If Antoine from two years back saw me writing these lines, he’d kick me in the neck with both feet. First, I disowned gaming smartphones. I decreed them as irrelevant because they were not fully exploited by the catalog of available mobile games that do not require that much power to run properly.
I then sang the praises of Apple and the iPhone 15 Pro/Max because, in my opinion, it restored the legitimacy of smartphones as true portable gaming consoles. In short, there were many contrary opinions which were mostly anecdotal, dogma to which I once adhered.
When I reviewed the Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra (comparison), Android games didn’t have the same flavor at all. The iPhone 15 Pro Max reconciled me with smartphone gaming once again. During my last vacation, I was more interested in playing Resident Evil 4 on my iPhone than It Takes Two on the Nintendo Switch with my sister, or any other pure mobile game, like Call of Duty: Mobile.
During my Galaxy S24 Ultra review, the range of games available on the Google Play Store stimulated me about as much as a press release announcing the launch of a new Nokia smartphone. I can’t see myself giving up my iPhone as a daily driver and switching back to an Android smartphone for that very reason. Even if my point of view is extremely niche, I think there’s a real problem with the way we think about video games on smartphones in general.
Mobile games want to bore us, not entertain us
When I say Android games or Android gaming no longer interests me, that’s keeping things simple. In fact, I’m talking about Android AND iOS mobile games as opposed to “actual” video games like Resident Evil Village, Resident Evil 4, Death Stranding, or soon, Assassin’s Creed Mirage available on the iPhone 15 Pro/Max.
I know that sounds very elitist, but I don’t consider an indie game or any other game that doesn’t have a budget of several hundred million dollars isn’t a real game. There are plenty of mobile games that are real games in my opinion. Oceanhorn 1 and 2, Genshin Impact, Streets of Rage 4, and Company of Heroes are several examples.
However, I made a distinction between those and games like Call of Duty: Mobile, Fortnite, Subway Surfers, PUBG, or Candy Crush. I realize this is a very personal and highly subjective matter, but in my opinion, such mobile games have the unfortunate tendency to be nothing more than microtransaction traps.
My problem with these games is that they don’t want to entertain you. They want to bore you out of your mind. They usually rely on a single gameplay loop. The only way to break out of this repetitive loop and refresh your experience is to fork out some cash.
Let’s take Call of Duty: Mobile as an example. This game was released at the end of 2019, which is close to five years ago. I constantly played it for two years, had a group of buddies, a dedicated Discord server, and so on. I stopped playing it several years ago but I still install it on every smartphone I review. And every single time, the conclusion is the same: the game has hardly evolved.
The maps in the Battle Royale mode are exactly the same as they were several years ago. With the exception of a few multiplayer maps, the only new features are those unlocked via the paid season pass. These include weapon skins and character skins. In short, cosmetic or personalization items.
This predatory financial system is based on entertainment blackmail. If I don’t pay for microtransactions, I’ll be bored, because the game becomes so repetitive. If I want to spice up my experience, to have the sensation of novelty, I have to perform an in-app purchase.
This trend is also affecting more and more “actual” games, even those outside of the mobile ecosystem (Assassin’s Creed on console and PC, for instance, makes farming for ingredients ultra laborious and sells them to you via the store). We see it more often with Android and iOS games. Especially so for Android but gaming on Apple’s iPhone 15 Pro does seem to stem the tide.
Apple made me want to game on my smartphone again
I’ve gone to great lengths about my approach to mobile gaming. Now I’m going to, and hopefully with fewer words, define mobile gaming. In essence, the smartphone is the most widely used platform in the world for playing video games.
In my opinion, the majority of smartphone gamers don’t play for the same reasons or in the same way as they would on a PC or console.
When you game on a smartphone, it is primarily to pass the time. You’re always on the move, sitting in a waiting room, sprawled out in bed after a hard day at work. In short, you game on your smartphone because you’ve got nothing else to do. You’re not invested in the game, you play it almost by reflex or default, which is the equivalent of reading the packaging of a spray bottle in the toilet.
Personally, that’s not how I see mobile gaming. I want to be able to play games where I find myself invested in. Games that have an interesting story, depth of gameplay, or a progression curve.
As cheesy as that sounds, that’s why the iPhone 15 Pro Max reconciled me with mobile gaming. On my last vacation, I played more Resident Evil 4 on the iPhone than on my Switch or Xbox. I wanted to play it, not just to pass the time. No, I was genuinely entertained and invested in the game. I certainly wouldn’t have played it on any other medium because there are far so many other games on PCs and consoles. However, when it comes to smartphones, there is a dearth of quality titles. The slightest “actual” game with any kind of depth is such a rare gem that I rushed to get my hands on it.
Unfortunately, such a game is still far too rare, whether on iOS or Android. Unlike Android manufacturers, Apple is trying a little bit harder to get things moving.
I have to check myself…
I’m aware that my opinion is far from the norm. I also have a very niche use for my phone. For the time being, Apple’s mobile gaming experience is extremely appealing albeit remaining inaccessible to many.
You will need at least an iPhone 15 Pro (review), a smartphone that costs $999. After that, you will have to buy games, which aren’t cheap at all. Resident Evil Village costs $39.99. Resident Evil 4 will make you $59.99 poorer. Death Stranding, the latest AAA game on the App Store, cost me $19.99.
Financial considerations aside, there are only a handful of games that match my gaming needs and desires. Buying an iPhone for $1,000 just to play three games that retail for approximately $30 on average isn’t worth it for most people.
This is especially so as all the games I listed are simply mobile ports (or Apple ports) of games that are already available on the console and PC. The last point also raises another interesting question.
Do I need to be able to play the same games on my smartphone as on my console or PC? Can’t the smartphone simply be another platform to enable other games to exist, games that are played differently?
I dare say this logical train of thought is not contradictory. The most important thing is to have a choice. Personally, I’m prepared to pay between $20 and $30 for a mobile game that closely resembles a console game. That would still be less money than I spent on microtransactions for Call of Duty: Mobile in the long run.
No, Apple hasn’t really put me off playing games on an Android smartphone. Apple successfully turned me away from playing pure mobile games on a smartphone altogether. I’m referring to those repetitive, microtransaction-laden games that I defined earlier.
With Apple, I have a choice. I can choose to play more premium games with a bit more depth. With Android, I’m still waiting for Samsung or someone else to offer an equivalent. That is not likely to happen at the moment. So, I am forced to play on an iPhone than an Android smartphone.
I sincerely believe I’m not the only one who thinks this way. Android manufacturers and Android game publishers/developers need to realize this.
Otherwise, what’s the point of boring us with ray-tracing, Snapdragon chip benchmarks, and dozens of gigs of RAM, as Samsung and other Android manufacturers do? The hardware is there and there is the desire to play on smartphones. All I need now are the games, and I’ll happily plug the Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra or any other Android smartphone into my Backbone One controller (review) to play. In the meantime, I’ve got packages to deliver in Death Stranding on my iPhone 15 Pro Max.