It’s rare when a mobile game doesn’t come with any in-app purchases, but they still exist. Here are some pay-up-front games with no additional in-app purchases that we enjoy playing.
A majority of mobile games are “freemium,” which means they’re free to download, but they’re hampered by in-app purchases that degrade the quality of the game unless you pay up. On the opposite end of the spectrum, though, there are games where you pay a flat price up front and get the entire game. From there, you can play it however you want without in-app purchases hindering your enjoyment.
The good news is that plenty of games with no in-app purchases still exist, and here is a handful that we’ve had fun playing ourselves.
City-building games are a lot of fun, but they’re pretty much only available on PC. And most of the titles available on mobile (like SimCity BuildIt) are riddled with in-app purchases—except for Pocket City.
Pocket City (iOS and Android for $4.99) comes with all of the sandboxing you would ever want in a city-building game. And instead of spending money to upgrade or unlock certain things, you just level up during gameplay.
The graphics may not be as great as SimCity or Cities: Skylines, but for a completely unlimited city-building game that you play right on your smartphone, there’s nothing to complain about.
Game Dev Tycoon
Playing a video game where you make video games sounds a bit lame, but it’s really fun and addictive. In Game Dev Tycoon (iOS and Android for $4.99), you play a game developer whose goal is to…well…develop video games.
It’s more in-depth than that, though. You start out as a lowly garage-dwelling amateur and make your way up to expanding your company into the best game development studio on the planet.
For each game you develop, you get to choose different factors like the genre and platform. As you become more experienced, you get to create your own graphics engines that ultimately result in producing better games. With more experience as a developer (and more fans), you get to watch your sales numbers grow and grow.
You play a 911 emergency dispatcher, and your job is to respond to all kinds of different 911 calls accurately. You have a plethora of emergency services at your disposal, but you must use them wisely.
The coolest part about the game is that you can play in any city that you want (even your small hometown) and the developers based many of the 911 calls on real events.
This game technically has in-app purchases, but it’s geared more like DLC than pesky unlocks and upgrades—you still get a full game experience without spending any more money on in-app purchases.
Roller Coaster Tycoon Classic
If you’re a fan of the original RollerCoaster Tycoon game from yesteryear, then you’ll love RollerCoaster Tycoon Classic (iOS and Android for $5.99), which is pretty much an exact copy of the original game ported over to the mobile world.
When I say “exact copy,” I mean it. It’s the classic RollerCoaster Tycoon that you loved as a kid—nothing more, nothing less. There are no in-app purchases to bog down the experience, nor any fancy new features to bring it up to modern standards. Just pure, unadulterated RollerCoaster Tycoon right on your smartphone or tablet.
As with 911 Operator, this game technically has in-app purchases, but they’re just the expansion packs, as well as a design toolkit for sandboxing, rather than limiting factors like unlocks and upgrades.
Both games offer a no-frills puzzle-filled experience that takes you through different levels (literally), guiding your character through moving walkways and stairs to get to the other side and advance on to the next stage.
It’s a real puzzler that’s fun to play over and over again. Plus, when you do finally get bored of it, you can buy the Forgotten Shores expansion pack to get even more levels (yes, again, technically an in-app purchase, but not really).
The premise is quite simple: “Help Josef the robot to save his girlfriend Berta kidnapped by the Black Cap Brotherhood gang.” To do so, you must go through all sorts of little adventures and figure your way out through each level to get Josef back with his girlfriend.
Super Mario Run
One of the most highly-anticipated games at the time of its release, Super Mario Run (iOS and Android for $9.99) was a huge hit, and not just because it’s Mario. The game also bucked the tradition of lame in-app purchases in a lot of popular games.
The buying process for Super Mario Run works a bit differently, though. Downloading the game is free, and it comes with a short trial run, but unlocking the entire game requires a $9.99 payment as an in-app purchase. After that, however, you have the entire game and nothing else getting in the way.
Not only is the game unique and quite addicting, but the graphics are also pretty impressive for what you pay. Better yet, the controls are super simple for what initially seems like a complex game—it’s effortless to get going.
And once you’re done with the first title, you can move onto The Room Two, The Room Three, and The Room: Old Sins.
Because there are so many great mobile games available that don’t have pesky in-app purchases, we couldn’t cover every single one with detail. Here are some quick honorable mentions if you’re looking for even more great options.
Faster Than Light (iPad for $9.99): A great futuristic game where you control a spaceship and must save the galaxy. The only downside is that it’s just for iPad, but you can play it on your PC or Mac via Steam.
Threes (iOS and Android for $5.99): You may have heard of or played a game called 2048, but what you may not know is that it’s just a ripoff of Threes, which is not only the original, unique version but better overall.
Prune (iOS and Android for $3.99): A simple and relaxing game where the goal is to grow your tree as best you can by harnessing the sun and avoiding the darker areas. Who knew a game about growing trees could be so fun and interesting?
Lumino City (iOS and Android for $4.99): I know I’ve already mentioned some great puzzlers, but Lumino City takes it to the next level. Everything featured in the game was made by hand. In other words, those aren’t graphics or CGI, but real handmade items.
Mini Metro (iOS and Android for $4.99): If you like city building games, then you might appreciate Mini Metro, which tasks you with building a subway system in a big city and keeping the passengers flowing without issues.