Cellphone games have come a long way since the days of Snake and Tetris (though, strangely enough, I still see a lot of people playing these games on their phones). These days, iPhone and Android games feature stunning graphics, intricate storylines, and unique controls. But what of the casual cellphone game? If the App Store's annual lists are anything to go by, people will always appreciate casual, pick 'em up and play 'em games, especially on mobile platforms. Here's a look at casual cellphone games over the past decade.
The first game on a cellphone was Gremlin Industries' 1976 arcade classic, Snake, in 1997. The game is pretty simple -- move your snake around the screen, eat the food, and don't hit the walls or your own tail (as you eat food, your tail grows longer and the game becomes more difficult) -- yet addictive. The game was included on the Nokia 6110 and featured an infrared two-player mode.
When I lived in Tokyo, I spent hours playing Tetris on my phone while riding the Inokashira train. That was in the early 2000s -- when Tetris was first introduced to the mobile gaming platform (in Japan, of course). Tetris has graced the screens of many mobile phones since then, and it even became the most downloaded mobile phone game of all time in January 2010, with 100 million paid downloads since EA gained the rights in 2005.
Sonic the Hedgehog
In summer 2001, after I got bored with Tetris, I started playing a new game on my cellphone: Sonic the Hedgehog. That's right, in 2001 the Sonic Team ported Sonic the Hedgehog to iMode (NTT DoCoMo) cellphones in Japan. This side scroller features a blue hedgehog running through a crazy world (with awesome music) trying to collect rings. Sonic was later ported to US cellphones as SonicN on the Nokia N-Gage.
In 2003, cellphone gaming got really big -- or at least, the companies hoped it would. That's why Nokia introduced the N-Gage, which was half-phone and half-gaming system. Unfortunately, the N-Gage was mostly unsuccessful -- it was too big and clunky for a phone, and the buttons were too phone-like for gaming. Still, people managed to play some games on the N-Gage, such as Marcel Desailly Pro Soccer.
Thanks to Qualcomm's cutting-edge download software, Binary Runtime Environment for Wireless (BREW), released in 2002, users were finally able to download games over the air. Games released on BREW included a Tiger Woods golf game, in which users could choose courses and wind speeds, and JAMDAT Bowling.
Super Monkey Ball
Sega's Super Monkey Ball was originally a Nintendo GameCube game. In 2003, Sega Mobile ported the game to Sprint Vision phones. The game is kind of what it sounds like -- you have a monkey in a ball, and you have to roll it around the board to collect bananas. Sometimes it's a maze. Sometimes there are obstacles. Sometimes you eat a bad banana, and then your cellphone vibrates. Oh yeah, and you can also download it for the iPhone.
Duke Nukem Mobile
Duke Nukem, Apogee Software's resident badass, made his first appearance on mobile phones in 2004. Duke Nukem Mobile was a scrolling shooter designed for the Motorola T720, the LGE VX4400, the LGE VX4500, the LGE VX6000, and the Samsung SCH-A530. The title proved to be popular enough that Duke Nukem Mobile II: Bikini Project was released a year later.
If you were a chess master (or wanted to become one), Cellufun's mobile Chess game may have been one of your go-to phone games. Cellufun Chess let users play against the computer (either on their phone or on Cellufun's server), or against other players online. Released in 2006, this free Chess game was/is available for various Alcatel, LG, Motorola, Nokia, Panasonic, Sagem, Samsung, Sharp, Siemens, and Sony-Ericsson phones.
Released in 2007, Lights Off was the first native iPhone game. This may not make sense to you -- after all, it wasn't included on the first iPhone -- but it was the first third-party "app" game developed using the iPhone Dev Wiki's UIKit. Oh, right, because before the App Store launched in 2008, Apple didn't allow third-party applications. Lights Off is a simple game based on a popular 90's game called "Lights Out." Your job is to turn off the lights on the board by touching squares --each touch toggles both the square you touched (if it was on, it will turn off, and vice-versa), as well as the squares to the top, bottom, left, and right of it.
Crash Bandicoot Nitro Kart 3D
After Apple finally opened its iOS platform to third-party applications via the App Store, mobile gaming took a real turn for the better. Crash Bandicoot Nitro Kart 3D was one of the first popular iPhone games, and even managed to land a spot on the Apple's top 10 list of Paid Apps (#6) for the year. Crash Bandicoot Nitro Kart 3D is everything you loved about the Nintendo 64, but designed for the iPhone: Crash Bandicoot, Mario Kart, and blocky 3D, plus tap 'n tilt controls!
Lima Sky's Doodle Jump, first released for iOS in 2009, is the best-selling iPhone app of all time. With a simple premise and a cheap price ($0.99), it's no wonder. Doodle Jump is the epitome of casual gaming -- it's quick to learn, but tough to master. Players aim to get their doodler to jump as high as possible, by tilting their phone back and forth to ensure the doodler lands on platforms instead of falling to its death.
Rovio's Angry Birds is just a year old, but it made headlines all throughout last year, thanks to its clever design and cute interface. The ultra-popular physics game features adorable birds launching themselves at pigs, and keeps its players interested with holiday-themed updates and new levels. Angry Birds is available on various mobile platforms, including iOS, Palm webOS, Android, and Symbian.