Mobile gaming has existed for as long as cell phones have been around. Featuring titles like Snake, you started with monochromatic, simple button games with small pixels and choppy animation. As mobile phones evolved, so to did gaming. The release of Nokia cellphones came with games like Sonic. Even the N-Gage, the defunct handheld console, included games like Sonic-N, a port of Sonic Advance for Game Boy Advance. The evolution of mobile gaming exploded when the next era came along.
In the smartphone era, gaming hit its new boom. While Nintendo has always dominated the handheld gaming market, Apple’s iPhone and various Android smartphones offered something new to the table. Rather than a direct competition, these were more as an alternative. A compliment, if you will, was served to smartphone owners.
You had apps and you could play games on them! But rather than offer the intrinsic, console gaming experiences that the Nintendo DS and 3DS were capable of, smartphone developers sought to capture their own brand in the mobile gaming market. However, that’s not to say they would not publish “console games” on mobile devices. Rather, they would take a new approach.
Evolution of Mobile Gaming Table of Contents
- The First Batch of Popular Smartphone Games
- Ports of Console Games
- Gacha Gaming
- Nintendo Enters the Mobile Market
- Final Words About the Evolution of Mobile Gaming
The iPhone originally released in 2007. While the smartphone interface itself was new, gaming would take a while to eventually become relevant on the system. You can look at a list of some of the oldest smartphone games!
One of the first and most successful mobile games was Angry Birds. Released in 2009, Angry Birds took the world by storm with its colorful characters and physics-based launching action. Use a catapult to send sphere-shaped birds into buildings to take down a bunch of green pigs. Simple concept, great for children. It ended up spawning its own franchise and even a movie as well.
Angry Birds was released around the time of Jetpack Joyride and Temple Run. The former was a side-scrolling arcade game while the latter was a simple swipe infinite run game where you collect jewels, jump, and dodge. This would serve as the basis for games like Sonic Dash. Moreover, Fruit Ninja and Infinity Blade would come out to phones. Both would also be released as arcade games which you can find at Dave and Busters today.
Finally, puzzle games like Bejeweled came out. In an era where mobile gaming was divided amongst being great for casuals and “too casual, too simple,” Bejeweled Blitz took the formula of a renowned PC puzzle series and made an addictive puzzle game with great music and pretty aesthetics.
PopCap games would later release Bejeweled (Bejeweled 3 on PC) as well as other games, such as Plants vs. Zombies and Peggle, on smartphones.
Prominent developers and publishers, like Capcom, Sega, and Bandai Namco, sought to capitalize on the mobile market as well. Capcom would go onto release ports of Mega Man 2 and Mega Man X, both of which were received to awful review due to their controls. They would eventually port Resident Evil 4, the N-Gage version, to mobile.
Sega released Sonic 1 and 2 from Genesis as well. It wasn’t until Christian Whitehead remastered these games that they became playable, however. This was during the time that he also released Sonic CD for the system, remaking the game from the ground up. Note the new additions, such as playable Tails and Knuckles, and even the Hidden Palance Zone from Sonic 2, separated these releases from any other before them.
Bandai Namco released a version of Pac-Man that continues to be updated to this very day. While they attempted to release games like Tekken and SoulCalibur, they were eventually pulled from the market.
“Gachapon” gaming, which comes from Japan, involves playing a free game where you have the option to spend money to summon characters you want. One earlier example in America is Brave Frontier, a JRPG released for mobile devices in 2013. Sometimes known as “freemium,” these games were notorious for getting players to collect summon items and “roll” for rare units, only to get weak units instead. By spending money, players could collect more summon items to increase their chances to roll for rare units.
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This type of promotion became popular among gamers and also allowed developers to continue releasing new content without having to invest in a sequel.
Gacha gaming became much more popular in the mid-late 2010s thanks largely to its introduction to the west. Brave Frontier’s developer, Alim, would go onto create Final Fantasy: Brave Exvius, a crossover gacha JRPG featuring many characters from the past 30 years of Final Fantasy history. Bandai Namco would release Tales of Link and Tales of the Rays, both of which were eventually shut down, however.
Nintendo shocked the world when they announced they would enter the mobile market in 2016. Once a developer related to its exclusive business practices, Nintendo branched out into the mobile world. Their first franchise was Pokemon. Partnering with Niantic, Nintendo would release a simple app where you could catch Pokemon just by swiping your finger to throw a Poke Ball. This would become a cultural phenomenon. However, as the game was developed by Niantic, this was not Nintendo’s first true foray into the mobile market.
