Before we get into the nitty gritty, here’s a crash course on augmented reality.
Simply put, it sounds more futuristic than it appears. With augmented reality, your phone superimposes computerised images over a real image on your phone camera. Point your iPhone at your dining table and voila, an animated dinosaur appears. Or at the wall in your bedroom and bam! A black hole.
It’s easy to confuse augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) – AR is essentially an enhanced version of reality, whereas VR is a simulated environment completely different from your own. As both technologies progress, the aim is to make it easier to mix both of them, to move even further away from reality.
AR games haven’t progressed as rapidly as VR tech has in the last few years – technology like Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive cost a lot more to buy and the technological leap is clear – but there’s still a lot of fun to be had perusing the app store and testing out different games.
Luckily for you, that’s exactly what we’ve done. Here are some of our favourites.
Pokemon GO: Free, Google Play Store
You’ll no doubt have heard about Pokemon GO, the AR game from developer Niantic that took the entire world by storm a few years ago.
After blowing up into a literal modern phenomenon, Pokemon GO had hordes of people – kids, teens, adults and elderly – all seeking out cute and cuddly critters from the long running Japanese franchise. And they did it all in the real world using augmented reality.
The game itself is super simple to understand. It uses the GPS on your phone to track your location and also includes easy tutorials to get you started. Not that you’ll need to rely on them – the game has a big enough fan base that tips and tricks are easy to come by.
Other than that, it’s up to you to find and fight new Pokemon to catch for your ever growing collection – seeking out the rarest among them in unique locations.
Amon: £2.69, Google Play Store
Amon is one of our favourites on this list. It’s a neat puzzle game that takes full advantage of the AR camera perspectives to create optical tricks that you have to solve.
After summoning broken pieces of statue from your environment, you then have to begin to piece them together to create complete sculptures by working out how they align.
It starts simple enough, just to get you into the swing of using the AR perspective on your phone, but it quite quickly ratchets up the difficulty.
There’s no time limit or need to play with other people – this is a calm, solo experience, but it’s one of the neatest uses of AR to date.
The Machines: £4.99, iTunes App Store
Perhaps the most technologically advanced augmented reality game on the marker, The Machines is an iOS exclusive that takes the fidelity and clarity of the AR experience beyond pretty much anything else out there.
It’s extremely pretty to look at, with highly detailed maps and realistic textures and surfaces. It’s not the cheapest game at £4.99, and it takes up over a whopping 800MB of space on your phone – but it’s clear why, as it packs some gorgeous landscapes.
Playable both solo and in multiplayer, it’s a real-time strategy game that has you defending your base on one side of the map, while simultaneously trying to destroy your enemy’s base on the opposite side.
It’s simple objectives are made engrossing thanks to some slick controls, immersive graphics, great battles and decent unlockables – all of which successfully convey the frantic nature of the mechanised conflict on screen.
My Tamagotchi Forever: Free, Google Play Store
A little like Pokemon GO, the colourful My Tamagotchi Forever sees an older fad take a new form of life within a free to play video game.
It’s lovely to look at, with vividly stylised graphics that are simple but really crisp. And it’s very easy to understand – you just need to continue caring for your cute and cuddly creature by feeding, washing, potty training and putting it to bed at the right times. Your fundamental goal is to keep your pet alive, and happy.
This game isn't designed for complexity. That said, there’s a good level of depth here, incorporating throwaway arcade games and lots of opportunities to earn in-game cash to help fund your Tamagotchi ownership.
Another good thing about My Tamagotchi Forever is that its AR features aren’t vital to play the entire game – so you’re not expected to be waving your phone around in the air constantly, as with some other games.
Knightfall AR: Free, Google Play Store
Knightfall takes a more serious stance than some of its augmented reality contemporaries by using medieval battles as its setting. It impressively places an entire interactive map on a space in your home, office, or in the street.
The game is a little fiddly to get started – we had to make ample space available on our living room dining table before the game would register a large enough flat service with which to play. After that, it convincingly plonks a large landmass down for you to fend off against waves of increasingly tough enemies.
The mechanics themselves are pretty simple. You just point and shoot, whether that’s flurries of arrows from your archers, or more powerful catapults.
There are glitches, and it frequently required us to adjust our perspective with the phone as the map refused to stay still for very long, but the actual game is simple and satisfying enough that battles are enjoyable. It just happens to be very short and feels more like a prototype of what could eventually become a fully fledged game.
ARZombi: £0.99, iTunes App Store
ARZombi takes the terrifying idea of the undead breaking into your humble abode and turns it into an (augmented) reality.
Leaning heavily on Call of Duty’s zombies format, ARZombi has you fighting off waves of undead. As well as blasting heads apart with a variety of weapons, you have to conserve ammo, repair defenses and manage the flow of corpses as they become more and more intense.
It’s gimmicky and simple, but it is perfectly serviceable shooter entertainment for those that love a bit of pulpy gore.
The Verdict: Best AR games for iPhone and Android
For sheer value and longevity, Pokemon GO is our AR game of choice. While there are better looking games out there like The Machines, Pokemon GO has a proven track record of keeping a player’s attention, has been continually updated throughout its life span, and shows no sign of stopping any time soon.
IndyBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing.
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