Whether you call them idle games or clickers, it’s undeniable that they exist in a genre all their own, or at the very least, their own non-genre. Defined by their stripping away of “extraneous” elements of video games like story and game play, and leaving behind what truly matters: collecting large amounts of cash, upgrading and becoming more powerful, etc. Clickers task players with a simple objective, like defeating monsters, baking cookies, building a town, making lots of money, drawing cats out from a seemingly trans-dimensional box, and so on, but reduce basically all of your interaction with the game to the simple clicking of the mouse or the tapping of the screen. The game play is ludicrously simple on purpose, and brilliantly so, because it allows you to perform a simple task over and over and awards you huge amounts of money or experience points or what have you, which is what you’re really looking for from video games; clickers just cut out the middle man.
I’m kind of obsessed with non-genres of games: match-threes, whatever dynasty warriors is, Diablo-likes, that thing where you add RPG elements to games that weren’t originally RPGs, and so on. It’s no surprise that I enjoy clicker games, but I must also concede that not all clickers are created equal. So, I set out on a journey to play several of the most popular clickers on iOS to figure out two things: which of these games provide actual enjoyment for your time playing them, and which elements separate a shitty clicker from one that actually feels rewarding. I chose iOS specifically because I think the only games like this that could possibly be worth playing are ones that you have with you at all times. At least for me, having a clicker on my PC almost completely defeats the purpose because many games reap the most rewards when you check in with them often. All of the following games are available on Apple’s App Store for free, all for iPhone (I played on my 5s) and most on iPad as well.
- A good, old fashioned clicker
- Dynamic “chocolate milk” and “golden cookie” elements bring some diversity to the game play
- Some ad watching options skip a little grind
When I started doing my research for this article, the Cookie Clicker app was funded completely by advertisements and contained zero in-app purchases. As of writing, they have now implemented a very basic system of paying real money to advance cookie production 24 hours. There are definitely better uses for your hard-earned cash. Cookie Clicker was once about the idling, leaving the tab open on your computer for days at a time and watching your cookie-baking saga unfold. The iOS version however, is all about furiously and exhaustively tapping that cookie and replaces much of the satisfaction with strain. Would not recommend.
The task is simple: use the profits from your lemonade stand to become the ultimate adventure capitalist, and make so much money that angels become interested in your business, and somehow make you even more money! Undoubtedly more of an idle game than a clicker, the only tapping of the screen you’ll do in AdVenture Capitalist is to interface with the game to buy upgrades, as your various business quickly become completely automated, especially after a couple of resets.
- Earn full profit while idle
- Low time investment
- All ads optional
AdVenture Capitalist is a really good game, if you’re willing to concede that it even is one to begin with. Although the game play is almost completely absent, it’s still somehow fun to check in on your investments and see how much you’ve earned while your phone was in your pocket. The game takes a different mindset to play in that you can’t just sit down with it and get anywhere because the idling is the whole point of the game. The ultimate satisfaction comes from not stressing about the game and living your life, checking back into it whenever you open your phone and see the app, and earning more and more money over days and weeks. An extremely satisfying slow-burn. Would recommend.
Perhaps the most uncommon game of the bunch, Meow Clicker is a very unique experience. The name of the game is cats, specifically, drawing them forth from a cardboard box on a hill that houses an infinite number of them. You can tap to draw forth a cat at a time, collecting coins in the process, or purchase bait that lures cats and coins out of the box slowly over time. Tapping upgrades your box, and likewise, the effectiveness of your tapping, and coins can be spent to increase the potency of your bait, both in the effort of increasing the size of your wacky cat menagerie.
- Wacky cats
- Very easy to pick up
- In-app purchases purely cosmetic
Meow Clicker is charming as all hell. Watching the different “Meows” literally fly out of the cardboard box in a variety of wacky costumes is super enjoyable, at least at first. The goofiness of this game can only go so far to masking its lack of depth, however. Sure, if you set your mind to getting all the different types of Meow you’ll be playing this game for a while, but ultimately, I don’t think the carrot to keep playing is really there. I think this game suffers from a lack of depth.
In the world of Virtual Beggar, you are a homeless man that calls forth change from passerbys with a simple tap. You can take these coins to purchase upgrades to improve your tapping, or hire people to complete jobs for you and earn you additional coins, after a certain amount of real time has passed. Power-ups will sometimes appear to increase the power of your begging, the effectiveness of which can also be increased with coins. The goal here, ultimately is to become fabulously rich and own a giant house, purely through pan-handling.
- Interesting power-up system
- Unique real time “job” system
In preparation for this article, I played a lot of clickers. I will not deny that I suffered some genre fatigue, and because of this I was looking at these games with hyper-critical eyes. That is not the reason why I don’t like this game. This game is not very good. The unreliable tapping is where it all breaks down for me. Since this game is clearly not an idle game, that means it wants to be a clicker, and if tapping doesn’t always generate a coin because I’m tapping too fast or something, then it goes straight in the bin. Maybe someone who’s never played a clicker game could enjoy this, but goodness, is this not a great place to start with this genre.
