Namco kicked off the App Store launch with the release of two classics: Pac-Man [ App Store] and Ms. Pac-Man [App Store]. Priced at $9.99 each, the games are priced twice as much as the earlier iPod ports.
The gameplay of these historic games is pretty well known, so I won’t bore you with the details. But as Pac-Man, you navigate a maze with while avoiding the ghosts. In order to be succeed at the game, however, you need relatively precise controls with the ability to make quick turns to avoid getting captured by the ghosts.
(As a side note, of the two, I’ve always felt Ms. Pac Man was the perfect form of this game with just the right feel to it. Similar to my insistence that Doom II felt far better than the original Doom.)
As it turns out, these games turned out to be a good test of the iPhone’s unique controls applied to a traditional game. I purchased Ms. Pac-Man (due to my aforementioned bias) for this purpose and found it offered three methods for control.
This tries to emulate the most familiar gaming controller — the D-Pad. While a great method for a physical controller, its implementation on a touch-screen falls pretty short. Of the three input methods, this one felt the most finicky. The lack of tactile response makes it impossible to be certain you are pressing in the right spot. Since you are paying attention to the game play, you can easily lose track of the exact spots to press. And missing one turn is enough to prematurely end your game. I tried both using two thumbs to press the correct spots and also centering my finger in the middle and sliding towards the right direction. In both cases, it was too easy to miss turns.
While it seems likely you could get better with practice, I’m not sure it’s worth the time as there’s a better option available.
All developers are going to feel pressure to use the iPhone’s accelerometer as an input method. Namco allows you to tilt your iPhone in the appropriate direction to guide Ms. Pac-Man through the maze. The on-screen joystick reflects your current input (centered, left, right, up, down) and the neutral centered position is at about a 45 degree angle. While it works better than I had expected, it still falls short in the same critical way.
Again, it’s hard to remember where center is. You may have tilted one direction but on subsequent turns, you may not tilt far enough for it to register. While the joystick’s visual cues are helpful, in practice you can’t pay attention to it while you are playing the game.
Another gimmick? Surprisingly, no. Simply swiping your finger up, down, left or right anywhere on the screen provides a precise way for you to direct your Pac-Man. There is no “center" that needs to be remembered or visualized. Simply pick a place on the screen and swipe in the appropriate direction. It allows for quick and precise turns and makes the game playable at a higher level.
Input controls are going to be an ongoing issue for most games, and a challenge to perfect. It may take some time to find the balance between gimmicky and useful. If you have any interest in the Pac-Man franchise, however, you can be rest assured that the input can keep up with the game.