They're out there, but the faucet is at a slow drip. It must be hard to make mobile games, especially MMOs, especially in a market that is not only new but such a niche. Granted, titles like Order and Chaos Online and Pocket Legends have shown that great success is possible, but in this columns, I like to highlight the little guys and the hidden gems.
So click past the cut and I'll share with you a few updates on some of my favorite lesser-known mobile MMOs.
Even though this game is meant for the smaller screens of the iPhone or Android, I play it on my iPad at double the size. It's a very cute game that feels just fine even when zoomed-in. For such a primitive looking game, it actually features some pretty nice mechanics. Fighting and interacting with items or NPCs is as simple as walking into them or clicking on them. Looting from things like crates happens automatically. It's important for mobile games, especially those that are made specifically for smaller screens, to save on the button-mashing. Anyone who's spent hours playing any of the better mobile titles out there can tell you that there is such a thing as "mobile gamers elbow."
There is one strange issue: The game warns me about "low memory" on the iPad even though it never warns me about it on the iPhone. I'm not sure why this is happening; I know how to keep programs in the background shut off when I am not using them. After the warning pops up, the game actually lags out for a bit. I can only chalk it up to a bug -- an odd and frustrating bug for sure. Other than that, I am finding myself charmed by the tiny graphics and music. I can see why this game always has players running around in it.
I sort of feel bad for Celtic Heroes. It's a pretty neat mobile title, but any hopes of it being one of the first or best true open-world mobile MMOs (one that many Massively readers would recognize as a "real" MMO) were sort of dashed by Gameloft's Order and Chaos Online release. Celtic Heroes reminds me of an older EverQuest or Asheron's Call in the way it looks and behaves, but so far the combat and quests are really basic. The developers recently released an update that includes an iPad version, so I have been enjoying poking around in the game while I'm in bed or drinking tea.
I say that I feel bad because I think the developers have shown that they are actively working on the title. But if you had a choice between an older EverQuest clone and a World of Warcraft clone on your iPad or phone, which one would you go for? It seems as though most mobile MMO players are reacting to Order and Chaos Online the same way WoW players reacted to WoW: by thinking it was the only game out there. I have a feeling that Order and Chaos Online and other games like Pocket Legends will suck up a great percentage of mobile gamers, so it's important that we take a chance on little games like Celtic Heroes. It's not a bad game, but it could be so much better. I can only imagine what its designers would do if they had even half the success of the larger titles.
I'm a huge fan of MMORTS games, whether they're on mobile devices or not. Of course, I've developed a pretty good eye for the ones that suck, but it can take some time to figure that out. MMORTS games can often be very slow, so you have to be especially patient with the genre. Most of the time you will not get to the meat of the game for a while, so I've found it's best to take the initial (and often unsurprising) quests as stepping stones to greater things. You know those quests that ask you to build your first farm or discover your first mine? They're the equivalent of setting up your character in any other "normal" MMO.
CastleCraft is really no different than a lot of the MMORTS games I have played, but it feels different. First of all, it is played on the iPad (a perfect device for such a game), and the sounds of the game are brilliant. They are atmospheric, high-quality, and setting-appropriate. You know how some game sounds are burned into your memory -- sounds like EverQuest's level-up explosion or Ryzom's wind? Well, CastleCraft provokes in me that same nostalgia. It's a great game for 10-minute sessions, although I have read that the open PvP can be downright frustrating at later levels.
A few other favorite titles are due for updates that aren't out as of the time of this writing. First I want to point you toward Outer Empires, a cool little browser-based and iOS device game; its latest update is simply waiting for approval from Apple. The developers not only brag about a host of bug fixes and updated art but suggest that the patch will be the first of more regular updates. I hope so, even though I tend to enjoy the app version more than the browser one. If you like EVE Online, then think of Outer Empires as its younger cousin.
Lastly, Warspear Online is in the middle of an update. Its devs have announced they have "just started updating to 1.0." I'm not sure what is in the update or what might be coming in the future, but this one sounds big. The developers are asking players to keep an eye on the official forums. I've been charmed by this game for a while now, and it's definitely worth the download!
So there's some news for you to hold you over until next week. Mobile MMO gaming is still a pretty rare beast, but when I compare the number of games that are available now to the number from last year, I am really encouraged. I still believe that, with time, the mobile MMO market will be much larger than its PC cousin. I hope that one day soon I will not have to hunt down the news!
Each week in MMObility, Beau Hindman dives into the murky waters of the most accessible and travel-friendly games around, including browser-based and smartphone MMOs. Join him as he investigates the best, worst, and most daring games to hit the smallest devices! Email him suggestions, or follow him on Twitter, Facebook, or Raptr.