I don’t care how many times Steve Jobs, one of his henchmen or an Apple fanboy tells me that the iPhone and iPod touch is a great gaming platform, I still say it stinks.
In fact, its strongest feature as a mobile platform turns out to be its Achilles’ heel when it comes to gaming.
I’ve given gaming on my iPod touch the benefit of the doubt several times. I must have spent over $100 on games. While throwing a Ben Franklin at PC games will only buy you a couple of new games, that sort of dough buys a lot of games from Apple’s App Store.
I’ve spent several frustrating hours trying to see if I could appreciate the platform. After all that investment, I still think that compared to the Wii, PS3, Xbox or PC, the iPhone sucks as a gaming device, and sucks whole lemons at that. Even when it comes to mobile gaming, overall my gaming experience has been a sucky one.
The problem is the screen. Sure, the iPhone is easy to use because you do almost everything via the screen, and that’s what’s made it the success it is.
After all, nothing confuses users faster than being faced with a raft of buttons. Compared to the iPhone, a Blackberry looks like the cockpit of a jumbo jet.
However, the problem is that ease of use as a phone or media player doesn’t automatically mean that you get a great gaming experience.
So, what’s the problem? Well, it’s that most games require some basic controls, and that most of the time these controls have to be placed on the screen along with the gaming action.
Initially this seems like a flash of brilliance, but it has a couple of very large drawbacks.
Drawback #1: While the screen on the iPhone is pretty big, once you start adding fingers and thumbs into the equation, you dramatically cut down on screen real estate, especially when you add my huge fingers and thumbs into the mix!
On some games the screen is literally littered with buttons and controls and it covers up a great deal of the action.
Drawback #2: Touch screen controls don’t offer you any tactile feedback whatsoever. You can’t tell without looking if you’re pressing on the right button or a button at all.
Buttons are bad enough, but an on-screen joystick type control is much worse because you thumb is sliding around the screen and pretty quickly your thumb is off the control. Invariably this happens at exactly the wrong time in any game.
I didn’t realize just how bad a gaming platform the iPhone was until I found one of my all-time favorite games in the App Store – Resident Evil 4. I have this game for both the PC (where it’s OK) and the Wii (where it’s fantastic) and was looking forward to playing it when on the move. Big mistake.
While the game itself is just as compelling and offers the same amazing immersive experience as it does on the other platforms, it’s an absolute nightmare to use. It’s not that there’s one big problem with the UI. It’s more like death by a thousand cuts where all the small issues come together to make the game feel like, well, work.
Now, you might be thinking that it’s unfair of me to compare the iPhone to consoles. OK, well how does it stack up against say the Nintendo DS or PSP?
Well, since both of these devices have dedicated controls, it means that these devices have an automatic advantage over the iPhone. Sure, the iPhone has a better screen, better touch screen, a nicer, more compact form factor, and an accelerometer. But that still leaves the on-screen controls, which suck. And as such, the gaming experience sucks.
OK, I’ll admit that some games work pretty well on the iPhone. I don’t mind killing a few minutes playing Bejeweled 2, and some of the games that make use of the accelerometer (the thing that knows when you tilt the device) are OK. But there’s nothing that feels groundbreaking in terms of being “mind sticky” like Tetris or Asteroids.
In fact, I see the App Store gaming mentality being the same as that of Facebook games … you’re constantly playing musical chairs with games, moving from game to game. The only differences are that on the iPhone you’re mostly playing against yourself, and a new game means giving Apple more money.
OK, I’m off to play Resident Evil 4 on the Wii …