11 great games to play on iPhone

From Pokémon Unite to Desta, if you have an iPhone, we’ve got recommendations

(Washington Post illustration; iStock; Apple)

Mobile games are great, and billions of people play them. To meet that demand, game developers — ranging from triple-A publishers to one-person teams — have pumped out an enormous number of games, far too many titles to sort through on your own.

Let us help. Below, we’ve compiled a list of some of the best games on offer on the iPhone in alphabetical order, along with a short explanation of what we like about each game. We’ve skipped some obvious entries (think Pokémon Go or Genshin Impact) and some games we’ve covered already, like Wordle (which you can play on The New York Times app) or Knotwords. We’ll also focus exclusively on the iPhone here — rather than all mobile devices — because some of the games listed below are available exclusively through Apple Arcade, the phonemaker’s subscription video game service.

We’ll keep updating this list as more great iPhone games come onto our radar. Netflix recently entered the mobile gaming space and has promised subscribers three mobile titles from Ubisoft, including an Assassin’s Creed game, sometime in 2023. Other console and PC game publishers have started developing titles for mobile as well to resounding success (and, less frequently, to wild controversy).

If you’re already an iPhone gamer, or are just interested in what games are worth your time, we’ve got recommendations. And for even more recommendations, you can read our lists of the best games of 2022 so far.

Forget next-gen consoles. The biggest gaming platform is already in your pocket.

Card of Darkness

Card of Darkness is a deceptively difficult card game from designer Zach Gage (who made the Wordle-like puzzle game Knotwords) and “Adventure Time” creator Pendleton Ward. Available through Apple Arcade, Card of Darkness tasks players with cutting a path across a grid-based game board populated by decks of cards. To make it to the exit, players need to exhaust the decks in front of them by either picking up all the item cards, which include weapons and potions, or fighting the cards in the pile that represent deadly enemies. Once you’ve picked up a card from a deck, you have to defeat the whole deck, which can lead to some complicated choices: Do I pick up a much-needed sword or health potion at the top of the deck, knowing I may be opening myself up to several enemy cards underneath?

If you have Apple Arcade, or like card and number games and have been thinking about trying the subscription service, Card of Darkness is a great brainteaser.


Desta: The Memories Between

Desta: The Memories Between is a roguelike tactics game in which you play dodgeball against dream versions of people you have unsettled business with from your hometown. The minute-to-minute gameplay is great — think “Hades” meets XCOM — and the narrative beats and character work are a joy as well. The game touches on working through complicated emotions and having difficult conversations with loved ones and friends without its tone ever sinking into misery.

One more thing: You’ll need a Netflix subscription to play Desta, but if you already have that, it’s totally free. Just download the game through the App Store, or launch the title by searching for it in the Netflix mobile app.


Dicey Dungeons

Dicey Dungeons isn’t just a great mobile game — it’s a great game full stop. Released first for PC and consoles, Dicey Dungeons throws players into a gantlet of Pokémon-style battles in which the moves available to you are determined by dice rolls. That may sound chaotic, but as the game unfolds and you pick up certain weapons and new moves, the move-by-move action feels more calculated than random.

Once you “get” the game’s underlying mechanics, the additional characters you unlock after successful runs subvert and complicate what you’ve already learned. That ramping up of the challenge makes the title a truly lasting addition to any mobile gaming catalogue.


Love You to Bits

Love You to Bits is a cute point-and-click game where you reassemble the pieces of your robot girlfriend by solving puzzles on different planets. You play as Kosmo, a tiny human scouring the universe for missing parts and trinkets. It’s an atmospheric, feel-good game with a heartwarming story that can easily be completed in a few sittings.


Mario Kart Tour

Want Mario Kart on the go? Well, you could get the Nintendo Switch’s best-selling game ever, “Mario Kart 8.” Or you could opt for Mario Kart Tour, the series port for mobile devices. Mario Kart Tour is pretty much what it says on the tin: Mario Kart for your phone. Race and play challenge courses on unique maps in this adaptation of Nintendo’s arcade racer for small screens.

