There is an all-too-common trend of dismissing mobile games as “not real games” among gamers. The arguments are usually along the lines of “touch screen controls are bad”, “mobile games are quick cash-ins” and “mobile games can’t offer the depth that real games do”. Which are all fair arguments if we look at cynical corporate cash grabs such as Final Fantasy: All The Bravest. However, dismissing an entire platform because of the worst examples on it is unfair.
Do we dismiss the Xbox 360/Playstation 3 because Ride to Hell: Retribution exists? The mobile ecosystem is still comparatively young, yet it is already offering gems that can compete with games on other platforms in terms of quality and depth – you just need to know where to look.
First of all, the low hanging fruit argument to make would be ports of games from “real” platforms. XCOM: Enemy Unknown is probably the best example here. The game is nearly identical to the console version, except some maps are cut due to space limitations imposed by mobile app stores. Regardless, the game works perfectly and the controls are completely fine as well, retaining all the depth and challenge of its original version. Similarly, ports of RPGs like Final Fantasy games I through VI, Chrono Trigger, Shadowun Returns, Baldur’s Gate 1 and 2 and Knight of the Old Republic are available on mobile platforms and they play great. The controls have been adjusted for touch screens and while a virtual d-pad is obviously inferior to a real one, it’s still good enough.
Controllers for mobile devices are starting to become more popular anyway, but not everyone is willing to buy a controller to enjoy mobile games so they don’t necessarily count for the purposes of this article. Ports of other games like GTA: San Andreas and Max Payne suffer from touch screen controls, but the design of those games is clearly incompatible with the devices we’re looking at, and complaining that they’re unplayable on mobile would be akin to complaining that Starcraft 2 isn’t playable on consoles because it’s not designed for analogs.
In short, a good game always takes into account the input method of the system it’s made for. Another set of great examples of straight ports that work well on mobile are adventure games; take for example Telltale’s Walking Dead and Wolf Among Us games, Beneath a Steel Sky, Ghost Trick and The Shivah.
The logical step in this train of thought would be to consider spinoffs and/or replicas of games on “real” platforms. A not-so-great example would be Dead Space for iOS. Despite receiving quite a bit of critical acclaim and generally positive fan reactions, the game is quite shallow compared to its big brothers. However, games like Deus Ex: The Fall, Rayman: Jungle Run and Call of Duty: Strike Team make excellent arguments for this paradigm. Those games take the gameplay mechanics of their original franchise, add on mechanics that are designed and relevant for mobile, reinvent the controls and create a unique experience for touchscreen platforms. Deus Ex: The Fall especially, stands out as it is an excellent game that makes very few compromises in core mechanics, is quite enjoyable and has great graphics to boot.
Games like these show that oftentimes the problem isn’t the system or control method but a lack of innovation on part of the developers. In addition to adaptations of existing franchises, games like Oceanhorn, Mage Gauntlet, League of Evil and Dead Trigger 2 show that taking ideas from “real” games and making mobile counterparts can be very successful. Oceanhorn for instance is essentially a Legend of Zelda clone, yet it works flawlessly with mobile controls and is a richly content stuffed game with a lot to do in it. Another would be Mage Gauntlet; a 2D top-down dungeon crawler that is quite difficult and lengthy and is a blast to play – it doesn’t suffer from virtual controls at all. Further examples abound in the League of Evil series of games which are precision platformers, which sounds a nightmare when combined with touch controls, but they work just fine and are quite challenging on the account of the mechanics therein; and not because of bad controls!
This category of games shows that if the designers of the game take into account the limitations and capabilities of the system, they can put out great games that are comparable to titles on more established gaming platforms.
Finally, we have the games that are uniquely mobile. Games that would be difficult to pull off on other systems, due to factors like lack of touch/motion controls and mobility. The Infinity Blade trilogy, Device 6, The Room 1 and 2, Year Walk and many others can be used as examples here. The Infinity Blade games are akin to the classic Nintendo franchise Punch-Out, except with RPG elements and battles carried out via swiping and other gestures. The combat is quite engaging and the games have a ton of replay value (multiplayer too!). Device 6, The Room and Year Walk are all atmospheric puzzle/adventure games that utilize touch and/or motion controls to create novel ways of interaction, and they’re all honestly incredible games.
The Room games have puzzles that are incredibly satisfying to solve, whereas Device 6 and Year Walk tell stories in very unique ways and present their puzzles as a part of their narrative. These games, among countless other high-quality offerings go to show that gameplay that is entirely unique to mobile devices can be very compelling and deep. In addition to these games, the board/card/strategy gaming scene is huge on these platforms and titles like Battle of the Bulge, Elder Signs: Omens, Nightfall, Ascension and Space Hulk are all excellent, complex games.
Like any platform, all it takes is creative developers and game designers. There are many games like these out there, it just takes some digging. Mobile games journalism is still quite premature so finding the right titles can be difficult at times.
Overall, while there are some pretty terrible games on mobile devices (like any platform), be it horribly monetized games, lazy uninspired drivel or games that just try to shoehorn in a control scheme that flat out doesn’t work; there are also amazing games on these platforms that take advantage of their strengths. The platform is still maturing, but it can only get better. And considering some of the incredible games that are already on these systems, the future looks very bright indeed.
These devices can most definitely be “real” gaming systems, and dismissing them does disservice to not only the hard work and creativity of the developers making all these awesome games for these systems, but also to yourself as you’re effectively depriving yourself of some bonafide top-tier gaming experiences.
What are some of your favorite mobile games? Share them with me!