The wild and wonderful world of iOS gaming

I think I made my feelings about the iPhone 4 pretty clear two weeks ago. In short, I’m enamored with the device, but I wish iTunes had a better, more user-friendly interface. I’ve discovered something else since then. Beyond being just a solid smart phone, the iPhone is a surprisingly capable gaming platform.

Now, I’ve never been much for handheld gaming. I got my mom to buy me a GameBoy when I was 13, but that thing quickly found its way to the bottom of a drawer. I watched with interest as Nintendo unveiled the DS and Sony the PSP, amazed at the graphics fidelity those small devices could achieve, but neither product really seemed worth the investment to me. Why should I blow well over a hundred bucks on a handheld gaming device if I didn’t feel the urge to game on the go that often? It’s not like I commute to work by bus or train. Most of the time, I’m sitting in my apartment in front of a perfectly good gaming PC. Especially in recent years, I’ve felt pretty far removed from Nintendo’s and Sony’s target markets.

In my darker hours, I also caught myself playing primitive Java games on my previous cell phones. Those were more curiosities to kill time while I was sick in bed than anything, however, and I never had any fun playing them. (In retrospect, perhaps being bedridden with a fever had something to do with that.)

Meanwhile, I had looked on from the sidelines as Apple did an amusing 180: almost begrudgingly allowing third-party apps on the iPhone and iPod touch, then, two years later, touting the iPod touch as an honest-to-goodness gaming device with "hundreds of games." I wasn’t sold on the idea of playing real games with a touch-screen display, a tilt sensor, and no buttons, but I certainly saw game developers were gravitating toward the platform. Too bad I was stuck with a semi-dumbphone during all that time.

In the three weeks or so since getting the iPhone 4, I’ve finally gotten to try iOS gaming first hand, and  have to say I’ve had tremendous fun. In fact, I’ve caught myself sitting at my computer playing games on the iPhone, completely ignoring my computer screens. Those titles include, in no particular order:

 

Monster Dash by Halfbrick Studios. Price: 99 cents.

This may be the iPhone game I’ve sunk the most hours into so far. On the surface, Monster Dash is a simple platformer based on the same concept as Canabalt: take a running character as far as you can while dodging precipices, walls, and other deadly obstacles. Halfbrick has enhanced the experience with guns, zombies, great pixel art, a delightful soundtrack, and plenty of polish, making Monster Dash both catchy and extremely addictive. The controls couldn’t be simpler, either: tap the right side of the screen to shoot and the left side to jump.

Doom Classic by id Software. Price: $6.99.

I got id’s port of the original Doom on sale for $1.99 during Quakecon because, well, it’s Doom. Come on! The best part about this port is that it looks, feels, and sounds pretty much exactly like the original DOS game—just with a choice of three touch-based control schemes. I like the one pictured above, with my left thumb controlling forward, backward, and sideways movement, while my right thumb controls orientation. There was a bit of a learning curve, but I can now circle-strafe and gore imps with reckless abandon. The best part? I can play for a couple minutes, then hit the home button and slip the iPhone back into my pocket. The game will let me resume exactly where I left off.

Fruit Ninja by Halfbrick Studios. Price: 99 cents.

Downloaded at the suggestion of no51 from the comment thread for my last blog post, Fruit Ninja was my first iPhone game… and I don’t suspect I’ll be uninstalling it any time soon. Playing Fruit Ninja basically involves swiping your finger across the iPhone’s touch screen to slice fruit that bounce into view. The more fruit you slice at once, the more points you get.

In the Zen mode, a timer counts down while you scramble to score as many points as possible. In the Classic mode, you must avoid bombs while slicing every fruit that appears on screen; miss three, and the game’s over. My girlfriend and I have played the Zen mode almost compulsively, swapping the iPhone back and forth to see who can score the most points. I think it’s something about the noise of the fruit being sliced and the general graphical style.

Trundle by mobile bros. Price: free. (Unlimited version is $1.99.)

Trundle is probably the most original of the four—and definitely the most difficult. Playing involves carefully tilting the iPhone and tapping the screen to guide a little… gear thing… across a level past puzzles, precipices, and beautiful background art. I should probably grab the Unlimited edition eventually. Something about the game’s art style and music just strikes a chord with me. Getting past some of those puzzles can be surprisingly tricky, though.

