Phone games are all the rage these days. From their humble beginnings starring raging avians to Candy Crush to the summer of Pokemon Go, the phone game market made massiness in 2016 and is projected to hit 74 billion dollars in 2020. Nearly 56 percent of people in the US play phone games.
Ever since I got my first real smartphone (Some kind of motorola. I think it was a Droid? Anyway.) I’ve been drawn to phone games. You can usually play them for a few minutes at a time, and you can play them anywhere, including at work or on a bus or train. Plus they tend to be pretty addictive, with mechanics that reward you for logging in and punishing inactivity. This my journey through the world of phone games. Since there are so many games to cover, I’ve split this series into multiple parts. Let’s start at the beginning.
Nov 2011 – Feb 2012
This was the game that started it all. It was as simple as it gets – you get to own a small restaurant, with a few tiles where you could put ovens and stoves. You could cook different things with each appliance, and customers would come in and eat the food and give you money, which you’d use to expand your restaurant, buy more appliances and food, and attract more customers. The cycle goes on and on.
Only tricky thing was each dish took a different amount of time to cook – something easy like grilled cheese could be like 10 minutes, while a complex dish like seafood ceviche could take up to 2 days. If you didn’t log in and take your dish off the stove or out of the oven in time, it would spoil and the money you spent making the dish would be wasted.
This wasn’t *really* a huge deal since money was pretty easy to come by, but it still made you log in often.
Tidbit – I now remember my phone was a Motorola Atrix. It had this dock thing that I bought that came with a big screen and a keyboard:
It barely worked since the phone was so damn slow. But I bought it specifically to play Restaurant Story more efficiently at work. I only did this once since the dock sucked, but just getting this stupid thing shows how dedicated I was to my restaurant.
After a couple months I quit because the game had little depth. Once you got your cool looking restaurant there wasn’t really any gameplay past that. I moved on to…
Feb 2012 – April 2012
This was the first really mainstream, popular phone game and I wasn’t about to miss out. You probably know how to play it already, but in case not, you’d touch your finger to the slingshot on the screen, drag it to pull back the slingshot, and release to launch your bird into a pile of pigs. The goal was to kill all the pigs on the screen given your limited supply of birds.
Once you beat the stage by killing all the pigs, you could move on to the next stage. There were tons of stages and it got pretty hard at the end.
Angry birds was so big at the time, its maker, Rovio, thought it’d be the next big thing forever. lyncineMaybe Angry Birds is way bigger overseas than here, but I feel like the franchise never attained the staying power its creators strived for.
One remnant of this first classic phone game was the Angry Birds movie. I started watching it when it randomly showed up on TV and you know what? It’s pretty watchable. Jason Sudekis does a great job as the outcast main character Red.
He’s kind of a dick but when the pigs show up on the island and steal all the bird’s eggs, all the other birds turn to him to get their eggs back. The birds end up blowing up the pigs’ city, which I thought was kinda harsh. Near the end, Red and his buddies save all the bird eggs except one, which the pig king almost gets to eat. I think they should’ve just let him have it. I mean it’s one egg, what difference does it make. However in the end Red saves the last egg and blows up the pig king.
Anyway I started watching this movie halfway through and when it came around again I had to watch it so I could see the beginning. High praise.
Back to the game, it was fun but it eventually got stale. Seems like I took a little break from phone games until fall of 2012, when I started my first real obsession…
Oct 2012 – mid 2014
Yep, almost two full years playing this!
This was a simple but very addictive RPG. You’d have your stock fantasy characters – swordsmen and mages and healers and whatnot – facing off against the other team. You didn’t get to control your guys, they’d randomly use either their normal attack or a special move. The fun was the endless combination of teams you could make, and collecting all the characters. Gotta catch em all! (More on that in a future post)
This was the first game I played with an energy mechanic – you’d have to spend energy to fight battles, and it would regenerate over time, or you could use a rare item to restore it. You could spend real money to get these items, or you could get them from a black market of sorts – other players. This trading and selling was a much bigger deal in Fantasica, a game I’ll get to in a bit, but Blood brothers was my introduction to a virtual bazaar.
Blood brothers had constantly rotating, time limited events featuring new characters that you could only get via playing the event. This made sure that you would log in every day and stay engaged. I remember hiding out in the bathroom stalls at Sears to get my Blood Brothers time in. I’d also play every day during lunch, a habit I have retained to this day, just with different games. Beats talking to coworkers!
