In the modern world of gaming, “mobile” is looked at as kind of a dirty word. It conjures up images of abusive freemium games and the same app icon of a guy looking very angry with his mouth open. The fact that there are games on mobile that exploit people who spend a lot of money is an undeniable one, but those aren’t the only games in the mobile market.
Just like how the Steam storefront became infamous for being a shovelware and asset flip paradise, and how the current Switch eShop has a plethora of ”who asked for this” games, the Google Play Store and Apple App Store are a minefield. But there are great games to find there.
I want to begin this by stating a few things. Number one, I spend money on mobile games unabashedly. I believe that if you enjoy something that is provided for free, throwing some money at it when you can ensures that you are able to still enjoy that thing. To me, it is the same idea behind things like Patreon. You pay a bit of money to keep the content you love going on into the future. Some see this as a bad thing, while I see it as a necessity when the games are offered free.
The second thing I want to point out is that I have purchased mobile games for myself, as in full games on the mobile platform. Many of these I got through Humble Bundle and their mobile bundle offers. While I have not purchased from them recently, the couple of bundles I have gotten have supplied me with a lot of fun and were well worth the price.
Playing games on mobile offers a different experience than on PC or console. To many, the controls are clunky and unsalvageable. Using a touchscreen to play a game can be rough if you’re playing something like Sonic the Hedgehog (that was god awful to try to play on my phone), but there are plenty of games that are designed around this kind of setup. There are also controller-like add-ons you can get for your phone which will hit the touch screen controls for you and can be less intrusive during your gaming experience than using your fingers, or even Bluetooth game pads you can attach to your phone to make it more like a handheld console.
One of the biggest reasons I love mobile gaming is because of the ease of access for game time, and I don’t just mean cost. I love my PC and my consoles to the moon and back, but the ability to tap around for a minute when a show I don’t like is on, being able to swipe stuff at work during downtime, or to have something small to do to wind down before bed (use your blue light filter if using your phone in bed!) is appealing to me.
Some games I play just for the fun, some I actually get items like figures sent to me, so I am not just getting digital items that could be ripped away if they decide they don’t like me. The accessibility of being able to game when and wherever you want is a major draw, and the variety of games available might surprise those not familiar with the mobile landscape.
Many games that are ported from another system to mobile are used as examples of bad design and how mobile isn’t a viable platform.
I would argue that this is just because the developer did not take the time to port these titles optimally. Clunky controls and bad ports can be fixed by using what mobile is good at instead of trying to get it to do something it’s not. Games like the earlier Final Fantasy games I think work well because the turn based combat system means that the controls don’t have to react quickly and precisely because you’re about to die in 2 seconds if you don’t dodge. Older games can be ported onto mobile, but proper care still has to be taken to remember the limitations of the platform.
What about games designed just for mobile? While there have been many screw-ups by companies regarding mobile games (“Do you guys not have phones?” will live forever in infamy), I feel that’s because a lot of larger companies who jump into the mobile bandwagon do it because they can milk more money out of “whales,” people who spend superfluous amounts of money on mobile games. When looking at smaller developers who aren’t trying use a beloved franchise for quick money, we can find a lot of fun games that were designed for the mobile platform from the bottom up, or were at least ported very well from other platforms.
And boy are there more than a few games I get a kick out of.
First up is probably the girliest game I play and the first mobile game I ever spent money on, Love Nikki. Love Nikki is a fashion game with an actual plot and storyline. In the world of Miraland, all conflicts are solved through dress up contests; the spilling of blood comes with a horrible curse (that has yet to be explored in the English version of the game). There is the main story, as well as competitions and a social part to the game called “Stylist Associations.” The game even has many Discord servers dedicated to it, as well as a website on how to meta the crap out of your dress up scores. I know, going on about a dress up game at length is ridiculous, but it’s a lot of fun and can be played without spending a single penny if you aren’t an outfit completionist. The game does have ways of encouraging you to spend money, but it isn’t required for actually having fun, as in-game premium currency is given out like candy daily.