I mentioned some of these games while chatting with a friend of mine, who pointed out similarities with more elaborate titles for the PSP and Nintendo DS. Thing is, those games seem to be priced an order of magnitude higher than most iPhone games, and the hardware required to play them doesn’t really double as a general communication device. Simply put, I’m going to be carrying a phone in my pocket anyway, but I don’t want to purchase and lug around a secondary device just for games. I certainly don’t want to blow 30 bucks on a casual game, either.

In a way, iPhone titles are similar to the many free Flash games that have cropped up on the web over the years. However, the ones I’ve seen so far are much more polished than their web-based cousins. Perhaps that’s because developers are free to charge a small fee, allowing them (hopefully) to turn a profit instead of having to rely on often-unrewarding ad services and shoulder web-hosting costs. Paying one or two dollars for a good casual game seems like a no-brainer to me; it’s like grabbing a candy bar or a bottle of pop at the 7-Eleven, but with much more protracted enjoyment. I pay an insignificant amount of money, I get a fun little pastime to play whenever and wherever I feel like, and the developer gets paid. That all sounds pretty great to me.

In fact, just yesterday, two other acquaintances of mine released their own iOS game. While that title has a little too much crude content to recommend on a family-friendly site like TR, it just shows how open the platform is to indie programmers, as well. I’ve gotta hand it to Apple—and, of course, the many iOS developers out there—for turning a fancy smart phone and a fancy MP3 player into fantastic little platforms for casual gaming.

Comments closed
    • A_Pickle
    • 9 years ago

    There aren’t many games out there for Windows Mobile. The few that are are pretty cool, but nothing like the real-time 3D offered by Android devices and (groan) iPhones.

    That said, I think Worms: Armageddon on my phone is pretty awesome… Solitaire is actually quite nice, there’s a neat game called Meon Lite which is a fun puzzle game, and then there’s actually a build of Age of Empires II for Windows Mobile. Do want. 😀

    • WaltC
    • 9 years ago

    /[

      • gtoulouzas
      • 9 years ago

      Good advice, but there always exist situations that are not conducive to book reading and lend themselves more easily to simple, mindless fun. I don’t see why you have to make a distinction, as if one activity just _has_ to be pursued at the expense of the other. Granted, our spare time is not indefinite, but I think we can reasonably expect gaming and reading to occupy different portions of it.

        • Skrying
        • 9 years ago

        You’re right. It doesn’t take much digging beyond the surface of these posts to realize how strong the computer enthusiast bias is. They dislike Apple and they’ve classically also disliked Nintendo. It’s not very surprising then that they don’t see the fun mobile gaming has.

        There’s more than a few times I rather play a simple game than load up Starcraft 2. This is especially true when I just need to kill a few minutes between classes. This is true for a book as well. I personally do not like reading in short bursts, I’m never engaged with the book that way.

        In fact, reading is something I specifically set time aside to do. I don’t think I’m unique in this regard when it comes to readers.

      • YeuEmMaiMai
      • 9 years ago

      that would require that the person in question actually knows how to read something other than Apple PR BS……

    • Da_Boss
    • 9 years ago

    I think Hero of Sparta 2 is the best example of iPhone’s gaming prowess. It’ll run you 6 bucks, but it’s well worth it. Amazing graphics and surprisingly deep mechanics make it one of my favorites.

    If you’re into MMORPGs, Pocket Legends is totally the game to get. I’ve definitely drained my phone on many occasions just playing that. It’s free but getting all the content will run you about 6 dollars. Again, very much worth it.

    • blastdoor
    • 9 years ago

    I find myself playing chess, Monopoly, and Battle At Sea on my iphone more than just about anything else. These are not technologically complex games but they are a lot of fun and a great way to pass the time.

    • esterhasz
    • 9 years ago

    haha, I haven’t played a game in months but playing Zelda (Minish Cap) on GBAdroid sure beats angry zombies or whatever…

    • gerryg
    • 9 years ago

    I like “Ingenious”. It’s basically a board game, but it’s the game I’ve played the most. Partly because the games are quick and don’t always turn out the same way. I also loved Plants vs. Zombies, but once I finished the main path through I lost steam and haven’t played it as much, though I would say it definitely has replay value. I usually get back to various Tower Defense games and try new ones. I just bought Carcassone and Settlers of Catan, so those should keep me busy for a while. My youngest son tries everything but spends most of his time on Pocket God.

