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Mobile - The Year in Mobile Gaming 2019

#1
The Year in Mobile Gaming 2019

The years just blur by, folks, so if you’ll indulge me I’d like to mark the occasion by noting some high and lows 2019 has sprung on mobile gaming, as well as some trends. We’ve had a banner year for perfect-scoring games, with thirteen diverse games snagging full points from our picky reviewers here at Pocket Tactics. Roughly speaking most of these fivers are strictly in our wheelhouse: tactical and strategic games, many of them adaptations of tabletop games. Water is wet, Pocket Tactics loves tactics, and the genre continues to produce many strong and notable entries.

On the board game adaptation front, we have Santorini, Evolution, Aeon’s End and Castles of Burgundy. Some of these apps are so good they legit spoilt the ‘IRL’ tabletop versions, especially games which shine in two-player like Castles of Burgundy or Santotrini. Santorini in particular has been my jam for most of the year. Just like with a fighting game or a MOBA, playing with the same god or hero on Santorini feels like learning a whole new skillset. I have grown to loathe the slogan ‘easy to learn, hard to master’ but must grudgingly admit Santorini fulfills this phrase to a T.

To summarize, the usual suspects are wonderful, we love the stuff we expect to love, by and large. As the resident narrative weirdo, though, I simply must pipe up and plug once again the merits of games like Astrologaster, which was an immaculate experience I would soon repeat, mainly for its wry sing-song sensibility. It’s difficult to manage the flood of game releases, even when you winnow out the so-so entries, and even more so when you look at the cream of the crop. No bad options here, though I suspect the annual awards are gonna be a bloodbath this year.

Astrologaster review

Aside from individual releases, we’ve seen a few forays into innovative monetisation and platform options. It’s hard to escape the shadow of Apple Arcade, which I still believe is in an incredible value and has a decent chance of fully growing into a Netflix-but-for-games type service. Many of the games there feel like true passion projects, wherein the creator has tried to create something as interesting as possible without sacrificing broad appeal. Some of them already feel classic, despite being only a few months old. The only question is whether it will continue to serve up surprise hits or whether everyone’s high esteem of Apple Arcade settles down into the opinion that it is a safe, enjoyable time sink. Reliable, good value, sure, these qualities Apple Arcade will have for the foreseeable future. Whether it’s a trailblazer for anything other than budgets remains to be proven. It has a mixture of offerings, a killer value, a free trial and huge discoverability problems.

The landing page is such a pain to navigate, constantly shunting you towards its own clusters of games. I suppose it’s ‘curated’ but a simple search function is often all you need. Google Play Game’s Pass is also a good showing, but its star appeal is more about resurrecting old standards and rallying gamers around the nostalgia factor of bygones. If I had to pick three single standout entries, I would choose Card of Darkness which reignited my dormant solitaire passion; NeoCab for its humorous and humanistic take on techno-precarity; and finally Cat Quest II for being cattier and good standard RPG fare.

Speaking of innovation, the expansion of the Steam Link app’s functionality and the launch of Stadia mean that the line between mobile and console (or desktop) gaming continues to blur.

apple arcade games

These services get more accessible and less finicky with each passing year, though they continue to be relatively niche. Still, the continued dominance of the Nintendo Switch means that flexibility and versatility are just as important as raw gaming power to consumers. There’s a constant refrain amongst gamers: when will X game come to Y platform, and it remains as relevant as ever. But it bears noting that both in terms of raw creative output and flexibility, modern gamers are spoilt for choice. Fortunately, between the constant influx of quality ports and the aforementioned cloud gaming/streaming services, people can mostly play what they want, when the want.

Mostly. Apple Arcade’s exclusivity has echoes of the console and now PC store-front exclusives that are run-of-the-mill. I don’t see mobile gaming fragmenting to the extent that PC and consoles have, mostly because Apple is still the majority player by a much larger margin than other markets. The only possible friction which might generate different release windows and exclusives is the Nintendo Switch. Mobile gaming has shifted from a stable binary: iOS or Android to something a little wonkier. The Switch is its own hybrid thing and will continue to be a popular way to play games on the go.

2019 trends can be broken down into genre and franchise. AR games have proliferated, what with Minecraft Earth and Howards: Wizards Unite both launching, as well as Pokemon Go deepening its appeal with seasonal events and and fresh ‘mons. Their popularity is no longer explosive, but this category of games is pretty much part of the establishment, for good or ill. Gameplay systems grow more sophisticated, many alternatives crop up.

Mario Kart Tour Courses

The other big genre trend is auto-battlers, which sprung up much more rapidly overnight and might have been a flash in the pan. They’re conceived as zen strategic battlers but surprisingly chancy to play. Since the original Dota Auto Chess spawned a host of similar games, the hype has died down significantly. Franchises and branded games continue to go strong, though, with new games pairing established IPs (Mario Kart, Harry Potter) with conventional gameplay and monetisation options. Truly these represent the lowest common denominator of gaming, but not objectionable per se. It’s rather like staring at one of those computer-generated ‘pretty faces’ which is an eerie average of a thousand photos. Nice but a little empty. Analogies aside, Mario Kart Tour has been undeniably fun.

Nothing earth-shattering to boast of in 2019, but nothing to sniff at, either. Personally I would still champion Apple Arcade as the single most important development of the year. While the mobile platform gets plenty of good games, period, many of these quality games are secondhand goods, passed to iOS and Android from other platforms. Apple Arcade showcases quite a few games natively designed and implemented just for its own hardware, and it shows.

pokemon sleep

For 2020, I predict a slight refocusing on quality and innovation in smaller releases alongside the continuing trend of the largest, splashiest franchises churning out the most staid and worn-out gameplay tropes. ‘Spire-likes’ will become more of a thing, surely. We’ll be seeing Diablo Immortal, hopefully. I can only dream of what Pokemon Sleep will do to make shut-eye playful. New things will disappoint or eke by on mediocre expectations, but the very best things will come like a bolt from the blue. As always, watch this space. Games are good and getting better once you sort through the drek. Come here to find the best.



https://www.sickgaming.net/blog/2019/12/...ming-2019/
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