If you're not yet thinking about phones and tablets as proper gaming devices, it's time to catch up. Gone are the days when the best game on a mobile was Snake, nowadays Android and iOS have a huge amount of console ports. And with the likes of Project xCloud and Google Stadia on the way, console games are invading mobile devices in a big way.
Phones and tablets keep on getting faster and more capable, some our the best gaming mobiles could rival consoles (well older consoles, but still). In addition, the number of older games that can be re-released in mobile form is growing and growing all the time too.
Some of our picks appeared on PCs before hitting consoles, but they're still prime examples of top-tier games we'd once never have imagined playing on our phones.
Grand Theft Auto series
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Rockstar Games has done more than most to prove phones and tablets can hack "proper" games, to use the language of some forum posters, releasing a slew of classic Grand Theft Auto titles for iOS and Android.
From the main GTA bloodline you can play GTA 3, the very first full-3D entry in the series, as well as fan favorite Vice City and the absolutely massive San Andreas. Back in the day people wondered whether the PS2 could really hack San Andreas, and now you can play it on an iPhone 4S. Mad.
That’s not the end, either. You can also snag DS/PSP classic Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars and the PSP’s Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories, which also made it to the PS2. Play them all back-to-back and you could spend a year churning through these titles alone.
Casting nostalgia aside for a minute, San Andreas is the richest of the lot, but Chinatown Wars and Liberty City Stories may be easier to hack if you struggle with those on-screen controls.
From iTunes, you can even buy a pack featuring all of Rockstar’s ports, saving you a little cash.
The history books may remember Bully as a runt in the pack of snarling beasts that make up Rockstar’s back catalog, but there's a solid argument that it’s better than some of the more famous GTA games.
Bully takes the open-world style of the Grand Theft Auto games but grafts it onto a school rather than a city. You're an attitude-drenched little ASBO of a character, who rides around the place on a skateboard, causing havoc. But you're not the bully – it's your job to take them on.
The real appeal here, though, is in the characters and storylines, which are always irreverent and often hilarious.
Sonic the Hedgehog
Back in the 90s we didn’t have to worry about Trump vs Clinton, it was all about Mario vs Sonic. With 20 years of hindsight, Mario won. But the great side-effect is that we can now play the Sonic classics on mobile, while Mario Run is all the official Nintendo plumber action you’ll get on your phone.
There are a few Sonic options. SEGA has released the original Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and Sonic CD for iOS and Android.
Most of you probably know the Sonic drill: it's a platformer that, by 16-bit console standards at least, flies by at about 90mph. SEGA hasn't tried to modernize this trio of classics, simply using the extra pixels of modern phones to keep the visuals nice and clean. Even the gamepad-ported controls work well.
Crazy Taxi Classic
Back at the very end of the 20th century, Crazy Taxi was one of the key oddball titles we loved to see in the arcade, when such things weren’t quaint places your grandad talked about wistfully. In 2000 it became part of the Sega Dreamcast's second wave of titles.
It's a game from another time, but actually has a lot more in common with the way mobile games are played than almost every other pick here. You frantically pick up passengers and drop them off in a cartoony 3D city, with just a couple of minutes to play with, earning more time the more people you deliver.
It's fast and it's addictive, just like so many casual games that get their in-app purchase hooks into us these days. Sega has also released a remixed mobile version of this format, Crazy Taxi City Rush, but it's the original we recommend for the proper console/arcade experience.
Max Payne Mobile
Yet another Rockstar Games title worth tracking down, Max Payne Mobile is a full port of the action adventure that made "bullet time" a thing back in the early 2000s.
This craze has more-or-less died out, so to explain: after The Matrix was released, slow motion shooting suddenly became the coolest thing anyone had ever seen. Alongside leather trench coats.
Max Payne was the game that made the mechanic really work, letting you slow down time to take out a whole room of baddies without it turning into an auto-aim cheat fest.
On a touchscreen, Max Payne's third-person action can be challenging to control, but the story and level design have aged much better than most titles from 20 years ago.
