Raising the level of their game
As smartphones and tablets add capacity, designers are bolder, because the play's the thing, writes Pavan Shamdasani
"It's a gaming system in your pocket" - or at least, that's what we imagine game developers are starting to say.
There are a billion smartphones in use worldwide and hundreds of millions of tablets, with their processor speeds finally reaching a point that they can handle visual-heavy games with complex storylines. Research companies predict mobile games will take over handheld systems by later this year, while many are wondering when the same will happen with console systems.
It might not be anytime soon, but that doesn't mean developers aren't trying to get a foothold in the mobile market, spending impressive amounts of time and money on games that look and play like the very best from the major systems.
This is not about simple games such as Words with Friends or Angry Birds. It's about what many are calling the next step forward of mobile gaming: a combination of console-influenced games pushing the boundaries, and releases that tug at your nostalgic heartstrings through retro-aesthetics.
Whether you're using Android, iOS or Windows, here are the current best in mobile gaming, separated by genre for your playing pleasure.
Long before video games, geeks had to get their fantasy kicks from choose-your-own-adventure books that used adjective-filled language. Translating that imaginative approach isn't easy, but the Sorcery! developers have done an impressive job. The game feels like a cross between a text-based adventure and a board game, with players taking on your standard wanderer as he traverses through a Tolkien-esque world, meeting friendly people, vicious animals and strange creatures. And along with all that, the game keeps its predecessors' language intact, meaning it's also a great read.
HK$40 on iOS only
Walking Dead: The Game
While the television series breaks records and the comic flies off store shelves, The Walking Dead creators have successfully expanded into the gaming world. Originally released for consoles, this mobile adaptation keeps everything intact. The five-episode adventure casts you as an entirely new character and differs from other genre favourites by giving you endless choices: what you say or do is entirely up to you, and the game changes because of this, creating an entirely new storyline in the process. It's a "choose your own adventure" with zombie bloodbaths - what more do you need?
HK$38 for each episode or HK$118 for all five; iOS only
Similar to how downloadable console games are relying on stunning art alongside their gameplay, atmosphere has become one of the most important aspects in mobile gaming. Year Walk is about as melancholy as it can get in that regard, sending your lovelorn character into the world of Scandinavian mythology, where you manoeuvre through a picture book world of fascinating and frightening creatures. What makes it truly stand out, though, is how it builds its controls around the mobile device, with its use of the touch and rotate options bringing the adventure to the user.
HK$28 on iOS only
Asphalt 7: Heat
Graphic advancements have meant that the once blocky car-like objects moving down flat roads have now become sleek vehicles careening dangerously through twisting cities. The Asphalt series has constantly pushed the genre in that respect, and the seventh entry nearly perfects the formula, with sleek near-realistic graphics and a very impressive frame rate. A number of race types are available, including time trials, knockdowns and drift challenges, while the lengthy career mode and variety of multiplayer options make it the kind of addictive racer we've been hoping for since the smartphone was first released.
HK$8 on Android, iOS and Windows
For those who think they've seen, heard and played all that mobile games have to offer, we present Impossible Road, a fascinatingly inventive and incredibly addictive game. The concept is simple: you control a ball as it rolls down a road. That's it - no menu, no options, no scores. But its modesty is almost zen-like and it slowly becomes an obsessive game of breakneck-speed timing, alongside minimalist Japanese-like graphics and hypnotic electronic music. Hard to describe, harder to play, it's a game that'll have you coming back at every chance to keep that damn ball a-rolling.
HK$16 on iOS
Modern Combat 4: Zero Hour
The incredible success of the Call of Duty series all but saved the console, so it wasn't long before we saw a mobile-friendly rip-off. The past three Modern Combat entries were passable, but the new generation of smartphones has meant that the fourth instalment comes closest to its console cousin. The incredible graphics, coupled with the customised controls, mean you'll soon forget you're playing a first-person shooter on your phone. And while the four-hour single-player story leaves something to be desired, the multi-player mode allows you to battle it out with friends practically anywhere with a signal.
HK$53 on Android, iOS and Windows
Puzzle & strategy
Fester Mudd: Curse of the Gold
Point-and-click PC puzzle games hold a special place in most gamers' hearts, so it makes sense they'd release new versions for the smartphone's similar set-up. But Fester Mudd feels more like a labour of love than most, with the developers obviously inspired by such classics as Monkey Island. The quirky western-set tale sees you playing as a loveable gold prospector who happens to encounter a never-ending stream of confusing puzzles and cheesy jokes. And for those looking for a nostalgic trip, it's all here: the VGA-style graphics, the MIDI soundtrack, that awfully brilliant white font.
Free on Android, HK$8 on iOS
Groove Coaster Zero
Ever since BeatMania hit arcade screens many years ago, the music game has become a sub-genre of its own. Groove Coaster ramps things up for the next level of mobile gaming. A track is picked, beats appear on screen and through either tapping, swiping or holding the screen, players coast through the sounds and "burst" the markers. Groove Coaster Zero is a recently released free version of the initial game, but there are limitations in offline modes, login options and the dreaded in-game currency. However, it's still the best way to try out this stunning game.
Free on iOS only
Splice: Tree of Life
There could be a doctoral thesis in psychology done on video gamers wanting to be gods, but we don't have the space for that. Splice plays up on this idea, though, taking the concept of blending cells and putting it into an enthralling puzzle game. You're presented with a number of cells, and the object is to mix together different combinations to create molecular strands. Add in a thoroughly futuristic sci-fi look and some soothing, rhythmic music, and Splice becomes one of the smartest and most captivating games currently on the market.
HK$24 on Android, HK$32 on iOS
Chaos Rings II
The number of mobile role-playing games has increased dramatically over the past few years, and it makes sense: the smartphone has become a gaming device in your pocket, so why not offer addictive, long-running adventures? Chaos Rings II is one of the most visually stunning of the lot, pushing the limits of current processors to create a well-rounded fantasy world. But that means the story suffers somewhat, with occasionally clunky translated-Japanese dialogue holding it back from true greatness. Nevertheless, for longtime RPG fans, it's an enticing offering.
HK$128 on Android and iOS
Final Fantasy Dimensions
The granddaddy of RPGs, for the past decade or so, the Final Fantasy series has attempted to expand its universe into brooding sci-fi, losing a large part of its appeal in the process. But Dimensions reels things back in. Originally released as episodes in Japan, the English version brings them all together for a 40-plus-hour quest. You lead both the Warriors of Light and Warriors of Darkness in dual adventures to retrieve crystals that are essential to save the world - standard fantasy story stuff, but the limitless options and character building make it highly addictive in that classic FF way.
HK$137 on Android, HK$158 on iOS
It isn't easy creating the perfect mobile RPG, as a clever combination of impressive graphics, involving storyline and smartphone-suited controls is required. Horn comes the closest so far: its 3D-based action/role-playing landscape being almost fully designed for touchscreen movements. You play the titular character, a blacksmith who goes on a Zelda-like adventure to save the world. The story is often traded in for action-heavy dynamics, but the control system, alongside impressive voice acting and a highly individualistic visual style, makes it worth a play for RPG fans.
HK$54 on Android and iOS