The term “smartphone” is a bit of a holdover from a bygone era when they were more limited devices. Today’s phones are more like full-featured pocket computers with a phone app. They can do almost anything you want to do on the go. If you’re a hardcore gamer, that not only includes the lighter fare like Angry Birds, but AAA console-quality titles from some of the best computer and console-development studios out there.
With dual and quad-core CPUs and multi-core graphics by names such as PowerVR and Nvidia, your smartphone has more power than you may realize. In fact, the PS Vita was built around the same ARM Cortex A9 and power VR543MP chips as your phone. If you know where to look, you can find some very satisfying games on the cheap.
The iOS platform has a much larger back catalog for games. However, when it comes to recent releases, this gap has narrowed considerably to near parity. Pricing for AAA titles varies, even platform to platform for the same title, but can be considerably more than the $1 or $2 price of lighter games. Also, please be aware that many game developers have gone to an in-game purchase model. Parents, think twice before giving your kid unfettered access to an account with a linked credit card while playing these games.
Controlling Your Games
For some game genres, such as real-time strategy, the touchscreen can enhance gameplay over traditional PC and console input types. In most others, while the touchscreen and motion sensors in your phone can assist certain aspects of your game, you really want control sticks and buttons. Trying to play an action game with a virtual D-pad is a pain. Fortunately third-party companies have come to the task and created Bluetooth controllers. Keep in mind though that there is no common control API for iOS or Android, so make sure the games you want to play are compatible with your controller’s API.
For iOS users with an iPhone 4 or 4S, Ion’s iCade Mobile will give you a D-pad and 4 buttons. Your iPhone can rotate between landscape and portrait. Also from Ion, the iCade Jr. gives you a miniaturized arcade cabinet.
Zagg Caliber Advantage
Zagg’s upcoming Caliber Advantage will give similar options for the iPhone 5 by adding controls sticks and also folding up into a protective case.
For Android, any cases will largely depend on your phone, but PowerA’s Moga and upcoming Moga Pro are dedicated controllers that are adjustable to fit most any Android smartphone. Samsung also revealed itself to be working on an adjustable controller for its devices during its latest Galaxy announcement.
With supported games and wireless streaming capabilities like Apple’s AirPlay some games can be either mirrored to your TV, or even use your smartphone’s screen for second-screen capability.
There is no bigger name in the gaming industry than EA and they are on mobile hardcore. EA’s lineup includes mobile chapters in some very recognizable franchises from the console and PCs. EA’s titles are some of the highest quality mobile games out there, but be warned they are also one that is highly into micro-transactions (aka freemium). The game may be free or low priced, but if you want all the features, you’re going to have to pay for them.
Madden NFL Football
Madden NFL Football (iOS | Android) is the premier game out there if you want to play NFL football. In fact, it’s the only cross-platform game out there, due to contracts. While it is cut down a little bit, most of the gameplay mechanics and modes transfer over to the mobile version. It’s literally Madden in your pocket.
Mass Effect Infiltrator(iOS | Android) is no cut-down version of a console game. In fact, it’s a completely original game in the third-person action series developed specifically for iOS and Android. Graphically, this is one of the most stunning games out there.
Need for Speed
We never encourage running from the cops… unless you’re playing Need For Speed Most Wanted (iOS | Android). If you’ve ever played this series, you’ll want this game. If you haven’t, it’s a fantastic game to start with.
NBA Jam (iOS | Android) Boom Shaka
Laka! If you’re a fan of over-the-top 2-on-2 basketball with crazy antics, wild announcing, and being able to beat the tar out of your opponent, this version of NBA Jam is great. In fact, it’s the classic arcade game we all know and love, updated with current players. It’s heating up – swish Catch that, it’s on fire.
Real Racing 3 (iOS | Android) Play this game on a top of the line device like the iPhone 5 or SIII, you’ll be shocked how beautiful it is. It’s not just a pretty face though, it’s got game play to match. If you like racing games, just download it, like right now.
