Since I purchased my iPhone late last year, two iPhone games showed the promise to make me forgot about any portable gaming device on the market. One lived up to that promise, the other fell flat. Let’s start with the disappointment: SimCity.
SimCity (iTunes link)
This was a favorite game of my youth, going back so far I remember being blown away by its graphics on a VGA screen. The iPhone version of SimCity is the same of a real, big-boy version once available on PC. When I first opened up the app and started building my city, I was truly impressed – at first. I was making power plants, zoning, managing public services. All was well.
Then the minutiae took over. I have fat gorilla fingers, with thumbs that at their largest can take up a fifth of the iPhone touch screen. What was once a fun city management experience quickly turned into fumbling and bumbling and zooming and pinching and panning (repeat) to make sure every tile had water and power lines and little itty-bitty water pumps and so on and so forth. This was an acceptable chore in PC versions of the game. When I am using a touchscreen that fits in my pocket using thumbs that barely fit in my pocket, this isn’t just a chore, it is an impossible, cumbersome punishment.
I understand the ease of porting a game by exactly duplicating its functionality. I understand the desire to be true to the original. But when I have a little time to kill, spending 20 minutes pinching and zooming and navigating menus and drop downs just to provide 3 city blocks with water, well, no one is going to have a lot of fun with that.
Moral of the story: just because you can port a game exactly, doesn’t mean you can forget the form factor and how it has a very real impact on the experience.
Civilization Revolution (iTunes link)
The Civilization franchise I picked up in the early 2000s, and quickly fell in love. Playing god on a scale of the world’s best empires provides a great degree of challenge and reward. This version of the franchise may be an exact port from the Nintendo DS (anyone?), but it finds a great balance of being true to the gameplay while working within the constraints of screen size and touch screen input. Pinching, panning, tapping, contextual buttons, and the side buttons are very intuitive, and you can tell a lot of thought was put into the design and UI.
The game difficulty settings are spot on. One complaint I have with many games is that the jump from a difficulty of hard to hardest is non-linear, i.e. hard is too easy, hardest is downright impossible, frustrating, or unfair. This game trains you and works you up to the level in a very natural way. Another great feature is the different scenarios; basically tweak some of the attributes of the game to accelerate the experience, whether in science, military, or monetary achievements.
I still do have a few complaints about the game. The lack of futuristic military units is a disappointment. The game can also crash occasionally, which seems to occur later in a game when there is a lot going on and you are about to win. Also, the slow load time makes it hard to squeeze in a few turns while spending a couple of minutes on the throne. Finally, the game drains the iPhone’s battery faster than any other task you could do on the phone.
For any future ports of game franchises to the iPhone, I hope Civilization Revolution is the model for which they base their design. I could see the platform truly becoming a gaming force if the form factor is used as an advantage (Civilization) and not a constraint (SimCity).