Gaming's greatest mascots are learning some new tricks with a new lease of life thanks to Angry Birds and a few next gen gaming friends.
Last month, a new Sonic game span straight on the App Store - the first that Sega has ever crafted specifically for the iPhone. But it wasn’t a straightforward platformer like you'd expect from the blue flash. Called Sonic Jump, the goal is to simply bounce up the levels, tilting your phone to land the hedgehog on the platforms. The higher you get before you miss and plummet to the Game Over screen, the more you score.
Sound a bit familiar? The concept’s straight out of Doodle Jump, the adorable 2009 iPhone game that made two brothers millionaires overnight, and one of the first indie gaming hits on Apple’s smartphone.
Just like Doodle Jump - and unlike many previous Sonic games (often lazy rehashes of console outings from yesteryear - Sonic Jump has been well received too. The Daily Record described it as “brilliant and addictive”, while Pocket Gamer said it felt “more like a Sonic game than most other recent attempts”. And all because Sega took the time to build a Sonic game just for the iPhone and iPad.
Sonic’s not alone though. The giants of gaming have all had to adapt to the new style of gameplay touchscreen smartphones have made popular (Except Mario of course, who Nintendo refuses to bring to mobiles, in spite of the countless Mario clones popping up in his absence). These are the tricks gaming’s greatest icons have had to learn all over again to stay fun in the era of the touchscreen:
Keep it simple
Ubisoft’s limbless Rayman is the most recognisable face in gaming after Mario and Sonic, but he hadn’t starred in a hit game on the iPhone until last month. Rayman 2, which launched on the App Store in 2010, was a stunning recreation of the sprawling 3D PlayStation original, but its controls simply didn’t work without buttons.
So Ubisoft went back to the drawing board, and lifted a trick straight out of the all too addictive Temple Run: just have your character run automatically, and let the player concentrate on jumping. Rayman Jungle Run, which hit iPhone and Android phones in September, is all the better for it: it’s a 2D platformer where you have to jump the obstacles at the right time, and that’s it. Try and stop playing it, if you can though.
Play in short bursts
The best mobile games are the ones you can play for a quick session on the bus: that’s how Angry Birds turned Rovio into a billion pound company, after all. But gaming’s legends hail from the days when a good game was one that would keep you cooped up inside on a blazing hot weekend - and these games demanding all your time don’t work on a phone. Take the original PlayStation Crash Bandicoot, which was panned by critics when it was released on Android last year.
Solid Snake learned that lesson well when Konami launched Metal Gear Solid Touch in 2010. Instead of the endless hours of unskippable cut scenes Metal Gear fans were used to on the PlayStation, Snake was dropped right into the firing zone in a quickfire arcade shooter that worked perfectly on the just launched iPad.
Admit what doesn’t work anymore
Tetris is a masterpiece. But it’s one that lends itself to a Game Boy with a directional-pad and buttons, not a smartphone: as the blocks start falling faster and faster, a touchscreen just can’t keep up with all your taps. So Electronics Arts did something drastic for its mobile version of the greatest puzzle game of all time: it changed Tetris.
EA introduced a completely new mode, One Touch Tetris, which shows you ghostly outlines of your five best options as the blocks fall: you just tap one of these and it slots into place. Sure, you could say that makes it Tetris Lite, but it’s hard to argue with the reviews: the average user rating is now at 4.5/5 on iTunes for the game, up since One Touch was introduced.
Adapt to the touchscreen
Old genres of gaming can still work on touchscreens, but sometimes you need to change their very core for them to survive. A case in point is the beat’em up: button bashers like Street Fighter just don’t work on a mobile, but Infinity Blade’s sweeping swordplay has proved an epic hit on the iPhone. So much so that it inspired the latest Marvel game, Avengers Initiative: it’s not an old school fighter like the Marvel vs Capcom series, but an action romp that sees you as the Hulk, with swiping finger actions to pound your enemies into the ground.
“I think that the genre that it has opened up has created a lot of open water for other executions, and other ideas and other games to play in,” Marvel’s TQ Jefferson told Red Bull UK in an interview this week.
Use new tech
The real secret of Sonic Jump’s success isn’t that it’s simplified. It’s that it makes use of controls you can only find in a smartphone: like Doodle Jump, it uses your phone’s accelerometer. Its day job is just to turn the screen off when you hold your phone near your ear, but it’s a great tool for motion control and tilting gaming.
Take Pac-Man: the arcade classic has found a new lease of life on the iPhone, with new modes letting you control the chomper by both swiping and tilting through the maze - something you’d never be able to do with a console gamepad.