A few weeks ago, I jumped on the Android bandwagon with a shiny new HTC Droid Incredible. Being a gamer, I immediately began to scour the market for decent games, and honestly the results have been pathetic. I mean, yeah, Angry Birds is a great time waster, and who doesn't like bejeweled clones or castle defense games, but for a gamer, something was missing. After thinking about it for awhile, I've come to the conclusion that the element almost all smart phones games are currently lacking, is depth.
Let's take a step back and look at smart phone gaming as a whole. Games intended for Android or Apple marketplaces face major restrictions. Graphics is probably the first and foremost as even phones with those bestial 1GHz snapdragon processors can only game so hard. 3 dimensional games are tough as hell to make and usually turn out terrible because there's nothing more to them than being 3D. Furthermore even 2D games can be slow and clunky if they are too complex. Next developers are faced with the issue of controls. How do we make this game control intuitively, and if we can pull that off, how can we integrate interesting touch screen mechanics? Trying too hard to answer that question, in my opinion, has killed a lot of potentially great smart phone games.
A perfect example is Zenonia, a game I'm sure most gamers with an iPhone or an Android have tried. The game looks great and it has a decent enough story in the beginning, but then you start playing and it all becomes a mess from there. It's pretty, which means it will only run on $200 phone or better, but that's bearable. The controls however absolutely blow, it almost hurts to try and play this game. You're presented with a virtual d-pad, and an action button, ok, not bad. The action button works just fine, it's nice and big, responsive, well placed. Then there's the d-pad, dear lord, who thought this thing up? It's way too small, even for children, overly decorated to the point of being distracting, and it's way too sensitive. It's biggest downfall however is the fact that it is 8-way instead of 4. Diagonals are unnecessary on a phone game, period. You can navigate just fine using up, down, right, left, and by adding diagonals, you've just given the game too many inputs to deal with. Half the time you try and move, you hit 2 directions on accident, game gets confuse, you don't move, awesome. Throw in the dash mechanic that seems to have no real purpose, and you've got yourself a main character that navigates the game world like a car in GTA4. Finally there's the action bar. All your special abilities are laid out on a WoW-esque action bar, problem is, the buttons on the bar are half the size of a pinhead, and have no space between them. Is all this really necessary for a miniature hack and slash JRPG?
Zenonia however, is fortunately the tail side of the coin. There is hope, and I feel it starts with one of my favorite apps, snesoid. I'm sure most of you have already inferred from the name that snesoid is a Super Nintendo emulator. For less than the loose change in my pocket, you can pick up this little gem, and ROM gripper, a utility app that goes out onto the web and fetches SNES roms, and in minutes you can launch yourself back to a time when Squaresoft was on top and games weren't about new mechanics, gamer scores, ranking ladders, or the latest greatest tech, but were instead focused on narrative, strategy, and fun. I've spent days playing Final Fantasy 6(we knew it as 3), a title I missed as kid while following the wave of FF7 zealotry. Oldschool, turn based RPGs are the key to smart phone gaming bliss in my opinion. They are deep in plot, easy on the hardware, and have such simplistic interfaces that touchscreen troubles are almost fully negated. On top of all that, with save states, turn-based battles, and dialog that waits for you to advance it, the fact that your handheld is also a phone won't interrupt your game. You won't have to miss some story because you got a phone call, or lose your progress if your boss walks in and you have to stealthily shut the game off. I maintain that the classics of the 90s and early 00s embody the perfect smart phone game.
Here's the thing though, we gamers can only play and replay the classics for so long before we start craving something new and original. I'm not proposing we abandon generating new content for smart phone gaming, but instead, I say we need to get back to the basics. I'd like to see a brand new game show up on the Android marketplace featuring turn-based combat, a deep and riveting plot, and graphics simple enough to run on the cheapest Android phone out there, or the original iPhone. I wanna see a new game torn straight from the still beating heart of the SNES and PSX era. Maybe even a white text on black screen text adventure. We can still get our fill of advanced physics engines and hyper realistic gore on our PCs, 360s, and PS3s, but let's bring it back to the good ole days when it comes to phone based time wasting.
What are your thoughts Destructoid? read