The 6 best geeky mobile games to play with your kids
When PCs were hot in the 1980s and 1990s, my father used to be horrified whenever I wanted to play games on the machine — “Computers are not for games!”, he’d say, but I knew better.
Fast-forward to the smartphone and tablet era. Unlike my Dad, I’m totally aware that these mobile devices are made for games (and other things, like email, Facebook, Twitter, oh, and making phone calls). I don’t admonish my children with the phrase, “Smartphones aren’t for games”, but rather, “Stop playing that and clean your room!” (some things never change).
With thousands of games available, though, you want to make sure that your kids are playing the right kind of mobile game — one that has a geeky element to it. Otherwise, they may end up playing one of those Candy Crush games or asking you to help them on their farm * shudder*.
Here’s our list of the top mobile games we’ve been enjoying with our kids:
Note: We’re not going to take a stand on games with in-game transactions; your decision about whether to spend money on mobile games is up to you. However, we would suggest that you don’t give your young children the ability to pay for premium items until they understand the consequences.
The Simpsons: Tapped Out
Hopefully you’ve raised your kids correctly, and they know all about The Simpsons. This mobile game has a lot of the same humor, voice acting, and storylines seen in the TV show, and it’s pretty fun to play. Also, it’s quite addicting.
The plot of the game — Homer has blown up the town of Springfield, and it’s your job to help rebuild the town and bring back all of the show’s characters. You do this by completing quests, leveling up, unlocking other characters and, if you’re in a rush, spending real money to buy “donuts,” which is the in-game premium currency. Fortunately, you can earn donuts by leveling up and doing other daily missions, but this does take longer than simply buying them.
The game also has seasonal events, limited-time missions that unlock additional buildings, and “outfits” for existing characters. This helps keep the game interesting beyond the initial parts of the game (the game even jokes about how long most players are playing the game).
For kids, playing this gives them a chance to develop their “city-building” game skills, learning that open space often costs a lot of money, so better to put roads in grid-based form to conserve space.
Disney Crossy Road
I gotta admit, at first glance you’ll look at this game and go, “Ugh, it’s just like Frogger.” For the most part, you’re right. Based on the earlier Crossy Road app, this game features Disney characters trying to get across roads, rivers, and other assorted obstacles while avoiding cars, trucks, and other hazards.
A big difference from Frogger (or the Activision game Freeway, for those who remember their Atari 2600 days) — there’s no ending point for each attempt. The road scrolls until you get smushed. This makes the game more in line with games like Subway Surfers or Temple Run.
The game lets you unlock (or buy) additional characters — you earn them through gameplay by collecting coins during your run (or watching ads in between runs). Once you get enough coins you can unlock a random character. What’s cool is that these characters also have different road courses to try out — so it’s not the same map over and over again. Other maps may have other tasks for you to complete — for example, the Inside Out course lets you collect memory squares that you can deposit in other locations — doing this increases your score. The Wreck-it-Ralph course includes pieces of candy to collect that increase your score. Going after the bonus pieces or extra coins changes your strategy, as you have to usually go off the beaten path a bit to grab those. Backtracking or waiting too long is also discouraged, as an eagle or some other creature will take you away if you stall too long.
The kids love the character-collecting aspect of the game – sometimes the characters have unique traits, as well. In the Inside Out level, for example, the Sadness character doesn’t hop from row to row, but rather slides on her stomach like in the movie. It’s a nice touch that different characters move differently.
The blocky, pixelated graphics will also remind you of Minecraft-like artwork, or early 1980s video games. One final point — we play this game on multiple devices (my phone, the kids’ phones/iPods) with the same account, which means that if one device unlocks a new character, that character unlock is available on the other players’ devices. It’s a cool way to get new characters without starting from scratch.
Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes
There are a lot of Star Wars-based apps/games for mobile devices, but this one is currently our favorite. The backdrop is that you’re inside a cantina, and there are tons of different holo-tables in which you get to battle against others (usually the computer, but there is some player-vs.-player action). You build a squad of characters from the Star Wars universe (everyone from Clone Wars characters to original trilogy to characters from Episode VII) and then face off against a group of other characters.
Each character has unique attacks and bonuses, which you can unlock as the game progresses. Leveling up is done through training droids, which you also earn by playing battles or spending coins (both in-game or for real money). There’s a lot to do, and you can quickly build up a quite formidable squad of characters. As you advance, you can also participate in challenges, events, and even raids (if you join a guild). Playing every day gives you additional bonuses and things to do. The animations are fun to watch (early on it’s fun to plan your own strategy, but after a while it’s easier to just hit the ‘auto’ button and let the game’s AI do your attacks for you), and of course the music from the Star Wars movies keeps you entertained.
