It used to be just receiving a call, or picking up an email via a push SMS (good old email-to-text gateways back in the nineties). Now, to impress people with your phone in the pub, you need something a little bit better - and it tends to be a game. So what should your Symbian-powered touchscreen smartphone be ready to show off when called into action? Ewan and I run through the Top Ten contenders...
Sometimes the simplest games are the best. There are many 'tilting' games that ask you to roll around the screen, but for my mind the smoothest and most challenging is M icroMaze by Gabor Getter. With good level design, and different simulated surfaces and density of marbles on offer, it's never the same for the player. It's also intuitive to play when you hand it over, which is always a good sign of a well designed game.
A huge and growing 3D landscape, with a number of creatures you have to take care of, nurture, feed and play with, plus a bundle of mini games for you to play (via your creatures), creates both a world that feels real while you are playing and also fosters a genuine concern for the electronic menagerie you carry around in your pocket. Creebies looks wonderful, is quirky and is clearly something different in a sea of million similar puzzle games. It's not a game you can pick up and play straight away, but it has a huge amount of longevity and should have a long life on any phone it is installed on.
Originally available for the N-Gage platform, Dance Fabulous made the jump to S60 5th Edition at the end of 2009, and a very nice festive present it was too. Using any and all the music on your phone, you take your dancing avatar to the dance floor to earn points and stars (to buy more dance floors, costumes and outfits) by freestyle dancing. It's a strange mix of rhythm game, button mashing fighting and RPG collection, but it does work. This is another way to enjoy your music and show off what you've earned to your friends.
Any collection needs a good old fashioned arcade shoot-em-up, and Infinite Dreams deliver this wonderfully with Sky Force Reloaded. It's a long franchise that does appear on multiple platforms, but it shows how thinking about the form factor of a smartphone helps the game. There's no button mashing, as auto-fire is enabled, although special weapons can still be activated as you need them, while your craft will fly towards where you have touched the screen. It makes for a new way of playing, by having physical contact with your finger (or a stylus) into the game world. The modern twist on the classic game makes for a smooth and addictive game.
Flight simulator games need countless buttons – one reason that they've not really taken off (oi! - Steve) outside of the desktop PC, but there are plenty of Flight-Lite games that give a good representation of flying. Armageddon Squadron does that, and grafts on some suitably "Boys Own" World War II-based flying missions, including air to air combat, bombing enemy destroyers and (probably a favourite down the pubs) taking out a dam. Good show, what! Tally ho!
Another title with a history on Symbian, this 3D racing game initially shipped on the business-focussed, graphics-accelerated Nokia E90. Now that technology has (almost) caught up, Raging Thunder can run almost as well without that extra graphics chip, thanks to a little judicious up-scaling of a lower resolution but insanely optimised gaming engine. With banked corners as needed, genuine gradients and a difficulty level that could generously be called “old school hard”, this is the sort of game that everyone can glance at and go "Ooooh". Have a friend with a second handset and copy of the game and you can get multiplayer challenges over Wi-fi [been there, tried that, had a lot of fun - Steve].
If asked which third party programmers have graced more gamers' handsets than any other, I'd hope John Holloway would be in the mix. His tireless support of the platform in development has resulted in Zingmagic being known as the go-to name for classic games on your smartphone. Every platform needs a Chess application that is accessible both for the casual player and for the more hard core fiends of the game. With simple presentation and a no-frills concentration on the game, this may seem a strange choice, but sometimes the flash needs to be put aside for the actual game.
A delightful little puzzle game here, the goal is to connect two cogs, but to do that you'll need to place other cogs and gears onto the screen in a logical fashion to hook up the start and finish – all with limited resources through only a certain number of cogs. And just to make it a little bit more fun, gravity is involved as well, so you'll need to keep your cogs connected, there's no floating around in space here. Well put together, and a total of 50 levels, will guarantee you at least one frustrating “how do I do this one?” moment!
Eschewing an attempt at a 3D representation of the classic pool games (these have been a disaster on the non-graphics-accelerated modern Nokia smartphones), MicroPool has a simple top-down table, albeit beautifully shaded. Where this game scores though is in its control method and gameplay. You can aim by swiping your finger around, with an aiming line helping you work out exactly where your white ball is going to hit - this is exactly the right level of user aids - games which try to be too fancy by showing you the expected path of the balls hit take most of the skill away. In MicroPool you'll be attempting shots that you'd try in real life, estimating angles that might work and learning when they don't - in short, immersing yourself in a realistic battle of pool wits with a computer-run opponent of adjustable skill level. There's no pretense at a long term championship or slow ramp up - this is 'set the skill level' and bam, you're off and running and fighting to win the frame. Addictive. (Steve)
You'll remember from a couple of days ago that Apple made a big song and dance about the new iPhone 4 having a gyroscope built-in, enabling more immersive action games? Well, if you have a Nokia N97 or N97 mini at least, you can load up this title and make use of the Nokia devices' digital compass (and accelerometers) to do much the same. The premise is that waves of meteors are raining down on the earth and your job is to blast them away from a first person shooting perspective. The clever bit is the way the 360° world is mapped to your actual world - so that spinning on (for example) an office chair gives makes the sky spin around your gun turret in exactly the same way. Then it's tap on each meteor once you've got a weapons lock. A simple game but jaw dropping if you can find the right sort of chair to spin on down the pub....!
Download from the Ovi Store (N97/N97 mini only, currently)
We're not saying that Symbian OS boasts the best games in the mobile world - we do recognise the iPhone's gaming horsepower and ecosystem rules this particular roost. What we're saying is that you can do a little of your own showing off - and have some fun along the way!
Ewan Spence and Steve Litchfield, AAS, June 2010
In general, Symbian^1 without a keyboard just can't do action games. Or decent racing games. Single touch input means that you can't jump and fire without some horrendous input controls. Or steer and break. Multi touch is required. As a result it can really only do good puzzlers.
Gears is okay, but gets soooo boring after no time.
Raging thunder looks absolutely terrible on screen - horrible fuzzy graphics.
SkyForce reloaded was always an excellent game on the N95, it still looks good, but still isn't quite as good as its predecessors
Creebies looks good, the kids seem to like it.
Bejewelled Twist - fun
BlockGO - awesome fun
Crazy Penguin - sadistic, but fun
Climate mission was interesting, but relatively limited.
Raging Thunder is fine by any standards. It runs quick on non 3D hardware accelerated phones. Polarbit's formula was effective with these kinds of handsets. For me, Java is no go.