With the release of Miitomo, a social networking system with the avatar “Miis,” players could talk to friends, play minigames, and dress up their characters. This foray was sort of a “look and see” for Nintendo to gauge interest in the mobile market. Miitomo would eventually shut down in 2018.
When Nintendo developed their first big game for mobile, they chose the most obvious choice – Mario. In Super Mario Run, Mario would run and jump like he does in his own games. Similar to Rayman Jungle Run and its sequels, however, it wasn’t the same as the normal platforming games. It was a “run to the finish” auto-scrolling game while you jumped. Simple gameplay revolved around ever-changing level designs. And it was available for $10.
Since it was only free for the first few levels, many potential players tuned out of it entirely. Despite the Mario brand, potential players simply did not want to shell out $10 for a Mario spin-off. Even then, outside of the worlds to complete, you had daily race trials against “ghost” units, build your castle area, and later, Remix 10. This would be the last major update to Super Mario Run.
Nintendo found their biggest success in 2017, however, with the release of Fire Emblem Heroes. Capitalizing on the newfound success of the Fire Emblem series, Nintendo would release a gacha game of their own. Featuring the cast of the Fire Emblem series, you could summon and roll for units while playing on a grid-based map, just like in the main games. It was simple, you could move units with a touch of your finger, and it was free. It seemed as though the evolution of mobile gaming never stopped happening.
Moreover, unlike some gacha games notorious for being greedy, Nintendo was generous. The entire game and its modes could be beaten without spending a single dime. Nintendo would followup with another gacha JRPG called Dragalia Lost, co-developed by CyGames, the makers of Granblue Fantasy.
Later, Nintendo would go onto develop Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp, Mario Kart Tour, Dr. Mario World, and various Pokemon spin-offs. Mario Kart Tour and Dr. Mario World both use the gacha system, allowing “free play” but with a stamina meter that could run out and leave you high and dry unless you spent money. But again, their generosity makes this scenario highly unlikely.
Their most recent success is Pokemon Masters. Another gacha game, you face against other Trainers in 3-on-3 battling. You can summon different Trainers from the Pokemon series history, each with their own favorite Pokemon accompanying them. Pokemon Masters was released this past August and will continue to be updated with new content!
Mobile gaming has come a long way. Back in the day, you could go to internet forums and ask for mobile game recommendations. Chances are you would be turned down immediately with cries of players saying mobile gaming is terrible. The touch-screen controls barricaded players from enjoying games the way they were meant to be played and many of these games were just dumbed-down versions of their console selves.
To this day, mobile gaming doesn’t rely on ports of console titles to sell. Rather, developers choose to go with the freemium promotion. Use their mascot characters and series to sell a game similar of its ilk, but different. Instead of fighting with command inputs in Mortal Kombat Mobile, you’re tapping the screen and dealing out damage with cards. Games like TEPPEN, made by Puzzles and Dragons developer GungHo Online, feature Capcom characters fighting in a Trading Card Game (TCG) style format.
It took bad console game ports for developers to understand what works. Simple controls sold games. If you were going to make a mobile port, you needed to refine controls to an absolute T like in the Genesis Sonic titles. Otherwise, gacha gaming seemed to be the right call. Not to mention proper marketing on Nintendo’s social media channels only helped Fire Emblem Heroes and Dr. Mario World become prominent entities in the mobile scene.
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No longer are forums filled with “mobile gaming sucks” comments. Rather, it’s become a massive boon. If you’re into simple gaming on the go but don’t carry around your 3DS or Nintendo Switch, you have the option of dozens of quality games to play at your disposal.
While many of them feature the freemium or gacha format, these are only an option and not a requirement for completion. Just getting to sit down and play through a few daily challenges of Fire Emblem Heroes might make your day a little better. And in this ever-growing market in the modern era of mobile gaming, there will certainly be something for everyone.
Finally, one of the absolute best videos I can recommend regarding mobile gaming comes from here. Scott the Woz takes a critical look at the evolution of mobile gaming and what it’s become over the past decade. His video inspired me to write this article on mobile gaming. With that said, this is just a fun little look at mobile gaming evolution that I thought you might enjoy.
Thank you for reading up on our article on the evolution of mobile gaming! What do you enjoy playing most on your phone or tablet? Let us know in the comments below!