Instead of rolling over, however, Java has fought back with its greatest ever year.
There have been multi-platform blockbusters in the form of Spielberg’s Boom Blox and Peggle, the casual successor to Tetris’s long held throne. And Tetris itself made an appearance, in the form of Tetris Pop, EA’s masterful riff on gaming's oldest tune.
However, the thing to note about this Top 10 is that the games are largely unique to mobile, and Java, and the range of genres is less casual than you might expect. Want an involving RPG? Looking for some resource management? Feel like trashing an open world?
You do? Then simply reach into your pocket.
The ten best mobile games of 2008
|10. Car Jack Streets|
Developer: TAG Games
In the same year that GTA IV lit up the console world, TAG Games – a studio set up by members of the original GTA team – was working on its own sandbox felony simulator, Car Jack Streets. Taking a top-down perspective, it resembles the game that set the genre rolling, but it’s no retro remake. Car Jack Streets is a great game in its own right, unique in its use of real-time to structure goals. It sees you working your way from under a hefty debt by completing various open-world missions, and you have to make enough to pay your debtor every week, come hell or high water. It could have backfired, but this ingenious mechanic works. Try as you might to get out, it pulls you back in.
Developer: Resolution Interactive
Publisher: Resolution Interactive
The conventional wisdom states that the mobile phone is suitable only for casual titles, and the conventional wisdom might have a point. Wherever you stand on this argument, however, it’s clear that many mobile developers are take hardcore gaming very seriously, and no genre is more hardcore than RPG. Resolution Interactive’s Furiae makes virtually no concessions to the casual trend. The only sense in which it inevitably differs from its mainstream peers is that of scale. In all other areas – the dramatic coming-of-age storyline, the turn-based combat, the beautiful art direction – it’s the real thing.
|8. Spielberg’s Boom Blox|
Developer: EA Mobile
Publisher: EA Mobile
When EA announced that it would be making a game for the Wii in association with Steven Spielberg, we expected a rocket-propelled fiasco. The final product surprised us all, and its mobile counterpart – also overseen by the great director – was an even greater surprise, particularly since it doesn’t employ the motion control that famously inspired Spielberg to get involved in the first place. Instead, it’s a neat, tactile puzzler in which the object to dislodge a number of blocks by throwing a smaller number of cannonballs at them, aiming for ricochets, chains, and combos. A worthy single player game, Boom Blox stands out because of its level editor and the community feature that lets you share your creations with others.
|7. Castle of Magic|
If the state of the genre is anything to go by, it must be easy to make a platform game on mobile but almost impossible to make a good one. A defensive developer could blame the hardware for this state of affairs, but the fact is platform games on even more primitive hardware were brilliant. Look at Robocod. Look at Sonic. Look, for heaven’s sake, at Mario. Gameloft is clearly aware of these precedents, because in Castle of Magic it has made a game that succeeds in the same way its distinguished ancestors did –with colour, invention, variety, and perfectly constructed levels. Decent mobile platformers may be hard to come by, but if you say they don’t exist expect Castle of Magic to come along and kick your head in.
|6. Townsmen 5|
Publisher: Disney Mobile Studios
The thing about the Townsmen series is that it’s much better than it needs to be. It’s not a big cross-platform title, after all, and few people outside mobile gaming circles are likely to have heard of it. A consumer who does brave this over something more familiar probably won’t expect much. Thankfully, they’ll find themselves with a richer and more detailed strategy game than anything else available on mobile, so good that most of its rivals appear hopelessly shallow by comparison. It may not be the most glamorous resource management game on the market, but it’s probably the most comprehensive.
Developer: PopCap Games
Publisher: PopCap Games
It was popular on PC, but for many Peggle didn’t really arrive till it became available for iPod. Once freed from the constraints of the big screen, it blossomed into a peerless portable time killer, and it was clear that the mobile game would be a winner when it finally arrived. It is. Modelled on the Japanese arcade game pachinko, Peggle is mesmerizing in the same way a pinball machine or a bandit is. It’s largely a game of chance, but the rewards come often enough to persuade you that the next ball might just be the one that clears the screen in a highly improbable sequence of bleeping, bonus-spuming ricochets.
|4. Party Island: Pool 2-in-1|
Developer: Digital Chocolate
Publisher: Digital Chocolate
Digital Chocolate’s DChoc Cafe series was a success by any standards, combining a polished community interface with several tabletop games made to the publisher’s characteristic high standards. Compared with its successor Party Island, however, it was just a dusty prototype. Having rolled out on Facebook first, Party Island is a much more vibrant, colourful community, and the games that take place in its exotic world are much more likely to appeal. You play solitaire to fill time, after all, while you go looking for a pool table. With customisable avatars, dozens of awards to collect, and a solid pool game at its centre, Party Island: Pool 2-in-1 is the first in a very promising franchise.
|3. Playman Summer Games 3|
Developer: Mr Goodliving
The summer of sport may be behind us, but Playman Summer Games was no fair weather game. The Playman is one of the most venerable series exclusively available on mobile, and with Summer Games – released to capitalise on 2008’s Beijing Olympics – developer Mr Goodliving managed to beat its own personal best with a game that manages to be both perfect for short bursts and, thanks to horrendous addictiveness, impossible to play in short bursts. The control scheme is largely based on the joystick wagglers of previous generations, but tweaked so that you have to master both manual technique and mental alertness. The scope for improving your own times is huge, and you could easily wear out your phone in pursuit of the perfect time.
|2. Rally Master Pro|
It’s been a busy year for the most well respected developer in the industry, and any one of the four Fishlabs games Pocket Gamer has reviewed so far in 2008 would deserve a place on this list. It was Rally Master Pro that scored highest, though, winning a coveted Platinum Award. Racing is a well served genre on mobile, but it wasn’t till Rally Master Pro arrived that we got to see what a mobile phone was capable of doing. Not only does it utterly belittle the efforts of its rivals with an astonishing 27 tracks, visible real-time damage, and a range of scaling options, but it runs perfectly. This is the benchmark other racing games will be struggling to reach for some time to come.
|1. SimCity Metropolis|
Developer: EA Mobile
Publisher: EA Mobile
If last year’s dire Simpsons game caused anyone to question EA’s commitment to mobile gaming, this has been a year of answers. Not only is the publisher doing an excellent job of converting its PC and console titles to the small screen, but with SimCity Metropolis – released roughly in parallel with SimCity Creator – it has created an addition to the franchise that’s entirely exclusive to mobile and which improves upon its predecessor SimCity Societies in every respect. Coloured with the series’ trademark humour and a range of well-drawn characters, it sees you building a city during a succession of objective based levels spread across three islands. This is a far more casual offering than Townsmen 5, and as a result there’s something in it for just about everyone.