On the Small Screen: 2012-2013

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Ever since the iPad mini was first announced this year people have speculated how viable a gaming device it might be compared to the full-size iPad or iPhone. I’ll admit that was one of the reasons I ended up getting one this Christmas, but my final opinion on it is kind of mixed as far as gaming goes.

First off, the fact that I decided to get one instead of a Wii U doesn’t really signify that I think it’s the better gaming device overall. I just needed it more right now because I upgraded from an iPad 1, which was struggling to run under iOS5 (it can’t upgrade to iOS6). I have a lot of other reasons to own one, but gaming is still a pretty appealing one.

Let me first say however that in general, the mini has renewed the feeling I had when I first got an iPad — of having most of the functionality of a laptop right in my hands. It’s the feeling of being able to boot up that functionality instantly and not having to sit it in my lap all the time. The mini takes this even further because I can walk around with the web, newspaper articles, and books, with real screen real estate, in one hand. That Kindle commercial showing all the benefits of that device’s smaller form factor (compared to a regular iPad) is exactly why I got a mini.

One of the peculiarities of iOS gaming is that it’s basically one software platform operating on at least two different hardware platforms. This is unique from pretty much all other platforms that run games save computer gaming. Same games work better on one form factor, such as the iPhone, and others better on another, such as the iPad.

Before I got a mini, I played most games on my iPhone. You’d think the screen real estate advantage would make the iPad better for most everything, but for me personally, Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery is virtually the only iOS game I preferred to play on the iPad. Generally, I think three main genres work better on tablets than on smartphones: adventure games, strategy games, and turn-based RPGs — really any genre mostly dealing with clicking on stuff.

In my experience the worst games for the iPad have been basically any scrolling action game that requires you to touch all over the screen. Examples include Infinity Blade and various shmups. These are games where you have to simultaneously hold up the device, keep your hands near the edges of the screen for the main inputs, and tap all over the screen for other inputs. These work better the less screen real estate you have to deal with, so I prefer playing them on my iPhone. The iPad mini does a little bit better in this regard. I can play those games well enough on the mini, but likely not as well as on an iPhone.

What the mini really improves my experience with over the main iPad though is most other action games. Runners in particular like Punch Quest and Rayman Run work very well. For some reason I didn’t like the way the control layout in Super Crate Box worked out on the iPad but am much better at the game on the mini. For some reason I’ve also found myself playing EDGE and EDGE Extended more since getting a mini.

Honestly though what I really want to play on this thing are RPGs. Here I’d probably go into another rant on how many DS and PSP RPGs I wish had iOS versions. Right now I’m content with just Final Fantasy Tactics, but I’m definitely keeping an eye on Final Fantasy V. It’d be really nice to see, say, Dragon Quest get an iOS port. I’m pretty disappointed that two very good original iOS RPGs — Undercroft and The Quest, are iPhone-only. I also hope an iOS version of Legend of Grimrock really does come out one day.

Pound-for-pound though, my main handheld gaming device right now is still my 3DS, and that’s mostly due to the software library. I mostly keep my iPad at home, so if I’m going to play games on it, they’re probably gonna be games I wanna actually sit down with instead of just time-wasters. And that’s still the main problem with iOS overall if you ask me. It’s still lacking good, original examples of the genres I noted earlier were best for tablets, at least examples as good as say, Fire Emblem Awakening and Etrian Odyssey IV, which are coming to the 3DS in North America in March.

BULLETS:

  • I think this is my new jam right now: http://t.co/bdZxyQaE
  • The PC/Mac version of EDGE, which includes all the levels from both the iOS games, is $3 during the Steam holiday sale: http://t.co/FzzoOmdN
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