Against all odds, mobile augmented reality seems to have decisively won the war against virtual reality for all the obvious reasons - experiencing the former is way more natural than putting your phone inside a bulky head unit and donning the whole contraption over your head.
You wouldn't want to be doing that in public, would you?
With augmented reality, or AR as it's more commonly known, you need to extra accessories to make full use of the technology at hand, making the barrier of entry very low. Of course, you will need a relatively contemporary smartphone that's AR-ready, but seeing how vast swaths of both mid-range and high-end phones now support this, it's very safe to say that AR is slowly but steadily maturing on both iOS and Android.
Price: Free, with IAPs
This one is definitely among the best AR-enabled games you can play right now. Games Workshop's popular franchise has been immortalized in many a video game for nearly three decades. Warhammer Aos: Realm War is a relatively fresh new game that not only puts you front and center into some good ol' Warhammer action, but also does this in augmented reality. The game is a straightforward card-collecting tower defense/offense MOBA (what a mouthful) that has you collect monsters and unleash them on your opponent with the endgoal being the depletion of your foe's healt pool. It's a fairly good game that only becomes better once you turn on the AR mode - the battlefield gets projected onto any compatible surface around you. In AR mode, you play the game as you'd normally would, but you can zoom onto the units by moving your phone closer or observe the game field from a different angle. Of course, playing the game in AR mode is entirely optional, but you'll be certainly missing all the fun if you don't enable it.
Note: The Android version of the game doesn't seem to have scored AR mode just yet. We are hopeful that the functionality will be embraces soon because this game in particular is a blast in AR mode.
Here's another cool game that puts you straight into the action in AR mode. Knighfall AR is based on the eponymous TV show that follows the fall of the Knights Templar in the High Middle Ages and their fight to reclaim the Holy Land. In this mobile game, you will have to take command of the defenses of city of Acre and protect it from the invading Mamelukean forces. The game is entirely played in AR, with the game field being displayed on a surface near you. By moving your phone around, you can not only take a gander at the battlefield from a different angle but also zoom into the units, which are quite detailed. The gameplay itself is simple - you have Acre's siege engines and ballistas at your disposal to repel back the invading forces. Knights would eventually be at your command as well. The game will throw lots and lots of waves of enemies at you, making up for a nice challange especially in later levels. You can play the game in AR mode on both iOS and Android, so nobody is left out of the Medieval action!
Price: Free, with IAPs
The Birdcage is a spectacular puzzle game that will have you solve tricky and convoluted puzzles in an augmented reality environment. Remember The Room 1, 2, and 3? If yes, then you'd love The Birdcage, no second opinion about that. The goal of each puzzle is to free the vibrant bird from its cage, and while it sounds simple enough, rest assured some of the puzzles will challenge your thinking in a good way as you will have to combine different levers, gears, and intricate mechanisms in order to find the key to the birdcage's lock. While the game can be played in regular non-AR mode, the controls are a bit clunky - it feels so much more natural in AR mode. Just moving around and zooming onto the birdcage and the various puzzles makes it alot friendlier and natural.
Note: Unfortunately, the Android version of the game doesn't seem to have scored AR mode just yet. That's sad, because the game is meant to be played in AR mode.
Price: Free, with IAPs
Remember Tamagotchis, the cute gadget that allowed you to raise and look after a virtual pet back in the late 90s? Supposedly the trend never died off, with multiple video games relying on the same premise making the rounds ever since. AR Dragon is merely one of the latest games to jump on the take-care-for-your-virtual-pet bandwagon, and just as you might infer from the title, it puts you in the shoes of a dragon trainer. With cutesy AR graphics, this game is the real epitome of the movie "How To Train Your Dragon" - you have to feed, clean, play, and dress your dragon with various objects in an augmented environment, build up its lair, and gradually nurse it to adulthood, where the cutesy critter would evolve into a macabre fire-breathing monstrosity.
Tetris, one of the first smash hits of the gaming industry as a whole, has also been given the AR treatment. Meet Tetroids, a great augmented-reality game that has you arrange the tetriminosii in the well-known patterns. Unlike the regular tetris game, which is super straight-forwards and two-dimensional, Trtroids will have you think in three dimensions and combine the tetriminosii correctly to score points. We find it rather straight-forward and easy to do that, but there was a certain adjustment curve to the whole concept of the game. This is something good - we've all played tetris to boredom, so a slight gameplay challenge definitely comes in handy.
Price: Free, with IAPs
The age-old tower-stacking game that most of you are probably familiar with is perfect for the augmented reality environment. The goal of it all is to stack the highest possible tower by carefully stacking the various moving elements on top of one another. Careful though - make sure you stack the elements exactly on top of one another, otherwise they will get cut off, which will therefore leave you with less leeway for growth. AR mode makes this game easier since you can easily alter your point of view and carefully position your element right on top of the preceding one. A very fun and challenging game that could easily waste a few hours of your time.
What's a better way to blow some steam off than playing some ball? In case you are stuck in the office, however, the necessary attire might not be at hand, but fret not - this is where AR Basketball comes in handy. Simply scan the area around you for a flat enough surface, place the basket hoop on it, and score as many points you can. You are free to resize the basket hoop as much as you like, but you can also choose to play with a real-life sized basket hoop. Now, how many three-pointers can you score in a row?
Google's AR experiment, Just A Line, will have you create intriguing doodles that hang in the air. It's not exactly a game, but it feels rather easy to get very immersed in the experience and come up with creative uses of the doodling mechanic. What's even better is that you can doodle alongside a friend in multiplayer mode. You know what they say, double the attendance, double the fun.