Smartphone gaming kills time, but that’s about it


When the iPhone and Android phones hit the shelves, everyone began heralding the end of dedicated handheld gaming devices like the Nintendo DS. Now that I have two capable smartphones in the house, I think I can safely say that handhelds have nothing to worry about, but that doesn’t mean these fancy phones can’t offer some fun gaming.

When Verizon finally got the iPhone, my wife bought one but I resisted and continued to use my Blackberry as a non-gaming phone. However, once I played a few games on the iPhone, I quickly had some serious phone envy. Not long after that I got an Android. With both Apple and Google platforms in the house, I could finally check out the gaming fare and see what all the hubbub was about. I was hoping the phone could replace my DS. I mean, who wants to carry around two bricks when you only need one?

A lot of the shmups look fun and would be on a different device or console.

A lot of promise without a lot of payback

I hit up all my favorite gaming genres on both the iPhone and the Android looking for some quick, exciting arcade action. I started with some shmup shooters including Sky Force, PewPew, Radiant HD, Air Attack HD and even rRootage. Then I downloaded a couple racing games, Raging Thunder and Turbo Fly 3D. Each game looked good and appeared to have all the ingredients to be great arcade games…and they might have been if it weren’t for completely unusable controls.

Without separate directional controls, mobile games have to rely on finger dragging and tapping, using an on-screen D-pad or using the phone’s tilt feature; none of which offer a good gaming experience. Many of the shoot ’em ups require that you drag your finger to move your ship, which would be great if it weren’t for your finger blocking your view. The on-screen overlay D-pad is better but responsiveness can be spotty and, again, it requires your fingers cover half the screen. By far the worst method of all is tilt control. Arcade games require too much precision to make tilting your phone an acceptable method.

Sometimes on-screen controls can work.

There is some good inside, I can sense it

However, I have found a few exceptions to these rules in Street Fighter IV and Pac-Man CE. Considering SF4 is a fighting game that requires combos, rolls and lots of button mashing, the on-screen controls work surprisingly well. Pac-Man CE uses a simple swipe of your finger to move and it works well. Why Pac-Man couldn’t give me a simple on-screen D-pad, I don’t know, but it’s Pac-Man so all is forgiven. For the most part, the arcade games I love the most are unplayable on my phone, which leaves the one type of game phones do better at than any other device, casual puzzle games.

I enjoy casual games almost as much as I do arcade games, as long as they manage to hold my attention, which I admit, can be hard to do. One of the first games I found was Tiny Wings on the iPhone. Tiny Wings asks you to help a little bird fly by swooping along complicated hills and valleys. It uses a simple tap to control your bird but the game is all about timing. The title is beautifully designed and, like any good casual game, simple to start but deceivingly challenging while drawing you in with sheer, fun frustration.

Once I got my Android, I discovered Flight Control, a time management game that asks you to land as many airplanes and helicopters as possible. Air Traffic Chaos was a favorite DS title of mine but Flight Control is one notch better because it makes wonderful use of the phone’s touch controls. Rather than just managing take-offs and landings with taps, you draw the flight path of each plane and it gets hectic fast.

Where smartphone games shine: simple-yet-challenge casual games.

If tower defense games are more your speed, then Guns N Glory is worth a look. Unlike some tower games where you just place your guns and hope for the best, Guns N Glory lets you move your pieces around the board in attempts to stop an endless parade of homesteaders. It’s also refreshing to see a new theme be applied to a tried and true format. Directing cowboys and Indians around is a nice change from gun turrets and killer robots. Screen size may be an issue with Guns N Glory but the fun makes up for any physical shortcoming.

Of course, your phone wouldn’t be complete without the casual game that really isn’t a game, and Alchemy is just the title. Alchemy starts you off with the four basic elements of fire, water, earth and air and you must combine them to create new elements…then you mix and match those to create even more. There are over 300 different elements to discover and it’s quite rewarding when you stumble across a combination that works. What happens when you combine metal and life? Why, you get a metal golem, of course.

The Xperia Playstation phone might change things.

Don’t give up on your Nintendo DS just yet

After a couple of months playing, it is obvious that a smartphone will not replace your gaming handheld…at least not if you’re looking for more than casual point-n-click games. Touch screens are just no match for a few good old fashioned buttons. Your fancy new Nintendo 3DS is safe…at least until the Xperia Playstation phone comes out, then we’ll find out if a phone can be a reliable mobile gaming device.

Want more game suggestions? Try these articles out:

Games You Should Have Played: The Sly Cooper Trilogy

Games You Should Have Played: Tomb Raider 1 & 2

Ten Games That Work Better As Rentals


About Author

Brian is a staff writer at TMA. He races Hot Wheels at while watching cartoons with his kid. You can follow @morningtoast on Twitter.


  1. I just discovered Words with Friends and that’s another great addition to anyone’s phone game library. It’s a Scrabble game that plays over several days. I’ve been taking Word breaks at work when I get burned out…and the fact you can keep several games going at once is great.

    The whole term “gamer” can probably be up for debate too. At best it’s anyone that plays any game regularly (even Frontierville). At worst it’s someone that dedicates more hours of the day to games than they do eating, breathing and sleeping. I think most of us are in the middle.

    I try not to qualify what game people are playing to determine if they’re a gamer or not. If you love playing a game, you’re a gamer, plain and simple. If you’re playing Call of Duty all day, great. Rock Band all day, wonderful. Point is you love a game and you *know* it and take some pride in that…that’s a gamer.

  2. Yeah, I don’t really agree with you on this. People seem to have all sorts of definitions of what a casual gamer is but I know for certain that I’m a casual gamer and probably on the end where I’m not really a gamer at all. The only games I play are on my iPhone or maybe on facebook now. After getting addicted to frontierville, John was like, why don’t you go back and play Animal Crossing? You used to love that game! So once I dug out my DS, found the charger and then managed to find the game I was like, this is some bullshit. Frontierville is right on my facebook. No charger required. I can play words with friends when I’m at the dentists office. People just think I’m texting or whatever. They think a DS is a talking point though– oh my great grandson has one of those! You must be one of his little play friends! Save it for the dentist chat time lady, don’t bug me, I’m on my phone.

  3. I have to confess that I’m enjoying Angry Birds. Before getting an iPhone I swore I’d never fall for the Angry Birds addiction. Am I lame?

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