iPad Games Hands-On Preview

Yes, we touched one. We tilted it, turned it over, and lovingly scrolled through its apps. It’s the iPad, and it’s like four iPhones arranged in a grid– twice as long and twice as wide. After the iPad, our iPhone just doesn’t feel adequate.

In addition to trying the web browsing, photos, video, and iBooks that Steve Jobs demonstrated on stage today, we got to play with several iPhone games that were ‘writ large’ on the iPad. Each game can run in a tiny, pixel-accurate mode (where the on-screen buttons are now unreachable) or a blown-up, 2x version. There is a tiny 1x or 2x button in the corner for you to resize at any time.

Some of the games we played worked great– others, not so much. Let’s start with the good.

The first game we loaded up was Scrabble by EA, because we wanted to put our ‘virtual board game’ theory we discussed on last week’s podcast to the test. Scrabble on an iPad works extremely well, with tiles sliding onto the board quickly and accurately. With the larger screen, you can put the device in front of you to play with a friend instead of passing it back and forth.

We also played Orbital, a fun little physics game that works great on the iPad. The two-player mode let us lay the tablet down on the table and casually poke at it, sending colored spheres into our opponent’s side of the screen. Our foe, Wired’s Chris Kohler, schooled us with his superior skills. Scrabble and Orbital were the two most natural fits for the iPad’s larger screen.

We then dived into a few hardcore games– N.O.V.A. and Need for Speed Shift. Both of these were a little unwieldy, and neither were the iPad-optimized versions we saw in the stage demo. The default control scheme in N.O.V.A., where you look by swiping the center of the screen, was not as natural as a two-stick configuration. Clearly, developers are going to have to rethink iPad controls for shooters, since they now have much more real estate to work with.

NFS Shift worked fairly well, since the game is mostly tilt-controlled. Our main concern here is the heft of the iPad. At 1.5 lbs, it’s light enough for carrying and reading, but using it as a controller made it feel a little chunky. After all, we’re used to a phone that weighs 5 oz, or about a quarter of a pound. Both N.O.V.A. and Need for Speed Shift looked great blown up, since both games run at a high resolution even on the 380×420 iPhone and iPod Touch.

We then loaded up Assassin’s Creed 1 and Sims 3. AC1 is not a great game, in our opinion, and playing it on the iPad didn’t make it any better. This older iPhone game looked jaggy and fuzzy when blown up, and the controls were hard to reach when holding the iPad. We quickly put it down.

Sims 3 worked better, because it’s mostly menu-driven. However, we would hope to see an iPad optimized version of Sims 3 and Sims 3 World Adventures as soon as possible, because the cluttered menus didn’t really show off what’s good about the iPad– the viewing space.

Next up was Super Monkey Ball 2, a fun game that looks and plays great on the iPad. Playing with it was more like a physical board game, sort of like a handheld version of Labyrinth, but instead of a wooden board and metal ball, you had a colorful environment and a monkey in a ball. The tilt controls were sensitive enough for us to navigate with ease, even though we started on a tricky level that required lots of focus. Again, the weight of the iPad does become an issue for long periods of playtime. Apple had better lawyer up to protect against any long-term wrist damage claims.

A few other games we played, like Madden NFL 10 and Paper Toss World Tour, didn’t seem to be changed one way or another on the iPad. If you liked them small, you’ll like them large, but depending on when the game was made and the style of graphics, certain games will look fuzzy in the 2x view.

Since the iPad will launch with the entire library of iPhone games (about 25,000 and counting), consumers will immediately be overwhelmed with choices. We will work on narrowing down for you which games should work well on the iPad, and the ones we think should be immediately optimized for the larger device. Keep coming back to Slide To Play for a whole lot more information about the growing family of handheld Apple gaming devices.

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