Let’s start by getting something straight, this isn’t the place to discuss brilliant mobile games that went viral thanks to their technological breakthroughs, emotive storytelling, or multimillion dollar budgets. No one needs reminding of the brilliantly made Doodle Jump or the augmented reality Pokémon Go craze that took the world by storm. We’re instead examining the viral games that surpassed expectations, the mobile games that reached meteoric success even when the odds were stacked against them, the viral games that made people everywhere lose their minds without being able to say exactly why.
After examining these surprisingly popular mobile games, we’ll share our conclusion on the secret to making a viral mobile game.
Temple Run – 2011 (iOS, Android)
While endless runner games can find their origins in early console games, Temple Run was the first of its ilk to achieve such popularity on mobile. Your objective is simple: steal the treasure and get the hell out of dodge. Not the most considerate of concepts in a post-colonial world, but an enjoyable one, nonetheless.
Like yo-yos, Pokémon cards, Pogs, Top Trumps, and fidget spinners, Temple Run dominated the playgrounds for a time and in doing so was the bane of teachers everywhere. It was one of the first truly viral games of the smartphone era. And for those reasons, it has certainly merited its place here.
Why it went viral? Innovative and addictive; the first of its kind.
Game Rating: Surpassed but not forgotten
Flappy Bird – 2013 (No longer available)
Tap the bird to flap it – somehow, that concept enthralled the world in 2013. Even at the time, everyone was stunned by its ridiculous success, not least its own developer. And yet Flappy Bird rose to the top of the charts and held his place there – earning such fame that he was written about in the NYTimes, Guardian, BBC, and Washington Post to name just a few.
Only the good die young and nothing so sweet could last forever. Despite fighting against the odds, legal disputes, and operating system update issues, the time would eventually come that Flappy would flap no more. “Flappy Bird is officially dead,” reads this Polygon article, published in 2017 after Flappy’s viral creator Dong Nguyen confirmed he wouldn’t update the software for Apple’s latest OS update, “I will remember you.”
But fear not friends, for Flappy lives and he’s as wonderful as ever. You can now play Flappy Bird on your browser for free. Yes, we may have stopped to play a few rounds while finding that link. And no, we don’t regret it. It was glorious.
Why it went viral? Simplicity, difficulty, and a true under(bird) story
Game Rating: Flappy4ever
Chicken Scream – 2017 (No longer available)
Before we get any further, let’s make something very clear – Chicken Scream was a bad game; to be frank, it was a cluckin’ awful game. It was an avian endless platformer controlled by the player’s voice rather than their hands. Not only did this make it wildly inconsistent, unreliable, and inconvenient to play, but it couldn’t be played without aggravating everyone within 50 metres.
As was always destined to happen when you create the most annoying game ever, Chicken Scream ran fowl of their own USP. And we’re sad to announce that Chicken Scream is no longer with us. That’s a lie, we’re not sad about it at all.
Publisher Perfect Tap Games had some poultry success with their other games, such as Salt Chef and Blink Fish, but they neither hen-dured as mobile gaming legends nor ever quite egg-exploded in virality. Sorry.
Why it went viral? Uniquely irritating
Game Rating: Put us out of our cluckin’ misery
Getting Over It with Bennett Foddy – 2018 (iOS, Android)
Widely regarded as one of the most frustratingly challenging platformers of all time, Getting Over It with Bennett Foddy tasks players with guiding historical character and real-life cauldron dweller Diogenes up a series of cliff faces. Getting Over It with Bennett Foddy went viral for one reason alone – its punishing levels of difficulty.
Chances are that even if you’ve never played this game yourself you may have seen clips of streamers in “Fail” and “Watch People Die Inside” compilations thanks to the unrivalled fury and distress inspired by the game’s insanely tricky mechanics and severe punishments for mistakes. That was, after all, Bennett Foddy’s goal from the start; as he regularly notes: “I made this game for a specific person. To hurt them.”
Why it went viral? Smash-your-phone-and-punch-a-hole-in-the-wall difficulty
Game Rating: Put me in a cauldron and throw me off a cliff
Among Us – 2018 (iOS, Android)
Among Us is one of those viral games like 2015’s Rocket League that came out much earlier than its contemporary fanbase realize. Unlike the inexplicable virality of some of the games on this list, Among Us’s moment of mass appeal made sense. It rose to fame at the height of 2020’s pandemic lockdowns when Zoom-quizzes had had their day and yet the world remained isolated from their friends and family.
It receives review after excellent review praising its hectic game mode, playfully deceptive teamplay, and hilarity inducing minigames. No doubt we speak for a lot of people when we say we’re plenty glad that Among Us is among us.
Why it went viral? Pandemic lockdown loneliness
Game Rating: Delightfully deceptive
High Heels – 2020 (iOS, Android)
Like the Ice Bucket Challenge or KONY 2012 it really feels like the internet sometimes acts like a hivemind. Launching concepts that normally dwell in insignificance into full-throttle cultural phenomenon. High Heels, a game which by all accounts is fantastic, did just that last year when it took the mobile gaming world by storm.
Players collect high heels thereby increasing their height while traversing their way further along an assault-course/catwalk. As the fashion parade’s obstacles grow taller, players must increase their heel size to RuPaul level heights to succeed. So, if you’re ready to strut your stuff and look fabulous while you’re doing it, honey it’s time to get those eyebrows on fleek, throw some shade, and sashay down that runway. Just make sure you avoid the death drops.
Why it went viral? TikTok gold
Game Rating: Pass me my heels and call me Alexandra – I’m coming back for more.
So, there you have it – some of the most surprising and inexplicably viral mobile games of all time. Upon writing this article, our highly scientific evaluation has provided us with the perfect formula for a viral mobile game: Developers simply need to create an innovative, addictive, and pioneering bird-based title that is as fury-inducing as it is simple, all while guaranteeing it is annoying or quirky enough to trend on social media and arrives during the ideal cultural moment or international disaster. Easy.
Which viral games did we miss? Do you want to see a follow-up article? Be sure to let us know, and stay tuned for more excellent daily content from mobilegames.com