There’s a degree of at least partly-justifiable snobbery surrounding iOS devices such as the iPhone and iPod touch — an assumption that they’re not “proper” game platforms because they don’t have the words “Nintendo”, “Sony” or “Microsoft” emblazoned anywhere upon them, and that software for them is much cheaper than for aforementioned devices with “Nintendo”, “Sony” or “Microsoft” emblazoned upon them.
This is a flawed assumption. However, as I say, it is at least partly understandable given the meteoric popularity of titles such as the ubiquitous Angry Birds and all manner of other casual-friendly games. In many ways, iOS devices are the Wii of the handheld world, featuring a lot of casual games, a lot of shovelware and a surprising number of diamonds in the rough which it’s entirely possible that self-professed “hardcore” gamers will gloss over on the grounds that they’re “just mobile phone games”.
That in itself isn’t a negative thing, though; if you’re waiting for a bus/train/poo to fall out/tardy date/kettle to boil then these quick-fire, quick-play games are ideal. You can load up Bejeweled Blitz, play a game and post your score to Facebook in the amount of time it takes to make a cup of coffee. You can play a level of Angry Birds in the time it takes your toast to be toasted. If you’re as bad at Flight Control as I am you’ll have caused a hideous air traffic accident by the time you’ve finished a poo.
But here’s the key thing: iOS gaming isn’t just about this kind of game, but that’s where the flawed perception of it comes from. Take Square’s recently-released Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions, for example. This has attracted widespread bewilderment and criticism for its “unreasonable” £10.99 price point — but this is a game for which I paid £50 for an import version upon its original release 14 years ago (Christ, that makes me feel old — that game’s nearly half as old as I am), and whose PSP version released at £35. Okay, sure, you can grab it for less than a tenner from PSN now, but for a couple of extra quid you can get a version with new touchscreen controls — touchscreen controls that work extremely well with the game, I might add (yes, I caved and bought it — I love me some FFT) along with a ridiculous number of hours of gameplay. Final Fantasy Tactics is not a short game — so consider its £10.99 price point in terms of “price per hour” and you’ll find it a bit more reasonable.
At the other end of the pricing spectrum is the excellent (if poorly-translated) Zenonia series of action-JRPGs, the latest entry of which is completely free with a few optional microtransaction items available for those happy to pay some money or watch some ads. Zenonia is an excellent 16-bit style RPG that is simple to play yet deep and very addictive. And again, it’s not a small game. The touchscreen controls are a bit fiddly — any game that attempts to incorporate a traditional control scheme usually is — but once you get used to them and customize them to your liking there’s a lengthy RPG that will keep you occupied for many commutes there. The kind of lengthy RPG that you’d pay at least £20 for on DS. For free. And despite featuring microtransactions and premium items, the game never hassles you to spend money on it — it’s just an option that’s there if you want it, but I haven’t paid a penny and it still feels like a proper game.
The list goes on: Kairosoft’s series of management/sim games have provided a resurgence in popularity of a genre which has laid fairly stagnant for some time. Virtual renditions of well-established boardgames allow multiplayer action at times convenient to both players — even if that’s not at the same time. And some of the finest roguelikes in existence (100 Rogues, Sword of Fargoal) are to be found on the platform.
iOS is here to stay as a gaming platform, and the sooner people wake up and stop seeing it as some sort of bastard offspring to the “mainstream” gaming industry, the better. Sure, there’s a ton of amateurish shovelware out there — but that doesn’t by any means diminish the significance of the some the games which are available for the platform — a platform which is growing more and more likely to give both Nintendo and Sony in particular cause for concern as the months roll by.