I can remember people laughing at cell phone games. And its not really that long ago that people in the west laughed at Square-Enix releasing a Final Fantasy game in Japan exclusively for mobiles. It goes to the fickleness of consumers and the games media proper that it was not long until they were celebrating mobile games and hailing them as the market to watch. Fickle industry aside, mobile games are now big business (for a select few). But for such a large segment of the videogame market, it is amazing how little is documented about mobile games. Sure, we all will remember Flappy Bird for its moment in the sun, and Plants Vs Zombies because in some ways it was the first mobile game to really connect with traditional players; but what about the others, the older games that were released between mobile gaming milestones Snake and Wordjong? There are a lot of them, and I’d hazard a guess that they’ll be lost to the annals of time, as we move from fashion to fashion, ditching these expendable pieces of entertainment for the new hotness for the price of little more (and more often less) than a free-to-play microtransaction.
Personally I’ve never been one to indulge in mobile games, mainly because I don’t find myself in a situation where I absolutely need to play a game, but only have my phone handy. Even in the toilet. But I there have been a few instances where, just by absolute chance, I’ve happened upon a little mobile game that took my fancy. In most cases they failed to hold my attention, and just as soon as I’d downloaded them, they were deleted from my phone never to be seen again. But one game, more than a decade ago bucked that trend, and still remains to this day the mobile game I’ve spent the most time with. That little game was Digital Chocolate’s simple colour matching puzzler, Bubble Ducky.
Now I’m under absolutely no delusion that Bubble Ducky was a great game. It brought absolutely nothing new to the video game table, and in most ways, was inferior to just about every other portable puzzler that has caught, but more importantly held, my attention over the years. But it was simple enough to pick up and play, but deep enough to be more than something I played once and ditched. It played into my slightly obsessive personality, as many puzzlers want to do, and ate at me until I had cleared the screen of bubbles and (to use an American term) beaten the game. Best of all it disguised a pretty severe degree of difficulty with a bright and colourful aesthetic that was charming, and if I’m honest, brightened my days in a lot of cases. So, no, it wasn’t a great game, but it was one that was impeccably designed to be fit for purpose, that is being a game that is designed to be consumed in bite sized chunks at times when you’ve got nothing you’d rather be doing than passing the time.
Bubble Ducky is the only mobile game I’ve really ever spent significant amounts of time with. Not because I have an in-principle or snobbish aversion to them, but more because I don’t have the place in my daily routine where a mobile game would come in handy. But they are out there, and people are obviously consuming them at a rate of knots. I hate to think how many mobile games have been released since Bubble Ducky, most of which have probably gone unnoticed. I’ve written about the revisionist history of videogames where the press and enthusiasts are curating a version of the industry that they think is worthy of being remembered, and therefore perpetuating a false version of events. Mobile games are likely to fall into this camp, and while many of these games aren’t masterpieces, it is a legitimate part of our pastime and one that we shouldn’t let fade into history. After all there are seemingly countless parts of the internet covering the obscure and terrible corners of console and PC games of yore, and while enthusiasts like to discount its legitimacy, mobile games are still a tangible part of this industry we call videogames.
There are some great sources for mobile games, so for more in-depth and ongoing analysis of the mobile games market: