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Five iPhone Games Worth Paying For

I have written in the past about how Apple can be pompous with their public image surrounding games. I have also written in the past about the “bottomed-out” level of pricing for iPhone games, and how game developers (specifically the big-name, established ones) have struggled to adapt to and create for a platform where just a couple bucks is somehow seen as “too expensive”. I do think there is a place for “higher”-priced games on the iPhone (that is to say “higher than $1”), but I do agree that the expectation of the price and its respective deliverable is nowhere near its DS and PSP brethren. It is a completely different model where even the big guys have to think like an indie developer.

That all being said, I wanted to share a few games that I have purchased for my iPhone that I regularly return to and genuinely feel are worth the price — regardless of the developer type. These are not fun little applications that you load up once or twice, show off to someone, and never return to again. These are not applications that you pay 99-cents for and feel you got your 99-cents worth of value after a couple days. These are games that take full advantage of the platform they are on, and over-deliver on their value. Picking up any of these is a no-brainer. I present them to you in an order that somewhat resembles my feelings on that value compared with their price compared with how much time I have actually sunk into them.

(5) Wolfenstein 3D Classic Platinum (AppShopper.com Link)

WHAT I PAID: $1.99
CURRENT PRICE: $1.99

I played my fair share of Wolfenstein and Doom back during their original PC release just as much as the next kid. I was never super-into these grand-daddies of the modern FPS (back when the only term was “Doom-clone”), unfortunately, so I could not tell you just how faithful the port is based on my own experience. When you consider that John Carmack worked on it himself, though, I have full-faith this this is how it was intended to look and be played. The control scheme takes quite a bit of adjustment before you start cruising around — it uses a virtual control pad in the bottom-left like many games. Since it was always a very “2D” game with no real strafing in the first place, however, it carries over quite well once your thumb gets used to how it should nimbly and minutely slide back and forth. I have played it more than I thought I would, though I will admit that the sheer curiosity factor of playing Wolfenstein 3D on my phone carries as much weight as it does for simply being good.

(4) Rock Band (AppShopper.com Link)

WHAT I PAID: $9.99
CURRENT PRICE: $6.99

I disagree whole-heartedly with my buddy Bob over at The Appcast. Back on episode 39 of their show, a battle between Rock Band and Tap Tap Revenge 3 (then still a paid app) concluded with my choice as the loser. This could not be more wrong. Whereas Bob liked all of the avatar customization and modes in TTR3 and disliked the “vocals” part of Rock Band, I have had nothing but terrible experiences with the cruft of TTR3 getting in the way of enjoying it. Earnings credits to unlock songs that are totally different from paying (with real money) for them is not as direct as Rock Band‘s simple “beat this playlist and get the mystery song” setup, which (while it is terribly antiquated) just works. The bazillion things on-screen in TTR3 leaves me confused as to what I actually selected — it’s a MySpace-esque assault of terrible design aesthetics. It is slow. It is unresponsive in the menus. Its business model of paid downloads literally gets in the way of me trying to do anything when it takes up 60-70% of the screen.

I may sound like a fanboy, but that’s fine. Harmonix knows what they are doing, and I am fully on board with them. Rock Band is fast. It is minimalistic and yet retains its distinctive look. It is organized. If you are into downloadable content, it is cheap — two (bundled) songs run you a mere 99-cents, a huge discount from the $2-per-song price point that is standard on the consoles, and (unfortunately) even carried over to the PSP’s Rock Band Unplugged store. It is true that this game does not have the huge variety and raw number of  songs available in the Tap Tap Revenge series, but you have to ask yourself which type of game play experience is more your style: do you want random taps that could follow any variety of musical qualities of the song (TTR), or do you want instrument-specific patterns (RB)?

For me, the choice of a music game was clear. I paid the full launch price the day it was released, and while I do think it settled down to a more appropriate $6.99 since then, I do not “regret” my purchase in any way. When I am itching for a little drum action on the train ride home, Rock Band for the iPhone has me covered until I can burst through the door to my ION drum kit. That is the main “problem” with this iPhone version, though — when the full experience is waiting for me at home, the only time I ever play the portable version is during commutes. I cannot see myself sitting in my living room playing the iPhone version when I could get up and belt my little heart out. It is what you make of it, though; if you do not have the cash to drop on the full version, skip a couple cups of coffee and get the portable one.