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
Lots of mediocre Star Wars games have popped-up over the years, but Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic was different. Made by Bioware, it was a precursor to the Mass Effect games that, for many, were a highlight of the last console generation.
It's a role-playing adventure where combat uses a continuous turn-based system, making it easier to handle on a tablet or phone than real time combat would be. It was already a pretty intense experience on Xbox, but it's surprisingly manageable on mobile.
Hardcore RPG nuts still bang on today about how KOTOR's story is one of the most engaging ever told in a game. We won't spoil anything here, though, as it hinges on a series of plot twists that'll make you drop your tablet. In a good way.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown
In 2012 it seemed like the XCOM series was well past it. Following up a pair of mid-90s classic with a slew of rubbish sequels is always a reliable way to turn a series into a has-been.
However, XCOM: Enemy Unknown brought the glory back, largely because it's a "re-imagining" of the original game from 1994. Aliens are invading, and it's your job as the XCOM task force to stop them taking over.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown plays out as an epic campaign of turn-based battles against the invaders, in which you direct a team of squaddies. And in-between those missions you build up a base and research new technologies to give Earth the edge.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown is among the most recent console classics ported to mobile, but works alarmingly well on phones and tablets alike. It's also been updated to include the XCOM: Enemy Within expansion.
Cheat alert: the Raiden series of games were originally released in the arcade. They're not strictly console games, but did make it to the Xbox 360 in 2008 as Raiden Fighters Aces.
DotEmu's Raiden Legacy for iOS and Android includes four whoppers. You get Raiden, Raiden Fighters, Raiden Fighters II and Raiden Fighters Jet. This is even better than the Xbox 360 compilation, which didn't include the original Raiden.
For the uninitiated, these games are vertical shooters. You control a fighter plane with your finger, flicking the thing around to avoid enemy fire while blasting everything on screen. It's a perfect fit for phone gaming.
90s gamers may have fond memories of the original Rayman. Its beautiful hand-drawn graphics were jaw-dropping back in the early days of CD consoles, and they still look great today.
Actually play Rayman and you'll get a quick lesson in quite how hard games used to be – the first stage is a breeze, but the difficulty soon ramps up to punishing levels. The on-screen controls work very well, but you'll have to be a touchscreen master to get to the end of this one.
Don't run away screaming just yet, though, because you can play Rayman Classic for free. You only have to pay to get rid of the ads, which you might want to do if you’re going to knuckle down to finish a game that was almost enough to make you throw your DualShock pad at your CRT TV back in 1995.
Castle of Illusion
Castle of Illusion was one of the best platformers released in the 16-bit era, but the version we get to play on iOS and Android is actually a port of the remake Disney made for the PS3 and Xbox 360 in 2013.
As such, you get a game that looks and feels new even though its levels were designed almost 30 years ago.
This is much more than an HD remake, though, moving from flat 2D to a 2.5D style with some full 3D sections. You'll find more dynamic platformers on iOS and Android, but few with the polish Disney has applied here.
Minecraft: Pocket Edition
Is Minecraft PE really a console conversion? Not really, but we never pass up the chance to recommend it, and it has been released on every format under the sun.
And no, it's not just for kids. If you've ever enjoyed a survival sim or just making something with Lego, Minecraft is worth a go.
In the early days, the Pocket Edition (that’' what the PE stands for) was a very stripped-back take on full-fat console/PC Minecraft, but it now offers giant generated worlds, advanced blocks and mobs (those are the baddies, for those not already obsessed with this world-builder).
Final Fantasy I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII and IX, but not VIII
Need more proof mobile gamers are spoilt? Just look at how many Final Fantasy titles Square Enix has ported to Android and iOS. The original Final Fantasy through to 2000's Final Fantasy IX are all available, aside from the eighth in the series. And no, we don’t know why.
This mammoth collection of JRPGs offers not just hundreds of hours of gameplay that still hold up well to this day, but a look at how console gaming tech developed from the days of the NES in the late 90s, right up to the turn of the new millennium.
