iPod Games: Boon, Bust, or Test?

iPod Games: Boon, Bust, or Test? 1

In September, 2006, Apple surprised the world by introducing “iPod Games,” a collection of nine titles that could each be downloaded for $4.99 from the iTunes Store. Nearly six months later, Apple’s library has increased by three to 12 total games – all of them reviewed here – and user comments have been varied. Some have praised Apple’s decisions to keep iPod games simple, relatively inexpensive, and appealing to casual players. Others have complained about the size and quality of the game library, problems with the iPod’s controls, and the inability of “iPod Games” to play on iPod nanos or within iTunes.

We wanted to get a picture of what our editors and readers thought about the current state of iPod gaming, so we asked for each of our editors to provide their honest views and experiences – positive or negative – on the topic, and published them below. Now it’s your turn: please add your take to the comments section at the bottom of the page.

iPod Games: Boon, Bust, or Test? 2Jeremy Horwitz, Editor-in-Chief, United States: “I’m a life-long gamer, so I was simultaneously excited and disappointed when Apple introduced iPod Games, mixed feelings that haven’t improved since then. Prior to last September, I played more Solitaire on the iPod than I care to admit, but only for lack of better options. But even now that there are a bunch of titles out there, I’m not enthusiastic about the catalog. It’s hard enough to get excited over such old titles – even the popular ones – and seldom do the controls feel right. I’d gladly buy a $20 controller accessory if it meant I could actually enjoy games rather than struggling with them.

I’m only half-surprised that people are upset that iPod Games won’t play on iPod nanos. That’s no great shock for those aware of how limited the nano’s video hardware is, say nothing of the screen, but it’s interesting that people would even care that much about this slate of titles. Thanks to the games’ controls, there’s no guarantee that they’ll ever work on touchscreen iPhones, next-generation iPods, iTunes, or Apple TV, and Apple hasn’t made any reassuring promises about their future viability. It’s hard to invest in a gaming platform with such a limited guarantee of forward compatibility.”

iPod Games: Boon, Bust, or Test? 3Bob Levens, Contributing Editor, United Kingdom: “I fear that I am a luddite in the iPod world: games are not something I spend time playing. In all the time I have owned an iPod, I can probably count on both hands the number of times I have actually played the free iPod games. I used to play Tetris and Mahjong quite a bit on a PC, so if I was to buy any additional games they might be choices, but at £4 (almost $8) a game I’d have to play them a lot. For me that screen size is not conducive to playing something like Tetris which needs a reasonable sized image to get the blocks to fit.”

iPod Games: Boon, Bust, or Test? 4Dennis Lloyd, Publisher, United States: “I have played a couple of the games. I like the old school games like Pac-Man, but the controls took some getting used to. I don’t play them often.”

Larry AngellL.C. Angell, Senior Editor, United States: “I’ve never been a mobile gamer. Always having a console and big-screen TV at home, I never saw the point. The iPod Games are no different. If I’m seriously delayed somewhere or waiting in line, I’d much rather just listen to my music or watch a video podcast than try to make a 5 x 5 pixel Pac-Man make his turns using an anything-but-intuitive iPod Click Wheel.”

iPod Games: Boon, Bust, or Test? 5Christina Easton, Contributing Editor, United States: “I have a 60GB fifth-generation iPod, but I’ve personally never wanted to try an iPod Game, even the ones built in to the iPod. I don’t think the iPod was meant for games given how well-developed the Wii, PS3, and Nintendo DS are for games; the iPod is a storage device by comparison, and worse-suited to portable gaming than even a cell phone. Other devices at least have directional pads and separate buttons. The Click Wheel wasn’t made for anything other than menu navigation.”

iPod Games: Boon, Bust, or Test? 6Jerrod H., Contributing Editor, United States: “At their original debut, I purchased a few iPod games simply to try them out, but I’ve hardly touched them since. As with video on iPod, I’m simply rarely ever in a position to use them. For me, the problem is that they’re strictly foreground activities, while the iPod’s music features I can use all the time while I’m doing other things. However, perhaps with the software-rich, web-enabled Treo 700 on my belt keeping my occasional dead time occupied with other such foreground activities, I’m just not a part of the target market.