For those familiar with Japanese-style RPGs, neither Square nor Enix need any introduction. They’ve made some of the most classic console games of all time like Final Fantasy series. A lot of these classics have been recreated for iOS and Android and it doesn’t stop there. Square Enix has been all-in on mobile games ever since the old touch wheel iPod, not only with the aforementioned ports, but with original titles created specifically for mobile systems, considered to be some of the finest RPGs on any platform. This quality comes at a price, Square Enix has some of the highest-priced titles out there with new releases generally priced at $15.99 or higher. Like EA, on the newest titles they have fully embraced the freemium model.
The original 8-bit Final Fantasy (iOS | Android) has been recreated and enhanced for mobile. You’ll be fighting monsters, casting spells, and saving princesses with graphics updated for modern devices. It’s not alone. Most of the NES and SNES games in the series have been given the treatment. Please note though, that these have the Japanese numbering system, not what’s released in North America.
Final Fantasy II (iOS | Android)
Final Fantasy III (iOS | Android)
Final Fantasy IV (iOS)
Final Fantasy V (iOS)
Secret of Mana (iOS)
Chrono Trigger (iOS | Android)
Final Fantasy Tactics
Also coming in is Square’s classic Strategy RPG Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions (iOS). FF Tactics was original released on the PSOne and then given a complete refresh for the PSP. This game is considered to have one of the best story lines in the history of gaming.
Song Summoner (iOS) is a unique and innovative RPG originally released on the iPod Touch (and ported to mobile six months later) uses the songs in your music library to create characters. Even back when this was released, SquareEnix put the same level of effort into it as they would any console games. If you want a JRPG with something different, this is for you.
It’s not often a completely new franchise is born on a medium not originally designed for gaming. None the less, Square found their next great franchise with the critically acclaimed Chaos Rings (iOS | Android). This modern 3D RPG was so good that it spawned two more games,
Chaos Rings Omega (iOS | Android) and Chaos Rings II (iOS | Android).
French publisher Gameloft specializes in licensed games and games that are, shall we say “inspired” by other franchises. They saw a need for quality games in the first days of mobile gaming and they ran with it. What they lack in originality, Gameloft makes up for in quality. They also cover most genres. They might make near-copies, but they’re generally exceptional copies.
JRPG fans will love the FFX-esque External Legacy (iOS). It’s graphically beautiful, has a fantastic storyline, and the gameplay is brilliant. The touch screen for the most part does not hinder control, and for casting spells might actually be a bit of advantage. Honestly, this is my favorite game on mobile so far.
For GTA fans there’s Gangstar: Miami Vindication (iOS) and its sequel, Gangstar Rio (iOS | Android). Creating your criminal empire has never been so portable. The story is excellent and the gameplay is, well, pretty much identical to GTA.
If the mobile gaming market is missing anything, it’s real time strategy. That is unfortunate because these game thrive on the touch screen. If you liked Blizzard’s Starcraft series, meet Starfront Collision (iOS). You gather minerals, create units, and build up your base before beating the crap out of your opponents.
Order and Chaos Online
Order & Chaos Online (iOS | Android) is a MMORPG in the style of World of Warcraft and similar games. Playing with others around the world, you get to level up your character, obtain objects, and quite frankly, just interact with other people in an online persistant world.
Racing Fans can get Asphalt 7 (iOS | Android), the latest entry in Gameloft’s street racing series. This game offers a lot of multiplayer features, tons of cars, and just unbelievable gameplay and graphics. If you bought Need for Speed, you’ll want to get this too.
N.O.V.A. (iOS) is a Sci-Fi First Person Shooter that will feed your Halo addiction. It’s fast-paced for lots of alien-killing fun. It’s multiplayer enabled for up to 4. If one’s not enough, there’s two more. These games were so well received they made their way to the PSP and PS3.
N.O.V.A. 2 (iOS | Android),
N.O.V.A. 3 (iOS | Android)
Modern Combat (iOS) as you might expect are similar to the Modern Warfare series. This series of first person shooters lets you vanquish the baddies both in-game and online (MC 2-4) with real world locations and weapons.
Modern Combat 2: Black Pegasus (iOS | Android)
Modern Combat 3: Fallen Nation (iOS | Android)
Modern Combat 4: Zero Hour (iOS | Android)
The days of mobile gaming playing second fiddle to console systems are over. There are some truly fantastic games out there if you know where to look. These were just a few of the top quality games out there. If you have any we missed, please feel free to leave a comment below.