Another one of my favorites is a little game called Badlands. You play as a little fluffy bat that looks like it’s related to the soot balls from Miyazaki films, avoiding dangers and trying to rescue your other little bat buddies. The mechanics of the game are simple, touch and hold to go up, don’t tap anything to go down. Using this simple system, the game gets very complex, throwing you through turbines and making you feel awful every time one of your bat like brethren are lost to the void.
Another great game is Bag It. Bag It is basically what happens when you try to play Tetris at the grocery store, with all the same messy outcomes. You have to pack groceries into a bag properly, avoiding putting heavy stuff on top of fragile stuff. The height at which you let go of the item is also taken into account. Drop those eggs into the bag from too high and you’re out of luck. The game offers a variety of modes to play in, which helps keep the repetitive game play from feeling stale.
Color Sheep is a fun time killer too. Protect your sheep by making them a different color then blasting the wolves that approach off the screen. The game starts easy, but as more colors become available, keeping how to make each color straight in your head, as well as how quickly the wolves start to close in keeps the game exciting and fresh.
There is also a puzzle game called SumiSumi that I really enjoy. Based off of the Sanrio‑X line of characters, it’s a match 4 puzzle game that really gets the noggin joggin’. Each puzzle requires you to think hard about the decisions you make and one wrong move could screw the whole puzzle up. If you’re into casual puzzle fun, along with some cute, SumiSumi is a great place to start.
The fun cult classic Organ Trail is available on mobile as well and works like a charm, so you can have fun trying to escape the zombie hordes wherever you may be. Other charming games include OLO, Hundreds, Rebuild, Ridiculous Fishing, Bardbarian, Reigns (not from Humble Bundle), and more. Almost all of these games I purchased through Humble Bundle through their mobile bundles. Many of these included the soundtracks to the games as well. All in all, I spent less than $20 combined on about 45 games, many of which have given me a lot of hours of enjoyment.
While I 100% advocate for purchasing full versions of games on mobile, there are freemium or free to start games that I do like and don’t feel are as exploitative as some games. While many a hype has been had over Fate Grand Order, Aniplex, the publisher, reported a mind blowing 1.8 BILLION in revenue. Looking at a topic about spending habits in the game’s subreddit, people are saying they’ve spent thousands for their virtual gacha waifus. One poster even said “probably a couple hundred by now”, then updated with an edit saying they had spent $1,300. While spending money on these games can be fun, it can absolutely turn into an addiction, so always limit yourself when playing these types of games, especially gacha (A game where in-game currency, usually bought with real currency, is spent for random items).
Looking at large publishers that are creating games for the mobile market, Nintendo came out of the gate swinging with Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp. The mobile version of this franchise gives you your own campsite to hang out at with your favorite Animal Crossing characters. Go around the different areas to aid animals in need, then invite them to your camp for fun! All of the usual staples of Animal Crossing exist, such as dressing your character up in fun and funky styles as well as decorating your campsite to your heart’s content. The in-game premium currency isn’t given out as liberally in this game, and there are some heavy gacha elements with fortune cookies, so guard your wallet well.
Last on my personal list of mobile games, but definitely not least, is my mobile obsession: Toreba. If you follow me on Twitter at all, you’ve probably seen me post a video or two of my wins. Toreba is a game that lets you play UFO catchers in Japan for real prizes. Use the claw to push, pull, and tap the prizes down, or plop a ping pong ball into the marked spot on a takoyaki maker, and win your prize. If you spend $10 during certain times, you will receive a free daily play ticket as well, so you can even win things “for free.” Shipping the prizes is free once a week too, depending on where you live. I have personally won many things on Toreba, from plushies and figures, to plates and mugs, and even floor mats and trash cans. Everything ships directly from Japan and is officially licensed. The game can get very addictive very quickly with the “just one more try” attitude, so make sure to limit yourself if you intend to play.
Overall, the mobile market is saturated with a metric buttload of games, both good and bad. This shouldn’t be a mark against mobile gaming as a whole though, but more against exploitative and greedy tactics that tend to be used by some mobile developers. Mobile games can be a lot of fun and can be a great way to sneak some gaming into an otherwise busy day. I urge you to explore the variety of mobile games available on your devices, but be wary of the costs that can add up quickly on some games.
Check out some of the games listed above and let me know what you think, and send me your Toreba win replays on Twitter!
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