4 best augmented reality games for your smartphone

You have probably heard about virtual reality – the concept has been around for decades and featured in science-fiction productions before it was put into practice. What about augmented reality (AR)? Do you know what it is?

A simple definition of augmented reality would sound like this:

“Augmented reality is the integration of digital information with the user’s environment in real time. Unlike virtual reality, which creates a totally artificial environment, augmented reality uses the existing environment and overlays new information on top of it.” (source: http://whatis.techtarget.com/definition/augmented-reality-AR)

The term appeared in an engineering context in 1990, when Boeing researcher Thomas Caudell used it for the first time to refer to the way electricians used head-mounted displays during assembly work. However, commercial applications of this technology became commercially available in 1998, when televised football games started to display the yellow “first down” line. Some random applications of augmented reality include:

  • Military heads-up displays – pilots have a transparent display positioned in their view displaying data such as altitude, airspeed, and horizon line
  • AR technology for medical students, helping them to practice surgery in a controlled environment
  • AR for navigation – users see a selected route over their live view by combining the smartphone’s camera with the GPS
  • Tourism application – sightseeing with overlay facts and figures about the historic sites being visited
  • Repair applications – a mechanic, usually a trainee, performing a repair can have all the important parts labeled through augmented reality
  • Architecture – visualizing building projects by superimposing computer-generated images of a structure into real life locations
  • Commerce – allowing consumers to see what’s inside a package without seeing it or providing virtual dressing rooms
  • Industrial design – seeing how a product’s design and operation will look before completion
  • Music – providing new methods of music production and mixing

Like any new technology aimed at computer users, AR has also aroused the interest of video game developers, especially those creating mobile games. Most AR games are dedicated to smartphones, as these devices are mobile and also have a camera used to capture the real environment. What may have sounded unbelievable years ago is now commonplace, especially since the most famous AR game, Pokémon Go, was launched with huge success. Let’s see why this title became a hit and what other games of this type are there:

  1. Pokémon Go

Developer: Niantic

Release date: July 6, 2016

Genre: location-based game

Cost: Free

pokemon go

Developed for both Android and iOS devices, the game uses your smartphone’s GPS to locate, capture, and train virtual creatures. The game further requires fighting with other users’ pets. Pokémon Go is an augmented reality game because the Pokémon creatures appear on screen looking as if they were at the same real-world location like the player. The concept for the game was created in 2014 by Satoru Iwata from Nintendo, and Tsunekazu Ishihara of The Pokémon Company as an April Fools ‘ Day collaboration with Google.

The game relied on the nostalgia for the Pokémon anime series and indeed became very successful, recording huge earnings. The game is actually based on a freemium business model, which means you don’t need to pay anything to install it, but you are encouraged to spend money through in-app purchases.

Pros for playing this game include its promotion of physical activity and increasing foot traffic, which helps local businesses grow. Like any media hype, it is also known for some controversies, like contributing to accidents, and some people see it as a nuisance in public locations. Some countries even decided to pass legislation to regulate its use.

  1. Ingress

Developer: Niantic

Release date: December 14, 2013 for Android and July 14, 2014, for iOS

Genre: location-based game, alternative reality game

Cost: free

It is one of the first AR mobile games and is still being played by a large number of users due to its entertaining plot. The game proposes a competition between two adverse factions and requires players to capture “portals” which are based on significant real places, such as monuments, landmarks, and public art.

The setting for Ingress consists of scientists having discovered dark energy which has an influence on humankind. The faction called The Enlightened wants to use this energy to control humanity, while their opponents, the Resistance, want to protect mankind. Users are free to choose a side and have to capture the energy sources located in their city. These portals are colored green, blue, or grey, depending on whether they are controlled by the Enlightened, by the Resistance, or are unclaimed.

ingress portal

  1. Temple Treasure Hunt

Developer: MobiTech Solutions

Release date: Unknown

Genre: geolocation game

Cost: Free

This game will attract your attention if you are a myth and mysteries lover. There are two roles you can choose from: treasure protector and treasure hunter. The first creates treasure trails, and the latter need to discover treasures. Treasure guardians are represented by Indian mythological characters (the developer of the game is Indian). The game encourages physical activity, as treasure hunters need to move in order to hunt items. Temple Treasure Hunt can be played both indoors and outdoors and is available in single player and multiplayer mode.

  1. Sharks in the Park

Developer: Geo AR Games

Release date: unknown; last update on September 18, 2016

Genre: geolocation game

Cost: Free


Sharks in the Park is mainly targeted at kids and is advertised as “using Mixed Reality Motion Gaming to create immersive digital worlds that gets kids off the couch and active outside!” Players need to collect marine creatures in their garden or in a city park and are advised to play the game outdoors as it needs a clear view of the sky. The underwater world is displayed overlaid on top of the video feed provided by the user’s device. Movement is detected with GPS coordinates and sensor information from the device. The game also features a Dino Land, a prehistoric world where you can see dinosaurs modeled to life-size proportions.

What about you – have you ever tried playing an augmented reality game? Or would you? Why yes/not?

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