If you're like me, you probably tend to discount mobile app games as small, tedious experiences. And for the most part, that's definitely the way it goes. The vast majority of mobile games either fit into the puzzle genre or are meant to hook players through repetitive and/or competitive action. But there are certainly exceptions out there, and many don't realize that some app experiences offer big, unique experiences. So for skeptics of the genre, here are a few noteworthy examples to keep in mind.
Before I start, let me be clear: there's almost nothing in the way of action in 80 Days. In fact, it almost plays more like a semi-educational computer game than a console experience. But it's still one of the biggest and best experiences in app gaming, ideally suited to mobile devices and packed with intrigue. The concept of the game is simple: you embody the butler/assistant to a wealthy gentleman who wishes to travel around the world, in the 19th-century. In ranking the game as one of 2014's best, Polygon describes it as a "reinterpretation of the classic (Jules Verne) novel Around The World In 80 Days... with a few steampunk exceptions." Basically, your task is to manage funds, inventory, conversations with fellow travellers, etc. as you find your way around the world in the quickest city-hopping route possible. It's oddly challenging, and perhaps best of all, you'll be eager to play again and find a new route as soon as you're done the first time.
The Banner Saga
The Banner Saga is actually an RPG that was initially available on Steam. It's an epic, Viking-themed experience that cycles between vaguely Disney-style animation and 3D gameplay, and its mobile version may just be the most engaging RPG out there for handheld devices. Players can collect over 25 characters to use, and the RPG experience goes well beyond combat missions on a pre-determined path, ultimately encompassing a larger story. Every decision you make and conversation you have impact the direction and scope of the game, making for a rich, full experience that feels bigger than a standard app game.
Developed by gameloft and vaguely reminiscent of the Grand Theft Auto series, 9mm is unlike any other game in app markets. It's set up as a cops vs. drug lords saga, with players embodying the character of police officer John Kannon through 12 levels of intense and often-amusing action. For a 3D third-person shooter for mobile platforms, the controls are surprisingly intuitive. Also, because this is how the game was designed, it ultimately plays better than most of the console shooter adaptations that are available in app stores. But more than anything else, 9mm just has that special something that keeps you playing. In this case, it's a well-developed storyline and just the right amount of humour. This is a good old-fashioned video game, not a glorified combat simulator.
Designed as the mobile extension to the betfair casino online platform, this app is pretty enormous in comparison to most any alternative in its genre. Whereas the majority of mobile casino or poker apps will offer a single gaming option—generally one card game or an array of slot machines—this one provides the closest thing to a full digital casino. Slots, roulette, blackjack, baccarat, and even live poker tables are all available within a single app. Also, they all follow a sleek, simple design that keeps things from looking congested or complicated, as is typical of many casino apps. Furthermore, for people in areas where online gambling is legal, the app allows for real money gaming. Ultimately, the genre isn't for everybody, but for those interested in casino gaming, it's arguably the biggest option out there.
New Star Soccer
New Star Soccer is the oddball of my list. It's not a playable novel, like 80 Days; not a deeply interactive experience like The Banner Saga or Betfair Casino; and not the console-like experience of 9mm. But New Star Soccer, as simple and borderline lazy as it looks, is one of the most thoughtfully designed games I've come across for mobile devices. It almost resembles an old Gameboy experience in its simplicity, and gameplay is lengthy and satisfying. Macworld calls the game "half sports action, half RPG progression, and all mobile fun." While this description sounds somewhat generic, it's really the most appropriate way to phrase it. New Star Soccer brilliantly combines the game action of striking and bending a football with the ability to advance your player through different leagues and levels.