Seven great hardcore mobile games

For when you want to play very difficult games on a very tiny screen

Wayward Souls - iOS and Google Play

Designed for quick sessions, Wayward Souls is a rogue like action RPG which owes plenty to The Legend of Zelda and Secret of Mana. Levels are procedurally generated. And with six different characters, this means Wayward Souls gives you a ton of unique content to play through. The Warrior Class is ideal for newbies - slow yet powerful - while the Mage is great for inflicting huge damage but suffers badly in close combat, Such a risk/reward system means there’s something new to learn with every class.  You lose everything if you die and must start from scratch— and you’re going to die frequently. Due to the procedurally generated levels, some success is down to luck with occasional levels proving easier than others, but you won’t feel cheated when you die. Other times, such randomness goes in your favor. With the quick session length, you’ll dust yourself off and come back for more. Each dungeon entices you in for just one more go, even if it punishes you in the end. 

Hearthstone - iOS

It’s a slightly predictable first choice, but it’s hard not to be beguiled by Hearthstone. There are many collectible card games out there on mobile, but Blizzard surpasses them all. Hearthstone can take seconds to learn but years to master. At first, you’ll focus on building up your deck, upgrading your deck classes, and unlocking new cards.  As you enter ranked PVP play, however, your focus changes to finessing your deck and engaging with the metagame. Since your progress is saved to your account, you can easily switch between mobile device and PC.

Vainglory - iOS

Vainglory, a mobile MOBA, has been heavily featured by Apple— and for good reason. While it’s not quite as polished as League of Legends or Dota 2, it should scratch that itch when you’re not near your PC. Battles are 3 vs 3, and take about twenty minutes to complete—which makes them well-suited to mobile.  Long-term progression is focused on building different item load outs to tweak your characters to match your playing style. Vainglory offers a steep learning curve as you find out just what works for you, but it’s not quite as harsh as PC based MOBAs, so it serves pretty well as a bridge between casual gaming and harder stuff. Newcomers will soon figure out ganking and laning, as they dabble in the genre, while more experienced gamers will appreciate being able to do such things on the move. 

DoDonPachi Resurrection HD iOS and Google Play

Bullet-hell shooters are a strange kind of sweet suffering. CAVE has been well known since the 1990s for providing some of the best games in the genre, and it’s moved its familiar blend of pattern memorization and twitch gaming to mobile. You can’t really go wrong with any of their extensive catalogue, but we’ve picked out DoDonPachi Resurrection HD for its vibrancy. Two modes are on offer: the original arcade port, and a smartphone version that’s been specifically tailored for the format. In either case, you’ll be spending a significant amount of time focusing on weaving through waves of bullets. A control system based on sliding gestures helps a lot here, ensuring that your failure will be down to being too slow rather than struggling to adapt to touch screen controls. This is about as far removed from the genteel experience of Candy Crush Saga as you can get. 

Final Fantasy VI - iOS and Google Play

The debate over which Final Fantasy game is the best one could rage for years. In fact, it already has. The best part about such a debate? Whatever your answer, you’ve got a fantastic JRPG at your disposal. For the purposes of this list, we’ve gone with Final Fantasy VI. If you started out with VII, you’ll still be delighted by what VI brought to the table before it. There’s the usual range of world map exploration, dungeons to traverse, and turn based combat. Where Final Fantasy VI stands out most is with its storyline— a tale about war and rebellion, packed with surprising plot twists. Its characters will stick in your mind for a long time to come and, unlike VII, you won’t be occasionally irritated by them either. Years ago, its strong female leads broke new ground for equality in gaming. Today, they actually make it feel like a much fresher experience than more recent RPGs. Best of all, this mobile version means you can take this epic RPG with you wherever you go. 

Pac-Man Championship Edition DX iOS and Google Play

You’ve probably played many iterations of Pac-Man over the years, but Championship Edition DX is the definitive one. Previously a console-only release, its gameplay translates perfectly to mobile. Each of its 132 mazes are quick but satisfying to complete, as you dodge ghosts and collect pellets as quickly as possible. Where this game stands out from others is with how it deals with defeat. Unlike other Pac-Man games where you lose a life when you hit a ghost, Championship Edition DX has you slow down when you collide. Time is everything when it comes to gaining the best scores, so it’s just as frustrating and challenging as if you’d died. It adds a real sense of urgency. Such a subtle but important tweak ensures this feels fresh all over again. Score Attack, Time Trial, and Ghost Combo modes give you varied tastes of score chasing, and you’ll be impressed at how much you can accomplish during your daily commute.

FTL: Faster Than Light - iOS

It turns out that running a spaceship on a quest to save the galaxy is fairly stressful! FTL: Faster Than Light exploits this—it’s a spaceship simulation game that’s going to make you suffer. The game has perms-death— there’s always the risk of screwing up and losing everything in one wrong move. You need to hand out orders to your crew, juggle power distribution, and choose when and how to upgrade your ship. Random encounters will force you to make difficult choices about how to react to the strange creatures you find in outer space. It’s stressful stuff, but when you do well, you really feel like you’ve earned those. That’s why you’ll come back for more like a glutton for punishment. FTL: Faster Than Light is the kind of game you’ll spend time poring over strategy guides in the hope they’ll help… but really, you’re on your own here.

Jennifer Allen is a freelance writer based in Wales. She's written for Playboy, TechRadar, Paste, and 148apps. She spends too much time on Twitter.