The 5 Best Augmented Reality Games (2021 Edition)
Way back in the summer of 2016, gamers of all ages were treated to the world-changing event that was the release of Niantic’s Pokémon GO.
We all woke up that morning in July hearing of a new Pokémon game, but what followed was an insanely creative and lasting experience that could be shared with everyone, everywhere.
Using augmented reality, or AR, Pokémon that we all know, and love would be viewed through our phone’s camera.
This meant that the Pokémon could appear seamlessly in our world: Pikachu in the grocery store, Charmander in the park, and Bulbasaur in Times Square.
How was this cool new technology possible? Niantic tapped into something revolutionary for a new, extremely wide audience. By harnessing augmented reality, they brought anyone with a smartphone to partake in the game.
I recall a truly unreal experience as I entered a local park in my hometown. Joined by my sister, we walked around the expansive meadows and tree-lined paths.
As we came up to a pavilion near the center of the park, we stopped dead in our tracks. Like some sort of gang tag, ‘TEAM VALOR‘, (one of the three ‘teams’ users could join in-game), was etched into the asphalt with chalk.
The impact that augmented reality had upon our reality, I now knew, was in full swing.
What Exactly Is AR?
Consider augmented reality virtual reality’s little brother. It is a halfway point between the real world and virtual environments. In augmented reality simulations, the real world is infused with virtual objects, (like Pokémon), and provides an interactive experience.
It can also be known as ‘mixed reality’, as it does just that; it mixes the computer-generated world with our reality.
While virtual reality goggles allow us to tap into a completely different interface, we can be transported to far off lands, technological constructs, and situations straight out of movies and dreams.
I like to think of augmented reality serving as a land bridge between the two technologies.
The potential for augmented reality is easier than ever in this day and age. With merely the smartphones or tablets within our reach, we can be intimately introduced to the concept of augmented reality.
Google began to dabble in augmented reality with its ambitious Google Glass—a pair of glasses that includes a detailed HUD, (heads up display), resembling a hands-free smartphone.
Google Glass has several beneficial features not only for comfort and leisure but practical and helpful ways to utilize it.
In many augmented reality experiences, the user’s GPS is used to create a more realistic approach to gaming, allowing for the seamless transition between real-world environments and technological ones.
It is plain to see that augmented reality has brought us leaps and bounds technologically to places where we haven’t been before. That is fine, but what about the most important thing for us all? I am of course talking about GAMES.
2021’s List of Best Augmented Reality Games
Pokémon GO was not the first, and definitely won’t be the last augmented reality game. What others are there? What is on the horizon for AR? Well, here is the list of the 5 best-augmented reality games—specially tailored to 2021.
1. Pokémon GO
Yeah, I just waxed poetic about Pokémon GO, but I swear, it’s one of the best! San Francisco-based company Niantic, in partner with Nintendo, developed the beloved augmented reality game Pokémon GO, and the rest is history.
The reason it is more relevant than ever is Niantic and Nintendo’s potential to keep improving the game.
The world of Pokémon is extremely detailed: it includes over 800 unique Pokémon, opening the doors of possibilities for the companies to further hone their successful, (need I emphasize), free app.
They are constantly updating, too. At first, it was simply finding low-level Pokémon around your neighborhood, with cities and major hubs of civilization being the most desirable areas to capture rare Pokémon.
This was the game that Pokémon fans worldwide were waiting for: a game to catch Pokémon and use them to battle at certain hotspots in the real world, (usually landmarks or other places with heavy foot traffic), labeled as gyms, to exert dominance on other users.
I took a trip to New York City a month after release, and the sheer amount of valuable Pokémon available in even the most innocuous of neighborhoods was enough for me to want to never leave the city.
Of course, the game is not without its controversy. Many people weren’t responsible when playing, sometimes playing the game behind the wheel of vehicles, putting countless people in danger.
It brought ‘texting while driving’ to a whole new level. Some people were even mugged at certain spots: the criminals would put down a lure and wait for eager players to arrive, hoping to capture Pokémon, only to be met with ruffians and ne’er do wells who had to ruin fun for others.
Along with this addictive gameplay, Niantic has been consistently updating their popular game. Not only that but as of February 2019, the game surpassed a staggering 1 billion downloads.
It is clear that the popularity has not waned one bit for Pokémon GO, making it, I believe, one of the contenders for best-augmented reality game this year and dare I say, all time.
Surprise, surprise, Niantic appears twice on the list. In the augmented reality game, Ingress was released about two years before Niantic’s Pokémon GO.
In the game, the player uses their GPS on their phone to interact with ‘portals’, usually coinciding with landmarks, much like the later Pokémon GO. The setting of the game is a nifty mix of sci-fi and cyberpunk in which Earth has come in contact with an alien force.
Subsequently, two factions emerge one favoring the use of alien technology, and those who oppose it outright, wanting to keep humanity intact, (called the Enlightened and the Resistance, respectively).
Augmented reality comes in when players interact with the ‘portals’, earning experience points and action points.
For example, you can go to the local pub, doubling as an in-game portal, and earn experience points that way, possibly winning the location for whichever side the gamer chooses to side with.
Ingress also had the unique experience of being involved with academia, specifically being studied as a connection with globalism and sharing cultural significant sites. It allows the players to connect, especially with the emphasis on teamwork that the game requires.
Strangers can easily come together and share stories, neighborhoods, and cultures in which may have never taken place if not for a game like this.
It is easy to see that Ingress served as a sort of inspiration for what would eventually come in 2016. The ‘turf war’ aspect of the two sides, competing for control of areas, it all ties into what Niantic would later develop in their most popular title.
