As smartphones and tablets become increasingly powerful, more game developers are taking the time to port their titles over to the platform or are building new ones entirely from scratch. Unfortunately, many of them shoehorn virtual controls into the corners of your screen and hope you don’t realize that they’re not physical buttons.
This just isn’t ideal. The best mobile games have accepted that touchscreens aren’t the same as gamepads and utilize them differently.
Here are five Android and iOS games that really show how this is done.
It would be easy to populate this list with genres that naturally feel at home on touchscreen devices, such as tower defense games, puzzlers, and point-and-click adventure titles. Monument Valley is the only one I’m including that falls somewhere along this spectrum.
And there’s a good reason for this. This game is nothing short of a work of art.
In Monument Valley, every stage is a puzzle. The environment is an optical illusion, and every level tasks you with altering the landscape to create a path to the exit. You do this by swiping on the screen, twisting a bridge around here or raising a platform there. Though the gameplay never ramps up to become much more than this, each level introduces new mechanics that keep your time on this journey feeling fresh until the very end.
While the experience may be a short one, Monument Valley is an expertly crafted title that shows just how much of a difference great atmosphere and presentation can make. Nearly every moment of this game is beautiful enough to print out, frame, and hang on the wall.
Leo’s Fortune is a side-scrolling platformer, a genre that is in no way under-represented in the Play Store, but these kinds of games can still be particularly frustrating to play with a touchscreen. On many platformers, basic jumps can be difficult to land, and later levels often feel downright impossible without pairing up a Bluetooth controller that you may or may not have.
This isn’t the case with Leo’s Fortune.
This game’s developers have adapted the experience in a way where the lack of tactile buttons no longer feels like a drawback. Moving consists of holding down anywhere on the screen and slightly moving your thumb left or right.
To jump, players simply swipe up on the right edge of the screen. Leo floats ever so softly as he moves, thanks to gravity and physics that might feel slow with a gamepad but just right for a touchscreen.
Plenty of role-playing games have made their way over to Android. Many developers have even created mobile entries from scratch, often using the opportunity to replicate the pixelated look of the 16-bit era. Some aspire to go even more retro.
But these games all lead to an experience that, while not necessarily bad on a mobile device, feels somewhat lacking without a physical controller. With Reaper, players go through no such feelings. Similar to Leo’s Fortune, players move left or right by moving their thumb in either direction, and they jump by swiping at the edge.
But Reaper takes the gameplay further. There are dash attacks, heavy slashes, and ground thrusts that all require different inputs yet aren’t held back by touch controls. If anything, the touchscreen makes them easier to pull off.
While Reaper is a side-scroller, it’s packed with plenty of quests and its own world to explore. A large range of customization options are available to the player, resulting in an experience containing more depth than initially meets the eye.
Horn is a third-person action-adventure game, but it doesn’t play like those you typically see on consoles. This is a game controlled entirely by gestures. Players move throughout the world by tapping in the right direction. They slay monsters by swiping in the correct way at the right time, instructing the hero to dodge attacks and strike using a sword or bow.
Yet even with such seemingly basic controls, there’s still quite a bit of platforming and exploration. Players run, jump, climb, and swing across areas all using gestures that just make sense.
Horn’s controls may do the platform justice, but its presentation takes things a step further. This is a gorgeous, charmingly-voiced, and nicely scored experience that encourages people to sit back with a tablet and immerse themselves in a way they’re conditioned to only expect from televisions.
Horn has been around for over a couple of years, making it the oldest game on this list. But in the time since, few have attempted to match its level of grandeur. The next title, though, is one that has.
République could be a console game. And no, I don’t mean it could find success as an indie title distributed as a cheap download. It’s the kind of experience that a publisher could slap onto a disk, wrap in a box, and and sell at a high price with relatively few changes.
The thing is, this experience has touchscreen written all over it. In this stealth game, players guide a girl named Hope around by tapping on various locations for her to hide behind. They watch her from the safety of various security cameras, which they can switch between with, again, simple taps.
This formula allows the developers to create a deep environment without wrestling with the challenge of giving players full control over what they see.
The character models, animation, and voice acting found in République attest to the level of care and attention that its creators invested. If you want proof that tablets can provide a high-quality gaming experience, this title should be all the evidence you need to show that it is possible.
What Other Games Have Nailed It?
This is where you chime in. These aren’t the only five Android games with touch controls that don’t leave you begging for a gamepad.
What other titles do you feel deserve a mention? Give them a shout out below!