For the record, I have no problem with the “vocals” portion of the game — I never expected to actually be singing into my phone, so while it would have been a “nice-to-have”, I do not feel any major loss with having to trace my finger up and down the pitch, instead. No, the performers cannot be customized like their cousins on the consoles, and no, they do not perfectly move in sync with the music. None of these things affect the base game play, though, which is the most important thing to get right in an iPhone game.

(3) wurdle (AppShopper.com Link)

WHAT I PAID: $1.99
CURRENT PRICE: $1.99

As one of the first games I picked up, wurdle certainly deserves a spot on the list. It’s simple, really — a bunch of letters are randomly boggled around in a grid, and you have to draw lines across the letters to form words. More than any other iPhone game, this is the one that I have seen groups of people get involved with (including a train conductor who stood behind us and called out a couple words). It is one of the best two-minute diversions you can find and you will lose more time with it than you choose to admit. There is always something to be said for simplicity, and wurdle hits a home run in that respect. What more can you say?

(2) Peggle (AppShopper.com Link)

WHAT I PAID: $0.99
CURRENT PRICE: $2.99

Depending on how how addicted you already are, even the $4.99 original asking price may have been a steal. The price has fluctuated all over the place since then, but it is well worth it no matter what the cost is at any given time. While I only dabbled in the game on the PC and did honestly enjoy it, this ultra-portable version of the game is exactly how I wanted to play. The wheel on the right-side to pinpoint your exact angle was a great way to compensate for the lack of mouse control. The colorful design looks fantastic on the iPhone’s screen. It runs beautifully, even zooming in to slow-motion with “Ode To Joy” as you hit your last block. It is the culmination of every bit of “casual” PC gaming since Minesweeper, all wrapped up in an absurd and irreverent aesthetic.

(1) Harbor Master (AppShopper.com Link)

WHAT I PAID: $0.99
CURRENT PRICE: $0.99

The “line-drawing” genre is one that has exploded on the iPhone. I initially saw Flight Control and thought it looked neat, but for whatever reason, Harbor Master was the one that grabbed enough of my attention to warrant a purchase. It is clear that my favorite games on the platform are the ones that take their simplicity and work feats of genius with a single, underlying concept — Harbor Master is no exception. You have a boat, you have a dock. Draw a line for the boat to empty its cargo at the dock, and draw a line for the boat to leave. Oh, but watch out for the boats hitting each other. Oh, and watch out for putting the orange and purple cargo in the right places. Oh, and on this stage, watch out for the pirate ships. Oh, and on this stage, take advantage of the fast-unloading dock but also watch out for the monster.

I have sunk more time into Harbor Master than any other application on my iPhone, most likely — yes, that includes Safari and various Twitter apps. Every other day I seem to hit a new high score on a stage, which drives me to want to play it even more. How fascinating is that? A game-lengthening tactic from the industry’s infancy (“beat a high score”) is what brings me back to this game. It is not about unlocking new stages. It is not about unlocking new boats. It is not about multiplayer (though that is also there). It is about the game doing the one thing that it does so well, assigning an obvious 1-point rating to each successful delivery, and making me want to get “just one more” each time. And everyone loves the tropical music that plays, too!

For reference’s sake, my scores are 182 on Cyclone Island, 135 on Fishing Bay, 127 on Monster Cove, 146 on Smugglers’ Reef, 152 on Cannon Beach, and 111 on Sturgeon Creek.

How about you all?

There are plenty of other games that are worth checking out. I still have not grabbed Canabalt, for example, and I know that Spider: The Secret of Bryce Manor is worth a look. One of the earliest games, Fieldrunners, still has not made its way to my phone. I also can’t wait for the port of Plants vs. Zombies. How about you all? Which iPhone / iPod Touch games have you grabbed that you feel are more than worth the price of entry? How do you convince people (like our own buddy Andrew, who refuses to pay for a single iPhone app) that some of these are actually worth paying a buck or so for?

Price of iPhone Games Not Necessarily the Issue

While eating lunch today, I stumbled across an article on MSNBC called “Will the people pay for quality iPhone games?” It was an interesting question, and one I often wonder about both for myself and for the gaming public as a whole. We have heard Andrew say a few times on the podcast that he simply cannot imagine spending “that kind” (any kind?) of money for games on that type of platform. Meanwhile, Jeff and I tap away at things like wurdle.

