The rise of the iPhone
As I previously noted in my 2009 predictions gambit not so long ago, the iPhone and iTouch were huge hits last year; a near-perfect balance of great features and must-have style marketing combining to create products few could resist. The iPhone might not have been hugely revolutionary, technically, but in terms of appeal, it really was an attractive item to own. But just why are they so attractive for you, the avid gamer? Let me guide you through just why you should care about Apple fledgling device. For the sake of brevity, I’ll be referring to just the iPhone but nearly everything is compatible with the iTouch.
The app store that was introduced to the iPhone last summer offers everything you could possibly need, ranging from social networking tools and of course games. Now admittedly not all games are wonderful, when there are so many to choose from (literally thousands) there are bound to be a few rotten eggs in the running. Games such as Super Monkey Ball are never going to match their GameCube equivalents, offering poorly calibrated controls which can ruin the enjoyment of the game. However for 4.99 GBP on your mobile phone, what did you expect? Its still not stopped 300,000 copies being sold in only three weeks, however.
Don’t ignore the free offerings, is my first tip. Games like Cube Runner may look like something you would have seen in the 1980s but what they lack in graphical ability, they more than make up for in terms of gameplay. And for free, how can you turn it down? Games such as Moto Chaser (a motorcycle racing game that relies on the iPhone's accelerometer for its controls) only costs 59p yet is great fun for a while, and certainly passes the time on a dull commute. As well as these independent offerings, there are also a wealth of game developers backing the format, with titles such as Crash Bandicoot Nitro Kart, Super Monkey Ball and even Sim City and Spore Origins. Spore Origins is particularly enjoyable to play, focusing on the cell phase of Spore. Electronic Arts certainly seem particularly keen to back the iPhone format and Sim City is a pretty faithful conversion considering the limited screen space on the iPhone. Even action games such as the Brothers in Arms series have been ported across, and a new Silent Hill game has just arrived on the scene. Neil Young, once head of EA Los Angeles' game development studios has been so confident of the format, he's even left EA to set up his own company, Ngmoco, devoted to iPhone game development and considering they have since released Doctor Awesome (a game that borrows from Trauma Center while still being rather unique) and Rolando (a truly brilliant platform game - think Locoroco with the tactile iPhone controls and arguably finesse, too). It was a wise move for Young.
One game that deserves a hearty mention is Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords, one of my favourite games of recent years. Think Bejewelled 2 combined with an RPG. It is priced a little high at 5.99 GBP, especially as it states it is only for one Chapter but its certainly going to be worth it. The game is a bit tricky to describe as really it just doesn’t sound as great on paper as it is in reality. Essentially we're offered a typical RPG story, but to fight you play a game of Bejewelled against a monster and can cast spells depending on the coloured gems that you destroy. It truly is deceptively addictive, and I can see it appealing to casual and hardcore gamers alike. It matches the iPhone format perfectly and everything is well-attuned to touch-based controls, unsurprising given that this was originally a DS game.
There are only really two weaknesses for the system at the moment. The lack of demoes is somewhat annoying, it would be nice to be able to try out all these games without spending money, some games do have ‘lite’ versions but not frequently enough. The iPhone also has odd controls due to its reliance on its touch-screen mechanics. However developers seem to be approaching this from a different angle and taking advantage of the accelerometer, and the fact it can almost be used like a Wiimote. In games such as Action Bowling this works brilliantly, as you just use your iPhone like a Wiimote to flick and spin the ball. Coming soon in 2009 is the racing game Days of Thunder, which promises to use the accelerometer for steering as well as accelerating. That's not forgetting the arrival of Metal Gear Solid Touch and Guitar Hero Rock Tour, as well as whatever independent developers may yet bring to the table. If nothing else, the format looks like it could be great for the return of the 'bedroom' coder', a breed of game maker once popular in the 1980s until it just became too expensive and difficult for one person to make a game by themselves.
With the iPhone SDK, all that's needed is 99 USD and an Apple Mac and anyone can have a go in theory - obviously assuming a good idea and programming knowledge is already there. Extending the gaming capabilities further, Demiforce is creating a client that will allow developers to create standardised leaderboards, friends lists and achievements. Not even the DS or PSP have been able to offer these facilities yet. Games are also easier to acquire than with the DS or PSP; no need to go to a shop or remember to pack that cartridge or UMD, just load up the app store and download a game onto your phone. Throw in the fact that as a mobile phone, the iPhone will almost always be carried around with you (making its owner a captive audience whether they know it or not) and the iPhone truly does have the potential to be a force to be reckoned with.