Mobile games have always had a bad reputation precisely after everyone does playing Snake II. Those shallow, addictive experiences blighted by extortionate in-app purchases and naked opportunism mean that some gamers don’t just not consider them real games; they want to rid the world of them.
TL;DR: Mobile games try too hard, with stories that make zero sense in the context of a game’s light-weight mechanics.
Gamespulp aren’t so reactionary – this isn’t a damn Trump rally. We reckon mobile games have their place – like it or not, they’re incredibly successful and the gameplay in more famous titles is usually solid. Maybe not particularly entertaining, but still strong. And usually they achieve everything they set out to do.
But mobile games still suck. Just not for the reason you think.
We’ve always thought the industry needs to up its game (no pun intended, honest). Whether it’s triple-A blockbusters released on time and without bugs, or the representation of women, there’s always more work to do to give video games the same culturally respected footing as films and games. By which we mean, we can’t think of a single film released where they patched the CGI in afterwards. Except maybe Star Wars.
But sometimes the industry tries to kick it up a notch, and ends up overreaching itself. It’s on this charge that mobile games are guilty.
How many times have you read articles online that declare PC and console gaming is dead, that games are going mobile? What’s really happening is that there’s a homogenisation, with some parts aping aspects of others. A large swathe of the old XBLA catalogue are good examples of console games that play so simply that they belong on, or are influenced by, smartphone gaming.
Where console games have simplified, mobile games have gone in the other direction, attempting to create epic narratives that will tempt more dedicated gamers to play on their phones as well as their PlayStation (and grow their market). Sometimes you end up with a delightful multi-platform hybrid like the latest Broken Sword. Mostly you end up disappointed.
Did you know Candy Crush Saga has a story? It’s so much more than a cheap Match-3 game by lawyer-friendly shark preying on mugs. It’s actually a charming tale of a girl named Tifi and her adventure in a sugar-coated land. The only real problem is, it really is just a cheap Match-3 game by lawyer-friendly shark preying on mugs.
And yet they felt the need to include a story, presumably to add an extra level of immersion – something games on other platforms have been doing for decades. Next time you load up poker on your iPhone, expect a cut-scene showing your card-sharp arriving in NYC from Iowa with big dreams of Broadway.
Enigmatis, by mobile devs Artifex Mundi, recently made an appearance on consoles, offering a thrilling murder mystery to solve via a series of puzzles. Like most games that hail from the app store, it sinned twice over: It failed to acknowledge the original platform’s limitations, and its story bore no relation to its gameplay.
This is the real reason why mobile games really suck.
We’ve lost count of the amount of tines we’ve been thrown a bizarre storyline and tried – like a character in Orwell’s 1984 – to make it make sense alongside the mechanics of a game. With Enigmatis, like pretty much every output from that studio, your main goal is to play hidden object games. You know the deal, your screen is filled with just about every madcap item the devs could think of (coon skin hat, bicycle pump, stuffed toy, etc.) and you’re tasked with finding everything in your list before you can proceed. As a mechanic, that’s grand, and it plays really well on touch-screens, controllers and mice (or mouses, we’re never quite sure).
Just one problem: Why? Why must your character find wholly unrelated objects before they can continue? If we were hunting down a vicious cult and needed a wrench, we’d stop searching at the precise moment we found what we were looking for. We sure as hell wouldn’t mess about finding a ton of unrelated objects before continuing the search for a killer. Yet that’s exactly what Enigmatis and plenty of other mobile games ask you to do.
And that harms the narrative. Straddling a shadowy line, these SOBs are asking to have their gaming cake and eat it. That jarring twin track feels as dissatisfying as reading a book at the same time as listening to an LP, leading us to wonder why they bother shoe-horning in a story if it doesn’t blend seamlessly with the way you play the game. It makes us wish they’d stuck with what they’re good at, instead of spreading themselves thin in a weak attempt to increase immersion (or just pad out the game with dialogue).
Ok, but are there any that get it right? Her Story is adept at weaving an engaging narrative with mechanics that makes sense within the context of the game. But of course, like Broken Sword 5, that game ended up on more than just tablets and phones, and it wasn’t built to do what most games on mobiles do – which is to kill half-an-hour while you’re on your commute.
When mobile games aim for what they’re good at, we don’t have a problem. Console games could learn a lot in that department – gamespulp have played way more broken, buggy, glitched or downright frustrating Xbox and PlayStation games than we have on mobile. Whether you’re a fan or not, most mobile games are solid. But if they really want to compete with the big (or, at least, bigger) guns, they need to marry their story with their gameplay, and not just tack it on as an after-thought – because that way disappointment lies.
That’s why we think mobile games suck. What do you reckon?