Computers / Buying Guide

Mobile Gaming: Play Where Life Takes You


Life is hectic. There’s too much to do and not enough time to do it. And when we do have the time, we don’t always do what needs to be done. Why? I’m not sure either; chalk it up as a bug in our programming. Recently, I’ve been itching to play some games but, with the constraints of work, friends, and life in general, it’s been hard to find the time to sit down and veg-out like I used to. But that’s not going to stop me, and neither should it stop you: there’s always a way. Be it on a PC, console, or handheld device, games are everywhere, so it’s up to you to find them and play them.

Before we right dive into it, let’s make one thing clear first: We’re not going to count a laptop as a mobile gaming device, even though it can be just as portable and flexible as a tablet nowadays. What we’re talking about is gaming on handheld devices, such as a smartphone, smartwatch, tablet, or even calculator (shout-out to the TI-84 Plus Silver Edition for getting me through class—if you didn’t know a graphing calculator could play games, you’re welcome).

Phone Gaming

No longer sporting flip designs and tiny, pixelated screens, phones have come a long way. These days, everybody’s got a smartphone of some type and even if it’s not the top of the line model, it still has access to apps, via the App Store for iOS devices, and Google Play for Android ones (if you are still using a Windows or Blackberry phone… sorry). There, you’ll find a large assortment of games that can be categorized by genre, popularity, and price. As you pick out the ones you like, be sure to read through the permissions prompt before installing. You’d be surprised at just what that cool-looking tower defense game wants from you. Assuming you have a newer device, you can selectively choose what’s shared with a program to maintain your privacy. Some games won’t run without a certain permission enabled, though, so use your best judgment.

With access to fancy tech in our phones, such as accelerometers, gyroscopes, touchscreens, and cameras (Pokémon Go anyone?), the breadth of what a game can be has expanded dramatically. Instead of using buttons or a joystick to move around, we’re now able to motion with our fingers or tilt the entire device to control our character. The traditional bounds of movement and gameplay have changed over the past decade, urging in a new era of interaction. Press A to roll the dice? NO! Shake your phone to roll them. Press B to throw the bowling ball? No way, swipe or make the motion. Press F (X) to pay your respects? Well… there’s no replacement for that. Regardless, playing phone games takes more than they used to, so get ready for tapping, swiping, tilting, rolling, throwing, and whatever else the game asks of you.

Now, not all games take advantage of meters and scopes. Take Minecraft: Pocket Edition, for example. What used to be a PC-only game has made its way over to mobile devices, thanks to some optimization and fine-tuning of controls. On the PC, you would have a keyboard and mouse; however, for mobile devices, you’ve got… two thumbs. And you’ll do fine with two thumbs, but add a controller? Now you’re onto something. If you’re interested, check out the Razer Serval, Thermaltake CONTOUR, and the Mad Catz Mobile Gamepad.

Mad Catz C.T.R.L.i Mobile Gamepad

Using a controller with a phone is a rare combination. You might catch someone with such a setup on the train once in a while (like the DIYer method of MacGyver-ing a clothes hanger to fit your phone and a DualShock 4 Controller), because they’re much more serious than you about their mobile entertainment, but it’s likely that they’re playing a game that needs the extra control, like something on an emulator. For those of you who don’t know what an emulator is, it’s basically a program/software/application that imitates a game console that allows you to play classic and older games. These games aren’t built with touch-inputs, so a traditional controller is required—though some are now being ported by developers onto mobile devices, who usually add new control methods into the mix. There are emulators for the GameBoy Advance, GameBoy Color, NES, PSP, DS, and more.

Tablet Gaming

The lines between smartphones and tablets have become quite blurred in recent years. Tablets are basically slightly larger phones without cellular radios. So, if you haven’t read the phone-gaming section above, do so now. Tablet games are designed to utilize the larger screen area of the device and possibly take advantage of its beefier hardware to deliver more impressive visuals. Tablets are bulkier, so be sure to factor in carrying one around, should you want one for gaming. Those of you who wish to pair one easily with a controller should check out the Mad Catz L.Y.N.X 9 Mobile Hybrid Controller.

Mad Catz L.Y.N.X. 9 Mobile Hybrid Controller


I know we’re all caught up in the smartphone era, but take a moment and think back about the blessing Nintendo gave us: the Gameboy. And not just the original, but the Color, the Advance, the SP. Sure, Atari had the Lynx, Sega had the Game Gear, etc., but none of them penetrated the market like the Gameboy. It was a big deal, providing an alternative method of mobile entertainment. Instead of playing “I Spy” or drawing on the windows in a car ride, we had a device in our laps capable of transporting us to a different world.

A few generations later, Nintendo released the DS, which was a massive success. Its follow-up, the 3DS, has also done very well, though it came during a general decline in handheld popularity driven by the rise of smartphones. That doesn’t mean you should write it off completely though, because there’s plenty of great content out there. There’s Pokémon, Mario, Mario Kart, Zelda, Super Smash Bros., and those are just some of Nintendo’s biggest franchises, and it has seen a lot of very good third-party support, as well. There are all kinds of games, new and old. Alternatively, a handheld might be a more cost-effective purchase than a flagship phone, if all you’re looking for is a quality gaming experience. With the release of the Nintendo Switch, too, mobile gaming is back at the forefront of the conversation. Be sure to check out our thoughts on the Nintendo Switch here.

Nintendo 3DS XL Handheld Gaming System

Now, despite all of this, there are probably some of you who’ll still want to argue that mobile gaming (at least on phones) is not really “gaming” at all. Don’t discount the grandma playing Candy Crush on her phone. For all you know, she might be heading home to play Skyrim. (You go, gaming grandma!) And even if she isn’t, that doesn’t make her experience any less valid than yours or anybody else’s.

So, what are you playing on your mobile device? Let us know in the Comments section, below. I’m currently playing Rogue Life, a shoot-em-up/RPG hybrid, and Realm Grinder, an idle game that’s easy to check up on.