As of this writing, the iTunes Store lists 272 games available for the iPhone. These span a broad spectrum of categories, including arcade, puzzle, casino, racing, strategy, and music games. And, as you might expect from the first slew of games on a new platform, most of them are bad. Really bad, in fact, if my hyper-unscientific sampling of a couple dozen games is any kind of measure. (For the record, I own an iPod Touch, which is an iPhone sans phone, GPS, and camera.)
But that's okay. I doubt if even Apple expected developers new to the system to crank out a bunch of classics right out of the box. It will take awhile for the good stuff to emerge, as it always does for new hardware.
Everyone seems to think the iPhone has great potential as a game platform. Lots of power, beautiful screen, multi-touch interface, plenty of eager developers, and a distribution channel millions of people already have installed on their computers.
But based on my admittedly limited time playing games on it, I have a few concerns about the iPhone as a gaming device. I wouldn't say any of these are show-stoppers, but certain aspects of this little handheld miracle may not always lend themselves well to gaming:
- My aching neck - I was initially excited by the prospect of Super Monkey Ball on the iPhone, but I didn't properly calculate the awkward position required to play, hunched over my screen. Controlling Aiai by tilting the iPhone takes some getting used to (I find the system too sensitive for my liking), but you eventually get the hang of it. Less easy to accept is the stiff neck you'll develop bent over that little screen. Since the unit must be held flat to play the game, you don't really have a choice. Your mileage may vary, but I couldn't play the game for more than 20 minutes...just enough time to watch that cheeky simian fall into the abyss over and over and over.
- My smudgy screen - Some games like Enigmo, a 3-D puzzler, require you to manipulate objects by sliding your finger across the screen. This, it turns out, is easier said than done. A smudgy screen (I live with an 8-month-old, so everything we own is smudgy) can make things a bit hazy or prevent the system from reading your movements. A perfectly clean screen, on the other hand, can sometimes cause your finger to stutter across the surface. With games that require a bit of precision, like Enigmo, this can be an annoyance, especially when you're working against a timer.
- My palsy-addled hands - I don't actually suffer from palsy, but I might if I played enough accelerometer-obsessed iPhone games. Developers are obviously smitten by the unit's built-in motion sensing capabilities, but as we saw with many early Wii titles, shakin' and wavin' don't get you far when they're detached from a decent gameplay experience. Cube Runner and Labyrinth are two notable exceptions; both make good use of the accelerometer as a primary controller.
I claim no expertise as an iPhone gamer, and my impressions are based on a relatively small number of titles I've played. I'm sure I've missed plenty of interesting games. If somebody knows how to squeeze a 13 or 14 onto the face of a clock, be sure to let me know.
Maybe I've got adventure games on the brain, but it seems to me the iPhone would be an ideal platform for such games, re-conceived for modern players. I'm also imagining an iPhone version of Civilization with a Google Maps-style interface; and the built-in GPS opens up other interesting possibilities, including the triumphant return of the mainstream ARG I've been pining for. ;-)
By the way, if you have an iPhone or iPod Touch, here are three games I recommend. All are well worth a look: