An Introduction to Mobile Gaming

Learn about GameSpot's new Mobile Channel, and get an introduction on cell phone games in this feature, which includes summaries of the best mobile games available from every major wireless provider.

By Avery Score and Wireless Gaming Review Staff

Design by Marty Smith

WGR's Matthew Bellows introduces mobile gaming and the new Mobile Channel on GameSpot

Video games have evolved in the same way as any emerging technology. There are the early adopters, who welcome the advent of each new advancement with an enthusiast's zeal. If you bought an Intellivision, a TurboGrafx-16, or an Atari Jaguar, you probably fall into this category.

There exists a second category of gamer--one who lacks the monomaniacal drive necessary to spend 100 irreplaceable hours of his or her ephemeral existence in order to complete a strategy RPG but who still enjoys the occasional fighter or puzzler. If you fall into the former group, you probably hate the guy who played Enter the Matrix for its license but lacked the depth of character to immerse himself in Lost Kingdoms II, a quaint card battler that a couple of dozen people were smart enough to enjoy. Like it or not, the casual gamer is the fastest growing demographic in video games and will continue to change the way we think about and play games.

New Mobile Channel

GameSpot is pleased to announce a new partnership with Wireless Gaming Review. Together, we present GameSpot's new mobile games channel, which will provide reviews and full coverage of the rapidly emerging mobile games market. Cell phone games have come a long way since the days of Snake, and the new mobile channel will provide you with all the information you need to keep track of the best mobile games.

Will Wright, Maxis' social theorist turned games developer, has been making a killing on this very concept. He is fond of saying that his titles, such as The Sims, are more akin to toys than to video games. Playing them is like fidgeting; it fills idle moments and doesn't require undivided attention. Casual gaming is ideal for the nondedicated gaming platform, such as the PC, on which The Sims first launched, giving all of us a persistent, virtual world to explore, in lieu of advancing our own lives and careers.

Yet, the PC--with the exception of Windows CE-powered handhelds--can't fit in your jacket pocket. Its potential is limited by this simple size constraint. True casual gaming must take place on a device that is portable and is an existing part of a reasonable person's lifestyle. Nintendo's GBA still hasn't found its way into too many executive briefcases, even if the SP's cool form factor does make it look more like a laptop than a gaming console. Besides, the GBA is one of the few modern gizmos to lack Internet connectivity. Casual gamers are social creatures, and fiddling away in a corner is isolating.

Built-in networking is, and always has been, the promise of the mobile phone as the next-generation gaming platform. Nearly everyone has a handset, giving wireless gaming, as a whole, a larger installed user base than the PS2, GameCube, and Xbox combined. Secondly, phones are--obviously--networked devices. It doesn't take a visionary game designer, like Wright, to recognize the tremendous potential of mobile phones as a multiplayer medium. Downloadable content, online competition, a constantly expanding library of games--this is the type of experience you'd expect from Xbox Live, yet it all comes on a platform that you, along with your family and friends, probably already own.

Recently, media pundits everywhere have taken notice of this emerging medium. With a cell phone game inevitably following every major console, PC, or cinematic release, they have to. It was not always so, however. Mobile gaming had to earn its place among mainstream gaming.

For many of us, wireless gaming began with Snake.

The first cell phone game, and--ironically--probably still the best known, is Snake, which was first released in 1997 as an embedded application for Nokia phones. Even the Finnish mobile giant couldn't have known that this simple addition would inexorably alter the function of a cell phone. With Snake, and the slew of games that followed, cell phones transcended their role as communication devices and became entertainment accessories--a modern accoutrement. For some, this was the first video game they had ever played. For those who recognized the title for its Apple II and Commodore 64 roots, Snake heralded good things to come.

And come they did. Soon, the new paradigm was WAP, or wireless application protocol. WAP titles were simple, usually featuring text-based gameplay structured like a choose-your-own-adventure novel. Graphics were sparse and simplistic on the black and green screens that pervaded the WAP era, but the games had one astonishing feature: online competition. Titles like Jamdat's Gladiator or nGame's DataClash seem silly today, but they spoke of a brave new world of constant connectivity and wireless competition.

