The best mobile action games

The best mobile action games

Popular wisdom says that fast-paced action and cell phones just don’t mix. Many console and PC action games rely on quick decisions and responsive inputs, which are harder to achieve on a small screen with touch controls. But that’s not always the case, as many action games made for mobile use the capabilities of touch controls to their advantage.

The large mobile market has convinced many developers to port their games to modern phones. Often these ports will be stripped down versions of the originals, with inferior controls and less content. But just as often, as is the case with the games listed below, smart design and slight streamlining can make this transition painless.


10 Evoland 2

A screenshot from Evoland 2

Evoland 2 starts with a simple premise. It’s a puzzle-action game about fighting monsters and solving mysteries across different game generations. This somehow results in a story-focused adventure that spans over 15 hours, with much more in optional content.

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Evoland 2 plays a bit like A link to the past if Link actually traveled through time. When prompted, players can move to either the SNES past, the PS1 present, or a hazy 3D future. Solving puzzles is really what time travel is for, switching to simpler graphics to warp the map and to modern mechanics for deeper interactions with the environment.

9 Pascal’s effort

A screenshot from Pascal's Wager

Pascal’s effort is simply said one Blood borne clone. It doesn’t have the same aggressive health regeneration system, and it’s certainly not as difficult, but boy does it look like Blood borne. The Soulsborne influences show up in gameplay as much as they do in presentation, and for the most part they serve to make the game better.

Pascal’s effort learns from Dark souls, focusing on stamina management and one-on-one combat with unique enemies. It offers the player several unique characters to choose from, such as a warrior who fights with a full-sized chest attached to a chain. The biggest departure from the Soulsborne series, besides the removal of traditional RPG elements, is the move to a linear story, complete with dialogue choices.


A screenshot from GRIMVALOR

2D action platformers GRIM VALOR owes as much to metroidvanias as it does to Dark souls. Just like Blood stained or Salt and sanctuary before that, the Souls inspirations mixed with 2D action do GRIM VALOR a sort of metroidvania by default. Although the Souls inspirations are a bit on the surface, this is the best way to scratch it Salt and sanctuary scratch the mobile phone.

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Just like in any good metroidvania, unlocked moves act as both combat options and movement boosts. The first unlock GRIM VALOR is a charged attack, a stiff action game that also opens up new paths through the cracks in the wall.

7 Apple Knight

A screenshot from Apple Knight

Free to play hidden gem Apple Knight is a cute little platformer with an Action RPG streak. An unassuming hero takes on a mission that is simplistic, yes, but also charming in a nostalgic way. The pixel art is reminiscent of SNES classics and the color palette makes it look like the game lives in a perennial autumn. The levels are stripped down to the essentials, but occasional false walls or simple missions keep things fresh.

With many different characters and a long campaign, Apple Knight is certainly meatier than it first appears. Most of these characters cost real money, but just a single purchase also disables ads. Additionally, a $10 in-app purchase allows players to unlock almost everything in the game, including future updates.

6 ActRaiser Renaissance

A screenshot from ActRaiser Renaissance

ActRaiser Renaissance is a mix of action and city building, with some RPG mechanics for flavor. It’s a bonified SNES classic, even if it was never the most popular title. Playing as the “Master”, a sort of divine figure, the player takes control of various champions and battles evil in 2D stages.

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ActRaiser Renaissance is mostly a faithful remake of the SNES original. The city building phase changes things and so does the new graphic style, but only slightly. All in all, this is the same game as the 1990 classic Action-RPG, adapted for mobile.

5 Streets Of Rage 4

A screenshot from Streets Of Rage 4

Streets of Rage 4 is the latest sequel to the seminal multiplayer beat-em-up series, Streets of Rage, and the first entry since 1994. Time doesn’t seem to have weakened the series’ formula, as players still move from left to right grabbing power-ups and beating up goons, until the final boss.

Although combat is mostly faithful, Streets of Rage 4 brings a major innovation to the series: juggling. Borrow the tactic from spectacle hunters who Bayonetta and devil may cry, Streets of Rage4 encourages players to use launchers and midair attacks to keep enemies off the ground. This little addition does wonders to rejuvenate a formula that is nearly 30 years old.

4 Huntdown: Cyberpunk Adventure

A screenshot from Huntdown Cyberpunk Adventure

2D shooting game Huntdown: Cyberpunk Adventure sees the player take on the role of bounty hunter and dismantle the city’s gangs one at a time. Hunt has three main characters to choose from, although they are the same 80’s action hero template in male, female and robot variants. What the game does have instead is incredibly detailed pixel art, immersive audio, and wonderfully fitting voice acting.

Huntdown: Cyberpunk Adventure is certainly a beautiful game, but it’s also one of the most compelling 2D shooters on mobile. Characters aren’t the most resilient, with enemy goons going down after one hit and a main character only able to take five. The effortless cover system helps deal with the high lethality without having to resort to fast platforming, which would be a problem on mobile.


A screenshot from JYDGE

JUDGE really want to be Judge Dredd. As the cheesy voice acting reveals, even the titular vigilante’s name is just an odd spelling of Judge. But unlike the semi-immortal, pulp version of the Judge, this stickless twin-stick shooter is a more tactical affair. Enemies in the last levels of JUDGE can easily swarm the player, who doesn’t have much to live for in the limelight.

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At the start of each level, players enter a new building and try to leave from the other end without leaving anyone inside. That means freeing hostages and killing enemies, but it also means not dying in the process. High lethality and persistent stealth mean that this is not a game of relentless action, but a game of weighing your options from room to room.


A screenshot from ICEY

ICEY is a stylish 2D side-scrolling action game with a curious twist. Not unlike meta-game sensation The Stanley Parable, ICEY features a narrator who tries to predict the player’s every move. And just like Encryption predecessor Pony Island, ICEY will sometimes pause the hacking and slashing in favor of short adventure sections that are best left untouched.

ICEY is the story of how a cyborg sent on an obscure mission ends up challenging the instructions. Icey’s rebellion develops when the player disobeys the narrator’s orders, who eventually becomes a stand-in for the developer. Although the story never reaches the heights it could have, it accompanies a battle that is as good as mobile action gets.

1 Dead cells mobile

A screenshot from Dead Cells

Roguelites with metroidvania elements are a dime a dozen, on mobile or consoles. Nevertheless, the critically acclaimed Dead cells managed to rise well above the competition, shipping over 6 million units. The premise is simple, but works brilliantly for a roguelite. Players control a creature that can possess bodies, but is trapped in a world that transforms itself every time the body dies.

For a game originally made for consoles, Dead cells has one of the best control systems of any mobile game. The screen can certainly be a little cramped and the buttons can be too small, but for a game of this complexity there is little the developers could have done. With a ridiculous amount of content and so many possible builds, Dead cells can keep roguelite fans playing for months.

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