobile Games of 2012

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A good mobile game understands the power of impulse. It should be cheap enough to rack up impulse buys, like a candy bar or tabloid in a grocery store check-out line. It should also be quick and easy enough to pick up, play and then put away at a moment’s notice. Our list of the best mobile games of 2012 is full of games perfect for brief patches of free time, but with unlockable perks or deeper mechanics that will keep you engaged past those fleeting moments.

Our list was voted on by a number of regular freelance contributors to Paste’s games section and then tabulated and compiled by Paste’s games editor Garrett Martin (aka me). Ballots were cast by myself, Simon Ferrari, Ryan Kuo, J. P. Grant, Richard Clark, Stu Horvath, Mitch Krpata, Joe Bernardi, Dan Crabtree, Luke Larsen and Casey Malone. Here are the 20 best mobile games of 2012.

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10. Cool Pizza
Developer: Secret Library
Platform: iOS
Cool Pizza is an auto-runner, but it avoids the been-there, done-that by changing the perspective. The action happens from a three-dimensional third-person view like the old classic Space Harrier. Instead of running left to right our heroine runs straight ahead. And instead of running she’s on a skateboard, albeit one that never needs a kick. The art style also distinguishes it from the typical mobile game: It’s not a bright cartoon or a navel-gazing 8-bit tribute, but a stark piece of black-and-white line art with sparse color accents and a great Tettix score that sounds like Jan Hammer jamming chiptunes.—Garrett Martin

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9. Letterpress
Developer: Atebits
Platform: iOS
Word game Letterpress is a shining example of minimalist game design that is incredibly easy to pick up, but deeply layered in strategy. Players take turns choosing from the group of 25 randomly-generated letters to create words. When you make a word, the tiles you use turn light blue, adding points to your score. As players claim the board for their own, deeper levels of strategy arise. Resources become increasingly scarce and competitors are forced to become more and more creative in their word-making. It’s as different from Scrabble or any word-puzzle game as could be, while still keeping the knowledge of a large vocabulary at the center of the game’s required skillset.—Luke Larsen

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8. Fairway Solitaire
Developer: Big Fish Studios
Platform: iOS
Big Fish Games’ Fairway Solitaire isn’t exactly a new title—it was originally released five years ago for PC and Mac, and only made its way to iOS in March of 2012. But the wait was worth it. This ingeniously simple hybrid of solitaire and golf is perfectly suited to mobile platforms. With its quick-fix gameplay, high production value and varied challenges, Fairway Solitaire is a bite-size gem that’s as tightly designed as it is polished.—J.P. Grant

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7. Super Hexagon
Developer: Terry Cavanagh
Platform: iOS
In Super Hexagon, you control a small triangle trying to survive in a world full of shapes, sounds and colors that would love to engulf you. Rotating left and right around a hexagon is the only action possible, as patterns and obstacles moving in sporadic motions come hurtling toward you. The first time you play you’ll probably make it through 10 games in 30 seconds. The game is that hard and sessions are that short. One thing is for sure, though: That 30 seconds will quickly turn into hours if you’re not careful.—Luke Larsen

6. 10000000
Developer: EightyEight Games
Platform: iOS
At this point, match-3 games are like zombie games: There’d better be a damned good hook if you want me to pay attention. Fortunately, the strange hybrid 10000000 has several. A fusion of the match-3, RPG and endless runner genres, 10000000 employs a surprisingly effective combination of common mechanics to keep players coming back.—J.P. Grant

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5. Beat Sneak Bandit
Developer: Simogo
Publisher: Simogo
Platform: iOS
Rhythmically-challenged gamers beware: Beat Sneak Bandit‘s environmental puzzles bounce to the beat of the music and you can only move by tapping the screen correctly on beat. Beat Sneak Bandit is another refined achievement from Simogo and perhaps their most successful game yet. It’s intelligently designed and it works marvelously with the iOS interface. Most importantly, though, Beat Sneak Bandit has cured me of my habit of cringing at the sound of the phrase “rhythmic puzzler,” which is saying a lot.—Luke Larsen

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4. Punch Quest
Developer: Rocketcat Games and Madgarden
Platform: iOS
“Endless runner-slash-something-else” may as well be its own genre. After the success of Jetpack Joyride, it wasn’t surprising to find clever hybrids popping up. Punch Quest adds the brawler to that growing list of endless runner mash-ups. Button-mashing brawling action takes center stage here, and for the most part, it feels great.—J.P. Grant

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3. Waking Mars
Developer: Tiger Style
Platform: Android / iOS
Thousands of video games ask you to take life, but very few ask you to create it. Waking Mars is one of the rare creatures in the second camp. It’s also the rare mobile game that excels in all phases of its execution, elegantly integrating story, mechanics and aesthetics. As the story quietly unfolds—as you, well, wake Mars—you may find yourself more emotionally invested than you’d thought. That’s the thing about making life instead of taking it: eventually, you remember how to care.—J.P. Grant

2. Ziggurat
Developer: Action Button Entertainment
Publisher: Freshuu Inc.
Platform: iOS
The one-finger shoot-‘em-up Ziggurat‘s unique greatness only becomes clear once you get sort of good at it. Like most good iOS games, it’s defined by an extremely focused shallowness, targeted entirely towards getting you to dive back in. Keeping the action set minimal while providing a wide variety of gameplay situations forces the player to get creative. Even in a short burst of play, it’s pretty easy to discover a permutation of the action that had previously gone unnoticed. Ziggurat has a great knack for creating itches and then permitting you to scratch them, if you can.—Joe Bernardi

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1. Rayman Jungle Run
Developer: Pastagames / DotEmu
Publisher: Ubisoft
Platform: iOS / Android
There’s very little to complain about with Rayman Jungle Run, a downsized iOS version of Rayman: Origins that effortlessly simplifies its mechanics without losing an ounce of playability or character. Without even mentioning the incredible art direction and sound design, it’s a game that raises the bar for big franchises trying to make some extra money moving to the touch screen. It’s the kind of game that could easily stand on its own apart from the popularity of the successful franchise and will undoubtedly shape the future of the genre.—Luke Larsen