If you were a gamer back when these originally came out, there's a good chance you have pretty strong opinions on which is the best – we've heard few more impassioned speeches about gaming than those from people claiming Final Fantasy VII is the best game ever.
You might want to have a think about which to download first though, as Final Fantasy’s mobile versions are among the most expensive phone games.
Without Tomb Raider there would be no Uncharted. It's time to pay our dues.
The original Tomb Raider demonstrates how much games have changed in 20 years. The camera is a trial at times, and you actually have to reach ledge A to make sure you don't fall into dark pit X, rather than just getting close to it and watching the animation do the rest.
Its puzzles have aged much better, though, and the whole experience is hugely improved simply by using a Bluetooth controller rather than the touchscreen controls. You'll need some patience for this slice of gaming history, but given the price it’s worth a bash.
If you don't have any nostalgia for the earliest Tomb Raider games, check out Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light instead. This 2010 game is easier to handle on mobile.
Half-Life 2 and Portal
- Originally on Xbox, Xbox 360 and PS3
- Google Play
Nvidia and Valve pulled off one of the most impressive feats of mobile gaming, in getting Half-Life 2 and Portal to work on Android devices.
There’s a "but" coming: you can only play them on an Nvidia Shield, Shield Tablet or the Shield portable. That's one of the most compelling reasons to get one of these along with the Nvidia Shield controller, though.
These games have been ported over using the Unity engine, making for a great demonstration of what it can create other than the endless stream of casual titles you'll find on iTunes and Google Play.
Today’s fighting game scene is dominated by Street Fighter IV/V and, to a lesser extent, Mortal Kombat X. You'll find a watered-down version of the latter on mobile, but for a real slice of old-school one-on-one excellence, download Soulcalibur.
In the early 2000s this was considered by many to be the best of its kind.
The Android version is actually based on the Xbox Live Arcade port, meaning you get better visuals than the old Dreamcast version, but no online play. It's a shame, but also makes it a break from the always-connected mobile games we tend to end up playing nowadays.
- Originally on PS3 and PS4
- Google Play
Some console games seem almost more at home on mobile than on console. Ultra-violent twin-stick shooter Hotline Miami is a good example.
Its lo-fi visuals work perfectly on the small screen, and while twin-stick mobile shooters are nowhere near as popular as they used to be, Hotline Miami sets a high standard.
Each level is a dim neon-tinged 80s dungeon in which you have to splatter the blood of everyone you see across the walls and floor. If you don't, they'll only do the same to you.
As well as looking retro, this brings back the unforgiving style of 80s and 90s games, so you might want to get a Bluetooth controller to get the most out of Hotline Miami.
Doom Classic and Doom 3
Doom is a PC game, but you can also play it on more consoles than just about anything else. It has been released for the Jaguar, 3DO, PlayStation, PS3, Saturn, Xbox, Xbox 360, and even the SNES.
id Software has also made a port for iPhone, and as it arrived in 1995,– before we used a mouse to look around in shooters – it works brilliantly on mobile.
Sure, you might not feel the creepy thrills Doom used to offer anymore, but its great level design and those iconic sounds and visuals are worth dipping into just the once more.
There's currently no official version of Doom Classic for Android, but there’s an even better treat for Nvidia tablet owners: Doom 3 BFG, which is a port of the 2004 sequel, and includes Doom and Doom II as a sweetener.
- Originally on Xbox 360
A very pretty isometric action adventure, Bastion was a big hit on Xbox Live Arcade back in 2011.
Its world is constructed as you explore, platforms popping out of the mist as you walk. Hand-painted visuals make Bastion truly striking too.
There are RPG elements to the game, but they're relatively light: you don't have to think too hard.
Also worth a look, Transistor is another isometric adventure from Supergiant. It has a sci-fi theme rather than a fantasy one, and develops the fighting mechanics further. Neither game is available for Android yet, so this is one for the iPhone and iPad owners.