    • cegras
    • 9 years ago

    wrong reply :>

    • holophrastic
    • 9 years ago

    So, you’re playing games typical of 1992. Good job. If you told me that for $400 I could buy every single game from before 1995, on a hand-held gaming console, I’d remind you that bigger is better when it comes to video, audio, and interface. I can’t tell you how cool it is being able to cover 25% of the game every time I need to touch it. And I can’t tell you how great the user interface is when all you can do is three or five basic gestures.

    Even the first gameboy had more buttons than that.

    Enjoy your game. I’m glad you can. I’ve grown up since tehy were introduced to me. I’m interested in a little more now.

    But wait, next up will be movies for your iphone. Excellent feature films from 1982, now in HD! Still not enough pixels to actually be HD, and still compressed so much that it’s worse than SD, and the original wasn’t HD, and the film has static built-in, but you’ll call it HD just the same.

    • End User
    • 9 years ago

    I’m having fun with Chopper 2 on the iPad with the iPhone 4 as a controller.

    This post just reminded me to buy Small World for the iPad.

    • sweatshopking
    • 9 years ago

    I’m happy that you like your iphone games. I would say however, that to compare them to DS or psp games is not exactly accurate. As somebody who has an Ipod touch, and a jailbroken one at that, I must say i find 99% of hte games crap. People complain about the wii? this this 100X more crap vs the good. the only games on it are extreme casual, and to compare them to a high quality DS game isn’t fair. Nevermind the 3ds.

      • YeuEmMaiMai
      • 9 years ago

      well he’s gotta make himself feel good somehow……

    • cegras
    • 9 years ago

    Author abhors all models of mobile gaming, says he has always hated it, but the iphone magically turns him around.

    All the games you listed have pretty much zero depth or are the newest physics puzzle fad. I tried playing these games, and it’s pretty much impossible to sink meaningful time into because of the zero replay value. The worst part is that when you’re done you get the sour aftertaste that even day dreaming would have been more productive, let alone playing some game on a desktop.

      • derFunkenstein
      • 9 years ago

      yes, because I need all my gaming to be productive.

        • jdaven
        • 9 years ago

        What?!? Gaming isn’t productive?!

          • derFunkenstein
          • 9 years ago

          It is for cegras.

        • cegras
        • 9 years ago

        No, the point is that playing all these retarded mini games doesn’t even help fill in the time. The moment you quit these types of games you, like I said, get the feeling that daydreaming would have been a better use of time, because you feel like an idiot once you’re done. I don’t know about you, but I feel like the utmost of simpletons upon playing games of that breathtaking inanity for any period of time longer than 5 minutes.

        These games are incredibly shallow (tapping the screen to jump on a ever faster moving sidescroller???) or simply boring nth variations on the latest physics puzzle fad. Thinking about your research or even attempting to read on a bumpy metro ride is better for your eyes than tracking fast moving tiny objects on a screen that still needs to be held pretty close to your face to resolve any meaningful detail. God, that ninja fruit slicing game is so inane I think sleeping is a better use of the 10 minutes I would be entertained playing it.

        But hot damn, I would play that traffic / blocks game on the iphone4 forever. Strange how Cyril didn’t talk about that one, a true cross platform game that is fun to play, not an iphone4 tech demo.

        Nice to see you again, jdaven. Couldn’t take the logic I buried you under in the previous iphone4 debate? That why you’re being a yes man instead?

          • Skrying
          • 9 years ago

          Damn. All that time playing Tetris seems wasted. Hell, all that time playing WoW feels wasted. Same with HL2. You’ve really convinced me. You and were awesome logic. Damn. Pushing buttons. That’s all I’ve been doing this entire time! Darn you game developers! You’ve been getting me all these years!!

            • cegras
            • 9 years ago

            FPS sure are a waste of time, but I do it because you can reliably blow an hour or so on it while engaging in something a little higher level than a finger based tech demo. I rarely play single players, but good ones like HL2 are more story than anything, which isn’t so bad considering you are entertained with a plot and character development .. like a book! I tolerated Crysis for its graphics, because seriously, it looked great, but I got bored near the end. Bioshock was the last game I really liked, because overall it was a complete experience.

            MMO’s? 100% waste of time. God, how I wish I could get the time I wasted back in Grade 10 on MMOs. Tetris? Yeah, that too.

