Why iPad is worth buying as a games machine

Friday, 1 March 2013 13:53 GMT By Patrick Garratt

Is iPad just for light gamers and kids? Patrick Garratt reckons it’s for everyone, and if you haven’t already you should be seriously considering blasting off to planet iOS.

Apple sent me an iPad on loan. The whole iOS thing was getting kind of ridiculous. I didn’t own an iOS device (my phone’s Android) and the world of iGaming was passing me by. I bought an iPad Mini for my wife for Christmas and thought that would do for testing games. I’m sure it would, but I barely get to touch it. Fiona never puts it down.

I’ve been playing with it for a few weeks now, and there are a few clear take-homes. Firstly, if you’re passionate about games you should own an HD tablet. Secondly, if you have children, you should own an HD tablet. Thirdly, you should own an HD tablet.

My iPad gaming habit has already entered a second phase. At first I grabbed some well-reviewed games and off I went. I lost a few days to the gimmick before calming down and playing less. From my experience with the App Store so far, the games (the good ones, anyway) tend to be easy to get into and are the sort of thing you play for 20 minutes then put down and will probably boot again when you’re bored or travelling. There are exceptions, but generally iPad gaming it’s like an ADHD party on a beautiful piece of hardware interspersed with Twitter, Facebook and Reddit. I play games on it every day.

Here’s what I’ve installed so far. You can take a look at fuller collections here. I should note that I’ve spent more on iOS content in a few weeks than I have on Android in nearly two years. The system for buying anything from the App Store is flawless to the extent that I love hitting buttons with prices on them just so I can marvel at how slick it all is. Paying for games is a good thing, people.

  • Fruit Ninja HD: Obviously. My kids love this. I’ve had it installed on my phone for almost two years, and the iOS version’s as great as you’d expect. The main difference was that I happily paid for it on iPad.
  • Heroes of Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes: This is expensive by App Store standards, but in my view indicates just how immersive touch-screen games can be if they’re properly constructed for the interface. Clash of Heroes is a Ubisoft RPG with a brilliant turn-based battle system. I’ve already dropped 35 hours on it, and I don’t regret a second. You know how people reckon Fire Emblem’s a good enough reason alone to get a 3DS? This is the iPad equivalent. I love it.
  • The Room: Ingenious puzzle game in which you open boxes. I don’t want to spoil this in any way, but I can wholeheartedly recommend it.
  • Cordy 2: This is a platformer and highlights probably the biggest problem with iOS games, from what I can see: touch-games that use emulated physical controls. It’s great and all, but it uses virtual buttons instead of swipes. As there’s no feedback from the screen it can be a frustrating. I’m glad I was allowed to try before deciding whether or not to buy, put it that way.
  • Hackycat: This is a really simple thing that costs pennies and will amuse your children forever. You kick the cats, collect the burgers, unlock stuff. You can play it with one finger. Stupid. Awesome.
  • Temple Run 2: You should own this. It’s free and it’s surprising how often I go back to it, despite its simplicity. You run forwards, dodging obstacles by swiping the screen or tilting the pad. Can be maddening, but it’s a lot of fun.
  • Infinity Blade: I picked this up for free on promo. Didn’t quite hook me in the way I thought it might, but I’m sure I’ll go back the next time I’m on a train. It’s good, no question, but maybe I’m missing something. Might get the second one.
  • Kairo: Kairo’s a 3D puzzle game in which you walk around surrealist landscapes solving spatial problems. I haven’t spent long enough with it to say whether or not it’s going to work out, but it’s had good reviews. I’m a bit stuck, to be honest.
  • Harbor Master: This is from Imangi, the same studio behind Temple Run. I have Flight Control on my phone, which is a similar deal. You have a map and boats sail onto it. You have to draw lines to guide the boats to various docks depending on the colour of their cargo. Once they’re unloaded you draw them off the screen. If two boats collide it’s over. Perfect mobile fodder, and, again, it costs peanuts.
  • Plants Vs Zombies HD: I’ve played this through on PC, but the iOS version was free on promo so I started again. Already re-addicted. PopCap’s classic’s perfect for touch. You should definitely get this, regardless of whether or not you have to pay.
  • Azkend 2 HD: I played this for the first time on a press trip to Finland a few years ago. It’s a find-the-matches puzzler, of which there are many, but what attracts me is the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea aesthetic. Azkend 2 has lovely presentation and gets bloody hard. Innocent, taxing fun.
  • RAD Soldiers: Splash Damage’s first shot at mobile gaming is, essentially, free-to-play XCOM: Enemy Unknown. You can play single-player challenges or online, with turn-based multiplayer acting similarly to Words With Friends. I’ve only skimmed the top of it thus far, but there’s plenty to look at here. It’s free, so you have no excuse.
  • LEGO 4+: Free app which lets your kids put together basic LEGO models and drive them over basic landscapes. Kept my children occupied for half an hour. Cost nothing, so I’m not complaining.

On the theme of the LEGO game, I want to put in a clear note on how good iPad is for playing games with children. I have twin sons aged four and a six year-old daughter, and the only games they can play are based on touch. Anything else – PC, 360, whatever – is simply them sitting next to me while I play the game. iPad’s been a revelation for us in terms of playing as a family.

My kids love CBeebies games from the official site – they’re usually no more complex than dressing a robot up, or swiping away paint to reveal a number – and things like Fruit Ninja and Hackycat work really well as the only thing you have to do is touch the screen. I doubt it would work so well with the Mini, but on a 10-inch screen it’s brilliant. Stuff like LEGO 4+ is completely free and, again, involves nothing more than simple swipes to build models and single presses to jump or move. A four year-old using an adult mouse doesn’t work. Touching something and making it squeak or run around definitely does. It means your kids can actually play rather than watching. They’re involved. You can take a look at a selection of kids’ games here.

This article isn’t supposed to be a definitive look at iPad gaming, but in a few weeks my iPad has become very much used as a gaming device by myself and my children. The App Store’s ludicrously easy to use, and contains something for everyone. It’s going to be part of our household’s gaming habit from here on out.

Disclosure: Apple supplied an iPad on loan for playtesting. All games were bought by VG247.

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