Terraria was released across consoles and iOS/Android in 2013, but it's still a game with scope and depth rarely seen in mobile games. You wouldn't get that sense from a quick glance at a screen grab, though.
This is a little like a 2D side-scroller version of Minecraft, but has a greater focus on combat and adventuring, with less of the pure creative side on show.
You can craft items, build a house and dig into the ground to unearth building materials. There's no single aim, but building up your character is addictive.
The Walking Dead
Telltale Games almost single-handedly kept the 'point and click' genre afloat for over a decade. And you can get most of these PC/console adventures on Android and iOS.
They are classic "use item X with object Y" games strung together with a story, but have none (or at least few) of the headbutt-the-monitor nonsensical puzzles older readers may remember from 90s adventures.
Brands given the Telltale treatment on mobile include Game of Thrones, Wallace and Gromit, Borderlands, The Secret of Monkey Island, Back to the Future, Minecraft and The Walking Dead.
Telltale's The Walking Dead is split into seasons, and further split into chapters lasting a few hours each. It’s one of the most emotion-jangling experiences you’ll find on Android/iOS.
Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath
Oddworld is a series often forgotten when recalling the all-time great game worlds, but its strain of darkness has something your Marios, Sonics and Zeldas lack.
Oddly enough it’s not the first two classic platformers – Abe's Oddysee and Abe's Exoddus – that have made it to mobile, but the much more recent Munch's Oddysee and Stranger's Wrath.
These are full 3D games, getting you a true console-like feel, if also controls that require some effort.
Stranger’s Wrath is by far the stronger game, although Munch's Oddysee features the "Oddworld Inhabitants" seen in the first two games. In Stranger's Wrath, you play a bounty hunter in a world that could have been lifted from an old western movie.
Limbo was released at a time that cemented indie games as a force to compete with AAA titles, with titles like Limbo and Braid packing more emotional impact and elements of philosophy into a few hours than most AAA games fit into 30.
Limbo is a monochrome side-scrolling platformer. You're a little boy who wakes up in, you guessed it, limbo. There's no explanatory exposition: Limbo lets you make of it what you will, resulting in a much more thoughtful experience than you'd assume looking at the depressing-looking screenshots.
Limbo isn't a "walking sim", in which you just wander around, like many of the more recent brain-poking indie titles. It's a proper puzzler, one not afraid to kill your character repeatedly should you make a wrong move. And you will.
On console, some criticized it for being short at 4-6 hours (depending on how quickly you get through those puzzles), but it’s a perfect fit for mobile.
Broken Age was one of the earlier crowd-funded gaming hits. It earned $3.45 million (around £2.76 million/AU$4.55 million) on Kickstarter. That seemed like an absolute fortune in 2012, but it's peanuts next to the $141 million (roughly £113 million/AU$186 million) Star Citizen has crowd-sourced over the years.
The initial appeal of Broken Age was Tim Schafer's involvement. He was one of the chaps behind several classic LucasArts adventures, including The Secret of Monkey Island, Day of the Tentacle and Full Throttle.
As with many ultra-hyped entities, some were disappointed in Broken Age's final product, but it’s a very pretty, well-written and engaging adventure, without the nonsensical puzzles found in some earlier point and clicks. It's worth a play.
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons
Guns, violence, action and spectacle are staple themes in gaming. Loyalty, loss and friendship are much rarer, but are the bed on which Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons sits.
This very pretty but minimalist adventure lets you control the brothers of the title as they search for water from the tree of life, to treat their ill father. No aliens, no arch enemies here.
It's a touching story, but one that also has some interesting gameplay ideas, using a virtual analogue stick to let you control each of the brothers. As you may have guessed already, you need to make them work together to get through a series of puzzles in a pretty world. Don't miss it.
The Bard's Tale
One of the earliest full-fat console conversions is a game many won’t remember from the first time around. The Bard's Tale was released for PS2 and Xbox in 2004, and is nothing like the beardy RPGs of the same name from the mid-80s.
