Q1 has ended. The snow is melting, conferences are in full swing, and there are already way too many new tablet games to catch up on.
It doesn’t help that 2013 was full of instant classics like The Room Two and Device 6 that are already clogging up our system with their funness. The audacity.
To help you focus on the essential picks that have emerged so far this year, we’ve narrowed down 2014’s notable releases to just 11 must-play titles. We’re featuring currently tablet-only titles: this doesn’t mean Final Fantasy VI or FTL: Faster Than Light don’t deserve a spot. They do. But so do about a hundred other games, and this list is about spring cleaning, not spring-impulse-buying-because-TabTimes Games-told-me-to.
Monument Valley is an easy sell thanks to its lush, colorful visuals that produce screenshots worthy of being framed in a gallery. Each strikingly beautiful world is wrapped in brilliant puzzle gameplay based around perspective challenges reminiscent of M.C. Escher paintings. With a vague but engaging story that keeps encouraging progress, the only downside to Monument Valley is its exceptionally short length.
- Download iPad/iOS [$3.99]
The countless clones and recreations of Threes! should be a good indication of its base quality and the ingeniousness of its simple puzzle gameplay. But none of the copycats have captured the polish and charm that makes Threes! so endearing: its flawless transitions as you slide tiles, its minimalist but generous menus, and its noninvasive characters that encourage you to keep going. Threes! is the perfect pick-up-and-play game, but one that you won’t be able to put down.
Part interactive pop-up book, part puzzle adventure, Tengami is just as much a reflective experience as it is a full-fledged game. Its Japanese-inspired world and visuals are so polished that it’s easy to lose yourself inside of it. Although some players may find its puzzles too easy and its gameplay too slow-paced, Tengami is a game that’s meant to be breathed in, not blown through.
- Download iPad/iOS [$4.99]
- Download iPad/iOS [$2.99]
Coldfire Keep brings the dungeon crawler back to present day through this tablet incarnation. The first-person RPG adventure is not the most popular genre for mobile gamers, but Coldfire Keep offers accessibility through simplicity. There are automatic level-ups, turn-based battles, and simple, clear equipment and character screens to prevent excessive micromanagement or confusion. For a genre that’s difficult to get right on touchscreens, Coldfire Keep impresses by not only being playable and polished, but for being truly fun.
- Download iPad/iOS [$4.99]
While Smash Hit is another entry in a long line of endless runners on tablets, it manages to feel fresh and exciting through a few minor gameplay tweaks. Its lesser-used first-person perspective allows players to focus on the beautiful, glass and crystal world surrounding them, as well as the fast-paced reactions needed to prevent running into pieces of that same world. Tossing out marbles to shatter hazards is tangibly rewarding but still challenging thanks to a physics-based aiming mechanic. It’s a striking and soothing yet manic entry into the genre.
Bug Heroes 2
A combination tower defense game and third-person shooter, Bug Heroes 2 began life with big shoes to fill. Its predecessor was already an impressive mix of genres and adorable insect armies, but Bug Heroes 2 lived up to expectations and then some. Adding in the option to control two characters within battles, tons of missions, and even multi-player mode, there’s almost no end to the ways you can battle your bugs.
- Download iPad/iOS [$0.99]
With its beautifully cel-shaded graphics occasionally tinted in pastel and post-apocalyptic robot insurgence, CLARC elicits memories of Borderlands. While both games feature deadly robots and fast-paced action, CLARC is actually a puzzle game, primarily focused on getting our eponymous metallic hero through a factory to his robot love. Sokoban-style block-pushing and corner-avoiding are the norms here, but CLARC’s puzzles are wrapped up in so much charm, variety, and occasional threat that you may forget you’re playing “just” a puzzle game.
Second Chance Heroes
An action RPG about killing zombies while occupying the skin of various historical figures: what’s not to love? Second Chance Heroes is as crazy-brilliant as it sounds. Its pure fast-paced fun, with plenty of creatures to decimate and tools to get the job done, each tailored to their specific hero, like Lincoln or Leonardo da Vinci. Co-op mode kicks the killing up a notch and makes this one of the best ways to spend tablet time with friends.
- Download iPad/iOS [FREE]
Mines of Mars
A Minecraft-meets-Metroidvania exploration hybrid, Mines of Mars focuses mostly on its eponymous directive: mining. Along the way, players will upgrade their character to explore new and deeper locations, uncover secrets, and fend off the occasional space monster. Mines of Mars is a unique combination of stellar game-play and an atmospheric setting that makes progressing—or even standing still—consistently rewarding.
- Download iPad/iOS [$4.99]
Hoplite is like a game of chess that gets more complicated the further into it you progress. You tap around to move, dodging enemy bombs, arrows and fireballs while lunging at foes with your trusty spear or slashing at them sideways with your sword. Ever-more-complex abilities and combos, plus a ton of achievements that unlock still more new maneuvers, will keep you coming back.