Image: Zen Bound and Zen Bound 2
Secret Exit
Many iPad games are revamped iPhone/iPod Touch games. Secret Exit has done a superb job bringing one of my favorite iPhone games — "Zen Bound" — to the iPad. The iPad's large screen and beautiful display allows this arty puzzle game to truly shine.
By InGame reporter
NBC News
updated 6/2/2010 9:06:14 AM ET 2010-06-02T13:06:14

With its beautiful, expansive screen, its multi-touch input and tilt sensitivity, not to mention its access to the wild wonderland that is the App Store, the iPad is poised to be a truly intriguing game machine — one that could even change the way we play games.

And yet, two months after the iPad's launch, the iPad-specific games available in the App Store are kind of expensive and not exactly game changing. That is, I'm still waiting to be truly wowed by an iPad game.

Cruise the App Store and you'll find that the vast majority of iPad games are simply iPhone games that have been given some upgraded graphics, a heftier price tag (sometimes triple the price of their iPhone counterparts) and not a whole lot more. The best of them have added some features and perhaps some new play modes … but I can’t help but wonder, where's the magic yo?

I say this and yet, at the same, believe that while iPad games may not be awe-inspiring now … it probably won’t be long.

As I sit here champing at the bit, high on iPad promises and jonesing for the kind of innovative gameplay the machine suggests its capable of, I have to remind myself that Steve Jobs' newest baby is only two months old. So perhaps asking game developers and publishers to deliver the wow as this point is a little like asking a toddler to do algebra.

And despite my wow-less reaction to the current App Store offerings, this much I do know: Playing games on an iPad has made me reluctant to go back to playing games on my iPhone. The iPad’s gorgeous display and generous screen real-estate are just such a lovely breath of fresh air. Games I've loved on my iPhone — “Angry Birds,” “Zen Bound,” “Words With Friends” — may not be drastically different in their new iPad form, but they are significantly more enjoyable to play on the iPad.

Ahhh … the breathing room, the high res imagery, the zippy touch interface — it’s a delight to the eyes and fingers. While I may spend short bursts of time amusing myself with games on the iPhone, the iPad sucks me in, makes me want to dig in deeper and keep right on playing.

Baby steps
“I think the iPad has the potential to change gaming,” says Tony Leamer, VP of Marketing at I-play, a casual games publisher that is bringing some of its PC and iPhone games over to the iPad.  But he points out, "we’re still in the early days.”

Indeed, the iPad just hit stores in Australia, Canada, and parts of Europe and Asia on Friday. And on Monday Apple announced that it had sold two million of the devices worldwide. While that number is certainly impressive, it's still tiny when compared to the 85 million iPhones and iPod Touches currently out there.

And so right now game developers and publishers are playing it safe. They’re primarily upgrading the games they already have, either upsizing them from the iPhone or porting them over from the PC. There’s very little in the way of games created from the ground up with the iPad in mind.

Alas, original iPad-inspired games are the games most likely to deliver something new and exciting to players — deliver that wow factor I'm waiting for.

"There's a good reason for this and the reason is, there simply aren't that many iPads out there yet," says Steve Palley, editor-in-chief and founder of Padvance.comand "The install base just isn’t where it needs to be for people to start making original iPad games and making money at it.”

Image: Herod's Lost Tomb for iPad
Hidden object games like I-play's "Herod's Lost Tomb" seem especially at home on the iPad.

Leamer agrees. Though he's excited about the iPad's gaming possibilities, moving forward cautiously on this largely unproven device only makes good sense right now.

“The primary difficulty is not knowing a ton about the audience yet,” Leamer says. “The question is: Who is using the iPad and what does that demographic look like? All we have are early adopter numbers and we have to see how that matures and changes.”

I-play has dipped its toe in the iPad waters by bringing its popular hidden object game “Herod’s Lost Tomb” to the iPad and will launch its puzzle/match-three game “Paradise Quest” for the iPad later this month. Both games got their start on the PC and, after spending time with them on the iPad, I can say they fit very nicely in their new home. But like most iPad games, they don’t present me with anything I haven’t seen before.

