They say that the proof is in the pudding, and when it comes to AR games that has never been more true. There’s no real way to convey what’s special about these next-generation video games without trying them for yourself.

Lots of developers are now jumping on the AR bandwagon and you’ll certainly find a lot of shovelware titles out there but, still, some games stand out as ones that everyone who is a little curious should try. Of course, there are hundreds more that would have been just as at home on any recommendation list, but here I’m trying to whittle it down to a few good places to start – a way to alleviate some of that choice paralysis we all face these days.

So here are six AR games that you can try without buying a specialized AR headset. Most of these are for mainstream tablets, smartphones, and game consoles. I’ve also tried to do a decent mix of genres, so that there’s at least one app for every reader.

Pokemon Go (iOS and Android)

Pokemon Go

No list like this would be complete without Pokemon Go. A rare departure from Nintendo hardware, this Pokemon game put the concept of augmented reality on the national agenda. For a while Pokemon Go was the only thing anyone would talk about.

This is not a full, traditional Pokemon game. Instead you need to physically walk around and hunt for the titular Pokemon. Once you find one you can see it in AR, sitting there, just waiting to be caught. The object of the game is to capture the entire collection of available Pokemon. You can also level them up and use them to take part in “gym” battles, which are essentially base defense fights.

Pokemon Go is a pretty fun game to play with other people, and it combines more than just AR technology to create something really fascinating. The hype around the game might have died down by now, but it’s still worth trying out. The Apple iOS version in particular is great because it makes use of the latest ARkit technology, which makes the Pokemon look much more solid and real than it does on other platforms.

Download From Google Playstore

Download From App Store

Night Terrors: The Beginning (iOS)

Night Terrors

If I haven’t said it yet elsewhere on this site, I’m generally not a fan of horror games set in VR. I like horror games on traditional platforms, but being immersed in that situation is not something I enjoy. AR horror games, on the other hand, combine that immersion with the safety valve of simply looking away. At least, that’s how I tried to convince myself. But it turns out even spooky things viewed through a tiny smartphone screen can give you the heeby-jeebies.

Night Terrors is an aptly named app (oops, accidental pun!) that takes your own warm and fuzzy home and turns it into some sort of weird Ghost Hunters, found-footage monstrosity. It’s a pretty clever design while it lasts. This version of the game is a free teaser with the full (paid) experience still to be released at some point in the future as I write this. However, that makes it perfect for this list, since all we really want is a taste of what’s possible. Night Terrors isn’t perfect, but it’s a great sign of things to come – for other people. I can’t play this anymore.

Download From App Store

Spirit Camera: The Cursed Memoir (3DS)

Spirit Camera

This game is pretty old now and is only available on the Nintendo 3DS console, but I felt I had to mention it because it’s still such a clever use of the technology. If you are one of the millions of people who have bought a 3DS (and you should) it’s entirely possible that you might have overlooked this game. The good news is that these days you can buy it for just a buck or two, especially if it is a used copy. That’s also good because, to be honest, the game itself doesn’t have enough substance to warrant full retail price. I picked up a copy on clearance for almost nothing and from that point of view it was great.

It might seem weird to include an AR game from a relatively old handheld console here, but one of the interesting things about the 3DS is that it comes with a stereoscopic screen AND a stereoscopic camera. That makes for a rather unique AR experience.

The game sees you attacked by angry spirits that you then have to defeat with your “camera”, which is of course the 3DS.
Another interesting wrinkle is that you use a little AR booklet to progress the story, which I found charming. Of course that’s why you have to buy a physical copy of the game. There’s no way to digitally recreate the book!

Buy On Amazon

Genesis AR (Android)

Genesis AR

Genesis AR is the result of a successfully-funded Kickstarter campaign. It incorporates an AR battle game with a sophisticated trading card system. In other words, the game uses a printable anchor to summon fantastical creatures that then fight – brutally. Oh, dear. It’s almost like some sort of dog-fight thing. Isn’t it?

Either way, this game has some killer graphics, great animation, and a fun gameplay concept. As I write this, it’s still pretty rough around the edges, being such a recent release and all. Still, well worth a look!

Download From Google Playstore

Stack AR (iOS)

Stack AR

Stack AR is the first ever ARkit game I played. ARkit is Apple’s amazing software solution to persistent, trackerless AR. I’m still flabbergasted by how they manage to do things that used to require special hardware, such as the Hololens or Google Tango system.

Stack AR is a simple game which looks a little like Jenga. The goal of the game is to build the tallest tower possible. The topmost block swings back and forth and any part of it that overhangs the next block down gets chopped off when you set it. So your top block gets smaller and smaller the further you go. You need to see how many layers you can stack before running out of block.

The game itself is about as simple as it gets, but it is an amazing example of cutting-edge AR technology. Your little stack of blocks stays on the surface where it started, even if you look away with the camera and then look back again. The lighting of the virtual objects also looks spot-on compared to the surrounding scenery. The feeling of solidity Stack AR manages with just a simple game slash tech-demo is jaw-dropping. Not much of a game, but a must-buy nonetheless.

Download From App Store

Warhammer 40,000 Freeblade (iOS)

Warhammer 40,000 Freeblade

The Warhammer franchise is a worldwide phenomenon. From the hardcore tabletop miniature game to the many excellent video games based on the property, there’s a lot to like about Warhammer.

This particular game didn’t start out as an AR showcase, but when ARkit launched, the developers added an AR mode that allows you to summon a giant imperial mech to stand next to your car. The game itself is so-so, but that AR mode is pretty sweet.

Get Your Game On

It’s funny how many people are walking around with AR-capable devices in their pockets without ever giving it a try. If you have an modern handheld console, tablet, or smartphone you are just a few clicks or taps away from getting in on the action with AR games. So why wait? Whip out that hardware and get your game on!