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Signing up for a game subscription has become the cheapest way to enjoy quality, ad-free mobile games. A growing number of games are only available as part of a subscription. Here are the best options for your phone.

A sample of games available on Apple Arcade.

Apple Arcade is a game subscription service that launched in 2019 for devices in the Apple ecosystem, including iPhones and iPads. For $6.99 a month, you get access to hundreds of mobile games. Each is ad-free, and you won’t find any microtransactions or other in-app purchases either.

Apple has made an effort to court serious game developers, which is one of the most compelling reasons to subscribe to Apple Arcade. You can find gems like Air Twister, a spiritual successor to Space Harrier from renowned game designer Yu Suzuki. Or Fantasian, a JRPG from Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi’s development studio. There’s also Sonic Dream Team, a fully 3D modern Sonic platformer.

These are some titles that you can’t get on Android devices, since Apple helped fund development. Eventually, many of these titles make their way to dedicated game consoles, but not before Apple gets a decent period of exclusivity.

Apple Arcade is arguably the best mobile game subscription option available, but you need an iPhone or iPad to get the goods (or you can play on an Apple TV or Mac, if you happen to own one of those).

Play Pass is the closest thing to Apple Arcade for Android. This subscription service starts at $4.99 a month, but unlike Apple’s offering, it also includes access to non-game apps. Play Pass provides over a thousand items altogether, making it a much larger catalog of software.

Google hasn’t done much to secure exclusive content, so most of the games on Play Pass are also available for iOS devices. You still get access to many of the best mobile games ever made including Monument Valley, Kingdom Rush, and Stardew Valley. Unfortunately, many of the advertised games aren’t available on modern versions of Android, such as The Almost Gone, Forgotten Anne, and Teslagrad.

Despite its shortcomings, Play Pass remains one of the best ways to discover and enjoy a large number of high-quality games on Android.

This may come as a surprise, but Netflix has become one of the best mobile game publishers on both Android and iOS. The company has spent years adding games to its vast catalog in hopes of attracting new subscribers. The games come included as part of a standard Netflix subscription, including the cheapest $6.99 per month ad-supported tier (the games, thankfully, remain ad-free).

Most of these games are well-known and respected, like Kentucky Route Zero, the Oxenfree series, and Laya’s Horizon. There are a number of console ports, like early 3D entries into the Grand Theft Auto series and side-scrolling beat ’em up throwback Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge.

There’s also Hades, a port that happens to be the first game Netflix has released as an iOS exclusive. You can find tie-in content for Netflix shows as well, such as a series of games based on Stranger Things.

A view of games available with a Crunchyroll subscription.

You could think of Crunchyroll as Netflix for anime, and a similar story can be said for the service’s approach to mobile gaming. If you happen to have a Crunchyroll subscription, you also have access to games you can play on your phone or tablet.

Crunchyroll’s library of game titles isn’t nearly as comprehensive as what you’ll find on Netflix, so don’t expect much. At the time of writing in December 2023, there are fewer than 10 games. While many are anime TV show tie-ins, a few titles may also appeal to gamers more broadly. Some standouts include adventure game Behind the Frame, the cat-themed puzzle game Inbento, and Street Fighter: Duel.

Xbox Cloud Gaming advertising support for mobile devices.

If console gaming is more your thing, you can enjoy some of your favorite titles right on your phone. With cloud gaming, it doesn’t matter what hardware you use. And an Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscription provides you with hundreds of immersive titles to pick from.

The selection ranges from big-budget AAA titles like the entire Halo franchise and newer releases like Starfield, to a steady stream of innovative indie titles like Venba.

Unfortunately, the Ultimate tier is the only one that allows for cloud streaming, and the price starts at $16.99 a month. A year of use adds up to a couple hundred dollars, but on the flip side, that’s cheaper than buying an Xbox console and a library of games. It’s particularly good value if you do own an Xbox console, though.

Some of us aren’t all that comfortable with the subscription model. It means losing a degree of ownership over our favorite games, since they can disappear from a company’s catalog at any time. If you’re in that camp, well, there’s a subscription for you, too!

NVIDIA GeForce Now allows you to stream games you’ve already purchased elsewhere. So, if you have a library of Steam titles, or you’ve purchased games from Ubisoft or Epic, you can play those games on your phone instead of a PC. That means, as a mobile gamer, you can still take advantage of Steam sales and Humble Bundle deals.

If you have an Android phone that can connect to an external monitor, using NVIDIA GeForce Now can provide a full desktop-PC experience. Peripherals like a Bluetooth controller, keyboard, and mouse will all connect just fine.

There’s a free tier that comes with plenty of limitations, like longer wait times before you can start a game, and your play sessions are limited to one hour. But if you pay $9.99 a month, your wait time is much shorter, if not eliminated, and you can play for hours at a time. At the top end, you can cough $19.99 to stream in 4K at up to 120 FPS, thanks to GeForce RTX 4080-level performance.

A Game Subscription for Every Device

If you want maximum gaming for the least amount of money, subscriptions are the way to go. With cloud gaming, you can even save hundreds of dollars on hardware, turning a $200 tablet into a high-end PC. Add a Netflix subscription alongside Apple Arcade or Play Pass, and you will have access some of the best mobile games on every platform.

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By John P.

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