Right now, we have no doubt that there are three handhelds duking it out for all your gaming-on-the-go dollars. You have the Nintendo DS, Sony PSP, and the iPhone, all three of which recently received significant hardware upgrades. If you’re reading this website, you might guess which system we’re betting our chips on.
Look, we love our DS and PSP. They’ve served us well for many years. But for most people, they’re just not an essential part of the daily routine. You get up in the morning, get ready to leave the house, grab your keys, wallet or purse, and’¦ your phone.
Next to handhelds like the DS and PSP, mobile gaming has always been the ugly, half-mutated sibling that lives in the attic and eats raccoons. But that’s been a testament mainly to the wildly different priorities of mobile devices, pre-iPhone. If you’ve tried buying a mobile game for your older phones, you probably took a chance once and, like most people, vowed never to waste your money on horrible, low-quality cellphone games again.
Finally, though, we have a system in our hands that not only makes it easy to download games when you need them most (like when you’re stuck waiting in a doctor’s office, auto-repair shop, or police holding cell), but these games look and sound amazing. They’re bright and beautiful, fluid and detailed, with high-quality sound and music.
So the iPhone is making up for lost time. They’re also gaining on Sony and Nintendo’s rear.
Here are the games we think will stand tall next to the DS and PSP’s biggest games, for a fraction of the price but with all the playability:
PSP vs iPhone
On the PSP side, we have Hero of Sparta, an Ancient Greek hack-and-slash very much in the style of God of War. Although the iPhone lacks an analog nub (one less than even the PSP), Hero of Sparta controls pretty well and even mimics Kratos’s signature quick-time finishing moves. Plus, did we mention this game costs an astounding $1 and will give you around 4-6 hours of excellent gameplay?
Rolling alongside those adorable LocoRocos is Rolando, which just came out with its Must Have sequel. Rolando 2 is beautiful to look at, has natural tilt and touch controls, and even sports a thumping soundtrack. Plus, they refer to you, the player, as “Finger”, which is just too cute.
Real Racing may not have a zillion cars to choose from, but we’ll put it next to Gran Turismo any day of the week. Plus, you can upload your clips directly to Youtube, and we’re pretty sure that’s not possible on the PSP.
Finally, the PSP coup is complete with Lumines knock-off Blocks2, which admittedly lack the quality production values of the PSP’s best looking-and-sounding puzzler to date. But Blocks2 does take Lumines’s gameplay a step further with different types of blocks to pop, and adds chat and leaderboards with Open Feint.
DS vs. iPhone
Right on the DS’s tail we have Touch Pets: Dogs, which could prove itself to be a bigger beast than Nintendogs. Online playtime using ngmoco’s Plus+ network makes this one mean doggie.
Brain training games are not Nintendo’s exclusive property, even if Nintendo did help popularize them, and the original creator of Brain Age lent his name and expertise to Brain Training with Dr. Kawashima. While we didn’t think the controls were ideal, there are lots of similar games on the iPhone that will give you a daily dose of puzzles, logic games, and math problems.
DS action-adventure games like Zelda get spin-attacked by Zenonia, a colorful overhead RPG that takes Zelda’s cute charm and imbues it with top notch Korean-engineered gaming. You could easily play this game for twenty hours, and it only costs $6. Try finding a copy of Phantom Hourglass for that price.
Lastly, there’s ADD, the iPhone alternative to Warioware. While we’re still waiting for this game to come out in the App Store, we played a preview build a few months ago and we’re hopeful that it’s got the style and humor to compete with Wario.
We could go on and on, drawing comparisons between Advance Wars and Mecho Wars, or New Super Mario Bros and Castle of Magic, but we think you get the point. If this is simply a numbers game, the iPhone has a staggering amount of incoming games, and hardware is flying off the shelves. They’re taking on Nintendo and Sony in a fair fight, and winning.
Six months ago, Steve suggested that Apple should make their own first-party games to win this war. They haven’t, but thousands of other developers have, and it’s our job to separate the wheat from the chaff. It’s only by praising the really good games (and admonishing the junk) that gamers will flock to the iPhone and leave those other handhelds behind.
Not every iPhone game is a winner, that’s for sure. But in the minds of consumers, that line between cellphone gaming and console handhelds has gone out the window. The new PSP and DS models may be slick, but they don’t make phone calls or receive text messages, and when the iPhone games look this good, and are this plentiful and this cheap, it’s only a matter of time before Apple can declare victory.
Andrew Podolsky is the Managing Editor of Slide to Play.