I used an iPhone 14 Pro Max to dig up a mobile games graveyard

I remember the first time I played games on an iOS device – lively. I was 14 and the first generation of iPod Touch devices had arrived. l begged first, as a Christmas present, eager to get my sweaty hands on a device that was pretty revolutionary at the time. Music at your fingertips. More than that, spell within reach. Even at this early stage of the iPod and iPhone era, when apps were relatively simple and experimental, I fell in love.

In this era, mobile games were not what we know them now. There were no sweeping, large-scale adventures, cute puzzlers, or subscription services like Apple Arcade. Apps were largely for novelty. Some didn’t even really have one WHERE function. In one, you could tilt your screen and “beer” would flow over your device. In another, you can pop pimples by tapping the screen.

There were lightsaber simulators, puzzle block games, AI illustrators, “love calculators” and countless imitations of Dinner Dash. Later on, games got more complex – and we got hits like rhythm tapper, Tap Tap Revengeand even mobile ports of titles like Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars.

In the early 2010s, mobile action-adventure games took off, with adaptations of Iron Man and Spider Man for me, as a young and impressionable iPod user, are the main shiners.

The novelty wore off during this period, when apps paved the way for games – and “mobile gaming” evolved as a concept. As phones integrated higher-performing hardware and higher-resolution screens, these games kept changing — with each generation of devices bringing drastic improvements. I eventually graduated from an iPod Touch to an iPhone 5 and then to the “dark side” as an Android user.

When I got a chance to review the latest iPhone 14 Pro Max, with all its modern high-end hardware and potential, I was extremely curious how much the experience had changed over the past decade. It turns out that mobile gaming has evolved on Apple devices phenomenal since I last experienced another pimple and tick-tap revenge.

The Apple App Store always remembers

Booting up the iPhone 14 Pro Max was a wild experience — it felt so different from how I remembered these devices. The first thing I noticed was the size – it’s a enormous phone, almost too big to handle. The screen is also very impressive – bright and brightly colored. The input is equally chic, with a pixel-accurate touchscreen that allowed for what seemed like more precise control. This was a bug bear that plagued the original iPod Touch — and I have vivid memories of touch-tracking frustration.

Read: Apple seems to be removing older apps from the App Store

Aside from these key features, the phone is easy to maneuver, conveniently thin (despite its size), and capable of playing graphically demanding games (Genshin Impact, LEGO: Builder’s Journey, The Survivalists) that run smoothly, without noticeable heating of the device. The battery life was also a noticeable strength – with normal daily use, the phone can last for about 2-3 days without a single charge.

After fiddling with the phone’s settings to familiarize myself with any changes, I quickly realized that the App Store retains knowledge of every download you’ve ever made. Out of curiosity and a sense of nostalgia, I clicked through the “Purchased” user tab and discovered countless apps I downloaded as a young child – pimples, hourglasses, solitaire, metronomes, the guards movie app, executionerand more.

Spider Man and Iron Man there were both, just like the original Final Fantasy for mobile, Pocket God, Maple Storyand the whole Sims 3 mobile collection.

sims 3 mobile game
Screenshot: GamesHub

They were all there, preserved in digital amber. Many of the games were no longer playable (about 70% estimated) due to ten years of system updates, digital degradation and store takedowns – but I was still able to download many of these titles and enjoyed a wild return to my distant gaming past.

Intriguing, the whole Sims 3 collection – The Sims 3, World Adventures and ambitions – all still run smoothly – despite being in an outdated aspect ratio and fairly grainy on the modern screen. You can no longer buy these games from the App Store, but downloading them has allowed me to keep them for a while longer.

An incoming software update could disrupt their compatibility, as is often the case with older apps, but it was still lovely to see my favorite games in action on a modern device.

