The 13 best iPhone, iPad and Android games of 2016

Mobile gaming is the best, the chance to have thousands of games on our phones which we can whip out and play at any idle moment. We live in the future.

But mobile gaming is also the worst, as there’s loads of dross shovelled on to iOS and Android every day, and it's hard to know how to sift out the shiniest of gems.

Freemium games are terrible, right? They're just after our cash via frustrating the life out of us? Or are they brilliant ways to get a superb game for free?

Should we pay for a game but then find we hate it? Oh, the questions are just too many - so we've taken the hassle out of your gaming decisions.

These are the top titles for iPhone, iPad and Android that grabbed hold of our thumbs and minds and refused to let go in this most terrible of years.

Want more to choose from? We update our list of best titles weekly with the games that have got us the most excited on each platform:

Clash Royale

Price: Free with in-app purchases Android or iOS

Freemium! Eek! But Clash Royale is one of the few that gets things right. Pay nothing and you can still fully delve into countless one-on-one two-player real-time skirmishes on single-screen battlefields, aiming to bash and smash up human opponents.

The mechanics are smart: you fashion a deck of units, supplied randomly as you play, paid for using replenishing elixir.

Do you risk flinging loads of units at your enemy’s stronghold, or hold fire, in case they unleash dragon-shaped doom?

Progression is sporadic, but you get a real sense of achievement on stringing together a few wins.

And although Clash Royale really wants you to splurge on coins, you don’t have to.

Optional IAP buys currency primarily used to immediately upgrade units or open chests awarded for winning matches.

Concrete Jungle

Price: $4.99/£3.99 Android or iOS 

A puzzle game that sort of wants to be Sim City (or perhaps the reverse), Concrete Jungle is all about building tiny communities.

You’re supplied with a deck of cards and plonk buildings down on the small grid, each one affecting the residential value of adjacent squares.

Strategy comes from score demands for each column. Beat those and the column vanishes, giving you more room to build.

Drop units willy-nilly and your complacency comes back to bite you down the line, making a surprisingly cerebral title.

It’s brain-smashingly compelling, not least in the surprisingly tense head-to-head build ’em up mode.

Mini Metro

Price: $4.99/£4.29 Android or $4.99/£3.99 iOS 

London Tube maps make for lovely posters, but Mini Metro reimagines them as an interactive puzzle game.

Here, geometric stations periodically pop up on an initially blank map, and you draw lines to link them, and then add trains to ferry passengers to their destinations.

All movement around this minimal world fashions a generative plinky plonky soundtrack that gives it a nice professional sheen.

However, any tranquility fades as passenger numbers increase. Before long, you gain a modicum of sympathy for rail operators as you juggle lines and scant resources, fending off the overcrowding of any one station that will cause your entire network to close.

 PinOut!

Price: Free or $2.99/£2.69 Android or free or $2.99/£2.29 iOS

There are plenty of pinball games on mobile, from authentic digital takes on real-world tables to more fantastical fare.

But PinOut! does something new, reimagining pinball as a kind of endless survival game, where you  play on a massive neon-infused table that stretches into the distance.

For each of the dozens of miniature tables within, the aim is to hit precision shots that send you further on your journey, scooping up white dots that replenish the timer.

When the ball rolls behind the flippers, it’s not lost – but precious seconds are, ratcheting up the tension as the clock ticks closer to zero. 

Reigns

Price: $2.99/£2.79 Android or $2.99/£2.29 iOS

Coming across like a mash-up of kingdom management and Tinder, Reigns has you perform kingly duties by the power of swipes.

Subjects show up, and depending on your digit’s direction, different, yet crucial, actions are performed.

The aim is to balance the church, people, army and treasury, ensuring none become too powerful nor too angry.

Inevitably, you’ll get killed before long, at which point you take over as your heir. Soon, Reigns’s cleverness and depth become clear – themes repeat, enabling you to do better next time, and subtle plots thread their way through the ages.

Samorost 3

Price: $4.99/£3.99 Android or iOS 

One of the sweetest adventure games imaginable, Samorost 3 follows the quest of a musical gnome.

He’s trying to save a universe of tiny planetoids under the thumb of an evil monk who previously ravaged the place by way of a massive steampunk space dragon. Obviously.

For the most part, this is fairly traditional point-and-tap fare, wandering about, prodding things, and solving puzzles.

But underpinning Samorost 3 is a world of music, clues being provided as swirling animations, and set pieces often involving gorgeous audio and moments with real heart.

Snakebird

 Price: Free or $3.99/£3.74 Android or $3.99/£2.99 iOS

This one’s what happens when you combine old-school gaming hero Snake, gravity, confined spaces, and puzzle design bordering on the psychotic.

In each single screen of levitating platforms, you must help one or more ‘snakebirds’ reach an exit.