It was DataClash that convinced Matthew Bellows and Cashman Andrus to join forces, Double Dragon-style, and cofound WGR Media Inc., a company combining perhaps the two most perilous industries: Web publishing and mobile gaming. Somehow, they made it work. In a few short years, Wireless Gaming Review grew, along with the mobile gaming industry, from a fledgling startup to, well, a more-established startup. Today, WGR has joined forces with GameSpot to bring you the most comprehensive coverage of wireless gaming available.

WAP technology eventually gave way to J2ME (Java 2 Mobile Edition), BREW (Binary Runtime Environment for Wireless), Mophun (a modular API for gaming), and Nokia's own Series 40 and Series 60 operating systems, competing technologies that launched wireless games into the world of color, polyphony, and socket networking. The industry advanced in technology rather quickly from the days of Snake.

Jamdat Bowling.

Jamdat--headed by CEO Mitch Lasky, of Activision fame--released mobile's first major hit, Jamdat Bowling, in 2002. The game was simple but addictive. It lacked network multiplayer and audiovisual polish, but its giant, celebratory turkey--which jumped out at you after a few successive strikes--managed to win our hearts and our gaming dollars. Jamdat became the first of the mobile gaming giants, a position it still maintains, at least financially, despite heated competition.

As carriers launched more sophisticated download services to support this post-WAP mobile gaming renaissance, more and more mainstream publishers joined the fold. Companies like Sega, THQ, Namco, Electronic Arts, and Ubisoft's Gameloft--all instantly recognizable to console and PC gamers--became known for their quality efforts in the mobile arena. Sega's Super Monkey Ball, which debuted on Sprint's burgeoning Vision service, was the first of many major console-to-mobile ports. Mobile gaming was, and continues to be, in the unique position of having big brothers to follow in the form of consoles and PCs. Once set in motion, the path for wireless gaming was clear as dew.

Sega's Super Monkey Ball.

As a community, mobile gamers grew used to ports, which continue to represent a large portion of major releases. The creation of a new franchise is risky business indeed, and releasing a game on mobile is a gambit to sate most companies' hunger for financial peril. This is why you'll continue to see licensed titles wriggle their way onto your handset yielding mixed results. Jamdat's The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King is sure to delight fans, while The Lion King will result in more long-term, psychological damage than a crack team of Rogerian therapists will ever be able to redress. Even as the wireless wheels of progress turn with an intensity rivaling that of the industrial revolution, production values on mobile have yet to measure up to their console counterparts. When a game is of reprehensible quality on wireless, it really is almost unplayable.

Jamdat's Bejeweled Multiplayer.

The first game to truly make good on mobile's promise of multiplayer delight was Bejeweled Multiplayer, Jamdat's update to its successful offline version of the Popcap classic. BM (how undeserving it is of that crude acronym) remains the only game reviewed by WGR to receive a 10. Although it is now several months old--ancient by mobile gaming standards--it remains the benchmark for a quality, online experience, something that Jamdat has been unable to re-create with titles such as its recent Fudomyo Multiplayer, whose unlikely mascot is the over-the-hill action star Steven Seagal.

Multiplayer isn't the only way to make a winning title for wireless, however. Gameloft has made a huge name for itself, winning several of WGR's recent Moby awards, by crafting quality single-player experiences--most of which feature no more bells and whistles than well-animated sprites and quality MIDI instrumentation. The hallmark of a Gameloft title is the overwhelming urge to shout, "They did this on a Motorola T720?!" New Gameloft favorites include Moby winners Nightmare Creatures and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, a port of last year's underappreciated multiplatform release.

Spy Hunter for the Zodiac.

Additionally, strides are being made in the realm of 3D, which seems to be the next big thing in mobile gaming. The technology is still in the novelty phase, much like first-generation PSX titles; however, with the advent of chording, or multiple key presses (a blessing we went too long without), and analog control, developers are beginning to get comfortable with the fashionable world of three-dimensionality. Nokia's N-Gage and Tapwave's Zodiac lead the pack in 3D performance. The N-Gage's Tony Hawk's Pro Skater and the Zodiac's Spy Hunter--both Moby winners--are the new, collective ideal for mobile 3D performance. Emerging graphical technologies, touted by fierce competitors Nvidia and ATI, promise to further advance the field.