But that day will come, Leamer says. “Creating a game from scratch is not a trivial task,” he says. “We want to make sure that when we do that — and it is when not if  — we want to know very clearly who we’re making these games for and what they’re interested in seeing and how we can translate those things into great experiences on the device.”

Travis Boatman, vice president of worldwide development for Electronic Arts Mobile, says all of this is simply par for the course for almost any new platform launch.

“When a platform first comes out a lot of the development communities are learning what works and what doesn't work," he says. "The more time you have, the more time you have to experiment and to improve. I think you’re going to see a lot of great improvements coming into the market down the line."

iPad's got game
No matter what the current state of iPad gaming, spend some time with Apple's latest device and one thing is certainly clear: It has enormous potential as a gaming machine.

“This thing is really powerful, it has great graphics, great sound and an amazing screen,” Palley says. “It’s extremely portable and the battery lasts for a really long time.”

One of his favorite games is “Civilization Revolution for iPad” — a game that’s been on the Xbox 360 and PS3 and moved to the iPhone but really finds a nice home on the iPad. The touch screen seems a perfect way to interact with a turn-based strategy game like this. And while managing “Civilization’s” many details on the iPhone’s small screen can make the game feel cramped, the iPad gives it the room it really needs to soar.

In addition to strategy games, Palley thinks point-and-click adventure games like "Sam & Max Episode 1 for iPad" fit  especially well on the device as do hidden object games and traditional board games.

I agree wholeheartedly. EA's “Scrabble for iPad” has sucked me in like no other game on the iPad. The entire game board fits superbly on the iPad screen. Why would I lug around cardboard boxes full of my favorite board games when I can download them all on one highly portable device?

But what will iPad games do that hasn't been done before? A few of today's early iPad games suggest some of the interesting possibilities to come.

Boatman sees the iPad’s social nature as one of the ways it will deliver wow-worthy gaming down the road. With its large screen and light weight, it’s the kind of device that begs players to spend more focused time with it and to share it with friends. It's what he calls a "destination device."

Image: Mirror's Edge for iPad
Electronic Arts
One of the promising things about the iPad is the way it makes portable gaming social. The iPad allows "Mirror's Edge" players to compete head-to-head.
For example, take EA’s “Mirror’s Edge for the iPad.” In this parkour-based side-scrolling game, two players can use the same iPad to compete against each other at the same time — racing their characters head-to-head by simultaneously swishing their fingers across two different sides of the touch screen.

And Boatman believes it's that touch screen that's going to be the key to the unique iPad games of the future. "If you look at the screen on the iPad, it’s a beautiful blank canvass," he says, "It provides a surface in which creative people can create any interface they want for a game."

Meanwhile, I'm especially intrigued to see what kind of interesting gameplay arrives as developers start creating games that connect the iPad with iPhones and iPod Touches in unique ways. In fact, “Scrabble for iPad” already makes use of this combo. In the game's Party Play mode, four people can use one iPad at the same time. You simply download the free “Scrabble Tile Rack” app from the App Store to your iPhone and then use your phone as your private tile rack while everyone shares the iPad as the game board.

Ultimately, “this is still an experimental device in many way,” Palley says. “We’re in uncharted territory.”

But while larger publishers and developers may be taking baby steps as they explore the iPad’s gaming possibilities, he predicts that the smaller indie developers — the guys with the unique ideas and the risk taking spirit — will be the first to bring wow-worthy gaming to the iPad.

“I think an indie developer might come up with something really cool because it’s a labor of love for them,” he says.

I hope so. It's just so hard waiting for the magicto happen.

You can find Winda Benedetti making magicright here on Twitter.