Regardless, I’m interested to see what Apple does with the category over time, although I secretly hope Apple is using this as an experiment in building good working relationships with quality mobile developers, and that the idea will be later leveraged for Apple-sanctioned iPhone applications to be sold in a similar way.”

iPod Games: Boon, Bust, or Test? 7Jesse Hollington, Contributing Editor, Canada: “I’ve been impressed with the iPod Games, but then again I’m not a power-gamer. PSPs and Gameboys have never held much appeal for me, and therefore the games that are available on the iPod are reasonably my speed. Apple made some odd decisions by including games for which the Click Wheel was most definitely not the optimal control interface, and anybody thinking of purchasing an iPod game should give some serious thought as to whether they could picture themselves playing these on a device like the iPod. Those who are traditional console gamers will find Apple’s offerings to be somewhat underwhelming, but for somebody who would otherwise be playing games on a Blackberry or Palm device, the iPod’s offerings really aren’t a bad way to kill some time.”

Your comments and thoughts are appreciated below.

  1. Yup, I’m one of those people who whine about the Nano’s inability to play games. Wanna make something of it? Space Invaders at ten paces, then!
    …But I digress.
    Maybe I just have’nt fried my eyes yet, but the prospect of using the Nano’s (or the 5G’s) screen for a little AV fun has never bothered me. I had iPod Linux on my Nano (gasp!) for awhile and loved being able to watch short video clips and play Doom.
    The biggest problem I see with games on the iPod is the controls. I could easily see a third party manufacturer come up with a controller that would fit on a key ring (I’m a little surprised nobody has all ready).
    Such an accessory would’nt even need to be that complicated. A couple buttons and an “X” pad would work just fine for most games.
    I’m hoping (perhapse foolishly) that the iPhone will bring about better designed games and accessories with bluetooth abilty..

  2. What a hard thing to do, answer to a post with such a constelation. Mostly with my bad english, but let’s try.

    I am not a fanatic gamer also, but I really love this “new” feature. Click Wheel was not made to play games? Why? Just because it’s cames first? Well, it’s a controler afteral and can be used to what programmers want to. Mouse was made to point and click, ppl play games with. Keyboard was made to type, ppl play games with… not enough? Joystick was made to play games… some people use it to control a lot of aplications also… well, definitions of what click whell as made so is not a great excuse (IMHO).

    About the “utility” of the games then: In certain way of thinking, games are usefull to nothing afterall, even on consoles. Well, in certain way of thinking, I said, because in many others games have a bounch of good use. Killing time is just bit. We can distress a lot with some games (with some others we could be even more stressed, lol). But look this way; It’s good to have music, it’s good to have movies, why not could it be good to have more one option? I like memos, like calendar and audiobooks. There is better pocket hardwares to play a game? Yes, for sure, but there is better ones to memo, video and audio also.

    So, THAT is the point. My iPod plays music, videos, audiobooks, put me in tunes with appointments, memoranduns and… it´s play games too, isn’t it GREAT??? I like it.

    I’ll probally play my games (I’ve they all) 3 or 4 times a month, but gosh, how I like to have it there!!!

    Just to finish, before games event (september), you had an iPod Video; After you have an iPod Video that plays game. It’s means you have a better device? No, this means you have a device better used… and can be even better used 😉

  3. I never expected my iPod to be a gaming device, but it’s nice to have that as an option to unpacking the iBook or carrying a DS Lite.

    I’ve bought two games – Majong and Ms PacMan. Ms P is taking some getting used to, but I am getting the hang of it. Will I reach the nth level? No way. Do I care? Not really. As long as the game can give me 15-30 minutes of distraction, I’m good.

  4. I have downloaded two iPod games since its inception. Vortex and Tetris. The controls do take some getting used to for the games I downloaded, but that is to be expected. Also, everyone has their iPod in a case, so the case may interfere with quick finger movements on the iPod wheel.

    I like the idea of the add-on controller for the iPod, and I think that could definitely happen someday. It could plug right into the bottom of the iPod.

