It seems so long ago, but there was once a time when iOS and Android heralded the future of games. They were growing while the rest of the market contracted, and the buzz around open microconsoles like the Ouya, based on mobile technology, as they pushed into the traditional console market must have had Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft worried. Phones and tablets were getting exciting new experiences, classic ports, and new properties that looked like they were vying to be the iPhone’s Mario or Halo.
Now, though, I haven’t put serious time into a single mobile game since Super Hexagon. I sold my iPad. I can’t remember the last time I browsed the App Store. I’m still using an iPhone 4, which struggles with anything newer than 2012, yet I don’t feel like I’m missing out.
Maybe it’s caused by the fact that indie developers have carved a niche for themselves in the promised land of consoles and Steam – they don’t need to hamstring themselves with anaemic hardware and touch controls any more. What they’ve left is a wasteland of match three puzzlers – fun, but I used to play those on the SNES and they haven’t moved on since – and frankly depressing revivals of long-dormant franchises as “free-to-play” monstrosities.
It probably says a lot that as soon as I saw headlines for Rollercoaster Tycoon’s revival, I knew it was going to be a F2P mobile game. That mitigated the disappointment, I suppose, but while the execrable Dungeon Keeper was rightly castigated, at least that had the defence of being free. RCT4 charges you for the privilege of being made to wait around, accurately simulating the experience of visiting a theme park.
What hurts the most, though, is to see this shit succeeding, helped along by the proliferation of dreadful mobile review sites that struggle to give anything a lower score than 4/5. And that success is aiding the mechanics in seeping into retail games, with Forza 5 being one of the more egregious examples. Thankfully the backlash there seems to have been heeded somewhat.
Even as something of a gaming traditionalist, keen to preserve consoles and dedicated handhelds alongside newer, more exciting formats, I’m disappointed in what’s happened to what was a promising new gaming landscape. It wasn’t a passing fad, as the numbers playing games like Candy Crush Saga show. But the innovation that once filled the vacuum has moved on, abandoning it to the vultures with shocking rapidity.