Best new mobile games on iOS and Android – January 2023 round-up

Kentucky Route Zero screenshot

Kentucky Route Zero – wonderfully strange (pic: Netflix)

The first round-up of smartphone games for 2023 includes surrealist adventure Kentucky Route Zero on Netflix and Streets of Rage homage 99Vidas.

With all the joy and frivolity of the festive season now a distant memory, the cold gray blanket of British January, and its concomitant return to work, is enough to keep anyone clinging to their mobile for solace. Just as well you’ll find it, in the form of the wonderful Kentucky Route Zero, now free to Netflix subscribers; alongside old school beat ’em-up 99Vidas, and Philipp Stollenmayer’s intriguing Song Of Bloom finally arriving on Android.

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iOS, £1.79 (Play XD)

Rotating three concentric disks, your job is to assemble lines of three or more dots of the same color, scoring extra points for longer lines and making two or more at the same time.

After every move the game adds new dots to the board, opening up fresh possibilities but also gradually filling it up. When there’s no room left its game over.

Despite its unpronounceable name this is slightly compelling stuff, with your skills at building multiple concurrent lines growing without you really knowing how you’re doing it.

Score: 7/10

Song Of Bloom

iOS & Android, £1.99 (Philipp Stollenmayer)

Originally released for iOS at the end of 2019, Song of Bloom’s cryptic charms are now available for Android.

In it you’ll see a procession of strange symbols and shapes, a figure looking at a mobile, and a pyramid. Throughout its repeating 30-second message, you can draw red ink scrawls over any parts you like, but what does it all mean?

Discovering clues gradually unlocks new content to make sense of what, to start with, seems like a random collection of images. It may not be a long game, but it’s a fascinating process while it lasts.

Score: 7/10

Kentucky Route Zero

iOS & Android, included with Netflix subscription (Netflix)

Kentucky Route Zero comprises a set of interrelated surreal stories with incredibly realistic, down-at-heel characters, and a highway that doesn’t literally exist.

Veering wildly from what feels like a role-playing game, to text adventure, to things you just don’t do in any other game, its absence of voice acting is more than compensated for by some of the best prose ever written for a video game.

With no dexterity needed, the touchscreen version works perfectly and is an excellent way of experiencing the game’s captivating weirdness.

Score: 8/10

99 Farewell

iOS & Android, Free (QUByte)

Looking, playing, and indeed sounding a lot like Streets Of Rage, 99Vidas is a 90s-style beat ’em-up steeped in 16-bit nostalgia.

The move from console to mobile adds a chunky onscreen joystick and buttons, which work well enough to let you enjoy its combos, colorful backdrops, and general sense of silliness.

It’s initially fun and there’s plenty of self-referential humor, but it’s let down by the usual problems of the genre, notably its lack of variety and essential mindlessness. You’ll also have to watch ads to play.

Score: 6/10

Idle Pocket Planet

iOS & Android, Free (HyperBeard)

Incremental games don’t come much cuter looking than Idle Pocket Planet, whose setting in the K-Wai galaxy has you populating barren worlds with alien life.

Tap to hatch tiny xenomorphs, then merge them to make more powerful ones, slowly adding extra multipliers in the time-honored idle game tradition.

Unfortunately, all that’s swiftly overwhelmed by the cold, dead hand of commerce; entreaties to buy its starter pack are relentless, and the ads it frequently encourages you to view are extremely long and the sort where a single tap on the screen takes you to the App Store window. It’s exhausting.

Score: 5/10

Twelve Minutes

iOS & Android, included with Netflix subscription (Netflix)

Twelve Minutes is a time loop thriller ported from PC and console, that takes place in a small flat over the course of, at most, 12 minutes. To start with it’ll be considerably less than that, as you accidentally cause all manner of premature chaos.

It stars Daisy Ridley and Willem Defoe as the game’s two protagonists, although you’ll only really be able to hear them, because the game’s viewed from directly above, so you get quite a limited sense of their faces and body language.

Fraught with increasingly absurd – although admittedly unpredictable – plot twists, its frequent repetition and claustrophobic setting soon starts to grate. It’s worth a go if you haven’t canceled Netflix yet, but it’s unlikely to win many new subscribers.

Score: 6/10

Epic Fantasy Battle 5: RPG

iOS & Android, Free (Matthew Roszak)

There’s been a plethora of old school role-players making their way to mobile recently, from the vast Divinity: Original Sin 2, to humbler offerings like this one.

Epic Fantasy Battle 5 is a JRPG to the core, cheekily playing the Final Fantasy end-of-battle fanfare after its turn-based fights, its gently witty dialogue regularly knocking on the fourth wall and poking fun at itself.

The mechanics are all in order though, with XP arriving in generous portions and ad watching strictly limited to optional increases in battle rewards. A thoroughly likeable game for anyone who misses the formative years of Final Fantasy.

Score: 7/10

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