In Billionaire, you start businesses that will earn you money over time, at first making hot dog carts and lemonade stands, and then using the profits to create bigger and better revenue sources. If you stray too far from the right side of the law, and start dipping into some illegal or risky businesses, you run the risk of being convicted, and you have to take a time out. Check back often to collect from your businesses, and soon you’ll be a billionaire!
- Ranks your wealth against real rich people
- Low capacity means you must check in often
- Risk/Conviction system is total bullshit
- Is somehow even shittier than Virtual Beggar
Alright, you guys need to understand that Billionaire is terrible. It’s an idler, which is not inherently troubling, but things start to get bad when you realize that the game wants you to check in on it like every fifteen minutes! These sort of games don’t work like that. If the game play lies in us just forgetting about the game, let us put the phone down and live our lives so that we can come back a while later to find stacks of money waiting for us, don’t force us to interrupt our days by checking in every fifteen minutes. The “risk” system in this game is special, man. Building any businesses that will let you keep your phone in your pocket for 30 minutes or more comes with a high percentage risk, and sometimes you’ll check in on your businesses, go to collect your cash, and get convicted and have to put the game down for two hours just to let yourself out of jail. The only reason this “game play element” could possibly exist is, as the game will be very quick to tell you, you can pay real money to free yourself. Avoid at all costs.
You are the mayor of Century City! Or something. In the mines beneath our fair city lies gold, rife for the mining! Take to the mines and tap as fast as you can to earn money you can use to build topside. The revenue from these new buildings supplement the gold you’re gathering from the mine, and allow you to buy upgrades and improve Century City even further.
- Nice presentation
- Good, old-fashioned clicking
I was really charmed by Century City at first. The tapping was responsive and fun and the feedback from earning money, completing tasks, and building businesses felt great. It didn’t take very long for me to realize that it was all very shallow, however. Its biggest failing, in my eyes, being that it’s simply too structured, in that at any given time, there’s only one use for your money. The game will show you the next available building or upgrade, and you just either tap or wait until you have the money for it. The lack of choice of how you want to play is the main limiting factor here, and I think keeps Century City from being worth playing.
Make it Rain: The Love of Money
Make it Rain re imagines what it means to “click.” Presenting you with a pile of bills, you have to swipe them towards the top of the screen. This wasteful act, usually performed to display how much money one already has, colloquially referred to as “making it rain,” for some reason generates you more money. Start new businesses, make friends in high places, and invest in popular products to further increase the money you’re earning when you make it rain.
- Unique gameplay
- Stylish presentation
Make it Rain is another one of these games that just misses the mark. The change from tap to swipe is fascinating and fun (although makes no sense), and the lighthearted nature of the game and its style go a long way to elevate it. Ultimately, however, the sluggish upgrade system, the need to be constantly playing to get anywhere, and the overabundance of in-app purchases makes this a game not worth your time.
Epic Party Clicker – Drop the Beat & Tap to the Rhythm
Your parents are finally out of town, and that can only mean one thing: it’s time to throw the most EPIC party OF ALL TIME. Your guests are your currency (because video games), spend them on new attractions, sound systems, and party vans to bring even more guests to the bash. Tap your screen along with the rhythm of the music to earn a special multiplier, or just tap like a crazy person. Make your party your way in Epic Party Clicker.
- Innovative rhythm tapping feature
- Fairly strong “offline” support
- Rhythm tapping doesn’t matter
- Music is not very good, especially considering it recommends the use of headphones
Epic Party Clicker is inspired, but falls short. It’s a pretty standard clicker in terms of upgrade categories and tiers: one category for upgrading your “per click” earning, one for increasing your earning over time, and one to help you earn while you’re not playing. These systems work fine, the trouble comes in where they try and innovate. The rhythm tapping system seems interesting, but is actually boring garbage. Shitty music plays as you watch little circles scroll across the screen, tapping when they pass through a larger circle on the left. This is not fun; the game play is contrived, and the music is not good at all. There are plenty of better clickers on “the market.”
In CivCrafter, you get to start your own civilization, and then tap to earn resources to build your village, train and support your population, and lead your people to greatness. In a very real-time strategy inspired way, you collect particular types of resources, food, wood, and stone, and use these resources to support a population and build houses for them. Soon, you’ll be building artisan buildings and training your people how to refine stone into ore (and other similar processes) to make other different buildings and upgrade your civilization. Two simple acts, tapping and waiting, will lead your civilization to greatness.
- Complex resource system
- Added depth of population system
I think I like CivClicker. It really brings new depth to the clicker genre by adding a deep, yet simplified version of a real-time strategy resource managing system. The idea of having multiple resources you can “tap” for, and then spending those resources on population, houses, blacksmiths, upgrades, etc. is not brand new to the genre (technically, A Dark Room did it first, without all the flashy BS) but it is a welcome change over some of the less complex entries in the genre. Resources seem to only continue to generate while the game is open in the background, which sucks, both for your battery life, and also for people who use older devices, and I think the game can also be directionless at times, leaving the player not really sure what resources he should be generating, or what the next upgrade he should earn is. I think I’m going to still try and play it though, because it really piqued my interest. We’ll see how long that lasts.