As per Snake, if they eat fruit, these creatures grow.Where Snakebird excels is in its infuriatingly tricky multi-step solutions, which require serious brainpower to defeat. Fortunately, you get unlimited undos – and you’ll need them.

But this is one of those rare super-tough games where the pain is worth it – you feel like a genius on finishing a puzzle.

You get access to a dozen or so levels for free. Unlock the rest with one IAP.

Super Cat Bros.

Price: Free with in-app purchases Android or iOS

A love letter to gaming’s past, Super Cat Bros. (Tales on iOS) finds a kitty exploring chunky, colourful scrolling worlds, looking for his siblings.

Said worlds, naturally, are chock full of evil critters, secret locations, coins, and special objects to find.

But Super Cat Bros. makes our list for more than merely being a playable platformer.

The cats are wonderfully observed, such as when darting through a dandelion field or sliding down a wall when trying to grab hold for a second too long.

And the two-thumb control system, while initially tricky to grasp, makes every on-screen virtual gamepad set-up feel archaic and redundant.

The game can be played for free, with ads. IAP removes ads and provides power-ups.

Super Mario Run

 Price: Free with one off $9.99/£7.99 purchase on iOS

Nintendo’s first proper smartphone title makes this list as much for what it represents as the quality of the game itself. 

Essentially, it’s Mario by way of Canabalt (auto-running plus tap-and-hold to jump) and Rayman Fiesta Run (complex level design; a protagonist able to perform a surprising array of actions by you simply tapping).

This isn’t traditional Mario, then, but it works on the iPhone. And although the few free levels are so-so, the game subsequently reveals seriously smart and varied level design, and rewards repeat play for those inclined to max out the number of coins collected.

Is it too expensive? Probably. But it's replayable to improve time and time again, and still scratches the Mario itch that burns deep within us all.

The free download provides three levels. The sole IAP unlocks the rest.

Telepaint

 Price: ($2.99/£2.29) on iOS 

All the little paintpot wants in this tricky puzzle game is to be reunited with its paintbrush pal. 

As the pot trundles along like clockwork, you must figure out the correct route by linking up teleporters and ensuring the pot isn’t horribly impaled on spikes lurking about the place.

The tick-tock soundtrack and paint splats whenever a teleporter is used add plenty of character and charm to Telepaint. 

But mostly this one’s about devious, imaginative puzzle design, not least when you start battling with multiple paint pots, box-stacking, and a gurning magnetic ‘friend’ to really ratchet up the tension and add to the sense of fulfilment.

The Battle of Polytopia

Price: Free with in-app purchases Android or iOS (free + IAP)

Imagine a stripped-back Civilization, rethought for mobile play, with low-poly art, and that’s The Battle of Polytopia. 

Its colourful, tiny isometric planets house skirmishes between a number of tribes, as you aim to expand your cities, increase your knowledge, and give the world’s other inhabitants a good kicking.

The limitations compared to Civilisation are all well-considered; although some might initially seem restrictive, Polytopia soon proves perfect for mobile play. 

One example: the 30-turn limit, within which to amass the highest score – although more bloodthirsty players can opt for a more traditional ‘domination’ mode, where you play until you’re the only tribe left standing.

IAP is optional to  play as alternate tribes.

Time Locker

Price: Free with in-app purchases Android or iOS 

Most overhead shooters are about weaving through swarms of bullets while downing waves of enemies. 

If you think things would be easier if everything would just stop for a bit, Time Locker suggests otherwise. Here, everything moves only when you do. 

This initially disorients, but as you learn to master the game, Time Locker sometimes becomes akin to a turn-based title. 

Yet you can’t dawdle, because a relentless darkness is in hot pursuit, eating Time Locker’s very game world.

You must therefore keep forging ahead, making use of your time-warping abilities at opportune moments, while possibly wondering in what world heavily armed bears do battle alongside dinosaurs, tanks, and waddling penguins.

IAP is optional, to buy coins for temporary power-ups.

Pokemon Go

Price: Free with in-app purchases Android or iOS

Pokemon Go was an absolute phenomenon when released, but it suffered while limping out of the starting blocks. 

Dodgy servers, meandering tasks, and a repetitive grind aren't exactly hallmarks of a great gaming experience, but there was so much else to love about the title that it hardly mattered. 

It was the simple things that we enjoyed the most. The joy of exploring your local area, the excitement of meeting other players in the process, the sudden increases in belt notches you needed to use after you regularly were walking five kilometers a day to hatch eggs.

It's nothing grand or spectacular, but is brilliantly original and completely novel. 

Seeing all our favorite Pokemon from days gone by on our smartphone's high resolution displays was the final icing on the cake of one of the best mobile games of the year, and with recent updates it's become a solid and classy performer that's still very much worth checking out.