What was foreignhowever, some games kept their save data more than 10 years later. Pocket God, for example, opened with my entire squad of villagers in attendance — including Charlie, a special villager who can turn into a tiger, in reference to a 2011 Charlie Sheen diatribe (and subsequent meme). It was as if I had never left them, despite the years between us.

pocket god game on iphone 14 pro max
Screenshot: GamesHub

The sharp screen resolution of the iPhone 14 Pro Max meant every classic game was grainy and blurry – Scribblenauts Remix looked particularly ugly and out of focus – but nevertheless their charm remained.

Accessing my old app library was a lot like visiting a quaint and quiet graveyard. Still, it was enlightening — and staying in the past helped improve my experiences with more modern games on the iPhone.

Apple Arcade is a high quality subscription service

Mobile gaming has evolved in more ways than one – and it has developed a certain stigma over the past decade. Predatory microtransactions have become a common part of mobile gaming, with many games encouraging players to spend money to keep playing, speed up segments, or get exclusive characters.

while not each game in space tries this predation, there are plenty of bad examples to spoil the bunch – resulting in mobile gaming getting a bad reputation. But if you nothing but guess this is what mobile gaming is you are missing out on some of the best portable games out there.

To address monetization issues and the perceived low quality of mobile gaming, Apple launched the apple arcade subscription in 2019. This AU$7.99 per month service brings you a range of great games from reliable developers. All in all, it feels like it surpasses the promise of a brighter future for mobile games.

On Apple Arcade, you can find plenty of well-curated titles, such as the surprisingly excellent Chef adjustment, which is based on cooking mom (there is also a fixed one) cooking mom game on Apple Arcade). You will find an excellent sequel in the classic reigns series (reigns on), the sandbox simulator The Survivalists, the beautiful LEGO Builders Journeyand a range of other delightful games.

The subscription model means you can download stuff on a whim as you browse the Arcade catalog, and you might even stumble upon your next favorite game. Out of curiosity I recently downloaded a puzzle game called lurch., where you manipulate spools of thread – and it has become a beautiful way to pass the time. It’s a useless brain teaser that keeps me occupied while I’m watching TV, working out at the gym, or getting ready for bed.

It wasn’t the only surprising new love I found on Apple Arcade, either. After the chatter and vagueness of the classic games of the 2010s era, the sharpness and beauty of LEGO: Builder’s Journey was a great and surprising surprise.

Art direction in this game is lively and sharp, as is intuitive controls. The Builder’s Journey is a complex game that requires extensive player input to guide and move small game pieces across maps – but responsive and intuitive touch controls make the whole experience a soothing, cozy breeze.

Even a game like The SurvivalistsRequiring instant character movement, planning, and strategy, was easy to manipulate on the iPhone 14 Pro Max. I won Chef rounds in smooth order, even with the required precision and speed.

Apple Arcade was littered with experiences like this: fun, colorful, active games that combine glittering modern visuals with light-hearted, streamlined gameplay that’s easy to pick up and jump into.

Mobile gaming waits for no one

It feels like mobile gaming has really evolved in the blink of an eye. In the nearly ten years since I last held an iPhone, So a lot has changed – enough to make me feel old and withered, 27 years old. A decade of growth has taken us from new apps to full-fledged adventures, complete with phenomenal graphics and impressive performance. Mobile games have gotten serious.

Experiences that I believe were previously relegated to higher power gaming devices (such as Old School RuneScape Ghost Trick, and Monster Hunter Stories) are now available for free to anyone with a phone, with no loss of quality or performance. Even Genshin impact, a frankly phenomenal looking game, runs like a breeze on the iPhone 14 Pro Max. No compromises – just streamlined sword swinging and beautiful explorations.

Trying out the phone was a big revelation, with my decade-old app library to look back on. While the glory days of pimples pop and Tap Tap Revenge clearly gone, they have been replaced by a much stronger generation of mobile games. It’s bizarre to see how fast they’ve progressed – and to realize that mobile gaming will likely evolve again in the next decade, faster than the blink of an eye.

GamesHub received an iPhone 14 Pro Max on loan to test the possibilities.