© 2013  Reprints

Explainer: Games that make the most of the iPad

  • Image: Plants vs. Zombies

    Once you start playing games on an iPad you may never want to go back to playing games on your iPhone or iPod Touch. That's because the iPad’s gorgeous, spacious screen finally gives many games the room they've been begging for. And yet, I'm still waiting to be truly wowed by an iPad game. After all, the vast majority of iPad games are simply larger, prettier iPhone games with heftier price tags.

    Of course, the iPad has only been around for two months and wowing seems like something that's sure to start happening after developers have had more time to wrap their heads around this, er, magical machine.

    Until then, here's a look at some of the games that are making the most of the iPad's unique features.

    Tell us:Has iPad gaming wowed you?

  • Scrabble for iPad - $9.99

    Image: Scrabble for iPad
    Electronic Arts

    Yeah, it's priced at $9.99, but “Scrabble” fans will find a lot to love about the iPad version of this famed word game. Sure, you can play it on your iPhone for a third of the price, but the iPad is where this crossword puzzle is most at home with the HD game board sprawling across the bright, spacious screen.

    There are several play modes, giving you the opportunity to pit your wordsmithery against either friends or the computer. But the mode that most impressed us was Party Play. You and up to three friends can all share one iPad in this mode. Simply download the free “Scrabble Tile Rack” app from the App Store to your iPhone or iPod Touch. Then use your phone or pod to manage your own private tile rack while sharing the game on the iPad.

    If you want a less-expensive and yet still absorbing Scrabble-like gaming experience, don’t miss “Words With Friends HD.” For a mere $2.99, this fabulous version of the crossword game will let you connect with friends or random players online and play each other at your turn-based leisure.

  • Flight Control HD - $4.99

    Image: Flight Control HD

    Thanks to the sprawling iPad screen, this uber addictive iPhone game can finally stretch its gorgeous wings. The basics are this: You’re an air traffic controller and you have to guide incoming aircraft to their landing strips without letting them crash into one another. You do this by drawing a guidance line for each aircraft to follow using the touch screen.

    The iPad version of the game delivers the same increasingly frenetic gameplay but with a pretty hefty package of additions. There are updated graphics and new airfields to conquer. Meanwhile, you can share your iPad with a friend and play the game together either cooperatively or competitively.  You can also play a networked game with friends via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth — connecting your iPad to another iPad or even to an iPhone or iPod Touch.

  • Plants vs. Zombies HD - $9.99

    Image: Plants vs. Zombies

    Zombies are shlumping their way toward your home and the only way to survive is to strategically deploy a yard full of undead-battling flora. This award-winning game came to life on the PC and Mac then shuffled its way onto the iPhone and iPod Touch. But it really sinks its teeth into our collective gaming brains on the iPad.

    The spacious screen and multi-touch controls really feel like the very best way to play "Plants vs. Zombies." In addition to the gorgeous HD graphics, the iPad version also offers the exclusive “Buttered Popcorn” mini-game and it includes Survival Mode (which you won't find on the iPhone version though you will find it on the PC/Mac version).  Be prepared...this game will eat you alive.

  • Angry Birds HD - $4.99

    Image: Angry Birds HD

    “Angry Birds” is a study in slingshot physics — that is, you’re tasked with using said slingshot to fling a flock of vengeful avian at the pigs who have wronged them, trying to knock the squealers down from their various fortifications.

    This super cute, super polished game of demolition has received a lovely high-def update for the iPad. The twisted yet adorable graphics have been prettied up and the game has the room it needs to breathe on the big screen. That said, if you already own the iPhone/iPod Touch version of the game, you may not feel the need to buy the iPad version since nothing but the graphics have been updated. However, if you’ve never purchased this game before — this one is a must buy and the iPad version is worth all 499 pennies.