That’s precisely why it ranks very high on the list. Not only significance, but because it is still immensely popular with some, and has many of the well-honed features that we are now so intimately acquainted with.
3. Zombies, Run!
Zombies, Run! was released in 2012 by British game developers Six to Start. This augmented reality game is very story-driven, having the player listen to stories about a zombie outbreak, as well as have the players become a proactive member.
Players will have to do what we now know is expected of us in a dreaded zombie outbreak: collecting valuable items for survival, help others, and of course, run from the zombies.
The main crux of this game is the literal running. Although it includes all of the important resource gathering elements, its primary focus is the actual physical activity of the user.
It became an extremely popular health and fitness app. The interesting story, which includes audio logs, propels the runner into becoming more engaged with their physical health. What is better than that? A game that is not only interesting but keeps you in good shape.
Something that sets this game apart from Niantic’s games is that the game is completely hands-free. Since it is based on physical exertion, the game is primarily made to be played while the player is occupied by running.
They can even take part in the famous ‘zombie run’ in which they need to kick their running into high gear so as not to lose precious supplies that they have picked up during their exercise.
Along with all of this, the supplies the runner picks up during their exercise session will, in turn, benefit the town, Abel township. The game then transitions to a city builder like a strategy game in which you can improve buildings and defenses.
And, as expected, the better the player does in terms of exercise, the more beneficial the town and its bonuses become, creating a nice cycle of positive health as well as addictive gameplay.
My brother-in-law played this extensively during the summer when he was unemployed. He had recently recovered from a hairline fracture that left him homebound. Determined not to become a couch potato, he ran at our local park, which wrapped around a lake for 5 miles.
Every day, he would run from zombies for those 5 miles. He told me how terrifying and high stakes the game turned into.
I’m not sure if he was too interested in the story aspects, but he said the town building was addictive and honestly made him run harder and push himself past his comfort zone.
These aspects of positivity are just one positive aspect of augmented reality games and the bright future they have in our society.
4. Harry Potter: Wizards Unite
So technically, this has not been released yet. It is slated for a quarter 2 2019 release, (that puts it in the zone of about April, May, or June.
It has already been out for beta testing in Australia in April, and that could go on for a bit. I expect it to be fully released by Summer 2019 at the latest.
As you could surmise, J.K. Rowling’s beloved world of wizards and muggles comes to life in this augmented reality game. The premise is simple: the player takes on the role of a wizard who must battle beasts through the use of their GPS and cell phone.
And another surprise, Niantic is publishing this title. They are also working alongside Warner Brothers Games to develop. It truly seems that Niantic is one of the pioneers in popular augmented reality games, and I am all for it.
In the game, the player chooses all their favorite aspects of the Harry Potter wizarding world, namely choosing all of the customizable elements. Want a cool wand? Which house do you want to be part of?
You can choose any of these things to your liking, much like Pokémon GO. Surely there will be numerous comparisons to the Pokémon title, as that is where Niantic came into their own in terms of developing. But if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it!
After you decide which specific wand and wizarding house to align with, and your specific class, (in the guise of creative titles like Professor, Auror or Magizoologist), you will travel around and battle mythological beasts like the basilisk and trolls from the Harry Potter books, films, and franchise.
It has been a while since I delved deep into Harry Potter, so I’m excited about this title. With a big company like Warner Brothers and Niantic at the helm, there is no way it WON’T be a quality title.
5. Spirit Camera
Make sure you are playing in broad daylight with this next title. Evoking imagery and fond memories of the terrifying Fatal Frame series of horror games, Spirit Camera has you thrust into the position of a character wielding a camera, (the Camera Obscura), that defeats ghosts.
For the Nintendo 3DS, Spirit Camera is a handheld Fatal Frame title, released in 2012.
I love this idea, as the eerie apparitions appear in our world, and you must eradicate them. If you were already freaked out by ghosts, this will NOT help you get over your fear.
Instead, it populates your area with them. However, I believe this was the revolutionary step that the Fatal Frame series needed. As fun as they were, where could they go from where they stopped? By entering the real world, the possibilities became so much more potent and endless.
The Fatal Frame franchise had me on the edge of my seat all of the time. I could never relax. Now it is kind of a blessing and a curse to bring the terrifying features into my world.
Where the ghosts ‘lived’ in my Play Station, to be destroyed either by the Camera Obscura or me turning the system off, I can now find ghosts in my dang basement.
The game is super plot-driven, which I love. I mean I love Pokémon GO, but there is no story there. In Spirit Camera, you are thrown into a spooky Fatal Frame iconic story including an old Japanese haunted house.
Along with the plot, the game works in full 3D: this means that ghosts will appear behind you, working in 360 degrees and making the player aware of every bit of their surroundings.
The game is split into three different game modes: story, minigames, and challenges. The story mode is where most of the ‘meat’ of the gameplay lies, especially the augmented reality features of the game.
Like I said, keep the lights on for this title!
It is plain to see that augmented reality games, although I believe not as heavily advertised as virtual reality like Oculus Rift, holds a much more significant role in the way we interact in our environment and with others.
The positive impacts that these games hold, namely coming together as a society to share in great experiences, and even improving health, has proved to be an extreme boon to the game development industry.
Who doesn’t want a game that is amazingly fun and addictive, as well as great for your health?
With these titles, you really cannot go wrong. Looking to get out and exercise? Zombies, Run! and the Niantic titles encourage running, walking, and interacting with others around you, as well as throwing you into a significant storytelling experience.
Whatever you choose, these 5 games are no doubt the best bet on premier augmented reality entertainment you can get on the market today.