Just a few years ago, the idea that smartphones might compete with dedicated gaming systems would have been laughable. How we sneered at Nokia’s pitiful n-Gage system. Smartphone versions of console hits were a joke. Even with the rise of the iPhone and the app store, we look down on smartphones as games machines. That iPad or Android phone might be good for Angry Birds and Cut the Rope, but if you want proper games, you need a proper console - right?
Maybe not. With faster processors incorporating high-performance GPUs, the latest wave of smartphones and tablets is already showing up Nintendo’s new 3DS on the graphics front, and setting a high bar for Sony’s Next Generation Portable - now known as the PlayStation Vita - to reach. Given time, there’s even potential for tablets to impact on the home console market - provide enough 3D horsepower and circumvent the issues with touchscreen controls, and you have a great device for sofa-bound gaming that doesn’t hog the household TV.
In short, we’re reaching a point at which no intelligent gamer can ignore what the smartphone and tablet platforms have to offer. Frankly, if you’re in the market for a tablet or a phone, then its gaming potential should form a part of your decision. Hence this look at the new world of Mobile Gaming, and at what the current big three platforms have to offer.
iOS Gaming: iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch
Like it or not, Apple deserves much of the credit for the mobile gaming revolution. It’s not that the Cupertino giant always saw gaming as a key iPhone application. Rather, as games became the apps store’s biggest sellers, Apple had the sense to take advantage. Increasingly, the features of the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad have developed to make the iOS platform more attractive for gamers and developers alike, and developers have found ingenious ways to combine touchscreen and accelerometer controls to make most genres work, albeit with certain limitations.
The iOS platforms have also evolved some serious 3D power. With its integrated PowerVT SGC535 GPU, the A4 processor used in the iPad, iPhone 4 and iPod Touch 4G was a big leap forward, producing graphics substantially more impressive than anything on the then-current Nintendo DS or PSP. The A5 at work in the iPad 2 is even better; incorporating a dual-core PowerVR SGX543 CPU. It’s likely to remain one of the most powerful mobile gaming devices on the market until the Sony Vita, with its quad-core SGX543, appears.
The proof is in the games. Chair Entertainment’s Infinity Blade uses an iOS version of the Unreal 3 engine, and features the kind of dazzling texture and lighting effects that used to be the preserve of home consoles. Firemint’s Real Racing 2HD actually looks comparable to early 360 racers, particularly on the iPad 2.
iOS gamers also benefit from an app store that actually does a decent job of showcasing new and exciting titles, and a base of developers that has transformed it into the lead platform for mobile games development. Sure, there’s no shortage of shovelware, lazy twin-stick shooters and dodgy movie tie-ins, but big games companies like Electronic Arts, Square-Enix, iD Software and Capcom are putting their biggest franchises on iOS. Plus, with its Game Centre service, iOS provides gamers with a reasonable mobile games equivalent to Xbox Live.
Real Racing 2/Real Racing 2 HD
The closest anyone has come to making a Gran Turismo-class racer work on a mobile device. Fabulous graphics, solid tilt-to-steer handling and a fine selection of real-world cars and tracks make for an outstanding mobile game.
Currently THE showcase of what can be achieved on a smartphone or tablet. Epic claimed that the Unreal 3 engine could run on iPhone 4 and iPad, but nobody expected it to do so with so few compromises. Chair’s weird action RPG also plays to the strengths of the touchscreen.
Dead Space/Dead Space HD
It’s a sign of the times when a big console franchise gets a mobile version that’s not just a cut-down tie-in or sloppy PSP port, but a proper game telling an alternative story with much of the original look and feel intact.