Classic brands vs a new breed of iPhone games

Chris Caceres · February 12, 2010 · Short URL:

Big brand game developers like EA and Sega just aren't getting it when it comes to porting to iPhone


iPhone games have come a ways.  Over the past year or so, we've seen the rise of rich 3D shooter games like Gameloft's NOVA, or wild air combat flying games like SGN's Skies of Glory.  There's no denying the iPhone has some serious gaming capabilities.  And as some of us iPhone owners begin to adopt it as a gaming device, we're bound to start seeing some really great titles.  

What's interesting is a lot of these really advanced games have come from new developers, like Gameloft, ngmoco, or SGN - just naming a few off the top of my head, and I'm sure there's plenty more out there.  These game makers are fresh and new.  They are startups building games specifically for the iPhone, optimized for everything the iPhone has to offer.  

But what happens when an old school developer like Sega, EA, Activision or any big name brand decides to make a game for the iPhone?  Well, as of yet I've seen awkward controls.  

For example, when Sega tried to port its classic Sonic the Hedgehog game to the iPhone, it decided to put an on screen directional pad and buttons that you tapped which resulted in awkward controls that sometimes caused your fingers to cover up the screen you were trying to play on.  A controller was made in mind for a game to be played on a separate screen...not a screen where you are actually playing the game on and touching. (image to left)


Or let's jump to EA's Madden football game.  Sure the game had great 3d graphics and audio, but were the controls appropriate for the device?  Once again, the old school developer decided to put a directional pad on the screen and several confusing buttons you had to tap in order to make your player bust some moves. (image to right)

The question I'd like to ask is why not make use of some of the iPhones features, like the accelerometer for example, to make a more pleasurable gaming experience?  Sonic could have worked great if you had to tilt your phone in order to move the hedgehog left or right, and perhaps an occasional tap to make the character jump or spin.  Or in Madden, why not use the accelerometer to have your player run forward or sideways, it works well with racing games, why wouldn't it work well on a 3d football game?  

On the other hand, you take a look at the new developers and notice much richer gameplay that makes use of all the iPhone's features.  Take Lima Sky's Doodle Jump for example (image on left).  The game is a simple 2d arcade style game where you have to get your character to keep jumping as high as it can go.  You control his left and right movements by tilting your phone, and if you need to shoot at something you give your screen a quick tap anywhere, not just in some specific button drawn on there.  Simple game, but the excellent gameplay makes it addicting.

Or ngmoco's Dropship (image to right).  Although the game requires you to use the touchscreen, you can literally touch anywhere on the screen.  It feels fluid and you move your thumb around to control the dropship which is constantly falling because of the real life gravity physics programmed into the game.  The game is addicting and one of those that makes you say, "wow, the iPhone is awesome for gaming."  

I can go on and on ranting about iPhone game developers and controls and how crappy old school ports are on the iPhone.  The whole reason for this commentary came from the excitement I had when hearing about Square Enix's port of Final Fantasy coming to the iPhone.  I was thinking, what a great idea, the game will be completely touch screen, you tap where you want your character to go etc., but instead I was disappointed to see this image of what appears to be a directional pad and a button on the screen.  No doubt, I'll still purchase the game just to experience a massive, classic RPG on my phone, but I won't be entirely surprised if I'm greatly disappointed by the controls of the game.  

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