The best console and PC games you can play on your phone
“Mobile gamers aren’t real gamers.”
You'll hear this elitist refrain from self-described “real” gamers. Though the sentiment comes from an unearned position of superiority, criticisms of the way many mobile games treat the player are valid.
Due to the low barrier of entry, mobile games are often riddled with the most deviously weaponized gambling mechanics; including everything from loot boxes to pay-to-win gameplay. Many gamers view mobile titles as the domain of underwhelming gameplay mechanics coupled with greedy monetization tactics. That’s a fair criticism, but as with so many generalizations, it’s also an oversimplification.
Pictured: public enemy number one.
There are genuinely good titles created exclusively for mobile platforms, and those deserve an article of their own. Today however, we’ll be discussing some of the overlooked gems of the mobile gaming ecosystem: full-fledged, high-quality console ports.
Some of the most highly regarded games of all time are available to play whenever and wherever you want, and often with improved graphics and gameplay. That’s not something that should be ignored.
A few things before we dive in: we’re not discussing emulation, only licensed ports. Second, though all of these games can be played with a touchscreen, a bluetooth controller is an excellent investment if you want to play some of the longer or more involved titles and have a more traditional console experience.
Let’s get to it.
Picking one game from the stellar collection of mobile Rockstar ports would be impossible, so we’ll include the entire collection here.
Some of the standouts include the moody, noir shooter Max Payne from 2001, and the criminally underrated grade-school simulator Bully. All of the sixth-generation Grand Theft Autos, from Chinatown Wars to San Andreas are available on iOS and Android, and that’s pretty mind-boggling.
Not only are they competent ports (though again, more enjoyable with a controller,) they look better than the original releases, and run smoothly on most modern devices. Not all of these games have aged well, but having access to these open world wherever you go is pretty remarkable all the same.
Isometric D&D RPGs
It’s not just console games that have found a new home on mobile platforms. Some of the most beloved PC titles have found new life on iOS and Android, including Baldur’s Gate, Icewind Dale, Planescape: Torment, and more.
These remarkable games have some of the best writing in the medium to this day, and the graphical overhauls and gameplay tweaks further highlight the reasons these titles are so beloved. The touch controls are a great fit for this style of gameplay, and though they were clearly designed for a much larger screens, which can be frustrating given the heavy reliance on text to tell story, these ports are still a great way to experience these old classics.
You won’t need a controller for these.
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
Another example of a fantastic, text-heavy RPG is Bioware’s seminal Star Wars classic: Knights of the Old Republic. This is an expertly crafted port, and maintains all of the stellar writing and character development people loved when it was initially released in 2003.
There is a sea of Star Wars games on iOS and Android of varying quality, but none of them live up to the high bar set by Bioware. Unfortunately, KOTOR II is not yet available, though hopefully that will change eventually.
Probably the biggest JRPG series ever, Final Fantasy has become a huge cash cow for Square-Enix, and the mobile marketplaces are a huge part of that business model.
Just about every Final Fantasy has a port available on iOS and Android, from the main numbered entries up to IX, to Final Fantasy Tactics and some modern takes on the franchise. These ports vary in quality, but one thing is the same for them all: they are expensive, at least when compared to other RPGs available in the app marketplace. Twenty dollars may seem like a lot for a mobile game like Final Fantasy IX that is almost 20 years old, but it’s a solid, portable version of a game that has aged fairly well. Still though, these are some of the most expensive games available right now, so keep that in mind and choose wisely.
Most of the Final Fantasy lineup is present and accounted for, with one glaring omission: Final Fantasy 8. This was a controversial title upon release, in part because it implemented vastly different mechanics than its universally popular predecessor. It’s a neat game in its own right though, and deserves praise for its beautiful cinematics and unusual gameplay. It’s unclear why this game has been looked over in favor of all the other numbered entries, but hopefully that will be corrected in the near future.
Square-Enix has also ported over some other franchises that are worth checking out, but as with Final Fantasy, they are comparatively pricey. Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth and the Dragon Quest series are great examples if you need a little more portable JRPG action, but have had enough Final Fantasy.
XCOM: Enemy Within
If you’re a fan of strategy games, it doesn’t get much better than XCOM. This port of the highly-regarded 2013 tactics title takes everything that was good about Enemy Unknown, and adds a ton of new mechanics. The slow paced, deliberate style of gameplay lends itself well to touch screens, and it works very well as a portable title.
For those of you that love XCOM’s unique take on the strategy genre, or tactics fans in general, Enemy Within can provide dozens of hours of turn based fun.
Sonic the Hedgehog
Gotta go fast, even on the go.
Christian Whitehead, of recent Sonic Mania fame, has spearheaded several excellent Sonic the Hedgehog ports to Android and iOS. From the original Sonic from 1991, to 1993’s excellent Sonic CD, these quintessential '90s titles have aged nicely, and these versions were clearly crafted with love.
There is a huge selection of Sonic games available in both marketplaces, but the vast majority of these are endless runners or cash grabs. Stick with the originals if you want the pure, unadulterated Sonic experience.
These are also great examples of games that play substantially better with a controller, if that’s an option.
One of the (unfortunately) less popular franchises on this list, the Oddworld games are an endlessly charming series of platformers with a remarkably unique aesthetic. The games available for mobile include Oddworld: Munch’s Oddysee and Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath, both of which were released on the original Xbox. You can also pick up Oddworld: New ‘n’ Tasty, which is a recent reboot of the franchise.
These games aren’t for everyone, but they are great examples of what is possible with current handheld devices.
Overlooked port machines
It’s easy to look at the huge selection of poor quality games in the iOS or Android marketplace and decide mobile gaming is a cesspool, but you’ll be missing out if you do. Even if you exclusively played the ports mentioned here, you’d have hundreds of hours of high-quality gameplay that nobody could call subpar.
It will be interesting to see what games will be ported to mobile devices as they continue to become more powerful. Though playing something like The WItcher III might be a little difficult on a small screen, it sure would be cool to have the option.
So next time someone says “Mobile gaming isn’t real gaming,” shake your head knowingly and boot up Knights of the Old Republic.
That’ll show ‘em.
What are some of your favorite mobile ports? Any games you think would be a good fit for portable treatment?