Standouts in mobile gaming

New York Times

An image captured from “Romans from Mars 360,” a virtual reality tower attack game.

By Kit Eaton New York Times 

Numerous video game titles were showcased at the recent E3 industry show, and many exhibitors emphasized mobile gaming. I recently looked through some app stores to find games that are innovative, beautiful, and meaningful.

Liyla and the Shadows of War

Free for iOS and Android

One that fits that bill is “Liyla and the Shadows of War.” At first glance, this looks like a traditional two-dimensional platforms-and-ladders game, albeit with dark and moody graphics and a bleak soundtrack. But it is far from typical.


Based on true events in Gaza, “Liyla and the Shadows of War” places you in control of a family trying to traverse a war-torn urban landscape and survive. You leap from level to level, beat obstacles, and avoid threats. By giving the silhouetted family a personality, adding threats like sniper fire, drones, and missiles, and adding burning cars to the landscape and desperate cries and frantic breathing to the soundtrack, the developer Rasheed Abueideh has created an app that is more of an educational experience than a game.

The mood captures some of the horror of conflict in the region and may emotionally affect players or observers. My 7-year-old son, an accomplished gamer, watched me play for a while and said the game was different because it felt “very sad.”


Free for iOS and Android

“Voez” is a rhythm music game like “Tap Tap Revenge” or “Band Hero.” You respond to icons on the screen that move in time to the throbbing soundtrack and must tap on icons that fall down vertical sliders in time with the beat, scoring points based on the accuracy of your timing.

Unlike other apps in the genre, “Voez” has graphics and a background story line that borrow heavily from Japanese manga; you play the game as part of a Japanese pop band.

The imagery is smooth, the electronic music jangles all the right nerves in your brain, and the game is fast-paced. Everything on the screen moves all the time, including where you have to tap in time to the music. You may find your fingertips and attention dancing all over the place, and as you complete levels, you get to see more of the cartoon story line about the band you are helping.

Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons

$5 for iOS and Android


Another pleasing game is “Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons.” An adventure game that is new on Android and long popular on iOS, the app has traditional features like a complex 3-D environment and puzzles to solve.

But the titular brothers do not communicate in a language you can understand. You also have to control the movements of both players at once, using two thumbs on your device’s screen, which is difficult.

Finding Dory

$4 for iOS, Android, and Windows

For younger players, “Finding Dory” is a new Disney game. Previous games from this brand involved bland or unimaginative game play, but “Finding Dory” delights with cute 3-D cut-screen animations that are inspired by the new sequel to “Finding Nemo.” You, as Dory, must keep swimming to avoid obstacles, collect bubbles, and find various lost cast members. It is simple fun and the youngest phone fanatics will love it.

Romans From Mars

Free for iOS and Android

And check out “Romans From Mars.” This is a classic tower defense game that works as expected on your phone’s screen — until you download the “360” virtual reality version (for iOS and Android) and slot your phone into a virtual reality peripheral like Google Cardboard. In virtual reality, your battles against waves of bad guys will feel even more tense and adrenaline-inducing, despite the game’s cartoony graphics.

Happy gaming.

Kit Eaton writes on technology for The New York Times Follow him on Twitter @kiteaton.