Mobile” Isn’t a Dirty Word: Confessions of a Busy Weeb

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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Lover of video games, met­al, and hard cider. Amateur video game mu­sic com­pos­er and YouTuber at Video Culture Replay. Armed with a de­gree in psy­chol­o­gy, she thinks she knows it all (and some­times ac­tu­al­ly gets it right). Also skilled with the oboe and wran­gling chil­dren. Catch her on Twitch over at

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