Those games are included in the download as a bonus, though.
The Bard's Tale is a third-person action adventure that sends up the tropes of traditional role-playing games. It's one of the funniest console games you'll find on mobile.
You'll want to play it on a tablet rather than a phone if possible, though, as it's less optimized for smaller screens than some more recent console ports. Let's not forget, it was released on mobile way back in 2011.
- Originally on PS Vita and Wii U
A real combo of genres, Severed is a role-playing game in which combat plays out like Fruit Ninja, with you swiping enemies to slash them.
It's not some light and fluffy title, though – at the very start, one of your arms gets lopped off and your family goes missing. It’s your job to find them.
Aside from the unusual theme of loss and the super-bright color palette, Severed feels a bit like an old-school dungeon crawler. Think Legend of Grimrock 2 in a very different suit.
Severed was originally released for the PS Vita in 2016, before making it to the Wii U, iOS, and finally the 3DS. Sadly, it's not out on Android. Not yet, anyway.
Might and Magic Clash of Heroes
Might and Magic Clash of Heroes is really a handheld console game rather than the home console classics we're focusing on primarily here, but eventually made its way to the Xbox 360 and PS3, and is just too good to pass up.
It’s part role-playing adventure, somewhat comparable with the classic Might and Magic games, but switches to a casual turn-based puzzler when you end up in a battle. You line-up similar types of fighter units to attack the enemy's forces.
It ends up feeling like a much better-contextualized take on the match-3 gameplay seen in Puzzle Quest and its imitators.
Think "survival horror" and you may picture Resident Evil or its less renowned cousin Silent Hill. However, Don't Starve offers another take on what that term can mean.
You're dropped in a grim, unfriendly patch of land and have to cut down trees and gather supplies to avoid being ripped to pieces by the nasties that lurk in the shadows. As soon as the sun goes down, Don't Starve’s world becomes very, very dangerous.
Its crafting-heavy gameplay has caused comparisons to Minecraft, but Don't Starve is a completely different experience. This is a world you can't master, you're always just doing your best to stay alive. A quirky visual style and top-down isometric perspective work well on mobile too.
World of Goo
Build, build, build. When so many AAA console games are about destruction, World of Goo offers a refreshing departure from the norm.
You use blobs of goo to create bridges and other structures, to deliver the remaining blobs to a suction pipe at the end of each level. As building these structures uses up the goo blobs, you have to balance out making your bridges stronger without using up your goo resources.
It’s great fun, and the physics engine is strong enough to let you use architectural rules to your advantage. Back on the Nintendo Wii, you used the Wii Remote as a mouse cursor to place goo, but it works perhaps even better on a touchscreen.
Who needs Final Fantasy when you have Chrono Trigger? This time traveling RPG has one of the most engaging stories in gaming history, and has aged far better than 99% of things released in the mid-90s, music and movies included.
In some respects Chrono Trigger is a classic JRPG, but it has a more fluid battle system and gets rid of random encounter battles – a frequent annoyance in this kind of game.
While less well-known than the Final Fantasy and Pokémon series, there’s a strong argument for Chrono Trigger as the best Japanese role-player of the 90s. The stinger: like all of Square Enix's mobile conversions, Chrono Trigger is quite expensive.
Fortnite Mobile brought the gaming phenomenon to Android and iOS devices, letting us floss on the move. And it's been a huge success.
Fortnite Battle Royale has had a meteoric rise since its release in 2017, and it's not hard to see why. The free-to-play battle royale PS4 game offers players an energetic and enjoyable online multiplayer experience , with a concept that pretty simple to get to grips with: just be the last person standing.
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Vic is TechRadar Gaming's Associate Editor. An award-winning games journalist, Vic brings experience from IGN, Eurogamer and more to the TechRadar table. You may have even heard her on the radio or speaking on a panel. Not only is Vic passionate about games, but she's also an avid mental health advocate who has appeared on both panels and podcasts to discuss mental health awareness. Make sure to follow her on Twitter for more.