We hope that this brief overview has wet your proverbial whistle for the mobile content WGR will be bringing to the GameSpot team. Our goal is to keep you informed, happy, and in a state of consummate overstimulation.

With so many wireless devices available, the mobile arena lacks the neat platform separations of the Xbox, GameCube, and PS2. A more useful way to divide games is by carrier--then, secondarily, by phone. Below, you'll find such a list, replete with all the games you didn't know you've been dying to play.

There are major exceptions to this system, such as Nokia's N-Gage, which features the same set of MMC-card games no matter who's billing you. In light of this fact, we've included an N-Gage category, along with the by-carrier roundup.

The Tapwave Zodiac, which is, in all honesty, not a wireless device, also uses MMC cards. It features Bluetooth connectivity, though, which is enough of an excuse for us to get our sweaty mitts on the device.

Verizon

Our database features 356 games for Verizon phones. You probably won't have time to play them all, but that's OK--we did it for you.

LG VX6000

This phone has all the features of a modern handheld--a nice screen, a decent camera, and, most importantly, a large complement of quality games. This is the phone we would recommend to a new Verizon subscriber.

Turkeys and Bowling.

Jamdat Bowling 2

Publisher: Jamdat

Read the full review >>

It's a brilliant sequel to the best-selling mobile game of all time. Although the graphics and sound have obviously gotten a boost since the days of screeching turkeys, the reason to play Bowling 2 is its online multiplayer support.

Cave trolls shrunken for your handset.

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

Publisher: Jamdat

Read the full review >>

With high production values, several movie characters from which to choose, and an online high-score ranking system, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King is sure to delight Lord of the Rings fans.

Kyocera SE47

If you're using that sexy slider, you'll never want for a conversation piece. Remember what the Fab Five's Carson says: "The clothes may make the man, but the accessories make the man fabulous."

Airborne action on your phone.

Metalion

Publisher: Summus

Read the full review >>

Haven't you been itching to play a Space Harrier clone? Probably. Plus, Metalion's got great "3D" graphics, powered by Summus' proprietary Bluefuel technology. You'll be twitch-happy for weeks.

Motorola T720/T730

If you're using Motorola's aging hardware, you've got more games available for your handset than you know what to do with.

Get your EQ fix on your phone. You addict.

EverQuest: Hero's Call

Publisher: Sony Online Entertainment

Read the full review >>

It's been out for over a year now, but this turn-based RPG still shines. Thirty-two dungeons to clear and tons of loot to collect give Hero's Call the same basic appeal as its PC and console brethren. You can choose between playing as a warrior or a mage, and the levels you gain while questing and killing monsters will increase your attributes, allowing you to adventure in more dangerous areas.

This one doesn't eat quarters.

Precision Pinball

Publisher: Knockabout Games

Read the full review >>

This is easily one of the best pinball games on mobile. Described by eminent WGR reviewer Steve Palley as "unflinchingly realistic," its breakneck gameplay is likely to make you flinch.

AT&T

AT&T Wireless is much, much more than just a chip off the old Bell. It's one of the oldest carriers in the US that's still using the GSM protocol, and it offers a bevy of games on its Nokia, Motorola, and Sony Ericsson handsets. Plus, AT&T Wireless now features WGR reviews on its mMode game-room site!

Nokia 3100

Ration your forces carefully.

This cute, little candy-bar phone is an excellent option for budget-minded mobile gamers.

Ancient Empires

Publisher: Macrospace

Read the full review >>

This turn-based strategy title is one of the best available on mobile. Your beleaguered king must put an end to his evil twin brother's ambitions--and the tools of the trade include warriors, lizardmen, wizards, and a host of other bloodythirsty fantasy staples. The gameplay is equal parts nuanced craft and outright conflict, characterized by maneuvers over different types of terrain and mismatches between different types of units. Charlemagne never had it better.

The Joker's Wild

Publisher: Sony Pictures Digital Entertainment, Inc.

Read the full review >>

JW's slot machine bonus round.

This rock-solid trivia game, based on the '80s game show of the same name, will hit you repeatedly with such head-scratchers as "How many goals were scored in the last World Cup?" If you're having trouble coming up with answers in the game, don't worry. There are a ton of additional question packs available for over-the-air download, so JW's nicely designed front end is good for pretty much unlimited quiz-show entertainment.

