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Your iPhone is always in your pocket when you want to play a game to kill a few minutes. But do you actually enjoy the mobile games you play?
From freemium nonsense that makes you pay up or wait hours, to lousy games that aren’t fun in the first place, iOS gaming has some issues. But if you know where to look, there’s a treasure trove of great gaming content available for your iPhone or iPad.
There’s Never Been a Better Time for iOS Gaming
Apple never appeared to hold gaming as a priority across any of its platforms. This has always been especially true for iOS. However, everything has changed with the release of iOS 13.
In the past, you could use a controller with your iPhone or iPad, but it only worked with certified Made for iPhone (MFi) models. Because of this, few games bothered to support controllers.
Now you can pair PlayStation 4 or Xbox One controllers, meaning you don’t need a specific controller for iOS. We have a guide to pairing your controllers with iOS 13 to help you get started.
That’s not all, however. With the arrival of iOS 13, Apple took another major step forward in gaming on all of its platforms. Let’s look at it and other essential options that make iOS gaming better than ever.
1. Apple Arcade
Apple Arcade represents the company diving headlong into supporting gaming on its platforms. For a monthly fee, you get access to an entire library of games. These are available on your iPhone or iPad, as well as on your Apple TV or a Mac running macOS Catalina or later.
All these games feature controller support on macOS or Apple TV. And while not all of them work with controllers on iOS, the vast majority of them do. Games range from the wacky What the Golf? to arcade gems like Chu Chu Rocket! Universe to more serious games like Overland.
In the weeks following its release, a handful of new games arrived on the service regularly. Even better, these are standalone games with no paid expansions or in-app purchases.
Apple Arcade costs $4.99 per month which, at least right now, seems like a decent value. There is no commitment, so you can cancel any time you want. Get started with the free month-long trial to decide if the service is for you.
Visit: Apple Arcade
2. Steam Link
Valve’s Steam Link has been available on Android for some time now. Valve planned to bring the app to iOS at the same time; though after a delay of roughly a year, it was easy to doubt if it would ever appear.
After what seemed like forever, Steam Link is now available for iOS. Just like the physical Steam Link device, this lets you stream PC games to your iPhone or iPad. You shouldn’t count on playing games outside your home, but if you want to kick back on the couch with Stellaris, this is a great way to do so.
Getting started with Steam Link is easy. Download the app and you’re a few simple steps away. For more in-depth instructions, see our guide to getting the Steam Link app up and running. The instructions focus on Android, but the process is very similar on iOS.
Download: Steam Link (Free)
3. PS4 Remote Play
Most people don’t consider the PlayStation Vita a shining star of Sony’s hardware lineup, but it did have one major perk: Remote Play. This let you play PS3 and PS4 games on the Vita as if they were handheld titles. Sony has recognized how cool this is, as the company has brought Remote Play not just to Windows and Mac, but also mobile devices.
You can use the PS4 Remote Play app with touchscreen controls, but you’ll have better results if you use a controller. PS4 owners already have a DualShock 4, so you don’t need to worry about buying any other hardware.
Using an iPad is ideal for this, as a bigger screen will work better. Still, using an iPhone is acceptable, especially if you’re just using it as a companion app. As you’d expect, a fast and stable Wi-Fi connection will provide the best results here.
I’ve used this a fair amount since the release of iOS 13 and it works surprisingly well. Playing Destiny 2 on an iPad feels strange, but it’s convenient if someone else is using the TV your PS4 is hooked up to.
Download: PS4 Remote Play (Free)
4. Retro Game Collections
If you don’t want to stream console or PC games or sign up for Apple Arcade, you’re not stuck playing free-to-play nightmares. You can find some decent versions of classic games available on your iPhone or iPad as well.
SNK, Sega, and other companies have made single games—or in some cases, collections of games—available on mobile platforms. On Sega’s App Store page, you can download Sonic the Hedgehog and other well-known Genesis games, while several of SNK’s Metal Slug titles are available in a single compilation.
Most of these games support MFi controllers, so with iOS 13, they’ll work with your PS4 or Xbox One controllers as well.
5. Jailbreaking and Emulators
Game emulation is one of the areas where Android users have an advantage over iPhone owners. On Android, you have your pick of different emulators in the Google Play Store, and you can always sideload more if you wish.
Technically, emulators are available via the Apple App Store, but these run behind the retro games mentioned above. If you want full access to emulators so you can run the game of your choice, you’ll have to jailbreak your iPhone.
Apple doesn’t make it easy to jailbreak your iPhone, because the company doesn’t want you to. This is also beyond the scope of this article, as changes to iOS often make jailbreak methods obsolete. Still, if you’ve got an old iPhone you want to turn into a gaming machine, this is worth keeping in mind.
Don’t want to jailbreak? Try the workaround methods in our guide to emulating retro games on your iPhone.
The Future of iOS Gaming: Fewer iOS Games?
If the options we’ve looked at here prove anything, it’s that more and more gaming is moving into the cloud. With upcoming platforms like Microsoft’s Project xCloud, it’s likely that we’ll see more of this. The good news for mobile gaming is that this will probably result in more console-quality games in our pockets.
For more excellent titles, check out the best offline games for iPhone and iPad.