The release of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas for iOS and Android last month got me thinking about the increasing number of old PC and console games being ported to mobile platforms. Not all mobile ports of PC and consoles games are good, but with so many here already and more coming all the time, there’s an astounding amount of quality gaming experiences ready to download to your phone or tablet.
The wide variety of types of games being ported means that developers face different adaptation challenges when trying to get us workable and fun mobile ports that live up to the originals. It’s an increasingly important and lucrative development hurdle that some developers will clear brilliantly and others will stumble over.
Some games are easier to port than others, of course. You have games that require barely any changes, of course, like Tetris or the original Sonic the Hedgehog. Others get updates to the graphics but leave the gameplay intact, like most of the Final Fantasy ports I’m aware of (and there are a lot). Some older games include more extensive changes intended to reach new audiences beyond the hardcore fans. In addition to new graphics, the gameplay of Pac-Man Championship Edition has more to do with performing within a time limit than endless progression through slightly harder levels, and Space Invaders Infinity Gene plays like a tour through the history of gaming, with graphics getting more up-to-date as you progress through the game. Point-and-click adventure The Secret of Monkey Island lets players shift back and forth between original and updated graphics at will with a simple swipe.
But, especially when we get into more recent console/PC games, there’s another group of mobile ports that have to make significant gameplay changes due to the constraints of mobile systems. Call of Duty: Black Ops – Zombies selects one aspect of its source game to emulate – zombies mode – and even then has to simplify controls (and graphics) down to a touchscreen (though it keeps multiple maps, unlockable areas/doors, and the arcade mini-game mode intact). Star Wars: The Force Unleashed for mobile turns the physics-heavy action game with its ~10-hour campaign into a simpler, much shorter, on-rails, quicktime-response experience stitched together with cutscenes and Star Wars soundscapes.
Owlchemy Labs opted to “clone” rather than “port” Shoot Many Robots to mobile, leaving the graphic sensibility and style but rebuilding the gameplay from the ground up in keeping with the spirit of the original rather than trying to imitate the original gameplay experience. XCOM: Enemy Unknown retains the turn-based gameplay and nearly the entire lengthy campaign of the PC/console original, but trims down graphics, camera controls, multiplayer, and level randomization to make it doable on mobile systems (though it still comes in at over 2GB).
With so many kinds of mobile ports on the market today in addition to original games and spin-offs of PC/console franchises (like the Mass Effect and Dead Space spin-off games, for instance), mobile gaming deserves to be taken seriously by gamers—there’s sure to be both new games and old favorites available for almost every gamer out there (there are even iOS and Android apps for playing ports of old text-based games/interactive fiction). Whether your thing is Rock Band, The Sims 3, Doom Classic, Madden, NBA Jam, FIFA, or Command and Conquer, location is no longer a barrier to playing your favorite games.
There are sacrifices of course, and some developers seem to be getting the hang of mobile adaptation more quickly than others, but with so many of us carrying gaming-capable processors around in our pockets these days, more and more games are going to be ready to play—and worth playing—on those platforms. I, for one, am excited at the chance to catch up with a lot of games I missed the first time around – what mobile ports are you playing or intend to play? Which don’t work on mobile? Which do you want to see that aren’t announced yet? What games would never work on mobile?