Endless runners are one of the most common gaming genres on mobile devices with countless titles landing in the category being released on a monthly basis. And there’s a reason for this – mobile games typically only requiring timed taps, and sometimes carefully directed swipes, are perfectly suited for tablets and smartphones. While still a loose definition, to me, in order for a game to be considered an endless runner, it needs to force the player to constantly push forwards, with minimal control over how fast the in-game avatar is moving. In general, while running isn’t required in an endless runner, perpetual forward motion certainly is. With this list, I aim to cut through the noise, selecting five of the top endless runners available on both iOS and Android.
1. Alto’s Adventure
Toronto-based Snowman’s title, Alto’s Adventure, doesn’t bring anything new to the endless runner genre – instead it perfects it. Everything ranging from the game’s art direction, to its smooth, mesmerizing animation, is top notch. A simple progression system featuring basic but still challenging goals also gives the player a reason to continue leveling up their multiple gravity defying snowboarders, each with their own unique control intricacies. Alto’s adventure costs $2.29 and is currently an iOS exclusive, but rumours indicate the game could make it to Android at some point in the near future.
Canabalt is the original endless runner and is credited with popularizing this type of game on smartphones, and depending on who you believe, even creating the genre (although flash game Helicopter is more likely one of the first endless runners). It features an endless procedurally generated world and tasks the player with hopping over both gaps and small boxes at a blisteringly fast pace. If you hit a box, you’ll slow down, and if you time a jump incorrectly, your poor character will fall to his death. In short, Canabalt is the endless runner genre at its most fundamental level. Amusingly enough, among the platforms the title is available for is the Commodore 64, one of the first mass-produced home computers released way back in 1982, thanks to the clever programming skills of C64 homebrew developer Paul Koller. Homebrew gaming projects certainly can be bizarre sometimes, but often in the best way possible. Canabalt is available on iOS for $3.49 and Android for $3.75.
3. Jupiter Jump
Jupiter Jump lands on this list for the exact opposite reason I’ve included Alto’s Adventure – it actually flips around the fundamental concept behind an endless runner in a variety of ways. Essentially, Noodlecake Games’ Jupiter Jump controls the exact opposite way Flappy Bird does (and it’s actually fun). In this title, players are required to smash their character (an astronaut who has been jettisoned from his spacecraft) repeatedly into the ground, controlling their bounces, dodging mines and flying through hoops. The game also rewards you for close calls and the nearer you bounce towards a mine, the higher your score multiplier becomes. The game also adopts a retro aesthetic that’s popular in the industry right now, making Jupiter Jump feel like it’s pulled directly out of gamings’ mid to late 1980s 8-bit era, which is always a welcome sight for nostalgic players like myself. Jupiter Jump is free on Android and iOS.
4. Tiny Wings
Sure, Tiny Wings features a bird, which has lead many people to pass it off as just another Angry Birds clone, but there’s much more to the game than that. Instead of playing like the typical endless runner, tasking the player with jumping and avoiding obstacles, Tiny wings puts the player in the role of a tiny bird who desperately wants to fly (but can’t really). Gameplay mainly revolves around timing taps at the apex of Tiny Wing’s rolling hills in order to launch the little aerial-challenged creature repeatedly through the air. Similar to other titles in the genre, the game also features missions that upgrade both the player’s performance and score multiplier. While not necessary, RPG-like elements in endless runner titles add an additional level of welcome depth to what is otherwise a simple concept. It’s no wonder that Alto’s Adventure’s development team was inspired by Tiny Wing’s simplistic elegance. Tiny Wings is available on iOS for $1.19.
5. Temple Run 2
Some will argue the Temple Run series aren’t truly endless runners because they feature three-dimensional gameplay, but it definitely still is. The game simply just offers a different take on the genre, one that’s refreshing and different. Played from a third-person perspective, players navigate their Indiana Jones look-a-like character through a variety of obstacles such as jumping over chasms, grabbing onto zip lines, and bounding over waterfalls and painful looking jets of fire. The original Temple Run was a great game and rather than reinvent the series for Temple Run 2, Imangi Studios opted to just add more traps for the player to dodge and work around. Unlike most endless runners an additional control variable is thrown into the mix as well, forcing the player to keep their intrepid adventurer moving in the correct direction by swiping left and right, and also occasionally physically tilting their smartphone. Temple Run 2 is available on iOS and Android for the low price of free.
The above titles aren’t the only great endless runners out there on mobile devices. Adult Swim’s Robot Unicorn Attack 2 is hilarious and colourful (it’s also free on iOS and Android). Jetpack joyride is another great endless runner with a surprising amount of depth (also available on iOS and Android). And then there’s recently released The Quest Keeper (free on iOS and Android), the latest title from Hipster Whale, the same studio who created Crossy Road. The developer’s newest release features the same blocky graphics as its first game, but instead of crossing a busy street Frogger style, players quickly navigate through a trap-filled dungeon with directional swipes, as well as occasionally tilting your smartphone, dodging obstacles like spikes and holes in the ground. However, while the game perpetually pushes the player forward, it could be argued that The Quest Keeper isn’t a “true” endless runner because you can stop your character at anytime to assess your surroundings, although halting your explorer’s forward motion is very challenging and requires concise timing.
Flappy Bird is the ultimate dishonorable mention. The game might be an endless runner but it unfortunately isn’t a good one, and features a difficulty level that makes very little sense, controls that are wonky, and at one point was actually pulled from mobile marketplaces because the game’s developer felt it was “too addictive” after Flappy Bird skyrocketed in popularity, only to return a few months later with a few minor alterations. Avoid this game at all costs. Follow me on Twitter: @Patrick_ORourke