Mobile gaming is shaping up to be a nostalgic wonderland

Taylor Martin
 from  Concord, NC
| December 22, 2011

The attention mobile gaming has received as of late is mind-blowing, and so is the distance it has come in such a short time. Smartphone games have made us question the viability of dedicated portable gaming consoles such as the Nintendo 3DS and Sony's PlayStation Vita. And they have also called into question the pricing of games for such handsets.

Back in my BlackBerry days, Brick Breaker and Spider Solitaire were all it took to keep me happy. Even the first days of Android weren't nearly as well equipped with games as it is today. The ever-popular Angry Birds didn't make its way to Android until late 2010. Until recently, the best smartphone games were to be found in Apple's App Store, and even those games were nothing more than slightly modified and touchscreen-optimized versions of popular flash games. Back then, I could spend hours on end playing games like these and never get bored.

Now, I couldn't imagine playing something so boring, repetitive or ... dare I say, old school. My attention begs for developed characters, in-depth story lines and interactive gameplay – something to keep me interested and to keep me coming back for more. Luckily, mobile games of today are slowly starting to offer just that.

Last week, popular game maker Rockstar released a 10th anniversary edition of Grand Theft Auto III for iOS and Android. As Rockstar explains in the app description on Android Market, GTA3 is "one of the most influential games of all time," and this version features updated graphics, custom touchscreen controls and gamepad USB support.

I didn't purchase it right away because it didn't support the Galaxy Nexus at first. However, Rockstar updated the game yesterday to support both versions (GSM and LTE) of the Nexus and I figured I would snag it while it was still on sale. (Normally, it runs for $4.99, but it's 40 percent off until December 29th.) I blame my childhood love for the game for my inability to resist. I was only 11 when Grand Theft Auto III was originally released and although I probably should never have known about half of the stuff that goes on in the game at that age, I loved it and played it religiously.

Immediately after purchasing, I downloaded the additional 400MB package and got to playing. Before I knew it, it was an hour later and my phone was screaming at me, telling me it was time to plug it in. I've never gotten so carried away when playing a game on my phone before. The most time I've spent playing mobile games recently has been probably 20 or 30 minutes at a time, at most. But Rockstar did a terrific job at making this game actually fun to play from a phone – the on-screen controls aren't terrible and it plays buttery smooth.

Is it going to replace my desire to play, say, Skyrim on my PS3? Obviously not. Among many other things, touchscreen controls are still a bit unwieldy, the graphics clearly pale in comparison to any game on a full console and ... well, it's on a tiny display. But I can't take my PS3 with me everywhere I go either. And that's the point. For a game that works so well on a device you can stuff in your pocket, it's amazing.

Console-like games on smartphones or tablets are still ages away. We need phones with more RAM, much better GPUs and more storage space before we will be able to throw out our ol' consoles for docking our smartphone into a TV and pairing up a wireless controller for serious gaming. But for the time being, games like GTA3 will suffice. With emulators galore and the attention of major gaming companies – like Rockstar, EA and a plethora of others – who are finally starting to realize that games from the original PlayStation and PS2 (or any other console of that era) can run perfectly fine on modern smartphones and tablets (with the right tweaks, of course), mobile gaming in quickly turning into a gamer's nostalgic wonderland. Over the last six months, I've played The Sims, SimCity, Twisted Metal and Super Mario Brothers on my tablet, and I enjoyed all of them just as much as I remember enjoying them the first time on their respective consoles.

I have a feeling I'm going to be doing a lot more mobile gaming in the very near future. Now, to order an MHL adapter for my Nexus and to get a Sixaxis controller working ...

Did any of you purchase Grand Theft Auto III? What about any other games from a decade or so ago? Do you dabble with emulators, or do you stick with what's in Android Market? Do you think mobile gaming will ever catch or threaten console gaming (even 10 years down the road)?