What exactly makes for a good mobile game?

Blizzard’s announcement of their latest mobile title, Diablo Immortal, shook many fans of the series to their core. For better or worse, Diablo Immortal on Blizzard’s to-do list and that is a fact that its detractors must learn to live with. They can, of course, simply elect to not spend any money on it if they aren’t interested in it.

It does, however, raise a few questions. Are the “hardcore” Blizzard fanbase going to even touch the thing on mobile? Surely they all have phones, and they’ve all payed for Blizzard content before so there’s a chance they’ll still tap in. Will this mark a turning point for AAA publishers and mobile games? How hard will Blizzard support their mobile games?

Well, they’ve said there’s mobile content on the way for all their games, so we have to take it on good faith that support will be forthcoming. We don’t know how much ongoing support they’ll receive as yet, but time will obviously tell.

It’s been years since the mobile phenomenons of Candy Crush and Clash of Clans, games developed specifically to dominate mobile app stores, with AAA brands frequently struggling to find a home. Further, AAA franchise entries on mobile platforms are typically rather underwhelming. We expect blockbuster experiences from AAA developers, games that push the limits of hardware and mechanics alike.

Rarely is this the case for mobile tie-in titles, farmed out to satellite studios in an effort to turn a quick buck from brand recognition alone. Sometimes they aren’t even games, merely companion apps for the actual, console-based game. These companion apps frequently aren’t much scratch either, offering minor incentives to extend the total play time of significant console releases, and offering no engaging experience on their own. There was a great tide of them that came with the release of the PS4 and Xbox One- they didn’t hold up and have now, mercifully, mostly gone the way of the dodo.

Immediately coming to mind in this department are the companion apps for Battlefield 4 and Assassins Creed: Unity, both of which were buggy, didn’t add much to the experience, and were pretty pointless to use. A lot of the time with companion apps, they’re tied to in-game incentives within the actual game releases, which justified my download of them.

All of this being said, the Nintendo Switch has made many larger developers and publishers rethink their approach to mobile. Perhaps it’s in innovations like the Switch and proliferation of higher powered mobile consoles that mobile gaming while become a more attractive prospect for big developers.

That being said, the Switch is admittedly an investment if you’re already amongst the gaming scene – $399 off the cuff, before games. A phone is something everybody has. It makes sense that developers would want in on that wide-spread tech money.

Conversely, the technology of smartphones has come a long since they began popularity with the launch of the iPhone – today you can get a range of Rockstar Games 3D era releases of Grand Theft Auto on your phone – from Vice City to San Andreas.

You can also get the entirety of the original DOOM on your phone, not to mention you can play Fortnite on your phone, against players on other devices – which was massively well received, and truly a marvel of this year.

But it’s been decades since the original release of some of these games, and whilst they’re massive and engaging, they’re not catering to a direct mobile market and need. To some extent the release of these titles on mobile platforms so long after their initial release is gimmick-y of a sort.

So I think that brings to question – what are the best ways the big developers have shifted focus on to mobile?

Ubisofts Assassins Creed: Identity was an interesting attempt; a phone game that played like a console released Assassins Creed from the Ezio era. Admittedly, it plays pretty well, although it’s quite stripped back from the console releases, missing mechanics and offering a smaller playing world.

Ultimately it misses the mark because it’s trying to be bigger than it is with scope that’s not achievable on the hardware – a welcome attempt, however.

It couples itself to phone games that aim to emulate the console-PC experience by offering something similar, but catered for phones. The Call of Duty series made heads turn with the mobile release of Call of Duty: Zombies and Call of Duty: Black Ops Zombies, which brought many of Treyarch’s zombies maps to phones – multiplayer included! This was a great experience, although it’d make your phone run hot – well within the scope of hardware ability.

But personally I think the best phone games that couple to major releases are ones that don’t necessarily function as companion apps, but can exist independently from their more expensive, more hardware-demanding counterparts.

I can think of three great examples. Pokemon GO!, Fallout: Shelter and Lara Croft: Go. 

Each of the above titles were able to take on the source material of their console-released counterparts, and develop the titles into more fitting experiences for a mobile platform.

Pokemon: GO! was able to fuse the fun of Pokemon and turn it into a mobile, social experience, whilst Lara Croft: Go made for an enjoyable birds-eye view adventure game, with Fallout: Shelter playing into wait for rewards-type games like Clash of Clans.

Each title was also developed with mobile touch screen controls in mind, and plays accordingly, also managing to squeeze in enjoyable aesthetics.

I guess in this rambling what I’m trying to get at is with Blizzard’s recent announcement over the joys of mobile gaming, they should pursue creativity in ways that don’t necessarily emulate the typical release experience, but rather take what players like about the big-name releases and develop unique experiences, that one might find engaging on the fly.

I’d totally be down for Diablo: Let’s Go Tyrael!

Zachariah Kelly

A Journo from Sydney who loves looking into the why's who's and what's of Video Games.