            Games ARE a waste of time. If I had more willpower, I’d probably be studying or something instead. But I acknowledge that they aren’t bad once in a while for breaks. Actually, I rarely play games these days except with friends, because it’s a social activity then.

            • mthguy
            • 9 years ago

            I would like to just point out that almost all of your logic relies on no logic at all, but simply your opinion and logical arguments are only as good as the axises on which you base them and any arguent in which there is no agreed upon set of axises is in fact inane, which appears to be exactly what you detest, so why exactly you are engaging in this is baffling at best to me.

            brush up on your “logic” before rambling endlessly about you fanboy opinions on a blog just such that you can argue with people whom you don’t agree.

            • cegras
            • 9 years ago

            I’m just expressing and defending my self-consistent opinion. You can’t really argue about absolute rights or wrongs with this, I’m sure there are people that like to cut fruits in half for significant periods of time…

            I just don’t like to.

            • mthguy
            • 9 years ago

            It simply irritated me when you seemed to flaunt your “logic” and spouted your “truths” as though the were abject, and not subject. you were the one talking about logical conclusions, and i just thought it to be the right thing to do and let you know that you weren’t using logic at all.

            • cegras
            • 9 years ago

            I don’t think I flaunted my logic anywhere in this discussion. If you’re talking about the debate we had about steve jobs somewhere else … then yes, I tried to.

            • derFunkenstein
            • 9 years ago

            Opinions are defended with logic and reasoning. Not a bunch of retarded ranting.

    • YeuEmMaiMai
    • 9 years ago

    wow u can run doom on your iphone 4 big deal………..lol I can run doom on a old N81 8GB along with Blood and a whole host of other MS DOS games

      • notuptome2004
      • 9 years ago

      Yes that may be true but your old sucker wont run Rage coming to the iPhone and iPod touch and iPad later this year

    • tanker27
    • 9 years ago

    Nothing beats the Madden for the iPad. Yes its a little steep in price but its down right fun as hell. Drawing routes with your finger is absolutely the funnest and funniest crap ever.

    I love gaming on my iPad and iPhone. My only complaint it does get uncomfortable after extended play times. I also have to say that any portable gaming platform became uncomfortable over time for me.

    • ssidbroadcast
    • 9 years ago

    A friend and I are making an iPhone/iPad game together. Should be done around November. We’re working really hard to make it good.

      • derFunkenstein
      • 9 years ago

      Review codes for TR? 😛

    • JungCasey
    • 9 years ago

    words with friends, air conrol and diner dash were the only games on the iphone I payed more than once or twice.

    I had a pretty serious addiction to words.

    Dumped the iPhone for a Vibrant and now slowing getting addicted to wordfeud.

    Radient is pretty fun too.

    • derFunkenstein
    • 9 years ago

    I would like to recommend Final Fantasy I as well. It’s a really great port of the original, though it does use the slightly “dumber” gameplay tweaks made for the GBA version. The graphics are great, easily besting even Final Fantasy Origins. Plus, it’s Final Fantasy, what more could you want?

    And then, of course, Words with Friends. If you have any friends with iPhones or iPod Touches it’s like a Scrabble sort of thing that can be played any time. And if you don’t have any friends with iPhones or iPods, you can play random strangers, too.

    • 5150
    • 9 years ago

    *grabs popcorn*

      • 5150
      • 9 years ago

      *throws down popcorn in disgust*

        • dashbarron
        • 9 years ago

        *Sees once-recyled popcorn and decides to nibble a bit*

          • A_Pickle
          • 9 years ago

          ಠ_ಠ

    • adisor19
    • 9 years ago

    If you haven’t tried Angry Birds yet, you have to. It’s one of the most addictive and fun games out there.

    Adi

      • Cyril
      • 9 years ago

      Actually, I did try Angry Birds, but I couldn’t get into it. Just didn’t have very much fun playing.

        • adisor19
        • 9 years ago

        Wow, you’re the first person that i know of who didn’t like Angry Birds 😮

        Adi

          • YellaChicken
          • 9 years ago

          Agree with Adi on that, I love Angry Birds and I don’t even have an iPhone, I play on the wife’s phone (whenever she’s not got her head buried in it already)

            • crose
            • 9 years ago

            Oh, wow!? YellaCHICKEN loves Angry Birds.. amazing.. other stunning and completely surprising facts you would like to share?

            • ludi
            • 9 years ago

            Folks, this is why you shouldn’t mix four bags of PopRox with a Red Bull.

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