Underwhelmed by iPod gaming

An open letter to Peter Cohen

Dear Peter,

As you know, I once penned Macworld’s Game Room column. And, now blessed with that beat, you may be starting to feel the way I did once I passed the column along to Andy Ihnatko—if you ever see another computer game, it will be too soon. The once unrelenting joy of vaporizing one cootie after another became a terrible grind.

Having had nearly a decade-long break from the column, my interest in gaming has started to return. Sure, it’s only been resurrected to the point where I’ve purchased the reissue of Return to Dark Castle and LittleWing’s Monster Fair (so sue me, I’ve got a nostalgic streak and I’m still a sucker for pinball), but at least there’s some spark.

What rekindled my once-dead romance with gaming may surprise you. It was my iPhone. I’ve jailbroken the thing since just about Day 1 and when I have a spare couple of minutes, it’s not unusual to find me banging away on Mahjong 2.

I mention this game specifically because I noticed that the iTunes Store now offers updated versions of iPod games that were pulled from the Store’s shelves because they weren’t compatible with the 3G iPod nano and iPod classic. Among those games is Electronic Arts’ Mahjong.

Given that I’ve had recent experience with the iPhone’s version of the game, I thought I’d give the Apple-sanctioned Mahjong a spin (quite literally, thanks to the iPod’s clickwheel). Having done so I was prompted to write to you because you, more than anyone I know, might have an informed answer to this question:

iPod gaming kind of sucks, right?

And I suggest that for these reasons:

  • An iPod’s screen—even a 5G or iPod classic—is awfully small for someone who doesn’t have 14-year-old eyes.
  • The clickwheel is great for quickly moving through lists but as a game controller, ick.
  • The eye candy on some of these things is nice enough, but try playing these games without sound (as you do with games on jailbroken phones). Maybe it’s just me, but without the accompanying noise some of these games don’t stand up very well.

I admit it, I was among those crying out for more iPod games, but having seen what’s possible on the iPhone and iPod touch (also jailbroken)—larger screen, acceleration, touch-interface—it’s hard for me to return to a “traditional” iPod and gain much pleasure from spinning a wheel and clicking a button. And I have to think that it will be just as hard for those who own both an iPhone/iPod touch and a clickwheel iPod when third-party games come to the iPhone and touch this summer.

Will the iPhone 2.0 software and the games that will pour in with it spell the end for gaming on traditional iPods? You now bear the master’s mantle, please set me straight.

Your friend and colleague,

Chris

Read Peter Cohen’s response.

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