Handheld Gaming Platforms

August 3rd, 2009  |  Published in games

I’ve been trying to like games on the iPhone since, well … I guess since before I had one, when I had an iPod touch. With a few exceptions, I haven’t liked most of the ones I’ve played: they take forever to load, if the phone isn’t in a freshly rebooted state they flake out, and there are weird little hiccups and stutters now and then. Where mobile games are concerned, I’m after something I can turn on and play to kill a few minutes. I don’t want to think about rebooting my phone to get the best performance out of one.

This weekend I got a hankering for a good racing game in the mode of Wipeout and downloaded a few likely candidates from the app store. Bleh. One wouldn’t load more than once out of three attempts after a restart, one had problems keeping up the frame rate (even after a restart), and both had solid four-star average reviews.

I decided to dust off my Nintendo DS and Mario Kart DS. Here’s me on Mario Kart DS almost four years ago:

I’ve played kart games on Playstation, but they’ve never been quite right. The developers (in the games I’ve seen) seem to have decided that since the kart genre is supposed to be forgiving and more “fun” than “intense,” it’s o.k. to just slow everything down instead of working out better physics. It’s a cognitive block they’re dealing with … like they’ve forgotten they’re in control of the game world, so they can mess with the models. The resulting mess has always seemed like “Wipeout or Need for Speed, only using non-hovering cars with throttle governors.” That sucks.

Mario Kart seems to get the notion that the inherent unreality of, you know, heat-seeking turtle shell missiles and the ability to transmogrify into a gigantic flying bullet that travels at high speeds and knocks over everything in its path pretty much shatters the need to bother with realistic crash and bump models. And it understands that to most of us, traveling in an open cab about six inches off the ground seems really, really fast. So Mario Kart feels fast, and sort of intense, but also fun and forgiving.

So Mario Kart, especially from my aging perspective, seems like just about the right thing to scratch the Wipeout itch: feels fast; has crazy, bendy tracks; has competitors who can lob projectiles. Missing: cool techno soundtrack.

To bring things back to the iPhone, Mario Kart has one other thing: When played on a Nintendo DS, it loads up in little time, and it doesn’t exceed the resources of the machine it’s running on (because its programmers knew how much of any given thing (available cycles, memory) the game can count on).

Not to totally slag the iPhone as a game platform. I enjoy simple puzzle games like Wurdle. And I found another pretty nice quick pickup sort of game:


Moon Drop by Nimblebit is a variation on the classic lunar lander genre. It’s simple, it loads quickly, it’s fun, and it has a Twitter-driven leaderboard that’s pretty cool for being such a simple, cheap ($0.99) app. Most importantly, it doesn’t push the iPhone at all. It just works.

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