Nokia 3595

You might think that an avant-garde handset like this one would value style points over gaming capability. You'd think wrong.

Commuters might want to look for an alternate route today.

Crash N' Burn

Publisher: Macrospace

Read the full review >>

One of the best overhead racers available for the cell, Crash N' Burn will top your mobile off to the brim with curve-hugging, missile-dodging goodness. The controls and gameplay are truly stellar, but this game's best feature is the between-race store, where you can purchase any number of havoc-wreaking gadgets and implements to blow your opponents off the road.

Sprint

Sprint's Vision service features plenty of great games, but its best feature has to be the availability of WGR minireviews, right on the handsets! We could be biased, though.

Samsung SPH-A600

With this handset, you'll be swiveling your way to some good gameplay.

Fore!

3D Golf

Publisher: Digital Bridges

Read the full review >>

It sports great graphical detail, an RPG-like stat system, and addictive golf action. Even if there’s only one opponent to take on (and even if his name is Steve Temple), this greens fee-free sim is among the best on mobile.

Bejeweled Multiplayer. The title says it all, really.

Bejeweled Multiplayer

Publisher: Jamdat

Read the full review >>

It's the highest rated game on WGR, and if you experience its heated online competition, you'll understand why. JAMDAT has taken substantial liberties with the original’s gameplay--including the addition of multiple Bejeweled Bombs, which will wreak havoc on your opponent’s game board.

Samsung VGA1000

This is a terrific gaming phone. It may not swivel, but then again, neither do most gamers.

Everyone loves word games.

Blue Babel

Publisher: Blue Lava Wireless

Read the full review >>

Spelling is the new black, and this fast-paced take on Scrabble is definitely in fashion. Oh, and it incorporates Boggle-like elements, too. How’s that for wordgame cross-pollination?

Help! There's a vampire in my pocket!

Dracula

Publisher: Mforma

Read the full review >>

Playing as the bad guy is always a blast. In Dracula, you get to dispatch hundreds of Belmont wannabes with a long good-night kiss. It's one of the better games on Sprint.

Cingular

Cingular's singular blend of handsets covers everything from Series 60 to Mophun games. Here are a few reasons to nab one of Cingular's phones.

Sony Ericsson T616

This is just about the cutest phone ever. Don't let its diminutive size fool you, though. It packs some great gameplay.

There's a lot of detail in Pitfall's graphics.

Pitfall: The Lost Expedition

Publisher: Sumea

Read the full review >>

Boasting 16 colorful levels, the game makes a worthy mobile counterpart to the recent console releases. From climbing vines and punching buttons to swimming between ravenous pirhana, Pitfall’s got all the platforming action you could possibly want on a cell phone. There are two additional chapters planned for Harry’s newest saga, which will take him over a massive glacier and through a cave network, respectively. Get the journey started off right in the jungle!

This should be recognizable to any arcade veteran.

Q*Bert

Publisher: Sony Pictures Digital Entertainment

Read the full review on WGR >>

One of the best of mobile's retro roundup, Q*Bert features authentic graphics and challenging, old-school gameplay. Hopping up and down that pile of blocks is just as fun on a cell as it ever was on your first-generation console.

Nokia 6800

The 6800 features a foldout keyboard that's sure to impress. There's no shortage of games on the device, either.

If Thomas Dolby designed a game, it might be something like Atomica.

Atomica

Publisher: Jamdat

Read the full review >>

The goal is to add atoms together on a virtual checkerboard to create molecules. The result is addictive, turn-based fun. And if you think that puzzle games can’t possibly be that exciting, just wait until you accidentally set off a nuke.

Let's go, girls!

Charlie's Angels: Road Cyclone

Publisher: Sony Pictures Digital Entertainment

Read the full review >>

It's sassy and sexy, and it features exploding motorcycles. It's everything you've come to expect from a summer blockbuster. Best of all, you can heal your damaged Angels simply by jumping onto a fresh cycle--just like in real life!

T-Mobile

Catherine Zeta-Jones hawks its service, but that's not the real reason you joined T-Mobile. Is it?

Nokia 3650

The 3650 is known for its less-than-ergonomic, circular keypad. It's also known for its host of great titles.

Great on consoles and PC. Also great on your phone!