One small word of warning — joining a guild with other real-life players raises the possibility of having your kids see salty language on a guild message board. If you let your kids play this on their own device, make sure you’re monitoring what is going on if you’re concerned.
Star Trek: Timelines
This game is similar to the Star Wars game, but in the Star Trek universe. The plot of the game is that something has disrupted the space-time continuum, and characters from the Star Trek universe across different time periods (and dimensions and quadrants) are all showing up at the same time. Your narrator at the beginning is Q (voiced by John deLancie, a nice touch!), and you play the captain of a starship sent to investigate.
You proceed by building a crew of characters that can complete the missions — those characters are unlocked through in-game cash purchases (or real money if you want premium characters). You can then level them up and fit them with gear that improves their statistics.
Each character has a specific set of skills — whether it’s command, diplomacy, security, engineering, science, or medicine. Some characters have multiple skills, with different numbers attached to them. Tackling each mission requires having the right three characters on the mission, so there is some reading and pre-planning to make sure you have the right skill set.
In addition to the story missions, you can also go on “faction missions” for each of the different groups in the game (Federation, Klingons, Cardassians, etc). Those missions are handled as “away missions” — you assign three characters to the shuttle, and they go “away” for a while, usually somewhere between 30 seconds and three hours (the game tells you how long the mission before you commit). These can be good if you want to have your characters “work” while you’re not playing (like if you’re at work or sleeping). Success in the faction missions will give you training medals, which you use to level up your characters. There are also some space battle missions, but no particular hand-eye coordination is required — you just pick two characters to control the ship (they have attack, evasion, or accuracy skills) and then press their icons when the attack is ready (after you attack, there’s a cool-down). The animations, at least, are interesting.
If your kids have watched the Star Trek series (ours haven’t yet), they should enjoy collecting new characters (I was psyched when I unlocked Picard), leveling up, and upgrading. The storyline is also very entertaining.
Marvel Puzzle Quest
If you absolutely need to play a Candy Crush-like, match-3-colors-style of game, at least you can geekify it up by playing this app. Marvel Puzzle Quest gives you a bunch of characters from the Marvel universe of super-heroes and villains, and sends you on SHIELD-like missions with those characters. Characters have unique attacks that you can unlock by playing the match-3-or-more colors game – each time you make a match it powers an attack against your opponent. Success in each mission unlocks other characters, in-game money, etc. – you know the drill. You can then level up your existing characters to become more powerful as you advance in the game. Like some of these other games, you can join a group of friends, which offers you the chance to play some team-based levels as well as help each other out by loaning special character attacks to other players.
The game has been out for a while, and after a while the match-3 aspect of the game gets pretty stale. The game does try to have special events (they did a Civil War event to tie into the last Captain America movie), but for the most part it’s very, very repetitive after a while. My kids lost interest in the game in favor of other mobile app pursuits.
Still, it’s better than Candy Crush.
Heads Up! And Heads Up! Kids
There’s less of a geeky aspect to these two games (Ellen DeGeneres is involved with them, and while we like her, she’s not really a geek icon), but these are still fantastic to play with the kids.
The game is simple: You pick a category and then place the phone on your forehead, where other players can see the clues given (and you can’t). The other players then try to describe the clue and get you to guess. Guess correctly, you rotate the device down and get another clue. You can also pass by swiveling the phone up over your head.
The game is free and gives you a bunch of different categories initially, but other categories will cost you some extra money (usually $0.99 per topic). This is the one time I fully endorse buying some of the extra levels — especially the “Write Your Own Cards” category. With the kids, we can write our own little inside jokes and include their names or friends’ names, which is always fun and gets us laughing. Some of the categories (like rock stars or movie stars) could be harder for smaller kids, so it’s nice to have that option after they get sick of playing the “Just for Kids” topic.
The best time to play this with the kids is when you’re waiting at a restaurant for a table or if you’re waiting for your food to come out; it keeps the kids entertained and brings a whole bunch of laughs. The game is also great for adults, too – there are fun categories, such as act it out, or ‘bad behavior’ ones that will make your older friends laugh.
The Heads Up! Kids version is geared towards younger kids, it has characters like “Who Am I” with different types of hat pictures, “Around the House” and “Around Town”; it’s a way for the younger (ages 4-5) family members to participate as well.
What ones did we miss? Let us know what geeky mobile games are on your phone that you play with your kids!