Why I don't play console games on my smartphone

(Commentary) Madden NFL? Need for Speed? BioShock? These games demand big screens and handheld controllers, dammit!

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BioShock is coming to iOS. But is that really the best way to play it?TouchArcade

BioShock is coming to iOS? Awesome!

But I won't be playing it. Although it's been a full seven years since I completed the original -- which, incidentally, ranks among my favorite games of all time -- I have no desire to revisit the glorious underwater city of Rapture on a 4-inch smartphone screen.

See, console games are like big, splashy summer movies, bursting at the seams with noise and action and epic stories. To shrink them down to pocket size is to shrink the experience, to turn lushly painted landscapes and intricately drawn characters into barely discernible miniatures.

I say this based on repeated cycles of great anticipation -- Grand Theft Auto is coming to iOS! Need For Speed Most Wanted is coming to Android! -- followed by inevitable disappointment. Yep, it's more or less the same game I enjoyed on my Xbox, but writ small. Too small. Hard to see, hard to control, and ultimately much less fun.

No touchy, no feely

Speaking of controls, that's another major issue. Console gaming is synonymous with button-mashing, and have you ever tried to mash a glass screen? Doesn't work. To their credit, game developers have worked hard to compensate for this, allowing players to customize control schemes and layouts, while also offering tilt options when it suits a game.

But in many cases this is -- sorry -- tilting at windmills. On smartphones, a pair of thumbs can obscure a significant chunk of the onscreen action, especially while they're sliding around. It's more tolerable on tablets, but there's still no tactile feedback, no sense that you're actually pushing a button or moving a joystick. This often has a ruinous effect on action games that require precision aiming and/or movement.

On the other hand, consider games like Angry Birds, Clash of Clans, Cut the Rope, Leo's Fortune, and Temple Run -- all of which were designed with mobile devices in mind, and all of which benefit from touchscreen interfaces instead of trying to work around them.

Even the recent Crazy Taxi: City Rush, a sequel to one of the all-time great console titles, deftly caters to small screens by rejiggering the gameplay: you swipe to steer instead of struggling with an onscreen steering wheel or awkward tilt controls.

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Samsung GamePad Samsung

Granted, you can pair a gamepad-style Bluetooth controller to your Android or iOS device -- something like the SteelSeries Stratus or Samsung GamePad. But these are awkward, often pricey solutions, and none of them can claim compatibility with every game. (At least the upcoming BioShock will support Made for iPhone controllers.) And you still end up squinting into a comparatively tiny screen!

For my money, then, the best mobile gaming is found in games made for mobile devices, not console classics churned through a Debigulator. Sure, you can watch "Lord of the Rings" on an iPod, and you can listen to "Dark Side of the Moon" on an AM radio. But why would you want to? You're cheating yourself of the best experience.

On the other hand, maybe it's all good

That said, not everyone owns (or wants to own) a game console. And not everyone minds a small screen or clumsy controls. Many console greats ported to mobile platforms are huge sellers, and based on the ratings for titles like Grand Theft Auto: Vice City and XCom: Enemy Unknown, they're extremely popular as well.

So I could be in the minority on this. For the new generation of gamers, who were brought up massaging nontactile controls on phones and tablets, who cares where Injustice: Gods Among Us, Sonic the Hedgehog, or Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic originated? They're here, they're mobile, and, perhaps best of all, they're cheap.

Hit the comments and share your thoughts. Do you like playing console games on a smartphone or tablet, or do you find the experience too confining and/or too difficult to control?

 

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