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Peter’s Self-Imposed Q&A: Is the iPad really a viable gaming platform?

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Greetings, readers! As Dave explained yesterday, we’ve decided to run a weekly ‘write about whatever you want, as long as it’s related to video games’ column on GM. Me, I managed to secure the Wednesday slot, where I’ll be answering a self-question (it’s a word, look it up) each week. This time it’s about gaming on Apple’s tablet, in good and bad.

Like it or not, there’s no getting around the fact that the iPad is an incredibly popular tablet, especially when it comes to video games. Unfortunately this is also where its quirks and kinks reveal themselves. They’re things most will likely never notice if they only use the device for more serious things (work, surfing, reading etc.), and while none are downright game breaking (see what I did there?), I still feel a need to address them. It’s not all negative though, as there is a lot to like about playing games on an iPad, but… let’s begin with the negative, because then it can only go up from there (right?).

I’ve played a lot of games across many different genres on my iPad 2, from physics-based puzzlers to RPGs, racers, platformers, time management, and of course everyone’s favorite time sink, runners. None of them ran sluggish or crashed, and while most clearly benefited from the large screen, the opposite was sadly true for certain titles. Quite often to the point where a game simply wasn’t worth the hassle caused by the control scheme coupled with the size of your device. Imagine playing Temple Run, where you have to swipe and tilt to control the on-screen action, on a 9.7″ tablet? Definitely less than optimal, in my experience.

Temple Run

Tilt that iPad! Tilt it good!

Now, I’m not saying that developers shouldn’t use tilt controls in iOS games, because they do have their place and iPhone/iPod Touch users likely won’t have any issues. But remember, there are tablet users among the Apple fans too, and more and more are using an iPad to play games – including runners – so alternate controls would be nice; maybe ‘hold the left/right side of the screen’ instead of tilting? Then we would have the best of both worlds: a large screen and a functional control scheme. Ah, if only!

It’s not all bad when tilting is involved, even on a big bulky iPad, however. Most racing games, for instance, tend to get it right. No multi-gesture nonsense, just a few on-screen buttons and screen tilting to steer; in some cases, you can even forego motion controls entirely and switch to digital or analog. When driving fast cars or other vehicles, I often found tilting to be the better option (especially if the sensitivity can be adjusted). Steering with on-screen buttons didn’t really do it for me, for some reason.

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Slingshot Racing and Real Racing 3

Aside from the controls, and no matter how much fun driving a large noisy car down a dirt road or asphalt track is, I do tend to prefer top-down racers like Slingshot Racing more than the likes of Real Racing 3 on my iPad. Probably in no small part due to fact that racers from my early youth included R.C. Pro-Am and Rock n’ Roll Racing, instead of Need For Speed (yup, I’m old). Gotta love the nostalgia factor, and it seems quite a few iOS developers are with me on that. Think I’m exaggerating? Well, maybe a bit… unless you look at the ‘platformer’ category. Go ahead, I’ll continue when you return.

See what I mean? A staggering amount of 2D platformers in the app store have embraced the increasingly popular pixel art style. Some have even utilized the old-school design in terms of gameplay, by bringing along a brutally punishing difficulty and funky chiptune music. One of the more recent examples of this would of course be Meganoid 2, a game that will kick your ass by shoving hidden spikes up you-know-where, along with some serious precision platforming requirements. Such a game wouldn’t be much fun with terrible controls, and like most – although certainly not all – 2D iOS platformers, it plays surprisingly well on an iPad.

meganoid2

SNAKE!

The on-screen buttons may take some getting used to and it’ll never be quite as comfortable as playing it on a smaller device. An iPhone can almost be held like a GameBoy Advance after all, while a tablet, well, let’s just say most will likely have to spend some time adjusting. You do get the benefit of a much larger screen though, which helped a lot whenever I had to quickly make sense of all the on-screen mayhem, during a chaotic action title. Not sure I could do that on a smaller device, with certain parts of the screen constantly obscured by my fingers pressing buttons in a frenzied panic, but who knows? For the time being, I’m quite content playing such games on my iPad – now that the adjustment period is over.

So with comfortability, on-screen and tilt controls dealt with, what potential issues remains with gaming on an iPad? Why, the gyroscope (or gyro sensor, if you will) of course! No, really, it’s not just a gimmicky hardware addition. Don’t tell me you haven’t played Zen Bound® 2? Boy are you ever missing out. It’s one of the best puzzlers I’ve ever played, plus it lacks any kind of in-game timer. Never understood why solving a puzzle should be stressful on top of being challenging to figure out. Anyway, this control scheme (in lack of a better description) works just fine on my iPad 2 – at least, in the games I tried. Pretty certain the likes of air-Draw would be a pain to use on a tablet though, but… it’s not a game, so that’s besides the point.

deadspace

What’s that, you need my help? Sorry, iPad battery’s drained.

Battery life is usually a problem when using resource heavy apps on a tablet, and from what I’ve experienced with my iPad 2, Apple’s hardware is no exception. Not to the point where it drops to a single digit percentage charge after playing Angry Birds for an hour or two, mind you, but fire up more demanding titles like Infinity Blade II or Dead Space™, and you’ll start to notice the drain. Obviously this is less of an issue if you use the device exclusively for games, but really, who does that? I often pair my bluetooth keyboard with it to get some writing done, when I’d rather type from the comfort of my couch than slouch in front of my PC. This brings me to another benefit of playing video games on it: multitasking. While you can do a lot of the same non-gaming things on an iPhone, certain things – like editing documents, writing emails and surfing the web – is undeniably easier on the larger screen of a tablet. Come to think of it, is more screen space ever a bad thing? Doubtful.

Time to wrap things up, and as those who didn’t just skip to this paragraph have likely noticed, apart from a few kinks with tilt and on-screen controls, I thoroughly enjoy playing games on my iPad, meaning the answer is a resounding “yes”. Would I get an equal level of satisfaction from playing the same games on an iPhone? I have no idea, and since that thing is ridiculously overpriced here, we’ll likely never know. Besides, this is about exploring the iPad as a viable gaming platform, not the iPhone. For some reason, a lot seem to find that tablets are too bulky for virtual entertainment. Well, guess what: I’m of a slightly different opinion, as has hopefully been made clear over the last 1000 or so words!

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Now if you’ll excuse me, I believe my iPad is calling for yet another playthrough of Gemini Rue. But before I do that, I’m curious: what’s your favorite iOS game, if any? Let me know in the comments, and I’ll see ya next week with another self-imposed Q&A!

  • http://tetromino.wordpress.com/ Square Tetromino

    well, although people’s concept of a gaming platform differ, tablets in general have already become a major player. some so-called “gamers” call it casual but as a person who finds “gamer” as a non-valid form of self-identification, i guess i can safely ignore that claim. Anyone in the trio has an Android tablet? It would be nice to see the Android version of this.

    • http://www.buysomeindiegames.com/ Thomas Faust

      I actually do, but I have to read through this whole wall of text first…

  • http://www.digitallydownloaded.net/ Matt S

    Just to speak to your conclusion – I know that I don’t play games on my iPhone because I need to carry my iPad with me everywhere for work, and I certainly prefer it as my portable gaming platform as well.

    I can’t imagine playing something like XCOM on my iPhone. It’s just… inconceivable.