The ongoing ignorance and lack of affection by Aussie gaming media towards mobile gaming continues to provide me with an endless abundance of frustration and anger. Our collective reluctance and elitism aside, it makes sense that we should be focusing more on mobiles if only because most of our developers either began coding for mobiles or were forced into that space, courtesy of Australia’s adolescent development industry.
What happens in mobile gaming matters, chiefly because of the sheer, unadulterated size of the industry. Just about every man, woman and child that marketers care about (including many retired folk) own a smartphone. Smartphones are significantly more powerful than desktop computers and consoles were a decade ago, and the cost of entry makes it much more palatable to the masses, an important ingredient if you’re trying to maximise the appeal of your product.
That’s not even accounting for the generation of indies and legendary hits from the 90s which are finding a new lease of life on mobiles. Tablets and smartphones can handle resolutions well beyond the boxy 4:3 rubbish we used to play Quake 3 and Unreal Tournament 99 on, and they look much better while doing it. It’s a serious, important part of the gaming industry. And if you haven’t been taking it seriously until now, here’s six titles that might convince you to change your mind.
1Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
In case you didn’t know, this year marks the tenth anniversary of what’s widely acknowledged to be one of the best RPGs ever made. KOTOR became the standard-bearer for many years and a hallmark of the latent talent within BioWare although – perhaps of the Star Wars name, the game never quite broke beyond the nerd fiefdoms to reach the critical mass of popularity that it deserved (a mistake the public rectified with the release of the Mass Effect series).
What’s especially important about the iOS release is that it proves games can have the same level of nuance and complexity as their console and PC brethren without sacrificing on quality. The controls do take getting a little used to, I was a little more comfortable using a stylus but as a whole, the entire game, DLC included, is there.
There’s even a slight delay when going around a corner, as the not-insignificant hardware of my iPad Mini caches the textures and enemies lurking nearby. It feels almost identical to how it would be if I was playing KOTOR back in 2003, with the exception that I can lay in bed and fall asleep to the sounds of the Sith gargling for blood while my lightsaber’s firmly wedged into his throat.
iOS/Windows Phone/Windows 8, free
Letterpress is probably responsible for popularising the genre, but the Boggle-on-acid genre is best represented by Wordament, a two-minute word-finding frenzy set amongst a tiled design that would make Apple proud.
The beauty of Wordament lies in its simplicity: the cleanliness of the UI; the slick movement of the tiles as you shuffle the board around hunting for that last and the purity of its appeal are all the things that make a perfect mobile app.
It’s a triumph of design with all the addictiveness of Fruit Ninja. The fact that you’re pitted against the entire world, every two minutes, not separated by skill or other arbitrary borders, is another positive. You can even download Wordament on Windows 8 through the Games store, load it up using your Xbox account, give your partner your phone and play against each other on the same accounts.
It’s brilliant, competitive, addictive, simple and free. Play the bloody thing already.
3Real Racing 2
Android/iOS/Windows Phone, $5.99/$5.49/$5.49
I’ve gone with the sequel in Firemint’s stellar racing series rather than the most recent; it’s not plagued with the latest iteration’s horrendous IAP system, while still delivering as close as you will probably get to Gran Turismo on your mobiles.
The graphics are excellent, although the environments around the track and its immediate vicinity are understandably empty considering the hardware limitations at play. More importantly, the frame rate is, for the most part, smooth as butter on a fairly wide range of devices. What’s especially impressive is that the game scales really well too: it’s equally enjoyable on a seven or ten-inch tablet as it is on a smartphone, unlike so many games which prefer one device over the other.
It’s also made by Australians and it’s an example of the high quality product that can be produced for mobiles from scratch, without borrowing the assets or a plot or any other spine from an IP already on a larger platform.
4Star Traders RPG
But if Real Racing is an example of what can be done on mobiles from scratch with the proper support, then Star Traders RPG is eminently more impressive since it’s proof of the thoroughly rewarding experiences you can get from a small team.
Made by the Trese brothers (although Cory Trese was given top billing when Star Traders was first launched), Star Traders RPG was a good, exhaustive space RPG when it launched. There were hundreds of worlds to explore. Alien artifacts were ripe for the plundering. Rival factions and houses lie in wait, offering their support or sending patrols to scour the universe for your demise. You can ply your wares throughout the game’s many trading houses, mine for riches on harsh and inhospitable worlds or be a boring sod and just go around shooting shit up.
And there’s aliens. They’re scary bastards. DO NOT FIGHT. THE. ALIENS. EVER.
The best part? This was everything Star Traders had to offer when it launched – almost three years ago. Since then, the brothers have continued patching, adding, fixing and expanding the universe, alongside the releases of other RPGs in different settings. In many ways Star Traders is the best game on this list, for what it offers compared to the meagre resources the developers had at their disposal. KOTOR couldn’t have been ported by a two-man team with random images from the internet. EA probably would have settled for a Mario Kart rip-off in similar circumstances.
Download, appreciate and enjoy, my friends.
5Ticket to Ride
Ticket to Ride annoys me in quite a lot of ways: it’s a little bit buggy, considering its premium price, the in-app purchases for different levels (or boards) seem a tad exorbitant and the game doesn’t scale that well for devices the size of the iPhone 5S/Galaxy S3 etc. And holy shit, Ticket to Ride eats through your battery; apparently, steam trains are purpose-designed to mess smartphones up.
So why recommend Ticket to Ride, a board game about building railroads of all things? Simple. It’s because when you sit down, load up the game and begin planning your quest to dominate the 18th century, it just feels right.
Holding a tablet in my hand, I can’t help but wonder why all board games aren’t on tablets. Surely, this is the way it’s meant to be. The technology, the advancement, the not having to fuck around finding 399 different pieces of plastic before stepping on the 400th and spraining my frigginh ankle again; it’s all perfectly expressed in Ticket to Ride, so much so that it feels like it was designed with iPads and Google Nexii (not Nexuses, you neanderthals) and those shitty Aldi Android tablets from the off.
Last but not least, I have a sixth suggestion for you? Why six? It’s an article of five. Well, welcome to mobile devices arsehole, where the games are so cheap it might as well be two-for-one Tuesday every day.
iOS/Android, US$6.50/US$5.99 each
In a completely different but similar vein, the Gamebook Adventures series is just as necessary as Ticket to Ride. Both, in their own subtle ways, highlight the sheer technological power tablet devices have. In Ticket to Ride, the strength lies in compressing the joy, complexity and mental trickery of a board game while eliminating all of the monotony and hassle. (Some would wrongly label this as part of the “charm”, to which I would say yes, in the same way that part of the joy of driving is getting undertaken by the fifth cunt in a row on the M5. It’s not charming, it’s a damn chore.)
The Gamebook Adventures series is magical in a similar way. Everybody hated messing around with pencils, paper and dice while trying not to tear yet another page. Even the criminally insane read every pathway at once and assumed perfect double sixes for any encounter even remotely challenging. Yes, it ruined the experience, but doing all the busy work instead was so much worse.
Playing on a tablet or a smartphone, where the dice are animated and your stats automatically tracked, makes life so much better. It’s the experience you knew you wanted twenty years ago when choose your own adventure books were cool – and now, we finally have it.
The power of technology, my friends. Now if they could just get my tablet to actually feel like a paperback novel? If only.
So do you have a favourite mobile game that didn’t make the list? Drop down in the comments below and let us know!