There are lots of decent phone games, but I’m going to ignore most of them for this list. As lovely as the upper echelons of the application stores may be, most would retain a majority of what made them enjoyable through a switch to mouse and keyboard or console controllers.
Others, though, thrive in the unique position that sliver of glass and plastic in your pocket has assumed in our lives, or utilize technology not typically found elsewhere. Let’s take a peek at some excellent examples of these latter, at games that make great use of features only found on your smartphone.
An offshoot of Google birthed this prominent position-based game of territory control, building into it a narrative justification for the empowerment of culturally significant landmarks. Essentially, cool bits of your city like that art installation across the street from where you work have been transformed into valuable strategic assets. Players choose allegiance in a multiplayer conflict between factions vying for dominion.
Taking control of these requires not just bringing your global positioning-enabled device within range of the object, but expending some of the energy pellets you’ve collected by physically moving yourself around town. Ingress doesn’t just force you out into the urban sprawl, but draws you to landmarks you may have never visited. With millions of downloads just last year, the tug of war in your area is probably quite active.
6. ‘WORDS WITH FRIENDS’
Text messaging allows for leisure in your communication that live, verbal phone calls don’t. You could call it lazy or you could call it convenient, but the infinite justification for delayed response and resultant freedom of consideration is a luxury most indulge in.
Words with Friends levies the same grace against a match of Scrabble. Your turn is spent isolated from the other player, affording ample time to study the words your selection of tiles can form with what’s laid on the board without expectant faces awaiting your move. It’s a simple change, but one that completely alters the texture of the back-and-forth. It also helps you leverage the internet for outside aid, but you wouldn’t do that to your friends, would you?
5. ‘DEVICE 6’
This is a novel whose typography reflects the motion of its 60s mystery happenings. Descending stairs and travelling protracted hallways forms zigzags and long, single strings of text, which then wrap around dynamic images and other intriguing features. A physical form would be a mess of irregular cutout strips and accessory pieces, a pain to read.
It’s also a puzzle whose solutions and clues are hidden within the landscape of words you’ve traversed to get there. Perhaps it’s as simple as fitting context to facts. It’s probably something more arcane and interactive. Audio, visual, and literary collage blends with clever player involvement to form a singularly unique mobile experience, something whose dimensions would never comfortably fit on anything but a mobile device.
4. ‘ZOMBIES, RUN!’
Struggling to get those track shoes on the road? If running partners and thumping tunes aren’t doing the trick, the zombie apocalypse might. Zombies, Run! entrenches you with digital survivors and saddles you with the responsibilities of Runner 5. Retrieving supply drops and collecting resources will stave off local undeath and allow you to fiddle with construction and upgrades, but you’re required to travel on foot to gather what you need.
It could have stopped with a cataclysm and shambling horde motivating you to move. Instead, the app presents what equates to a serial of podcast stories that rope your personal role into an ongoing survival saga. Music playlists of your choosing thread between story beats, and when you hear that telltale groaning? The surge you feel will reflect your commitment to role play.
The rickety hunk of space junk you share with buddies is failing in its task to outrun an exploding sun. You’re stationed in front of nonsensical dials and slider-controlled gibberish that might preserve lives, but the essential instructions are printed on somebody else’s screen. It’s time to shout technobabble at your friends!
It’d still work on other hardware, like dedicated game consoles, but a large part of the unique charm of Spaceteam lies in barking at your mom to unbind gyrolegs and adjust geiger powerlanterns on the fly. Touch control and the ubiquity of smartphones facilitates that nicely.
Games with physical materials like boards or cards tend to translate pretty well to capacitive screens. Producing your own Charades pieces was often preferable to using a somewhat limited box set, but the issue of supply is resolved by shredding and percolating the cards into an easily expandable list on chip storage.
Charades is one of those things whose rules are expressed through culture: virtually everybody knows how to play. Pop this out of your jeans and the group is instantly on the same page. If you’ve somehow managed to avoid exposure, the goal is to convey ideas and identities without using the words that’d make things easy. Guessing impersonated celebrities and activities mimed without props is nigh universally entertaining.
What was previously an enthusiast’s activity requiring a dedicated GPS receiver and a visit to a hobbyist website is now a humble phone app. You’re looking at the world’s biggest network of treasure hunting, and there are literal tons of loot out there.
Players choose a spot in the wild to bury a waterproof box of cool stuff. The cache’s coordinates are then uploaded to a worldwide map, its pin popping up under relevant area searches. Some appear within city limits, though others require supply provisioning, hiking boots, and a solid day’s worth of exploring. Pack along something cool to swap with a piece of what’s been left inside, sign your code name into the ledger, and retreat back to civilization with goodies in hand.
Kris Goorhuis is a freelance writer, nerd, and pathologically shy fish in a sea of eyes. Leer at him on Twitter @krisgoorhuis.
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