With this week’s release of Super Mario Run, now seems like a very good time to take a look at that old stalwart of mobile game genres, the endless runner. This type of mobile game has been among the most popular since the release of Canabalt in 2009, with many titles ending up on top of both the iOS and Android game charts. In an endless runner you, put simply, run until you die. Gameplay usually consists of nothing more than swiping up on your device’s screen to jump, down to slide, and left or right to dodge. They can be remarkably simple, but also simply addictive. There’s usually almost no barrier to entry, often playable using only one hand. With so many on the mobile market, are you left wondering what the best endless runners are?
The best endless runners are perfect for any activity that doesn’t require a lot of thought. They’re fantastic for playing on the subway while commuting or during tedious episodes of a long TV show binge watch. They can also be, however, devilishly addictive. The problem is that there a TON of them. Finding an endless running app on your phone isn’t a challenge. But finding a great one often can be. The following games represent the best that the genre has to offer (for now).
5. Smash Hit
Smash Hit is unique as an endless runner in that it’s played from a first-person perspective. In this game, you move through a series of rooms filled with glass objects that you shoot with chrome marbles causing them to shatter. Hit individual objects, and you can shoot many marbles at a time. Glass barriers will pop up without warning, and if you don’t break them in time, you collide with them reducing the number of marbles you can shoot back to one. It’s hugely satisfying to see and hear the glass shatter which makes the game oddly relaxing (hence its ‘zen’ mode) yet still very challenging. (Free, iOS & Android)
4. Tiny Wings
Tiny Wings is an endless runner that ironically features no running. Instead, you play as an adorable little bird that hasn’t yet learned to fly and must rely on the hills and valleys to propel you up into the stratosphere. Timing is crucial, because if you swoop down onto a hill at the wrong time, you’re literally fighting an uphill battle and will need to regain any momentum you previously had in the next valley. It’s trickier than it sounds, but Tiny Wings is just so cute and the music so catchy, you’ll probably find yourself going back to it over and over. ($0.99, iOS)
3. Jetpack Joyride
In Halfbrick Studios‘ mobile game Jetpack Joyride, you play as Barry Steakfries, a former salesman who stumbles on a laboratory of scientists creating various kinds of weaponized jetpacks. These jetpacks propel Barry in the air via bullets, or bubbles, flames, lightning, Christmas ornaments, and a host of other nonsensical and random items. Jetpack Joyride, and its elder sibling, Monster Dash, definitely fall on the more tongue-in-cheek, humorous side of the endless runner genre. But as the speed increases, so do the difficulty and the game pulls no punches at all. You will die. A lot. But you’ll also have a lot of fun doing so. (Free, iOS & Android)
2. Lara Croft: Relic Run
Speaking of dying a lot, there’s Lara Croft: Relic Run. While at first, it seems like merely another Temple Run knock-off, as you progress through this endless runner based on the hit Tomb Raider franchise, the depth of the gameplay becomes much more impressive. As does the variety of Relic Run‘s levels. Lara Croft’s mobile app features gameplay elements rarely seen in other endless runners; third person shooter levels, wall-running and parkour, weapon upgrades, vehicles and the ability to ride a T-Rex. Yes, you can ride a Tyrannosaurus Rex in this game — obviously, a must-buy. (Free, iOS & Android)
1. Spider-Man Unlimited
Spider-Man Unlimited is hands-down way more fun than it has any right to be. It really does feel at times like you’re playing a comic book. The plot is interesting — well, for an endless runner, a genre which isn’t exactly known for being “plot heavy.” The graphics are fantastic, and the writing captures the quippy humor so crucial to the character of Spidey. The plot involves an interdimensional version of the Sinister Six looking for something called ISO-8. Nick Fury calls on Spider-Man, as well as his counterparts from other dimensions to stop the bad guys from destroying New York City. Spider-Man Unlimited is a fast-paced, varied, and highly entertaining game. If you’re a fan of either Spider-Man or endless runners, you owe it to yourself to check this one out.