I have dozens upon dozens of iPhone games, and virtually none of them are what I could honestly call “playable.” That won’t stop me from buying and enjoying them, they can still be fun, imaginative and beautiful. They’re also generally in the cheap-to-free price range, which helps make up for the fact that only a tiny minority of them appear to be compatible with human fingers, such as the standard-issue models that came pre-installed on my hand.
Let’s take Infinity Blade, for example. It’s got outstanding production values, it’s made by a first-tier developer, and the controls are straightforward: Your options in a fight are swipe for a horizontal slash, swipe for a vertical slash, or tap to shield/dodge. Reviewers have heaped praise on Infinity Blade, but I just can’t understand why. In my experience, the game consistently ignores or misinterprets all of those simple actions, giving me a vertical when I swear I voted for horizontal or flatly refusing to dodge.
How about N.O.V.A.? This Halo-flavored shooter is rocking a 94 on Metacritic, with reviewers calling the controls “fantastic” and “superb,” whereas I would call them “like operating a forklift in reverse while sighting a 12-pounder cannon.” You must vigilantly keep one thumb on the simulated analog stick to clumsily plod about and use the other to alternately smear across the visible play screen or tap the fire button—choose carefully between looking and shooting, or sprain your fingers trying to do both!
Oh, Plants vs. Zombies. I love you so much. But you have the same flaw as most iPhone tower defense games: Using my finger to drag and drop plants means that I can’t actually SEE where I’m dropping them, and suddenly a crucial peashooter ends up in the wrong position, which never happens when I play the PC version of the game. Somehow that didn’t stop the game from getting reviews that applaud its “pitch perfect controls.”
Don’t get me wrong: I honestly like these games despite their flaws, but I’m at a loss to understand why they and so many other iPhone games are consistently praised for their muddy controls.
I do have a theory, though, thanks to my recent playthrough of Deus Ex: Human Revolution. DE:HR’s plot deals with a corporate conspiracy to control the public by promoting the advantages of cybernetic implants while downplaying the chemical dependencies and bio-DRM measures that come with them.
When iPhingers become widely available—AND THEY WILL!—beware: You will finally be able to enjoy these games the way so many reviewers claim to. But will it be worth the price?