Now it's true that the screen resolution of most modern Symbian phones, at nHD, 360 x 640 pixels, seems low in 2013, with devices starting to come with 1080p (1080 x 1920 pixels) displays, but nHD was very competitive in 2008 when the Nokia 5800 launched, so we can't blame Nokia for plumping for nHD for its new touch devices. The lack of increase since then is a moot point, of course, though the addition of fast hardware graphics acceleration in devices from the Nokia N8 onwards has at least meant that we can have games that impress visually in terms of speed and colours, if not in absolute resolution.
So, which games on Symbian get closest to the leisure scene in iOS and Android? Which ones should you be seen playing down the pub in order to appear credible to your games-obsessed iPhone-owning friends? Below is my personally chosen top 10.
Of course, Nokia's convention, to start using 'HD' in a game's title around the time of re-introducing GPUs to Symbian for the N8, C7 and C6-01, is somewhat misguided, since "High Definition" implies greater resolution, whereas the games were all still nHD, the same as titles written for the Nokia 5800 two years previously. 'HD', in this context, became a pseudonym for 'GPU-accelerated, every pixel properly painted (and not upscaled) and a game of decent depth'.
So yes, misleading, but hey, at least you get the idea.... At some point, developers stopped buying into the 'HD' naming kool-ade and the acronym was quietly dropped. Just FYI!
[NB. Where review links are given, click through to get the actual download or 'buy' links.]
10. Angry Birds Seasons
Angry Birds is, of course, the acid test of whether a platform can be taken seriously for games these days. It would be great to be mentioning the 'Space' and 'Star Wars' variants here, but sadly I don't think there's much chance of these making it to Symbian at this stage. However, Angry Birds Seasons did get a load of updates in the Nokia Store, finishing up with 'Mooncake Festival' in late 2011. What this means is that you get a bunch of Angry Birds 'themes' in one, just pick your season and go for it. And with the benefit that, if you get stuck on one level, just switch over to a different season and have a crack at that one instead. Still recommended. Reviewed here.
9. Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X HD
The only impressive attempt at a flight simulation game on Symbian, I dismissed this at first as too 'arcadey' for me, but I was wrong - having later put a few tens of hours into the game/career, I found it suitably frenetic, with action at every turn, new enemies incoming, and so on. Yes, it's true that staying in the air was a lot easier than it should have been ("Stall? What's a stall?"), but who cares, I was targetting and firing and swooping and plotting and having a blast... [side note: this doesn't always show up for Belle FP2 devices in the Nokia Store, but it works just fine - I sideloaded it!] Reviewed here.
8. SkyForce Reloaded
This might seem old school in terms of gaming, and you have to forgive the ugly black bar at the top of the screen, but start up Sky Force Reloaded on even a modern Symbian smartphone and it's action all the way. Three difficulty levels mean that, whatever your reflexes and finger agility, you'll get a challenging game here. The default 'touch to drag' control method works well, apart from when the action gets tough and your fingers start to get sweaty! With a million things to shoot up, a million more things to avoid and tough end of level bosses, this is still a classic. Here's Sky Force Reloaded in the Nokia Store.
At first, the top-down, rectangular sci-fi landscapes look unremarkable, but once underway, as your plucky robot explores level after level of a gigantic invading spaceship, combating ever larger and more powerful enemy robots along the way, you'll quickly get hooked. The difficulty level is perfect, the graphics pixel-perfect, the scope of the game huge - in short, a modern Symbian Hit - with, yes, a capital 'h'. Reviewed here.
6. Cut the rope
The cross-platform arcade puzzler, like Angry Birds, even running this will gain you credibility in an increasingly iOS-centric mobile gaming world. Another physics-based title, here it's all about getting your head around strategy and split second timing, juggling objects, bands and the all important candy, in order to feed the monster... Reviewed here.
Arguably the most polished game I've ever played on Symbian, it's the well-known game of firing coloured balls into an ever-advancing line in order to match-3-or-greater. Sounds boring, actually is anything but, mainly thanks to the smoothness of the action and the abundance of power-ups, which do more and more outrageous (and helpful) things. Terrifically atmospheric, Sparkle will amaze (and addict) you in every way. Reviewed here.
4. Tennis In The Face
The oddestly named game on the platform, this is another 10tons special (they wrote Sparkle, above) and is physics-based with a huge slice of humour. And violence. Essentially, you play an embittered ex-tennis ace, firing off smashed at the heads and torsos of every set of characters who get in your way, all of them themed and controlled by an evil corporation. Naturally, there are puzzles to solve, things to blow up and budge and bounce off. Never a dull moment, recommended and, again unusually, first on Symbian before the other mobile platforms got a look in. Reviewed here.
3. Protoxide: Death Race
Take the concept of a racing game, then set it in the future, with low flying spaceships instead of cars. Give all the racers weapons and high tech heads-up displays, add a sci-fi plot and some futuristic cityscapes, then throw in blisteringly fast and smooth action, a pumping soundtrack and numerous powerups, and you've got yourself a Symbian-powered winner. There are even 'pit stops' - no, really! Stunning graphics and 3D action. Here's my review.
2. RealGolf 2011 HD
One of the very first of Nokia's 'HD' games, RealGolf 2011 HD still impresses - it's not quite as photorealistic as some iOS options, the animations very occasionally stutter, but it's all here, in terms of a decent golf simulation, with wind, spin, slopes, ball lie and much more. Add in the obligatory helicopter flybys, a good green elevation grid and some fake American commentary and you've got the complete package. It may seem easy at first but then you hit a bunker and get a double-bogie and you're then fighting all the way to the club house... Reviewed here. [Note that the Let's Golf series reused much of the same code and improved on some areas, but sadly also introduced many gimmicks, not least outrageous courses and animals hopping around on the green!]
1. GT Racing: Motor Academy
And the equivalent for circuits, GT Racing is the most out and out realistic sports car racing sim on the platform and the one I keep coming back to because it's just so... challenging. Never mind arcade driving games with power-ups and on-rails difficulty level - here you're doing well just to stay on the track much of the time, the cars here can be as hard to drive flat-out as the real thing. You can play through a complete career, needing placing in races to progress and gradually improving your car and your own driving skills. One nice touch is the variation in tracks, with gradients, scenery and a mix of road circuits, F1-style tracks and even parts of Indy-style banked tracks. Tip: for extra realism, plug in headphones, turn off the annoying music and crank up the engine noise. Reviewed here, by Ewan, who didn't like it as much as me.... Ah well, over to you!