Pokémon Go was a sensation when it first launched, and for many people it may have been their first brush with the idea that the GPS locator in their phone could be used for gaming. For those not in the know, you wander around the real world collecting Pokémon you encounter. Using AR, you can throw Poké Balls at them as if in real life. You’ll receive a variety of rewards for collecting, going out on long walks, and being social.
That’s what the best location-based games on mobile do – help you get out in the real world and have fun. Niantic was operating in this space well before it got the Pokémon license, and tonnes of great similar games have popped up too in recent years also.
So, if, for whatever reason, you’re not into collecting hundreds of digital monsters, we’ve compiled a list of alternatives that offer much of the same experience. They’ll all use GPS to encourage you to go for lovely walks and likely use the power of AR to bring content to life on your phone. Either way, they’ll get you out into the real world at least, perhaps even forcing you to be social. Fancy that?
Here are the best location-based games on mobile:
Thought it might not have been the first location-based game on mobile, it’s by far the most successful, and continues to take the world by storm even today. It’s also easy to see why. Many of us grew up with Pokémon, whether it was the games, TV show, or cards, and spent many a day wishing we could go out and catch these little critters in real life. Pokémon Go made that dream a reality.
Even for franchise newcomers, it’s easy to see the appeal. You get to collect a bunch of cute digital monsters and show them off to your friends. It encourages you to be social in the actual real world through its raid mechanics and community events. It actually rewards you for being active, showering you with useful in-game items depending on how many kilometres you’ve walked that day and week.
It’s revolutionary stuff in terms of game design, but the Pokémon franchise really kicked it into overdrive. That’s why it’s the biggest location-based game going. If you want to know about the changes coming to the game, be sure to check our Pokémon Go update guide.
If you like Pokémon Go, you should try Niantic’s first GPS game, Ingress, which has recently been rebooted as Ingress Prime. In what is a common theme for augmented reality games, there is a secret world hidden behind our everyday lives, with exotic matter spewing into our reality at various hotspots. In a clever bit of post hoc justification, these hotspots show up at cultural markers in major population centres because humans are naturally attracted to them.
Also attracted are two rival groups of conspiracy theorists that will recruit you to use your phone as a scanner to control fields of influence. The old guard is not happy with the new changes to Ingress, but for a brand new player, they may be welcome. The interface is smoother and a bit flashier (at the cost of data usage).
Another recent GPS MMO is Maguss, which is definitely not trying to make the player feel like they are in the world of Harry Potter. This is a very polished RPG with unique combat and potion-brewing systems. You pick spells like cards and have a limited number of slots for each combat round, which happen in a turn-based fashion. Then, you use your fingers to draw the spells you want to cast.
The devs are apparently working on a magic wand peripheral for when you want to stop just playing games and really go LARPing. Maguss is also unique in having real PvP combat. However, it is definitely not a Harry Potter game. We cannot stress this enough. Maguss may be about a secret world of magic, and have four rival schools, and magic wands, but it is not a way to live out your Hogwarts fantasies in the real world. Find more games like Maguss on our list of the best mobile RPGs!
Minecraft Earth provides a pretty novel take on the location-based formula. Effectively, this is Minecraft as you know and love it, except you can take it on the go with you. The big feature is the ability to bring your creations with you everywhere you go, and fire them into the real world using the power of AR. Then, you and your friends can collaborate or simply explore them together.
The remainder of the experience is fairly similar to Pokémon Go. You’ll wander around the real world while your blocky character does the same thing onscreen. You can pick up resources, that you can use to build stuff, and go on adventures that involve battling monsters. Hopefully you’ll pick up a rare item along the way. You can also stay up to date with all the upcoming changes using our Minecraft Earth update guide.
A new kid on the block is Orna, which basically takes your classic SNES JRPG gameplay and plops it into a map of your actual neighborhood. It’s Dragon Warrior, but instead of wearing out your thumbs stomping around looking for random encounters you’ll wear out your actual feet. There’s also some multiplayer aspects where characters can grow strong enough to become Duke of their area and be challenged by other players, and the ability to form parties to cooperate.
Geocaching goes back to the age when GPS units were expensive contraptions primarily of use to forest rangers, not something we forget is built into our phones and constantly monitoring us like SKYNET. It’s a straightforward game of going to a specific GPS location and finding a hidden package, at first.
Each geocache is hidden by another player, and some of them like to set up puzzles. Unlike most GPS games, geocaching is a curated tour of your surroundings. The standard app is Geocaching, based on geocaching.com. The game has a freemium model where a lot of caches are free to find, but some you’ll need a subscription for. More so than other games on this list, though, Geocaching is the way to really explore your surroundings. It must be noted that there are plenty of different apps that plug into the geocache database, however.
Harry Potter: Wizards Unite is Niantic’s follow-up to Pokémon Go, and it follows the same formula pretty closely. Rather than collect monsters you seek ‘foundables’, which are basically magical items that have no place in the real world. Our guide of Harry Potter: Wizards Unite locations lists both foundables, and the places you can travel in the game.
You’ll participate in combat, performing spells with a series of swipes, collect items from nearby locations, and craft potions that boost your abilities. If you love Harry Potter more than you do Pokémon, this is well worth checking out. Be sure to check our Harry Potter: Wizards Unite guide for beginners tips!
If you’re as much a big of fan of the big dino bois as we are, then Jurassic World Alive is the perfect augmented reality game for you. What better version of reality is there than watching a t-rex stomp through your neighbourhood? In Jurassic World Alive you’ll explore the world collecting dinosaur DNA, which you’ll then use to create the perfect squad of dinos to battle against other players in real-time matches.
Do you like zombies? Do you struggle to find the motivation to exercise? Then ‘Zombies, Run!’ is honestly your dream game. Complete missions by running through the world and outpacing the zombies shambling on your heels, getting you fitter, and also allowing you to keep your precious, albeit delicious, brains.
It’s quite hard to explain what Randonautica is, which is why we actually wrote a Randonautica explained guide specifically for that purpose. This game is kind of like geocaching, but with a slightly more mystical element, as you punch in your choices and it takes you to different spots in your local area. On the whole it’s about discovering new locations you’ve never been to before. Sounds like an adventure, no?
This Witcher-based mobile game is currently undergoing playtests before release, but we absolutely love what we’ve seen so far. With combat that’s a little like a fancier version of Elder Scrolls: Blades, and lots of other Witcher-y elements like potions, bombs, and signs, it’s looking like a fun chance to enter the world of The Witcher on mobile.