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

Publisher: Gameloft

Read the full review >>

Winner of one of WGR's coveted Mobies, and overall critics' darling, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time was one of the best games of last year, on any platform--mobile or otherwise. The mobile version of The Sands of Time features a prince who has to climb, fence, and think his way out of a booby-trapped castle. The prince can find items that give him new techniques, like short-term flight and forward rolls.

Samsung SGH-E105

For you flip-phone fans, this phone supports J2ME and offers a respectable library of games.

Monkeys and bananas. What's not to like?

Sega's Super Monkey Ball

Publisher: Sega Mobile

Read the full review >>

It may lack its N-Gage counterpart's audio-visual splendor, but it still brings all the fun of primate-rolling to your mobile. Like the GameCube version, the goal of the game is to roll a little, ball-dwelling monkey to the goal of each map before the time runs out, collecting bananas on the way. But the extreme indigestion caused by eating a bad banana makes the handset rumble, which could lead to a fall of the edge of the maps.

Nextel

Nextel is a relative latecomer to the mobile gaming arena, but that doesn't mean there isn't good gameplay to be had.

Motorola i99cl

This slightly bulky phone serves up a big dose of J2ME action.

Stealth action on your Nextel handset.

Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell

Publisher: Gameloft

Read the full review >>

A 2D take on the console hit, Splinter Cell brings stealth action to mobile. As in the console/PC versions, you play Ex-CIA, and ex-Navy Seal operative Sam Fisher. You've been recruited by the National Security Agency to carry out missions too sensitive for the US government to officially sanction. Through six levels of gameplay, you've got to avoid mines, swing over pits, climb and jump over obstacles, dodge lasers and, of course, sneak past or terminate guards.

N-Gage

For mobile gaming enthusiasts, the N-Gage is the crème de la crème of mobile phones, despite the annoyance of "sidetalking" (soon to be fixed in the upcoming QD model). On the N-Gage, you can enjoy PlayStation-quality graphics, MP3 and radio listening, and the best control this side of the GBA.

Twisting and grinding.

Tony Hawk's Pro Skater

Publisher: Activision

Read the full review on WGR >>

It really is as good as we say. Whether you're playing solo or competing on the N-Gage Arena, this one's a keeper. Those who have played Tony Hawk on other platforms will have no trouble picking up the N-Gage controls. Using the directional pad and four buttons, you can pull off everything from a 540 degree indy nosebone to a 50/50 rail grind. Control was hampered only by the N-Gage's digital directional pad. But the most innovative feature of THPS for N-Gage is its multiplayer support. You can challenge a buddy via Bluetooth to an extreme, bloodier than usual version of tag, played in skate parks at high speed. Or, through N-Gage Arena, you can compete against the ghosts of other players in checkpoint races and compare scores and stats.

Tapwave Zodiac

The Zodiac is, quite possibly, the best Palm OS device ever. Its games are drool-worthy. To paraphrase the immortal words of Ferris Bueller: If you have the means, I highly suggest you pick one up. It's so choice.

Zodiac hardware makes games like Spy Hunter possible.

Spy Hunter

Publisher: Tapwave

Read the full review >>

Another Moby winner, Spy Hunter is the Zodiac's answer to the game's recent makeover in the console world. Great competition over Bluetooth is the best reason to play. Aside from multiplayer, the game offers two single-player modes, the first of which is arcade mode. In arcade mode, your goal is to navigate the game’s tortuous highways, blasting everything onscreen, from enemy choppers to the civilian Saab in the slow-lane. "Missile crisis" mode, however, is the real meat and potatoes. In crisis, you seek out and destroy the forces of Nostra, a familiar-sounding crime syndicate equipped with futuristic combat vehicles of land, sea and air. You travel to the remote recesses of the globe, completing your objectives with cruel efficiency, all while minimizing collateral damage.

Well, there you have it. If you're new to mobile gaming, the above games should be plenty to get started with.We've come a long way since Snake. For wireless veterans and enthusiasts, there are plenty more reviews, previews, and news stories to check out. The current era in mobile gaming is very much like the 16-bit golden days of video gaming. The industry is ready to explode. In response, WGR and GameSpot have joined forces to bring you the very best coverage of mobile games.

For more on the latest smartphones, be sure to read GameSpot sister site CNET's extended coverage.

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