A few decades ago, Nintendo tried to and successfully banked on the idea of reasonably-priced portable gaming by releasing the Game & Watch handheld electronic games. Today, the term “watch games” seems to have a different meaning, as smartwatches have become a prominent part of the wearable market. But can you actually game on a Galaxy Watch? And is the experience worth it?
I dabbled in smartwatch games after I purchased the Galaxy Watch 5. And to my surprise, numerous wrist-based games can indeed be downloaded for free from the Play Store for Wear OS. Even more surprising was that the games I have weren't riddled with ads.
I installed a few highly-rated titles on my Watch 5, and they are surprisingly enjoyable for what they are, as long as you don't expect miracles. The ones I tried are minimalistic, and in a way, they are reminiscent of the old Game & Watch electronic games. They don't require extensive knowledge of the hobby to be enjoyable. And games like ∞ Energy can be quite atmospheric and relaxing, thanks to a combination of good audio and puzzling.
But now comes the part where I tell you how smartwatch games are unusual. My experience was peppered with oddities that seem to characterize smartwatch gaming, and I even found an issue with One UI Watch itself. An issue some Wear OS watches from other brands don't seem to have.
NOTE: This is not a sponsored post, but the games mentioned in this article are among the highest-rated on the Play Store. If you search the games section, you'll likely come across them just as I did.
Video games that don't let you start a new game
Where mobile games for smartphones and tablets have become increasingly complex over the years, smartwatch games boil down the idea of what a video game should be to the barebone minimum. Some smartwatch games are controlled with a single tap of the Galaxy Watch touchscreen, while others require simple swiping gestures. A few examples that might be worth checking out are 2048, Cosmo Run, ∞ Energy, and Jump Drive. I found their simplicity quite charming, but I also found some oddities they have in common, and they revealed one potential flaw in One UI Watch.
First things first, none of the games I tried have a “Start a new game” option. And although regular mobile games, in general, don't have such a feature baked in, they can at least have their data cleared from the phone or tablet's settings menu. Doing so allows players to start anew if they so desire.
To my surprise, there's no such option for One UI Watch apps — games or otherwise. In other words, you can look far and wide inside your Galaxy Watch settings, the Galaxy Wearable app, and the Play Store and Play Games apps, but you won't find an option to clear a smartwatch app's cache and data.
So, when I tried to capture the screenshots below from a one-time introduction sequence in the smartwatch game “Jump Drive,” I could only do it by reinstalling the app, as that sequence plays only once — the first time you launch the game after the first or a fresh install.
Redditors also say Galaxy Watch users can clear an app's data using ADB, but I didn't go to such lengths for a few screenshots. Nevertheless, this highlights a One UI Watch feature that is terribly lacking.
Galaxy Watch users should not have to go through ADB to clear app cache and data
Back to the on-wrist gaming experience, I found similar odd issues with a mobile game I used to play often a few years ago — now ported to smartwatches. Namely, 2048. It's a sliding block puzzle game in which players combine blocks of identical even numbers while avoiding filling up the board. It's a game that consists of always starting a “new game” and trying to beat your previous high score.
The problem with 2048 for Wear OS is that the game doesn't let you undo a wrong move or start a new game, so if you want to do the latter, you have to sabotage yourself to make a doomed game shorter. Furthermore, the game can't remember your previous high score, so you may have to capture screenshots if you want to keep track of such details. By the way, in case you're wondering, here's how to take screenshots on your smartwatch.
And lastly, you may come across games that don't work. This only happened to me with one game, called Math Games. Upon opening it, it constantly asks to “Complete action using” Speech Services or Samsung TTS. And no matter what option I chose, I never got past that screen, which repeated itself in an eternal loop.
All in all, can you play games on your Samsung smartwatch? You most certainly can. But should you? Well, that's up to you. I find these simple games enjoyable once in a blue moon when I have to kill a few minutes, and although some games have in-game things you can buy, I have yet to see an ad while playing any of the titles I tried. That is definitely a point in their favor.
I will admit that their simplicity works in their favor when you want to pass time for a few minutes at a time. Nevertheless, as interesting as they can be when you're terribly bored or forget your mobile device, I don't see them replacing my full-fledged Nintendo handheld console and Steam PC game backlog anytime soon, if ever. Or even my smartphone and/or tablet games, for that matter.
But the most surprising thing I learned from this wrist gaming experiment is that Galaxy Watches don't offer traditional tools for clearing app cache and data. And they should. Apparently, some Wear OS watches have these tools, but Galaxy Watches running Wear OS do not, and it is something Samsung should probably look into fixing.