Jun 20 2012
Mobile games have been around almost as long as cell phones have, albeit the first examples were little more than collections of black and white blips. Still, we all needed something to keep our minds and hands busy while waiting in line at the DMV, am I right? As cell phone capabilities grew, so did those of the games we played with them, and the rise in casual gaming led to a healthy market for these smaller games that we could play with a few flicks of our fingers. Fortunately, healthy markets attract creative developers.
Over my long and illustrious gaming career, I like to think I’ve developed at least a modicum of good taste when it comes to my choices of poisons. There are some glaring omissions from my resume, of course: I just played Mass Effect for the first time last week! My Shepard is pretty awesome though, if I do say so myself. Overall, I think I’ve done a good job of mixing the critically acclaimed with the relative unknowns, the cutting edge with the retro, the mainstream with the indie. It’s no surprise that mentality has carried over into my mobile gaming choices. Luckily for me (and you), there’s a wealth of unique options that are by turns beautiful, clever, or at the very least charming. Here are six of my favorite offbeat mobile games.
Available for: iOS and Android. Canabalt‘s story is simple: you are running for your life. You start off inside of an office building, and just like that, you’re leaping from building to building. The graphics are decidedly 8-bit, but when you run through a flock of birds or burst through a window—causing tiny pieces of glass to bounce off the roof of the next building—it’s nothing less than gorgeous. The gameplay is instinctive to any gamer. There’s one action: jump. As you go through subsequent playthroughs, a more comprehensive story begins to emerge. Buildings randomly crumble beneath your feet, giant pieces of machinery fall from the sky, and roving four-legged robots stalk in the background. Here’s the very best part: when you die and start over, the board changes. There’s no old-school style memorization of jump patterns that will help you here, my friends. Once you start running, it’s just you and your reflexes. Oh yeah, the soundtrack is amazeballs. The best news of all is that you can play the game for free here.
But seriously, just go buy the thing. You can pretend you’re Neo at the beginning of The Matrix.
Available for iOS. One of the greatest things about mobile games is their graphics limitations. Hear me out. Since most phone users don’t want to waste precious memory on large, graphic-laden game files, developers will focus on good gameplay as the main selling point. Not to mention the simplistic graphic requirements can very often lead to a stylish visual presentation anyway. Such is the case with Eliss, one of my absolute favorite go-to mobile games when I need a few moments of distraction. The art is sort of noveau retro, as if Mad Men‘s art director was brought in as a consultant. Eliss’ universe is populated with stars (planets?) that are combined and split apart using the iOS’s multitouch controls. You lose points if two stars of a different color run into each other, and throughout the game you’re given the opportunity to help these stars go supernova. Add in a few uncontrollable vortexes and some sparkling stardust to sweep away, and suddenly you’re a god in a galaxy of ultimate multitasking. You can find more info here.
The music and sound design also have that vintage-modern feel.
Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP
Available for: iOS and Steam. Sword & Sworcery EP is about as high-concept as a mobile game can get. It’s about as high-concept as high-concept can get. And yes, the title’s misspelling is deliberate. S&S is both an old-fashioned point-and-click style adventure game and a way to present Jim Guthrie’s album. The artwork is stunning, even as it calls to mind the simplest graphics of yesteryear, and the music is truly awesome. The voice acting is also some of the most naturalistic I’ve ever had the pleasure of hearing in a video game, and thank god for that. You can read the whole history of the project here.
The trailer makes it out to be more pretentious than it is, I swear. It’s also full of triforce-y goodness, though that’s never made explicit.
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