Thursday, October 22, 2009

This is the "Games" page of my iPhone -- Tier 1.

Why Tier 1, you may ask? I have so many games that they must be ordered by personal ranking. I'm finicky.

But it's definitely something that got me thinking as I looked over my collection. I was after all, one of the many people who scoffed when Apple announced their interest in the portable gaming space. Then again, I've been watching competitor after competitor try and dethrone Nintendo from their pedestal for 20 years now to no avail. It's something everyone says. Paraphrased:

"We're going for the throat of (insert current portable Nintendo platform), and we will beat them at their own game."

Then they fail.

Something's different here though. And if my first page of game apps is any indication, Apple is gaining a momentum that may have a shot at making Nintendo lose some sleep. Sony as well.

Its merits as a worthy adversary in the mobile phone space (notice how every new smartphone released nowadays is touted as an 'iPhone killer'?) notwithstanding, every day, or should I say every week, the device proves its mettle more and more. Graphically, it's on par with a PSP, and it's multi-touch screen gives it the unique functionality of a DS. It used to be that a mobile phone version of a game would be simplified, or cut down in some way,but having played the PSP and iPhone versions of Need for Speed: Undercover, the latter version is superior, somehow edging out the established system in terms of visuals and control.

But why just visuals and control as outstanding points?

Control can be a huge issue with any portable gaming platform. Either schemes have to be shrunk, compromised, or changed altogether--and in each of these cases the gamer ends up feeling the loss more then the developer. Thankfully, due to the multi-touch nature of the iPhone's display along with its built in tilt sensor (akin to a wii remote or SIXAXIS pad) anything from Rhythm Action, to Racing, to even adventure games are possible on the system with enough creativity. While it isn't likely that we'll see a fighting game on the iPhone at any point (they simply demand too much precision and timing for something like a touch screen), the fact that it handles every other genre reasonably well, even sports titles, is quite a feat.

Visuals are the backbone as well, aside from the high definition display that takes up 90% of the phone's real estate, it's hardware makes it competitive with the PSP, which means it edges out the DS visually by default. There's a bit of Mac tech sneaking around inside, and its evident everywhere, from navigating the interface to running the programs themselves. Better yet, the machine continues to become incrementally more powerful as time goes on, and very much like a PC, as the hardware gets better, the games do as well. Can you say having your cake and eating it too?

The App Store, its means of digital distribution, was also a step in the right direction that everyone was also skeptical about. Simply put, having the entire library available at your fingertips, merely a push away not only ensures that the vast majority of the games on the iPhone are cheap due to the lack of physical media (most fall within the $5-$10 dollar range) but they rival the other handhelds' feature sets. I just purchased Rock Band last night and I already feel like it's a more complete, feature rich game than the PSP's Rock Band: Unplugged. Things like online multiplayer, individualized instrument selection, and better priced downloadable music in the store are things the PSP version was inexplicably lacking, and the iPhone version has this for $30 dollars less than what that version goes for. Assassin's Creed is another great example, as the flawed Altair's Chronicles for the DS recieved a much needed visual and mechanic boost during its conversion over.

It's such a force to be reckoned with (Akin to Steam for PC gaming) that I can't help but feel like Sony's PSPgo is an answer to the iPhone as a whole, what with it's download only model, emphasis on the Playstation Network for distribution, and forthcoming "PSP Minis" service, bite sized games for a couple dollars or so. Even Nintendo is showing around their (lukewarm) DSiWare service for the DS, with bite sized games to download as well.

Did Apple get it right? While I can't see consoles committing to this route (or transitioning as smoothly to it over time), I think it's perfect for the portable space.

This was meant to be a small piece, but I couldn't help but think these things when I was arranging the icons this morning. Through the iPhone--and by extension the iPod Touch--Apple not only manged to create a great portable system that can stand tall next to Nintendo and Sony, but in some ways, outdoes their competitors where it counts. It has the base functionality of the DS with the graphical horsepower of the PSP, and its distribution model is fast, easier to manage, and vastly cheaper than the competition while offering practically the same experience.

Color me impressed.

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