    More than likely, the next new iPod will find ways to make iPod gaming easier, and you will not be playing on the click wheel anymore… So long as you spend the unbelievable about of money the iPod will cost. 🙂

    The iPod may never replace the PSP or Nintendo DS, but it will probably always be one step behind. Apple’s main focus appears to be music/movies right now and not games. Otherwise, there would be a lot more igames to choose from in the store.

  5. I’ve tried the freebie version of Vortex, which was done only because the design of the game seemed well suited to the physics of the click wheel. The game certainly looked great, even if the intensity of the graphics really warrants a larger screen. The UI wasn’t all that bad for Vortex, but the user experience still won’t have me reaching for the 5.5G over a dedicated portable gaming device like my DS or PSP. At this point, I’d say my iPod gaming experience has been on par with that of my BlackBerry’s onboard games, which as a time-waster is fine, but hardly compelling.

  6. I am a hardcore gamer, so I think I’m qualified to comment.

    In response to the editors: People have been making good points about the games so far – that the click wheel isn’t suited for controls, the screen’s a bit too small, etc. Yes, people were going to get mad because the nano can’t support Apple’s games – on the forums, people were getting upset that older, non color iPods couldn’t support new games. So people just want somethig to complain about. We’re tech geeks – normal people don’t post to an iPod blog.

    That said, even though the 5th generation iPod isn’t really appropriate for gaming, I think it represents a lot of potential, and that Apple was smart to begin exploring their portables as a game venue.

    Sure, the next generation of iPods likely won’t support the games we have available currently, but it doesn’t really matter because A) the games themselves are so cheap it’s not much of an investment and B) the games likely to be on a touch-interface iPod would be capable of being a lot more complex than the arcade and Flash ports Apple has now.

    Another thing that excites me is simply the fact that Apple is looking into video games. Their initial entry into it isn’t very impressive, but the company is just getting its feet wet. I’m looking forward to when Apple really puts its design muscle into creating their own games for a system that really deserves them – something like Lumines is a good example of what I think Apple could create.

    Another exciting prospect is Apple getting more experienced game developers to create really stunning software. My dream scenario is that Apple somehow partners with Nintendo; a long shot, I know – Nintendo pretty mch only makes games for their systems. But since Nintendo seems to have such a big crush on Apple right now, I feel there could potentially be a kind of mutual admiration situation.

    And lastly, as I said before, this whole gaming aspect on 5G iPods isn’t the real deal. I think it’s just a way for Apple to take baby steps into the game developing/publishing arena. Has there ever been an Apple platform more conducive for gaming than AppleTV? Casual downloads like we’ve had on iPods with the ability to play on your TV and with a more useable controller. Sounds good to me.

  7. I have two games on my iPod, Pac-Man and the Vortex demo. I was excited about buying them when they first came out, but I can’t say I use them very often. I’ve probably used Pac-Man five times and the Vortex demo maybe twice. The Pac-man controls really stink. BUT, I don’t mind. I hardly ever play video games. I just like them for wasting time. Brick out is one of my favorite time-wasters. I think it’s just one more cool way to use my iPod (even if I don’t really take advantage of it).

  8. As mentioned above I mainly have issues with the screen size – new controls even I can probably grasp.
    I have a longhaul flight soon and I may be tempted to try Mahjong or even cut my teeth on Sudoku. Something that I can at least take my time with rather than trying to beat the ‘clock’.
    The price, while almost double the US one, is not such a big negative if you purchase one or two games.
    It would be nice to have a price close to the US – there are a few comments posted in the UK iTS regarding the pricing.
    Also if you purchase the Games ‘pack’ in the UK it will cost £47.88 ($93.69!) while the US iTS has it for $59.88 – crazy….

  9. Hey Bob, why buy your games in UK so? Buy it on US iTms. You dont need an valid US credit card to do it, all you need is an US gift card (tons on ebay) and an valid US address to open your brand new (and cheap) iTms US Account. Dont say it’s impossible, I am not in US or even UK 😉

    Regards 🙂

  10. I’ve got Sudoku, and I play it everyday. If they had actual Chinese-style Mahjong, I’d get that, too. Those are things I can imagine myself playing often. But Pacman and Tetris? On the click wheel?

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