  • Zen Bound 2 - $7.99

    Image: Zen Bound 2
    Secret Exit

    "Zen Bound" was a deliciously original puzzle game when it arrived on the iPhone, winning all sorts of accolades for being a truly unique blend of art and gaming. The game's goal was deceptively simple: Wrap rope around various wooden figures by using the multi-touch screen and tilt sensitivity. As you wrapped the rope around the wood, the wood it touched was then splashed in paint. The goal was to cover as much of the object in paint as possible.

    With "Zen Bound 2," this oddly absorbing gameplay mechanic returns and remains the same, but this time around the beautiful wooden artwork gets the show it really deserves. As you twist and turn these objects, the beauty of the imagery suckers you in just as the rope puzzles twist your brain in knots. All the original levels are here plus many more and a new "paint bomb" mode adds an interesting twist. Meanwhile a new soundtrack from Ghost Monkey makes this game a treat for the ears as well as the eyes.

  • Charadium for iPad - $4.99

    Image: Charadium

    "Charadium" is basically "Pictionary"…with total strangers, which is a whole lot more fun than it may sound. A fast-paced online word guessing game, it works like this: You're given a word and a time limit and by drawing pictures on the touch screen you must do your doodly best to clue in a virtual room full of people as to what that word is. When you're not drawing, you're trying to guess what words other players are drawing.

    "Charadium" will quickly match you up with other random online players or you can create an online game of your own and invite friends to join. Though there is a version for the iPhone, the drawing mechanic is best suited to the iPad's spacious touch screen. After all, you're going to need all the room you can get to try and draw a picture that describes the word "wilderness."

  • 1112 Episode 02 HD - $7.99

    Image: 1112 Episode 02 HD
    Agharta Studios

    The atmospheric adventure game known as "1112" gets a second installment both on the iPhone and the iPad. But the place to truly enjoy the game's lovely hand-drawn art and moody environments is on the iPad.

    "Lost" fans looking to fill the void in their life will find a strange and twisty tale to wrap their heads around here. "1112 Episode 02" follows the story of Louis Everett, an antiques dealer who suffers from bad headaches and strange dreams and has suddenly found himself in a strange hotel room. The iPad is the perfect place to delve into this game, with its mix of "point and click" adventuring, hidden object sleuthing and puzzle gaming.

  • Mirror’s Edge for iPad - $12.99

    Image: Mirror's Edge for iPad
    Electronic Arts

    "Mirror's Edge" was well received when it got its start as a full blown first-person action adventure game on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. And this 2D, side-scrolling version of the game for the iPad is really hitting its paces too.

    Players control Faith Connors, an outlaw "runner" in a not-so-perfect future society. With swipes and flicks of your finger on the touch screen, you'll send her running, jumping, climbing, sliding and rolling her way across the rooftops of a gleaming metropolis. The parkour-based gameplay flows so smoothly it sucks you right in. Meanwhile, the iPad's sharp HD graphics are simply dazzling. And the iPad's spacious screen offers room enough for head-to-head multiplayer matches with two players each using half the screen as they try to outrun and outmaneuver each other.

    Certainly there's lots of great gameplay to be had here. Of course, there better be: Coming in at $12.99, "Mirror's Edge for iPad" is one of the most expensive iPad games you'll find in the App Store.

  • GodFinger HD - Free

    Image: GodFinger HD

    For those of you who’ve depleted your bank accounts buying your iPad, there are a number of enjoyable games out there for the low-low price of free. "GodFinger HD" is one of them.
    In this simulation game you play...why god, of course. And you use your almighty finger to interact with your very own planet that you shape and tend to. Your finger will bring sunshine and rain to grow things, it will work miracles to awe little mortals into following you, and it will push your converted followers to do your bidding.

    The art and graphics are bright and adorable and the iPad's generous screen real-estate makes managing your entire planet feel comfortable rather than cramped. Something to note: This game is a "freemium" game, which means that you don't have to pay a dime ... unless you want to buy little extras to make yourself more powerful more quickly. And yes, more power is oh-so-tempting.

    Also read: Is iPad gaming living up to the hype?

    Tell us:Has iPad gaming wowed you?


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