What’s to Love and Hate about iPhone Gaming

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Generally, the iPhone as a solid gaming platform with a lot to offer. Because it’s a fully-downloadable gaming platform, as long as the connection is fast enough to insure reasonable download time, it makes for loads of entertainment. While browsing the App Store, it’s no question that there are always games to be played, some good, some bad, and some that just missed their mark. But what aspects usually separate the good from the bad?

The Good

1) Short, to-the-point games – iPhone owners usually have their phone on hand because they are on the move. Shorter experiences that allow a player to pick up and play, then,  pocket the phone when their bus arrives tend to work best. These experiences are easier to grasp, making them accessible to all age groups. Because many iPhone owners reach beyond the scope of men aged 25-35, it allows them to enjoy these titles as well.

2) Budget Conscious – Smaller games also amount to smaller development times, justifying a lower price-point. This may seem like penny-pinching to some people, but if a game runs more than $3 in the App Store, it sounds expensive. This is usually because there are endless amounts of Apps that can be acquired for much less, and may turn out to be more enjoyable for the value.

3) Non-Traditional Gaming Experiences – This is again related to cost, but this time on the studio’s end. It’s much cheaper to create an iPhone game than it is to create a console game; development costs are reduced, there is no longer a need to package and ship the item, or mass-produce discs. Because of this, the makers of the games can take more risks and create the sorts of games that they normally wouldn’t.

4) Power – The iPhone, especially the 3GS, is a strong little machine. It allows for some impressive games to run on the device, and as developers learn more efficient ways to program their Apps, things will only get better. It can run games in full-3D without choking up, and Apple continues to make their phone’s processor faster.

5) Competition – Though mobile gaming was nothing new when the iPhone came into the market, it’s apparent that Apple’s smart-phone did kick expectations up considerably while pushing other smart-phones to start considering reaching the same audience. Previous phones such as the N-Gage tried to push themselves as a gaming machine/phone, perhaps they were a bit too soon. Somehow, the iPhone was able to change the smart-phone industry, and it’s leading the way as competitors strive to push the mobile device industry even further.

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1) No Buttons – This is actually not a complaint against the iPhone itself; it’s more about games that try to recreate the feel of buttons. Many games developed for the iPhone is the use of “buttons.” The iPhone is a slim piece of aluminum and plastic with a screen. There is no need to fake a set of buttons on the touchscreen. It just doesn’t do the job. It feels clumsy, and there is no tactile feel to the glass surface of the iPhone when playing Mega Man 2. If a fat finger so much as touches the wrong “button,” it responds, many times with unwanted results.

2) You don’t have to recreate a PS3 experience on the iPhone – It’s important to keep in mind that the iPhone is a really smart-phone that gained popularity as a gaming device, and it has its limitations. For one, it has no buttons that can be implemented into the game play experience. Games that try to create an experience that you would find on a console tend to come up short. Resident Evil: Degeneration (RE:D) is a perfect example of a gameplay style that worked well on a console (Resident Evil 4) but was lost in the transfer to a mobile device. When carrying an iPhone, the typical player needs a quick experience–something they can play then tuck away at a moment’s notice. RE:D’s slower pacing and cinematic sequences take away from the overall experience when one is looking for nothing more than a few minutes to kill on some downtime.

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3) The iPhone is a Powerful Machine, but You Don’t Have to Prove it –  This sounds almost like a counterpoint to what was said earlier about the iPhone’s power. The problem is that games such as Resident Evil:Degeneration run on a 3D engine, which means that the iPhone is working harder to render the images in the game. This ultimately means less battery life. Because a phone is something that owners tend to carry through a full day, it means that battery life is an important factor. Using the phone’s processor for 3D environments, seems more like a waste of battery than a fun game. Leave these experiences for dedicated gaming platforms. Keep in mind that it handles most 2D games VERY smoothly.

4) Various Models – This may sound like a silly complaint for those reading who are used to computers or dedicated mobile phones, but for games, it can be a problem. Apple is constantly improving the iPhone, and that can be a good thing. The problem is, however, that users either have to upgrade or deal with a slower phone. When it comes to gaming, this almost (not quite) turns the platform into a sort of PC gaming. Users have to make sure that their phone will run software smoothly, because the 3GS is a good deal faster than the 3G. This can segment the users. Some developers will push the 3GS to its limits, and create a game that no longer runs on the 3G. Perhaps that sounds a bit paranoid, but gamers don’t like being left out of the game. 

Note: Storage capacity is no major concern. It’s how smoothly the game runs that is worrisome.

5) No Limit? – In Apple’s defense, they have put an end to developers who did this sort of thing. You may also argue that people are entitled to pay as much as they want for an App. Still, it’s insane that, in theory, someone could charge as much as they want for an iPhone App and someone can buy it. This was demonstrated in March when a developer was able to raise the cost of his App to $400 before any action was taken. (Story on iSmashphone) Even crazier, people paid money for it at that price. Perhaps one could argue that it was stupid of them to pay that much, but imagine being the poor sap who somehow wasted $400 on a crappy zit popping App. Could have been some kid on his parent’s computer.

As mobile gaming continues to grow in popularity, new ideas will emerge. Perhaps one day, everything written above can be proven wrong. Until then, things will keep improving. These sort of games will find their identity, and those making them will learn what works, and what doesn’t.

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