Classic Games on Touchscreen Devices: Good or Bad?

We are seeing more and more remakes, upgrades, ports, and ‘special versions’ of classic games on mobile devices. Everyone gives me slightly different opinions on whether this is a good or bad thing to be happening: here are my personal pros and cons.

That Certain Feeling

Many of the games I have played on my phone, ported or originals, have been great successes in my eyes – though some have been equally as disastrous. I think a fundamental part of whether or not a game feels ‘right’ being played on a phone is the gameplay style itself, and whether or not you have played it or not on another device beforehand. If you racked up hours of your childhood playing Worms on your PlayStation, then of course it would feel out of place to you on a small screen with touchscreen controls.

An Example of Getting It Right

So many controls packed into a flat multi-touch surface - and yet it works well.

A great example of  porting a successful game to a touchscreen is Worms For Android. As I said in my review, the touchscreen controls have been arranged so well that after a few minutes you forget that you ever had to learn them.

I haven’t played it myself yet, but Grand Theft Auto 3 for Android is getting great reviews too. It came out recently – look out for the Android.AppStorm review early in the new year.

An Example of Getting It Wrong

This week I was also supposed to have reviewed a smartphone remake of the classic computer game Dizzy: Prince Of The Yolk Folk, but after playing the game on my phone I was greatly disappointed. Though all the key elements of the original game were there – puzzle solving, a cutesy 2D-scrolling world and familiar characters – the control scheme let it down hugely. Everything took so much time to accomplish, and the way Dizzy would never land or go where he was supposed to was the last straw.

The “fun vs effort” ratio was way off, and therefore I abandoned the review. In the next few months, Android.Appstorm will be reviewing Sonic CD, an adaptation of another classic. Will Sega get things right where Codemasters didn’t? We’ll find out next year.

It may look cute, but it's a pain to play.

The Sony Ericsson Xperia Play

As I’m sure you have heard, this isn’t just a phone. If you slide the screen to one side a whole Playstation control set reveals itself. Obviously games that are made compatible with the Xperia Play are going to feel more like console games than ones that use a touchscreen. No matter how similar you make the game in appearance to the original, the console feeling is lost in touchscreens.

I have played Minecraft Pocket Edition on the Xperia Play, and I thought the port was well made. None of the gameplay or overall essence of the game was lost, and the controls were well distributed and familiar to me. Playing a racing game would also feel more natural on a console-phone. Using triggers with your index fingers for acceleration and braking, and a directional pad or joystick for turning is far easier than an up, down, left and right arrow.

Conclusion

If a game-porting company can create a control scheme that feels ‘right’ to the user, then I think keeping classic games up-to-date with the technological times is a great idea. However if this can’t be achieved, then there is no sense in creating a port which people won’t enjoy as much as the original.

Should ports of all-time games be kept to console control layouts like on the Xperia Play? Or should we try to learn to enjoy touchscreen gaming, and see it as another portable console? There is of course the option that Android mobiles and tablets are not ‘gaming devices’ like the Nintendo DS or PSP, but I don’t think that’s quite true. Some games made exclusively for touchscreen devices like Sleepy Jack are original and work wonderfully on phones.


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