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Which Mobile Gaming Device – iPod Touch

With more choices than ever before available, mobile gaming is a huge market. You may think that Modern Warfare, FIFA and Madden are the mainstays of the “average” gamer, but in truth far more gamers will play Angry Birds, Doodle Jump or Cut the Rope than any of these games. With low costs, high entertainment value and increasingly high producttion values, its no wonder that the biggest developers are taking mobile gaming more seriously than ever before.

And mobile gaming is competing not only with conventional consoles in terms of entertainment value and quality. Increasingly, mobile games are cutting into the market for handhelds consoles. In fact, many think the point of no return has already passed for the DS, PSP and their ilk. It seems more and more likely that we are living in a post handheld world. The sales of the 3DS have been so disappointing that they have sparked an unprecedented price drop for the device. This is in no small part due to the differences in business models and the value offered to the consumer. With mobile development open to anyone and by cutting out the retailers as middle men, mobile devs can make games fast, for little money, sell them cheap and react to changing tastes in an agile manner. Meanwhile, Nintendo and Sony are stuck with antiquated models that require developers to go through validation, make expensive, overblown console ports and sell for prices that put them in competition with full blown console releases. Increasingly mobile devices are seeing those same titles that are out on DS and PSP arrive on their little touch screens too. Is Asphalt 6 so much better on 3DS than iPhone that it can justify being twenty times more expensive? I can answer that question right now: it is not.

While we will look at how tablets threaten home consoles in a future article, for now we will consider the nemesis of the handhelds and the current king of mobile gaming: the iPhone and iPod Touch.

As a device the newest iPod Touch is a curious beast. It has a gorgeous, lightweight feel and impossibly thin profile. While it gets gently but worryingly warm during heavy use, it is nonetheless a powerful performer which is all the more impressive considering how diminutive it is. It has many of the features of the newest iPhone including Face Time and the Retina display. Its lacking the phone functionality (obviously) and also the camera Flash feature, making its otherwise decent camera and video recording somewhat hamstrung. Despite this its a desirable device and for our purposes we are interested in it for one thing more than any other: its capabilities as a gaming device.

Here's mine

More than any other company, Apple has made mobile gaming a big deal. Its not down to supporting a policy of pushing first party developers like Sony, Nintendo or Microsoft though. Instead, Apple has made their App store a desirable shop front that every developer wants their product top be seen in. By leveraging its user base that is tied into iTunes, it has created a user experience so conducive to purchasing games that it is rivalled only by Steam. Through the App store the value, choice and range of games available to anyone with just 69p (or $0.99) is stunning. More startling is how many games we can experience for absolutely nothing. Whether Lite versions or games driven by Microtransactions, there are more hours of free gaming on the App store than someone could experience in their whole lifetime.

But are the games any good? Well that’s a complex question to answer. Mobile gaming has clear disadvantages, the largest one by far being its lack of physical controls. While developers like Gameloft have a good stab at porting full console-style games to mobile devices using on screen D-pads, the most successful games make intelligent use of touch screens. The intuitive interface in Cut The rope is a prime example of where a touch screen game wouldn’t work as well with a d-pad. Other successful titles similarly use the touchscreen for innovative gameplay styles, from the ubiquitous Angry Birds to the tactile Osmos or the brain bending Orbital. Simple games can make use of the accelerometer for basic interaction, and can be dangerously addictive (you have stolen so much of my life Doodle Jump!), while classic genres and titles are reappearing such as the excellent point and click (or poke) Broken Sword series.

As a retro gamer, the ascendance of mobile as a platform has been an unexpected boon. Long forgotten games including many overlooked on Xbox Live and PSN are appearing. While not all of them are perfectly suited to the touchscreen, playing titles like NBA Jam and Speedball 2 on your mobile device is a wonderful thing.

As a way of getting access to all of these titles on the APp store the iPod Touch is a great device. The newest model with Face Time and the retina display is obviously the best way to do so, but even the older devices will be more than capable of playing most games you would want. The abundance of cheap titles and the fact that the device is decent media and music player gives it a lot of advantages over handhelds, and although far more expensive, an iPod Touch with ten great games will work out far cheaper than a PSP, Vita or 3DS with the same.

When it comes to other mobile devices on the market the iPod Touch is in a competitive arena. We will be looking at Android devices over the coming weeks which are fierce rivals. Simiarly prices and with larger screens and better specifications, many of these devices are hard to overlook. Despite that, the strength of the App store, the fact that many of the biggest games are so much cheaper there and the sheer breadth of titles available make Apples device the dominant force in the market.

As for the future? Well lets just say it will be exciting to find out.

*In the next feature in the series we will look at an Android mobile device.*

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