You can’t turn on the radio, open a newspaper or click into a website without hearing about Pokémon GO at the moment. It’s literally everywhere. And everyone’s talking about it. From politicians and scientists, to comedians and presidential candidates. In its short life to date, Pokémon GO has been hailed as the best thing to happen to exercise in years… and vilified as a tool of the devil and/or ISIS. It’s also currently one of the most searched-for topics on Google, far outstripping the likes of the Brexit referendum, porn and Donald Trump. Whatever you think of it personally, there’s no denying this: Pokémon GO, with its estimated 30 million users, is one of the most successful mobile games EVER and an honest-to-god global craze.
That said, Pokémon GO isn’t the first mobile game to enjoy a meteoric rise to fame and mainstream popularity. Not by a long shot. Here are four other iOS titles that were cultural phenomenons in their day.
Rovio’s Angry Birds franchise is pretty much synonymous with mobile gaming at this point. I mean, whenever I tell people I run a website that covers iOS games, their first response is usually some variation of: “Oh yeah, cool, like Angry Birds and stuff?”
Angry Birds wasn’t always a household name with global recognition, though. Far from it, in fact. Before the innumerable sequels and spin-off games, the big budget movie adaptation, the theme parks, and the utterly insane amount of merchandise (everything from t-shirts and toys to energy drinks and duck tape), Angry Birds was nothing more than an unassuming-looking 99-cent puzzler.
It was released without much fanfare by Clickgamer (a now defunct secondary division of Chillingo that churned out casual, non-AAA titles) back in 2010. I think it was expected to be a modest success — no more, no less. But there was no holding these irate avians back! Bolstered by rave reviews and positive word of mouth, Angry Birds quickly caught on and went on to be downloaded over a billion times. Its dizzying success helped legitimize mobile gaming and transformed indie developer Rovio into an entertainment giant — worth in the region of $9 billion — with aspirations of becoming the next Disney.
If someone who had never played a mobile game before asked me what they should try first, my answer would be Monument Valley. Ustwo’s Escher-inspired adventure puzzler is an enchanting fusion of elegantly crafted gameplay, astoundingly beautiful visuals and minimalist storytelling. It’s a true masterpiece.
I’m certainly not the only one who thinks this. Monument Valley has been a critical darling ever since it launched on the App Store in 2014. It had a more than decent first year sales wise, attracted a cult following, and even scooped an Apple Design Award. However, it wasn’t until the game made a cameo appearance on the Netflix original series House of Cards that Monument Valley well and truly hit the big time.
Being prominently featured in such a popular show did wonders for the game’s visibility, and Monument Valley executive producer Daniel Gray credits it with attracting “a whole new audience, people who wouldn’t even usually play games.” He’s not kidding: shortly after the House of Cards episode aired, Monument Valley enjoyed its second highest day of revenue since launch, raking in almost $70,000. Huh. Turns out villainous fictitious US presidents are great at peddling mobile games to the masses. Who’d have thunk it?
2014 will forever be remembered as the year of Flappy Bird. In the distant future, historians will marvel at how this ridiculously simplistic mobile game somehow managed to cure hunger and bring about world peace through the sheer power of its addictiveness. I’m joking, of course. But for a while there, it did seem like everyone and their grandmother was hopelessly hooked on Flappy Bird.
At the height of its popularity, Flappy Bird had legions of fans around the globe and was generating a whopping $50,000 a day in revenue. (Not bad for a game that was hastily thrown together by its Vietnam-based developer, Dong Nguyen, over the space of a few days.) But just when it seemed like the sky was the limit for Flappy Bird — in a bizarre twist — Nguyen abruptly pulled the game off the App Store, claiming he felt immensely guilty about its addictive nature and overuse. In another bizarre twist, this led to people flogging used iPhones with Flappy Bird installed on them through sites like eBay at extortionate prices. How extortionate, you ask? Well, one listing received a bid of almost $100,000. Which. Is. Crazy.
Flappy Bird may be gone from the App Store, but it’s certainly not forgotten. The game’s spirit lives on to this day in the many, MANY clones and rip-offs that have since sprung up in its place.
Let’s rewind to 2009. It was a simpler time. A time before there was a Flappy Bird addiction treatment center on every corner. Back then, the iOS games scene was in a fledgling state, and the App Store was pretty much nothing but wall-to-wall gimmicky fart noise apps. Or at least it was until Lima Sky’s Doodle Jump boinged into existence.
Despite looking a bit like it was designed by a toddler armed with a fistful of felt tip pens, this quirky platformer was a big hit. And the following seemingly happened in a whirlwind: Doodle Jump garnered high praise from players and critics alike. It won an Apple Design Award. It started getting regular mentions outside of the then-tiny iOS gaming blogosphere. It was referenced on both The Big Bang Theory and Parks and Recreation. It quickly became the fastest selling iOS app ever. In short, Doodle Jump was the first mobile game to ever really achieve pop culture sensation status.
Unlike some stellar hits — which tend to burn bright for a while and then fade away into obscurity — Doodle Jump is still going strong. To date, the game has amassed 200 million unique downloads (across all platforms) and it attracts 10 million monthly active users. Lima Sky also recently announced plans to launch a competitive eSports league, which will allow players to compete in Doodle Jump tournaments for cash and other prizes. So yeah, ‘professional Doodle Jump player’ could soon be an actual job title!
Are there any other mobile games that you think deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as the phenomenally successful likes of Angry Birds, Monument Valley, Doodle Jump, Flappy Bird, and Pokémon GO? Let us know in the comments section below.