The Real Reason Mobile Games Are Terrible

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.

ANgry Birds Mobile Game Smartphone Gaming

But we still hate these guys.

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.

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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.

Apple Jack Xbox XBLA Live Arcade

This guy knows.

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 Artifex Mundi Mobile Games Smartphone Gaming Hidden Object

The Christmas party was a total success.

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).

Her Story iOS Mobile Game Smartphone Gaming PC

This is how it’s done.

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?

Keep up with the conversation over on Twitter and Facebook.


3 thoughts on “The Real Reason Mobile Games Are Terrible

  1. This is just bullshit speaking from a hardcore gamer who uses consoles, handhelds and mobiles.

    This is bullshit simply because mmo’s are 100 times better on mobile than they are on console or handhelds (neither of those mediums have any real good options for mmo games).

    Mobile is the only place you can find decent mmo games that are portable, examples include Iruna, Avabel, heroes of legend or even clash of clans in the strategy mmo genre.

    This often doesn’t get mentioned because narrowsighted articles like this forget to even think about that and only poke holes at single player mobiles games which many do indeed suck.

    But anyone who thinks that mobile mmo games are “causal” then just slap yourself in the mouth, you are talking sh!t.


    • Hi Ray – some really interesting points here, but I’d argue that those games are the exception to mobile gaming, not the rule – particularly when it comes to deploying narratives in games. Usually they just feel tacked on to artificially create depth to a game that probably doesn’t need it in the first place. Did we need a story in Tetris when we first played that on the Gameboy? Nope, but if it was made by a mobile developer today, you can bet your ass they’d attempt to attach one to it.


  2. I think the reason Mobile Gaming is dead, is because it doesn’t have as big of a Fanbase, as Consoles and Handhelds.

    Not only that, but it feels awkward and uncomfortable playing a First-Person or Third-Person Shooter, Racing, or ANY kind of fast-paced Action games, when the Controls feel clunky and unresponsive.

    Plus, having to put up with the annoying and unnecessary Ads as well as CONSTANT Updates or In-app Purchases, hampers and sours the Mobile Gaming experience.


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