Touching on iPhone Gaming

Wait, I play this how?

Wait, I play this how?

Yesterday, Apple gave one of their big deal press conferences where they announce new products and software.  This was known to be an iPod event, and it was promoted using the tagline, “It’s only rock n’ roll, but we like it.”  So what did they spend nearly half of the time promoting?  Games.  Yes, they promoted games for the iPod Touch and the iPhone, bringing up people from Gameloft and Ubisoft to demo upcoming titles.  But here’s something they won’t tell you:  gaming on the iPhone sucks.

The first problem with gaming on the iPhone is that it’s a phone.  This means you can get a phone call or a text message in the middle of a game, and depending on the game, you may lose some progress.  This is a pain in the ass.  This is one place convergence fails.  What’s wrong with a phone in your pocket and a DS in your bag?  Nothing.

Problem two is illustrated by Madden 10, pictured above, which is a much hyped iPhone game because, well, it’s Madden.  It features all 32 teams, pretty decent graphics, some pretty annoying sound effects, and an admittedly cool feature that lets you slow down the action to make split second moves like jukes on offense or jumps on defense.  What it doesn’t come with, however, is a controller.  Have you tried using one of these iPhone virtual d pads?   They make the d pad on the XBox360 look like the d pad on the … well, the PS3.  It’s a horrible experience.  Tapping on the receivers to throw to them?  Impossible to navigate.  This was $8 wasted, because it is absolutely not fun.

Just last week, they announced a Commodore 64 emulator for the iPhone–now removed from the store for some weird reason, and I told people, “when they come out with Space Taxi and Archon, let me know.”  Someone told me that Archon was already on the iPhone.  Awesome!  I noticed that there was both a regular version and a lite version (why they don’t call these “demos” in the app store, I’ll never know) available.  I downloaded the lite version, and it’s absolute crap.  The game has no idea which piece you’re touching, and if you try to change, you might move the piece by mistake.  The drawings and animations are garbage.

I tried out the Katamari demo for the iPhone, and I felt like I was stuck in the middle of a tech demo gone awry.  I was tilting the phone to roll my Katamari, and tilting it more and more and twisting it around and I just couldn’t get the thing to go where I wanted it to!  This is one of those times I would normally get frustrated and throw my controller.  But I can’t throw this controller: it’s worth $600!  What fun is  a gaming system if I can’t break a controller or two?

There is one bright light in my iPhone gaming history:  Word Ace.  This is a “gambling” game where you play texas hold ‘em, but with letters instead of cards.  You bet each round with your two hidden letters, and after the river, whoever can make the highest scoring word wins!  It  has online play, a friend system, trophies for fun accomplishments (although I received one trophy as a bug because I hadn’t actually done what it said I did), and a nice interface.  This tells me one important thing.  It tells me that the iPhone has a great future as a gambling device.

For gaming?  Not so good.  Do you want a portable gaming system that works great, has a great selection of games, is easy to play, and won’t start ringing in the middle of a difficult level?  Get a Nintendo DS or DSi.  Heck, get a PSP.  You have two pockets for a reason.


Filed under General Gaming

3 responses to “Touching on iPhone Gaming

  1. Ben

    I’ll just wait for the second gen Palm Pre. Maybe that will have good games….

  2. Hey! Thanks for the nice mention of Word Ace!

    I think one of the things that jumped out at me from the article was the distinction between “gambling games” and “games.”

    To me, the biggest hurdle to making something that works or doesn’t work on the iPhone is whether the design of the game, literally from the ground up, was designed with the platform in mind.

    For us, the biggest concerns were a control scheme that made sense for the platform, something that took advantage of the platform’s persistent connectivity, and something that people really expressed an interest in playing, but also something new.

    So, in terms of “what works on the iPhone,” in my view, it’s not “games” or “gambling games,” it’s whether the game was built *for* the platform or not. Madden, for better or worse, is a console game on a platform with no buttons. Word Ace was built from the ground up for the iPhone and Pre. :)

    Good post! Thanks!
    (lead designer at Self Aware Games)

  3. DJKuulA

    I tried Derek Jeter Baseball on my enV Touch. It’s supposed to be the best phone baseball game. It is inferior to All-Star Baseball 2003 on my Game Boy Advance in every conceivable way (except perhaps screen resolution, but it’s not as though the graphics are so wonderful anyway). Interestingly, ASB 2003 also features Derek Jeter as its cover boy.

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