Maps from Mario Kart Tour have also made it into the marquee edition of the game on Switch. If you’ve mastered “Mario Kart 8’s” New York Minute track, for example, the leap to mobile should be no problem for you. And if you want more Mario on your iPhone, you can play Mario Run, a side-scrolling auto-runner in which you control the timing of Mario’s jumps to get him across each stage.

These are the best games to play on Nintendo Switch


Marvel Snap

“Marvel Snap” is a simple card game that excels because each bout lasts just a few minutes. Build a deck of cards — each styled after a Marvel superhero or villain, and boasting special abilities that change how the game plays out — and place them on a board in one of three locations. If, at the end of six rounds, the power levels of your cards in two of three locations add up to be greater than your opponents’, you win. All of this happens delightfully quickly, making the game a perfect way to fill an idle moment.

“We came up with the idea for ‘Marvel Snap’ pretty quickly. In fact, it was so fun so fast, we actually put it on pause and said, ‘Look, we’ve got to explore some other stuff. We can’t have this good of an idea this quickly,’ ” Ben Brode, the founder of the studio behind “Marvel Snap,” told The Washington Post.

But they did, as the hours we’ve lost to this game since it came out prove.

Read our coverage


Pokémon Unite

Pokémon Unite may look like a “League of Legends” clone — and that’s because it is, right down to the team-vs-team format and top-middle-bottom lane map structure. But Unite has two differentiating factors in its corner that can serve as a draw for prospective fans of the MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena) genre: a massive Pokémon roster to draw from, and a simplification of the core format.

The mobile version of the game switches around the placement of the Nintendo Switch version’s UI, but due to the game’s intrinsically simple controls, nothing feels lost in translation. This game is a fantastic entry point to more advanced MOBAs like “League,” and the range of Pokémon and movesets on offer is sure to get players returning again and again.

We have 11 tips to help you master Pokémon Unite


Solitairica

Solitairica is a card battler with roguelike role-playing game mechanics that does the impossible: It actually makes Solitaire fun. The upgradable class decks, item system and ingenious gameplay loop all make for an absurdly addicting game.

There’s also a storyline about defeating the evil Emperor Stuck (the true enemy of all puzzle gamers) if you’re into that sort of thing. This game has mastered the “just one more match” formula, so play with caution. It’s hard to get tired of Solitairica, but that also means it’s hard to put down.


Soosiz

Though this list includes a real Mario game, Soosiz may be the closest thing here to a mainline Mario platformer.

Originally released for the iPod Touch, Soosiz is about a little orb guy trekking across levels to save smaller orb guys while avoiding environmental obstacles and enemies. But there’s a twist: Levels are made up of little planets, each with their own gravity. Once you master the physics of the game, you can make wild leaps to cut across maps or avoid enemies, slingshotting yourself across the world.

It wouldn’t be a stretch to describe Soosiz as a 2D “Super Mario Galaxy” — in terms of the core planet-hopping premise, but also due to the high quality of the mobile game. If you haven’t played it yet, give it a whirl.


Threes

Remember 2048, the 2014 viral sensation that The Post called “nerdy, minimalist, [and] frustrating?” Meet Threes, the game’s better-designed predecessor.

In Threes (as in 2048), you swipe tiles up, down and side to side to combine equal number tiles and try to reach the highest possible number without the board filling up. But in just about every respect, Threes is better than 2048. It doesn’t have any ads. It’s easier to control, with tiles moving one space at a time, and a preview bar at the top telling you what kind of tile is coming next to help you think through your runs. It’s also just plain charming, with little faces adorning some of the tiles you slide around the four-by-four play space.

If you like puzzle games you can play in short sittings, Threes is perfect.


Two Dots

Two Dots is a charming puzzle game that revolves around connecting dots of the same color. Across hundreds of stages, new mechanics and items complicate the ways in which players are able to complete challenges. The game’s slowly ramping difficulty is great fun.

Start this game at your own peril, though. Levels don’t take long, and it’s easy to get obsessed and lose hours to Two Dots. “I think that [addicting is] a very accurate description and I think … it’s true to Two Dots,” David Hohusen, former game director on Two Dots, told WNYC in 2016. “We’re building experiences that really hook users and create this sense and this desire to play all the time.”

If you have an addictive personality, maybe skip this one.

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