After a week, where does iPad gaming leave us?

After a week with Apple's large-screened tablet, we're still struggling to find the ultimate gaming apps.

Scott Stein Editor at Large
I started with CNET reviewing laptops in 2009. Now I explore wearable tech, VR/AR, tablets, gaming and future/emerging trends in our changing world. Other obsessions include magic, immersive theater, puzzles, board games, cooking, improv and the New York Jets. My background includes an MFA in theater which I apply to thinking about immersive experiences of the future.
Expertise VR and AR, gaming, metaverse technologies, wearable tech, tablets Credentials
  • Nearly 20 years writing about tech, and over a decade reviewing wearable tech, VR, and AR products and apps
Scott Stein
3 min read
Mirror's Edge is one of the few iPad games that truly stand out so far. Scott Stein/CNET

It's been nearly a whole week since I bought an iPad, and I had been expecting gaming on the large-screened tablet to be one of the primary uses I'd engage in. In fact, I'd say it ranks a distant fourth behind e-reading, video viewing, and Web browsing.

Why is this, exactly? It's not like I dislike gaming. In fact, several developers have sent me games to look at, and so far, few have stuck. I attribute the relatively game-free life I've lived with the iPad to two factors: it's not a great handheld system for gaming, and developers are still treating it like a giant iPhone.

To address the first: to me, games on the iPad work best when the device sits in your lap, allowing you to freely touch the screen anywhere. Board games, strategy games, and a few arcade-style titles fit the mold. There are iPad games I'd been hoping to see, and some of those have already come to pass. I'm still waiting on others. The iPad can be held in your hands, but the weight of it makes it hard to hold upright for periods of time. When I say the iPad isn't a great handheld for gaming, this is what I mean. My iPhone can be used for one-handed subway gaming (Drop7, Bejeweled Blitz) or for PSP-style action games via its virtual control pad.

The virtual control pad scheme on the iPad is a harder sell. Gameloft's NOVA, while an impressive FPS, takes some awkward controls in its larger size, and required me to be sitting with the iPad in my lap to really be used the best. Real Soccer controls as easily as its iPhone sibling, but doesn't seem to offer any gameplay or graphic advantages despite its larger size. Meanwhile, a game like Mirror's Edge works better because its swipe-to-run controls can be used in a more casual way when lap-gaming, and in fact won't work great when "hand-held." Of course, Scrabble is fun, but EA's version of the board game doesn't use the iPad real estate in any new or surprising way.

When I'm commuting, I'm not likely to find the physical space or the proper position (i.e., I'm standing) to game on the iPad. At home I might play games, but then again, I also have my consoles.

Labyrinth 2 works great, using the iPad's surface like a giant tilting table. Plants vs Zombies is also perfect, although it doesn't really need the extra real estate on the iPad to play. Despite the big push for iPad driving/flying games, we found Top Gun HD hard to control via a larger device. On the iPhone, it was a much easier fit.

The small-scale strategy game Strategery a tap-to-play casual board game, seems to suit the iPad better with its larger maps and its table-top feel.

To address the second issue I had: so many games on the iPad are currently HD-enhanced versions of iPhone games, simply because the iPhone/iPod Touch has a market share that's so large it can't be ignored. To make games specifically for the iPad is a labor of love, and an endeavor that can only reach around 500,000 people currently, versus an audience of 85 million. Ports and graphic upgrades are what most big studios will provide, or games that can scale easily to a smaller screen. I just hope indie developers dive in and find ways to use this larger surface and its design in ways the iPhone can't...otherwise, gaming on the iPad doesn't seem like such an exciting proposition at all.

Have you found any gaming surprises on the iPad yet? We're still holding out hope, but so far developers seem like they're playing it safe.

Be sure to check out preGAME's iPad gaming roundup and our video on the iPad as game machine, too.