In the article, Andrew Stein, director of mobile business development for PopCap, says:

We need to be cognizant of some of the competitive pressures, but at the same time our games offer huge value to the consumer. We’re not interested in devaluing the brand by pricing it at 99 cents. It is a premium experience. We do invest a lot in our products. We take the time and do it right.

I can somewhat get behind and understand the logic of that kind of statement. It can be incredibly tough from a development standpoint to put any type of time and energy into a product and then be “forced” to “devalue” the product just to “compete” (though one could argue that any of those words and their possible negative connotations could be replaced with ones with positive connotations such as “given the opportunity” to “undercut” the competition so they can “showcase their talent and gain a leadership foothold”). While plenty of terrible games are made, I would not imagine trying to take anything away from a genuine product with geniune effort. I understand the balancing act that needs to happen, and it seems like PopCap does, as well.

However, then we get a quote from Steve Palley, who MSNBC lists as “founder of iDevice game-review site SlideToPlay.com and former Editorial Guru for Vivendi Games Mobile”.

We want better, more expensive games, but not enough people are willing to pay for them to make them profitable. It sucks. For now, the main use case for the majority of people who buy iPhone and iTouch games is the one-to-five minute ‘gameplay snack.’ They want novelties and amusements, not gameplay.

I am horribly confused by this statement. For someone coming from a game development background in some capacity (being employed by Vivendi) and now a part of the general enthusiast press, this seems to contradict itself. We just heard from one person in game development that they want to create these expansive environment and gameplay experiences, which Palley backs up… but then goes on to say that it is simply not what people want.

If that’s not what people want, why on Earth are you wasting your time, effort, and ultimately money to produce something that no-one wants?

We have had a similar situation on another handheld platform, which goes against everything that was anticipated. Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars (a new game in a well-established, always-high-selling franchise) is having trouble pulling in the numbers on the Nintendo DS, one of the best-selling systems in the history of the industry with a ridiculously large installed-base throughout the world.

An incredibly well-reviewed game from a multi-million-selling franchise on arguably the most successful system in the history of the industry with a highly-visible advertising campaign is having trouble selling? What’s going on here…?!

Analyst Michael Patcher has popped up a lot in gaming blogs and news stories as of late, so while I feel slightly ridiculous bringing these points up again if you have already read them, I promise you that it all pulls back to the bigger question in the end. Patcher states in a later Gamasutra article:

… “we can’t say that Take-Two made a bad game or marketed it poorly,” he says. “Instead, they created an M-rated game for a largely E and T audience, and those DS owners who are legally allowed to buy an M-rated game are not particularly interested.”

While things may change over time (as Take-Two insists they will, with Chinatown Wars having long-legs), for the time being it appears Take-Two made a great game for the wrong market.

I don’t see any difference from iPhone game developers making huge, immersive, “expensive” games… for an audience that just wants to play a Tetris clone for thirty seconds.

Does The PS2 $99 Price Point Affect You?

As of April 1st (being tomorrow), the PlayStation 2 will officially (and finally) hit that magical $99 retail price. As someone who owns two PS2s already (US & Japanese; my PS3 is the 40 GB with no backwards-compatibility), I initially thought this would not affect me in the least.

But then I got thinking.

At $99, that is an easy impulse-buy for the basement at the new place. We have been thinking and talking about where all of the systems are going to be arranged, and my current thought has been that the two PS2s will be hooked up to the big new TV in the living room via component. There are enough “current” games that I still want to get to (never mind ones I still want to catch up on) that it makes sense for me to keep the PS2s available for use in a comfortable way.

How about Dance Dance Revolution, though? I think the living room might not be the best place for the lovely Red Octane Ignition 2.0 pads (too much shaking around), but the basement sure works. I can easily see myself grabbing a new $99 slim PS2 to plop down into the basement on an old TV and stereo system. Suddenly DDR is always hooked up again, a mere flight of steps away, and is the first baby step toward maybe throwing an elliptical of our own and maybe some weights down there… yeah… that’s the ticket…

How about you all, though? Does the new $99 price point affect you in any way? Will you finally be graduating to last generation, picking up an extra one, replacing a broken one…? With over 140 million units sold, it sure is tough to imagine a gamer without a PS2, but I suppose it is possible.

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