Bitcoin Billionaire is a game all about the mining of the famous and memeatic online-only currency by the same name. By typing away at your keyboard as you tap your screen, or by investing money in things like comic books and medicinal herb farms, you generate the Bitcoins you need to create a better life. Upgrade your shitty decor, buy a new home, and customize your appearance on your way to becoming a Bitcoin Billionaire.
- Very complex systems for a lengthy gameplay experience
- Lots of taps
There’s a lot of game here. The reinvest and time travel systems here show that there is a huge amount of depth to this game and the potential for many, many hours to be sunk into it. But I don’t like it. There’s constantly options to enable banner ads for thirty seconds to earn some coin, or random chance moments that you can either enhance or skip (depending on if the outcome is positive or negative) by watching an ad, or something similar. It makes me feel a little bit unclean. Then if you want to earn any money while not playing, you need to spend premium currency, which you can buy with real money or earn 25 of each day by opening boxes that randomly appear, which sort of limits the enjoyment of this game for me, at least. There’s a lot of potential here, but a lot of it is lost of free-to-play silliness and the game’s ploy to keep the game always open.
Tap Quest: Gate Keeper
Truly, an action-oriented “clicker game.” Although it strays pretty far from the formula, Tap Quest is, at its very core, a clicker, in that frenetic tapping is still the name of the game. You are a sword-wielding hero, and you must protect the princess’ tower from being destroyed by waves of monsters. Tap the right side of the screen to slide right, the left side of the screen to dash to the left, attacking any monsters in your way. With the help of the princess, your trusted fairy, and some sweet power ups, hold off the monsters long enough to challenge and defeat the boss to thwart the evil dragon’s plans.
- Actually fun and engaging action-oriented tapping
- Plenty of upgrades to enhance your game play style
Tap Quest really goes a long way to take clickers (which, admittedly, are just simplified versions of other games) to the next level in terms of complexity. The game is fun and frantic, since you need to time your taps in accordance with what’s happening in game instead of mindlessly tapping. The challenge of this game is intimidating, but part of the fun is trying, failing, upgrading, trying again, and finally succeeding. I’m going to keep playing, because I think the game is much more fun than your average clicker, and the free-to-play stuff isn’t anything I’m not already used to. This is probably one worth checking out.
In Tap Titans, you are a monster-slaying hero. Each tap of the screen is a swing of your sword as you cut monsters down, one after the other. Each monster awards you gold which you can use to upgrade your hero’s damage or hire new warriors that will tirelessly help you fight off the endless waves of enemies. Your party will slay enemy after enemy to get to the boss and if you are able to prove your might by defeating the boss within the time limit, you will be able to move onto the next stage, where more monsters and gold await!
- Simple tap-based game play enhanced by power ups
- Fully rewarded for time not spent playing
- Rich artifact system rewards the truly loyal
This is it. The champ is here. The greatest clicker of our time. The game play is very simple and straight forward in a very classic clicker style. Got sixty seconds while you ride the elevator to your apartment? Pop your power ups and tap away, get through like ten levels, put your phone away until you have another minute to kill, and open the game back up and see how much your team has earned you while you were away. The satisfaction of completing such a simple task, reaping huge rewards, and then becoming more powerful is more pure in this game than any other I’ve ever played. It’s the kind of game that requires a large time investment, but it’s over a very long period of time. Players who stick with it will be pleasantly surprised by its depth and rewarded by the systems that develop in late-stage play. Highly recommended.
After playing all of these games, I’ve come to some conclusions about clicker games. First of all, the name of the game with them is progress. Games that don’t make the player feel like they’re making any sort of discernible progress are not fun to play, and therefore, have nothing. Effective clicker games must also provide the player choice in how they want to upgrade/progress, even if the choice is minor. Of course, every game will have a meta way of playing that requires the least time investment, but games that allow you to adjust the effectiveness of tapping vs generated resources are the kings of the genre. In this same way, I think any good clicker, especially in a mobile format, really has to include idling as a valid way to play the game to a certain extent. Any game that requires you to constantly engage with it becomes boring quickly, but giving a partial reward to people who put their phone down in favor of something else feel rewarded when they remember the game exists and come back to it, creating a cycle in which the player can enjoy the game in small bursts and draw out the overall experience of the game. That being said, forcing the player to check back in too often is no good, so balance is really important. Games like AdVenture Capitalist and Tap Titans that strive in these regards are super fun and rewarding, while others feel tedious.
Thus concludes a physically, mentally, and emotionally exhaustive look at the world of clicker games on iOS. The ones listed above are just the beginning, only some of the more popular titles in the category. If you already like clickers, or you played games like Cookie Clicker or Clicker Heroes while they were in vogue running on your browser, I hope this inspires you to take a look at what mobile has to offer in terms of enhancing the genre. If you’ve never really played clickers or generally aren’t a fan of the genre, then this guide should help you avoid some of the less desirable games, and maybe help you pick out one that you could have fun with.