Multitouch Shines Where Precision Counts
As a dyed-in-the-wool strategy game fan, I was surprised to find that the iPad made Command and Conquer: Red Alert legitimately bearable to play--certainly a first for the real-time strategy genre on a platform that lacks a mouse and a keyboard. Multitouch is the key here, coupled with the size of the display. Though Gameplay suffers from limited AI and an occasionally choppy frame rate, the level of control over units is impressive.
Micromanaging units can be tricky, as the developers were a bit too ambitious with the size of combat engagements. Nevertheless, the ease with which I could pan about the map, divide my troops into groups, and execute multifaceted attack strategies, dwarfs anything that consoles--portable or otherwise--have attempted with the genre.
While real-time strategy games have their proof of concept, tower-defense games have hit the ground running. Consider PopCap's Plants Versus Zombies. It's a stellar game in its own right and has appeared on multiple platforms, but the iPad version is hands down the best iteration of the game thus far: superior in execution even to the original PC version.
Blasphemy? Not quite. Though Plants versus Zombies HD may not include all of the features that shipped on the PC version of the game, the core experience is vastly improved. The visuals scale excellently down to the iPad's 1024 by 768 resolution, while offering ample maneuvering room.
Better still is the multitouch experience. Response and reaction times are faster, simply because you don't have to slide a mouse cursor across a map, and because you can tap (frantically) in as many locations as you have fingers to reach. It's portable, too, without the drawbacks we saw when the game made the transition to the iPhone.
The App Store Experience
Apple's App Store is already a phenomenal success, having sold billions of apps, to say nothing of the popularity of the Apple handhelds. The iPad shows no sign of changing any of that for the worse.
During the initial launch, there was no clear division between iPad and iPhone apps; but the applications have subsequently fallen into place, with developers settling on naming conventions--appending "for the iPad" or "HD" to their games. Still, further streamlining, and a clear line of demarcation between the devices, would be welcome.
Pricing will be a learning process for consumers and developers alike. App store enthusiasts have grown accustomed to a glut of readily accessible, 99-cent titles. But the prices of iPad games are venturing into "real game" territory: Most start in the vicinity of $5, and some go as high as $15.
Though console and PC gamers may be accustomed to the pitfalls of digital distribution--such as being unable to share game purchases, or to return a product they're dissatisfied with--some iPad owners shelling out increasingly significant dollar amounts for games are going to be sorely disappointed. Some sort of trial program, or demo system, wouldn't hurt either.
It's too early to claim that Apple's iPad will revolutionize the portable video game industry. But regardless of how successful the device is at changing the way we play, it's sure to be a windfall for game developers: After just 20 minutes of casual browsing through iTunes, I managed to burn roughly $70 on a handful of games.
Convenience is great, but a lurking danger here is the feeling of instant gratification. Tap the Buy button, and your brand new game will be yours in seconds. Those $5 to $7 purchases start to add up alarmingly quickly, however. Now that the iPad has arrived, offering greater potential for iPhone developers to improve the overall quality of their wares, we'll have to wait and see whether pricing scales accordingly.