A few days ago, I joined the rest of the civilized world and got a smart phone. It’s a revolution I’d largely been content in avoiding. I have a a solid PC, a dependable netbook and a wealth of gaming consoles. Add the microwave oven and my technological needs are met. The fact that I own a cell phone at all is a disagreeable situation born out of the rest of the world demanding a direct line to my face.
I used to compromise with a land line, until AT&T decided they don’t like money. Funny story that. I asked them to come out and turn on my line. After all, the ability to exchange money for services is predicated on the ability to provide said service. It’s a simple but important step in a business relationship. Hint: This is the ideal time to not punt the customer in the balls.
They told me they would be there between 8am and 8pm on Friday. I took the day off of work, but they never showed. When I called to find out why, I received a very confused man in India who explained that they closed at 7pm and no one who had any clue what was going on would be in until Monday.
Suffice it to say I did not call back on Monday.
Okay, maybe that’s more frustrating than funny.
Right, smart phone.
So, I discovered I could shave $15 a month off of my bill by switching providers. As it turns out, USCellular does like money, and will happily take all of yours.
They will not be missed.
This new switch came with my first smart phone and a meaty data plan. It’s a piece of crap, but so was all of my previous phones. I consider a healthy rivalry with my phone to be important. We shouldn’t forget the convenience technology provides us. Sometimes the only way they can remind us of that is by being a pain in the ass.
I’m also cheap.
I would be lying though if I didn’t say I was a little excited about trying out a whole new gaming platform. It wasn’t a driving force for my upgrade, but it sounded like a nice fringe benefit. People have been telling me for years that the smart phone gaming scene is a revival of sorts. The low barrier to entry and simplicity of design is supposedly breeding a return to basics with fun and creative games the likes of which we saw boom in the 80s and early 90s.
I feel lied to.
Now, remember that my phone is a piece of crap and the whole 3D sector of the Android market is beyond my reach. Maybe this is where the renaissance I was promised resides. With what was available to me, I was rather disappointed.
Clockwork, it’s a phone. You need to lower your expectations.
Believe me, I really did try to go in with an open mind. I’m not looking for Mass Effect meets my pocket. I was looking for that feeling of popping your first quarter into Donkey Kong or Pole Position. I was looking for simple but polished and exciting arcade experiences.
That’s not to say there’s nothing out there. The physics puzzler genre seems to be going in full force. It’s a pity I’m so burned out on them right now. There’s something novel but frustrating about physics puzzlers. Seeing a well executed plan play out is very satisfying. But being unable to properly execute a solution you see playing out in your head because Newton’s law of universal gravitation is giving you the middle finger can be an equal but opposite pain in the mass (*groan* physics pun).
Perturbed Avians and More
Within that vein, everyone wanted me to play Angry Birds. File me comfortably under “not a fan”, but not under “hater”. Don’t confuse “not a fan” with “not what I’m looking for”. It’s a solid implementation of an interesting variation on a classic genre. It’s certainly not original, no. Turn-based, artillery games have been around since the 70s. Several artillery puzzlers predate Angry Birds too.
Worms: Open Warfare 2 (2007, PSP and NintendoDS) comes to mind for both comparing and contrasting reasons. It’s Puzzle Mode explores a variety of challenges which involve flexing the Worms mechanics and weapon variety to complete different goals like reaching a goal, collecting objects or killing hard to reach enemies. It had a lot of potential depth.
Angry Birds follows a different route by refining a simpler formula set by games such as Castle Clout and Crush the Castle. Its mechanics are more restricted and its goals are simpler. You probably wouldn’t just pick up and play the puzzle mode in Worms: OW2. It builds off of and exercises skills acquired playing the regular Worms combat games. Angry Birds has that arcade cabinet quality of being instantly accessible, high energy, and stimulating in presentation.
Unfortunately, this is a very fine line to walk, and probably why I can dislike Angry Birds, despite it doing things right. It’s hard to take a simple mechanic and polish it into a deep but accessible experience. In the end, it feels a lot like shovelware: shallow games churned out with the goal of making the most amount of money for the least amount of time and effort. Games like Fruit Ninja or Ant Smasher feel little different from the gnat swatting mini-game that came with Mario Paint. The many games in Kairosoft’s Story franchise feel like marginally repainted variations on the same Lemonade Stand that came free with our grade school Apple II computers (though I have high hopes for that genre in the future).
Sure, these games all have their place. They present themselves fairly well. They’re not even “bad” games. But they certainly aren’t the next generation of gaming I was promised. There’s no revival happening here. Just a new packaging for a new generation.
Well, okay. Maybe something got revived…
“Don’t you call that a goddamned ‘grudge.’”
– Zaeed, Mass Effect 2
You know those games that put joysticks and buttons on the bottom of the touch screen to emulate a game controller. Yeah, those. Those can die in a fire. They are this thing reborn:
That thing ruined childhoods.
I’m not angry. I’m just disappointed.