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2014 in review: The year's best mobile games

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The mobile gaming era has come a long way. Where mobile games once felt like silly, simple ways to pass the time, it's becoming harder and harder to keep ourselves away from playing on our phones.

Although there were dozens upon dozens of mobile titles to sift through, 2014 served up some of our favorite mobile games to date. Whether they were quirky, thought-provoking or just plain fun, we've put together our top picks for the year. You need to check these out.

80 days

80 Days on Android and iOS

Jules Verne fans, perk up: 80 Days is a reinterpretation of the classic novel, Around the World in Eighty Days, penned in 1873 — with a few steampunk exceptions. 80 Days charges you with finding the fastest route around the world while accounting for transport, travel arrangements, luggage and other would-be problems. It's trickier than it sounds, thanks to other players out to achieve the same goal.

The Banner Saga on Android and iOS

Viking-themed tactical role-playing game The Banner Saga delighted us when it first released on PC with its deep combat and striking art style. The game is set in a world inspired by Norse mythology, in which players split their time between battle and dialogue decisions.

The Banner Saga is a hard game to not recommend to anyone, and its mobile version is just as good a reason as any to pick it up.

Bounden on Android and iOS

If you're looking for a game to take you out of your comfort zone in about a million ways, try Bounden, a game focused on cooperative dance. Two players hold either end of the device and attempt to twist, twirl and avoid looking like complete duffers in choreographed dances.

Of course, the real fun isn't about how well you can dance, or how good you look. It's connecting with a friend in a new, goofy way and laughing when you both fail. At least, that's what we clumsy, awkward Polygoners tell ourselves.

crossy road

Crossy Road on Android and iOS

Crossy Road is essentially an endless version of Frogger with a "Why did the chicken cross the road?" joke tossed in for good measure. With touch-based swipes, you navigate a blocky chicken across a series of busy roads and over log-filled rivers. As you move, you're slowly pushed forward; hop too slow and you're lunch for flying predators. It's everything you want your mobile games to be: Easy, fast and hopelessly addictive.

Eliss Infinity on Android and iOS

Eliss Infinity is my ideal game for commutes. As the followup to Eliss, released in 2009, it gives a fresh coat of paint to a familiar concept. Using your fingers, you push, poke, combine and pull apart balls of light to fit them into different sectors. It's simple enough to keep you from getting frustrated in public, but also interesting enough to make the long minutes of your ride melt away.

Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft on Android and iOS

Card-based games can be a tricky pool to dip into. They require a different level of strategy than what most players are used to, as well as a financial investment to stay up to date. Enter Hearthstone, Blizzard's free-to-play digital card game.

Hearthstone is simple enough for new players, but contains enough depth to keep experienced players interested and challenged with matches against friends or AI and daily quests. Card collecting isn't for everyone, but Hearthstone is.

Hitman Go on Android and iOS

To break down Hitman Go in simplest terms, it's an isometric, turn-based take on the stealth franchise. When I sat down to write the entry for Hitman Go, I asked reviews editor Arthur Gies — one of the biggest proponents for including it on this list — to share his thoughts. Rather than digesting and spitting them out, I'll include them below.

It takes the high-level concepts of a very sophisticated console/PC title and makes it work on mobile without feeling compromised. It finds the essence of the idea and a good alternative means of presenting/executing on it.

This elegant summary was delivered bereft of caps-lock, which I can only tell you makes the sincerity of the statement all the more serious. Also, Hitman Go has just the cutest little assassinations.

monument valley

Monument Valley on Android and iOS

With Monument Valley, developer Ustwo brought the spirit of M.C. Escher's work to life. Players navigate a tiny princess through an aesthetically twisted world by tapping, touching or dragging different parts of each level. It's a short, sweet little game with brilliant puzzle design — and it's not bad on the eyes, either.

MTN on Android and iOS

MTN (or Mountain) is a game that defies description. You're a mountain, and you do the things mountains do, like experience weather, spin around, play music and reflect on your existence. It's weird almost to the point of being pretentious ... And yet, there's something soothing about it. Peaceful, even.

At the very least, MTN is the best mountain simulator we've ever played.

Papers, Please on iOS

Lucas Pope's Papers, Please won the hearts of critics when it launched last year. It's a game I wouldn't necessarily classify as "fun," but absolutely important. Players take on the role of an immigration officer working the border of a fictional dystopian country. It's an often exhausting exercise in sacrifice, apathy, deception and, most of all, tedium.

The game is available on iPad as of this month, though sadly for Android users there are no current plans for a release.

Pokémon TCG Online on iOS

The creators of Pokémon TCG Online wanted to solve a fairly obvious, fairly difficult problem: Players need other people to play with. Thus the iOS-friendly version of the popular trading card game was born. TCG Online is updated frequently, easy to use and it allows you to easily play against friends and strangers alike. It may not be the Pokémon you're craving on a mobile platform, but it does scratch a specific itch.

the sailor's dream

The Sailor's Dream on iOS

The Sailor's Dream is self-described as "a peaceful narrative experience." Like Simogo's work before it — Year Walk and Device 6 — it offers more of an atmospheric journey than traditional play. You explore a picturesque world and read short stories that help clue you in to larger themes.

It's a game that hardly feels like a game. The Sailor's Dream is occasionally haunting, always beautiful and unlike its peers.

Thomas Was Alone on Android and iOS

When Thomas Was Alone first launched in 2012, it charmed us with its humor, charismatic narration and lovable, blocky characters. You play as Thomas and his friends, a crew of different shapes that must work together to escape a series of room-based puzzles.

The game itself is simple in theory, but Thomas Was Alone is packed with heartfelt moments and some really, really hard puzzles, you guys. Its short levels are perfect for mobile devices; it keeps you from going crazy when you find yourself stuck on one frustrating moment.

Threes! on Android and iOS

Sirvo's simple game, Threes!, is all about numbers. You slide and combine tiles to gather multiples of three while trying to keep yourself from running out of moves. Basically, Threes! makes math fun. There is no higher praise we can give.

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Which mobile games caught — and kept — your attention this year? Tell us what made your list in the comments below.

This piece is part of Polygon's 2014 in Review series. Throughout December we'll be exploring the games, people and events that shaped gaming in the past year. You can check out more 2014 in Review stories in our StoryStream.