The game also had an engaging PvP system that matched you against other players. This following part will interest exactly no one, but hey my blog my rules. For a time, you were matched up against other players based on the rarity of your squad – so if you fielded the strongest team out there, you’d be up against other players with really strong teams.
This sucked balls. It basically punished you for getting good. I circumvented this by filling my team with a character with a low rarity level, but was actually *relatively* strong, so I’d pretty much only fight noobs.
Behold – the Imperial Conjurer! I had 4 of her, and 4 of her deadly fireblasts and the enemy team would be turned to dust – as long as I was matched up against crap, which I usually was. They eventually changed the matchmaking and this strategy stopped working, but it was a blast knowing I beat the system for a long time.
I played Blood Brothers for a long, long, long time, but eventually I got bored and moved on to the next game. All good things must come to an end, and Blood brothers shut down in March of 2016. It spawned a couple of sequels, Blood Batallion and Blood Brothers 2. I think I tried them both but neither had the simple appeal that the original did.
May 2013 – early 2016
To this day, I believe this is the game I have played for the longest, mobile or otherwise. It’s a tower defense game, a genre inspired by user generated maps in Starcraft. The battlefield is a maze, and you place your characters along the walls of the maze.
Monsters traverse the maze, and if they make it to the end before your characters can shoot them down, you lose. Your characters have different abilities like attacking twice or slowing down the enemies’ movement.
I was at first drawn to the game because of the artwork – the characters that were featured in the game’s promotional materials were drawn by the same guy that drew the characters for Final Fantasy Tactics, a game I absolutely adored (more on that later).
In Fantasica, there was a timer after each battle, around 5 minutes or so, that had to end before you could start another one. You could speed this up using an item called a Time Elixir. These were rarely won from events or quests, and you could also buy them.
More importantly, they were tradeable, and this formed the basis for my Fantastica obsession. Unlike the vast majority of games, your characters here were tradeable between players. Time Elixirs (and their event counterpart, Potions) were the main currency for trading. So save up enough Time Elixirs and you could buy a character you really wanted from another player.
This lead to forums and trading sites where people would list their characters and the prices they were charging, with rarer and more powerful characters costing more. I’d scour these forums looking for characters to bolster my lineup, messaging and negotiating with other players through the app Kik.
This evolved into me buying characters for real money. I ended up spending upwards of $300 on the game over around 3 years, a ton for a supposedly “free” game.
This was the first game I had spent actual money on, besides Angry Birds which was like 2 dollars. Do I regret it? Kind of. I don’t play any more, so that money was essentially wasted, but $300 over 3 years isn’t too bad considering the entertainment the game gave me.
They eventually made all the good units untradeable, cutting out a large part of the appeal for me. I think I quit pretty much right after that change.
In addition to trading, this game had one feature I love, and I’ve never seen it in another game since – a Facebook type “wall” where other players could leave you messages. You could also write a message to post on all your friend’s walls. This system made me feel like other players on my friends list were actual people, not just robots that had a human made name. This kind of interaction is sorely missing in today’s games like Pokemon Go.
One more Fantasica obsession story: Guild battles! These were real time battles where you and a few friends would fight another group of people. The winner got some pretty sweet rewards. Only catch was these battles would be at a preset time, and I think one of them was 3 am. So in addition to sneaking off into a stairwell to play at work for the 3 pm battle, I’d also set an alarm for 3 am to catch that guild battle.
This sounds extremely absurd, but hey I was somewhat addicted. To this day this is the only game I have woken up in the middle of the night to play.
Ending the trading system was the beginning of the end for me, but quitting was more of a slow phase out than a snap decision. I just played it less and less until one day, I stopped entirely and I didn’t miss it. So it goes.
Plants vs zombies 2
April 2014 – Jan 2015
Defend your lawn! Like fantasica, this is another tower defense game, where you have to plant plants on your lawn to shoot down the encroaching zombies. If the zombies get to your house, they eat your brains and you lose.
This was basically a continuation of the hit original game. The difference here is you could buy certain plants with real life money, like the snow pea which would slow down your enemies in addition to dealing damage. I bought one of them, for a dollar. Not a bad deal.
A lot of people bitched about these microtransactions, saying the publisher, EA, had ruined the original and blah blah blah I guess $1 is too much to pay. It was a fun game and I got pretty far before the levels got too hard and I stopped playing.
I later encountered an arcade game based off this series at FTW, a Dave and Buster’s like place in Streeterville. You control a bellsprout and shoot at zombies as if you were wielding a machine gun. It’s quite fun, though the difficulty ramps up impossibly high somewhat quickly.
Next up: Part two: To the modern era