Post Side-Talkin' Mobile Phone Games

I'm relatively new to cell phones in general, and most of my phones up until now would simply melt if you tried to depict any kind of 3D graphics or wide range of colors. Now that I have one of those post-N-Gage attempts to make a platform for games, I've begun to think about what mobile gaming is really good for. When I was on the bus ride home, I'd break out my primitive little piece of hardware to play Backgammon against the computer. It didn't need fancy graphics to be a decent enough version of the game, and it came free with the phone.
The system I have right now has a ton of game demos, but no actual games that I own already. The phone DID come, at least theoretically, with a certificate for a free game unlocking code, but since this was a hand-me-down that wasn't an option. In a way that's kind of neat to allow a user to pick whatever game they want out of a list, but it would have been nice, as a human distraction function built-in to the phone, to at least have a Snakes game or something. It also has a draconian system where if you want to uninstall something, you effectively delete it. No memory management is possible really: once you uninstall you have to buy the thing to play it again, unless you download the demo I suppose.

Game Inventory

 The stuff I have installed on there now is as follows:

  • One Sequel (a fighting game)
  • Pro Series Golf (swing meter, pretty much)
  • Brain Challenge (heavily rated, timed puzzle game based on brain research but no one ever talks about the implications of the game, really, so who knows)  
  • Reset Generation (a complicated strategy game that I think was a bit over-designed)
  • World Series Poker (it's OK, but the "tells" system is too damned obvious, making the game easier than it should be )
  • Tetris (with one of the more annoying menu screens, where you have to wait for selections to form from gibberish rather than just select them immediately)
  • Mile High Pinball (not very much like pinball. Incredibly disappointing for having "pinball" in the name)
There are a few uninstalled files that I haven't tried:
  • Bounce Adventures or whatever
  • Creatures of the Deep
  • Space Impact: Kappa Base 
  • System Rush Evolution
  • Midnight Pool
  • Dogz (the z is for zesty Italian)
  • Subsonic (I think I may have tried this out on another iteration of the phone, but I forget what it was about)

Tons of games, sure. But the ones I've actually played wind up being either very simple, or too big a game for the phone it's housed in. Of the ones I've tried:
  • Tetris is Tetris, hard to mess it up even if the controls aren't the best.
  • Pro Series Golf is basically a swing meter game where, as far as I could tell, you can't pick the clubs.
  • Brain Challenge is fun and encourages improvement. If it wasn't capitalizing on the brain improvement trend I'd have no qualms about it.
  • Reset Generation at first looked like a fun, deep strategy game, but there's too much chaos to have a decent strategy. Not sure if I'm missing something there.
  • Mile High Pinball...  not nearly enough of an actual pinball game to warrant mention.


The fighting game One Sequel, which I played a bit recently is sorta neat (if unfortunately named when trying to do research on it). It actually debuted on the phone/game Frankenstein's Monster the N-Gage, but is now featured in higher-end mobile phones by Nokia. I have to admit, it's actually kind of fun. 
I like that it gets rid of the glamorous settings and move sets you expect in most fighting games. One of the settings is a run-down back alley in Mexico:  

 My dude, in the muscle shirt, getting owned
 My dude, in the muscle shirt, getting owned

The image looks better when playing, if a bit janky.  There's also a tatami mat arena where the music changes for every fight, which seems like a nod to the Matrix training scenes:


The only other setting in the demo is a parking garage in Germany.  Another thing I like, no matter the reason for it, is that there are no people cheering you on, which sort of adds to the feeling that this is two people kicking the crap out of each other a la Fight Club, and not some formally structured match. 
The graphics are blocky, which doesn't bother me, but the colors and shading feel rather rich, which goes a long way. The Mexico setting is especially appealing, as feels like it's dawn or dusk in the middle of a city.
The action itself is severely hindered because you're playing on a damned mobile phone, but I like that you can kick someone when they're down, and that the combinations have a decent amount of variety for what amounts to four directional buttons, plus punch and kick.  You can do holds, rapid combinations, upper cuts, low jabs and sweep kicks, charge moves, throws, and defensive moves. There's also a counter system that leaves an opponent open if they leave themselves vulnerable, allowing you stop their attack.
I wouldn't exactly recommend this game because I don't even have the full version. I don't know how to perform all the moves, so I'm not really sure how much control fidelity there is.

Strengths and Weaknesses

During one of the award show podcasts late last year, Paul Barnett said what needed to be said about platforms: they need to play to their strengths. Fruit Ninja wound up being one of his top mobile picks because the game used the touch-sensitive system to create a satisfying experience.  Mobiles are pretty much junk as high-end gaming devices, so if you try to recreate a game experience on them you're likely to be disappointed by your FPS or driving sim. What makes them good is when they are about at the level they can handle, both for visuals and controls, and that means that you're probably going to get a lot of Backgammon-level stuff out there.  But there's a middle ground that I don't see many designers going for, and that's in-depth games that aren't too flashy. Strategy games, old-school RPGs, stuff that lets you drop the game easily if something in real life interrupts you, but that allow for more than colorful, low-res flash.
Granted, games like that may be out there already, just obscured by the simple stuff that's more eye-catching. And it's not exactly easy to develop and distribute for mobile systems, especially heavily proprietary platforms like Apple's.   I just feel that in order for these systems to really shine, they're going to have to go a bit niche.  Beyond a few reflex purchases, there's going to be a lot of market bloat that fails to interest people for very long. While mainstream gaming platforms continue to impress people and win new converts, mobile phones risk becoming regarded as little better than silly distractions.