by Jim Lynch

Why I gave up on iOS gaming and bought a Nintendo 3DS XL

Oct 15, 2015

iOS has many games, and a lot of them really stink

I’ve finally thrown in the towel when it comes to gaming on my iPad and iPhone. I’ve tried for years to really enjoy games from the iOS app store, but I’ve come to the conclusion that gaming on iOS devices stinks and that it’s not going to get any better.

I hate to admit that because I really do love my iPhone 6s and iPad Air 2. They are delightful devices and they do quite a bit for me. But I’ve finally been forced to admit that they just don’t cut it when it comes to playing games.

iOS freemium games really stink and aren’t worth installing

So what’s wrong with gaming on iOS? Where should I even begin? Okay, let’s start with the fact that the app store is swimming in a vast sea of crappy “freemium” games. These games purport to be “free” but then you have to pay to do anything in them. Remember that nothing worth having in life is truly free, there’s a cost for everything and nothing embodies that more than so-called “freemium” games.

A while back I wanted a Mario Kart type racing game, so I headed into the app store to find one. I installed Beach Buggy Racing, which looked like a very cool game. But then I realized that it was laden with in-app purchases and that if I wanted to get anywhere I’d have to cough up some cash or spend weary hours trying to get my car spruced up to the point where I could enjoy a race.

I truly loathe the freemium nightmare that has engulfed the app store. I very much prefer to pay for an app or game outright, and I don’t mind paying $20 or $30 or more to get a good one. I know that that flies in the face of the “give it to me for free” mentality that dominates the minds of so many iOS users, but good games are worth paying a higher price to get for my iOS devices.

Unfortunately, I don’t see the freemium disease that is rotting away the heart of the iOS app store being cured anytime soon. Oh sure, Apple has started highlighting “pay once and play” games but that’s not nearly enough. The whole freemium model is totally out of control on the app store and it runs the risk of driving many gamers away as it has driven me away.

Perhaps I’m just an old fuddy duddy who can’t adjust to today’s freemium based mobile gaming market, but it seems to me that Apple needs to start paying attention to this problem. Remember what happened to the Atari 2600 gaming ecosystem when it was flooded with substandard trash? It eventually crashed and burned in a very big and ugly way.

I’m not saying that Apple is in the same situation as Atari since iOS devices obviously don’t just run games, but I think a reckoning is going to come at some point and it’s going to be very ugly indeed! I don’t know what exactly Apple can do to avoid it, but the company has always tried to provide a high quality experience for its users and the “freemium” game trash on the app store is the exact opposite of Apple’s desire to delight its customers.

Game controller support varies among iOS developers

Freemium isn’t the only problem with iOS gaming, however. The lack of widespread support for game controllers is also a huge headache. I bought a SteelSeries Stratus Wireless Gaming Controller from Amazon, and it’s a very good controller. But support for it among games varies, so it’s been a frustrating experience.

I don’t blame the controller manufacturer for this at all. They did a very good job on it. It’s small, light and can easily fit into your pocket. So it’s perfect for mobile devices like the iPad or iPhone. But it doesn’t work with all games and that’s really a developer problem.

For example, I tried to use it to play the popular “Castle of Illusion” game starring Mickey Mouse, but it didn’t work. I couldn’t believe that Disney – of all companies – didn’t realize that supporting a gaming controller for a platform game would be important to many gamers. I deleted “Castle of Illusion” from my iOS devices because it’s just too much of a pain in the ass to play with the on-screen controls.

Nintendo to the rescue: the 3DS XL rocks for gaming!

So around 10:30 last night, I decided I’d had enough of trying to game on my iPhone and iPad. I headed to Walmart and bought the following items, which you can snag from Amazon via the links below if there’s no convenient 24-hour Walmart near you.

New Nintendo 3DS XL – Black

Nintendo 3DS/3DS XL/2DS AC Adapter

Nintendo 3DS Car Charger

And I picked up some games as well. Before heading to Walmart I checked Amazon’s customer reviews and star ratings for each game below and I was impressed with how many were overwhelmingly positive.

Mario Kart 7

Super Smash Brothers

Super Mario 3D Land

Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon

The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D

Yoshi’s New Island

When I got home, I immediately popped Mario Kart 7 into my 3DS XL and within two minutes I was absolutely enthralled with the game! Finally, a racing game that was fun to play! It beats the pants off of any iOS racing game. The control was perfect, and the game looked awesome in 3D!

Oh sure, Mario Kart 7 doesn’t run in as high a resolution as iOS games. But you know what? It doesn’t matter to me. Nintendo knows how to make a game fun, and they know that better tech specs don’t necessarily make for a better game. In the case of Mario Kart, I was sucked into the game immediately and felt the same sense of delight I felt years ago playing Nintendo games.

And, sadly, that sense of wonder and joy was not something I have ever really experienced while playing iOS games. Mario Kart 7 let me have fun racing without buying any damned gems, gold or any of the junk that the freemium games steer people toward to milk them of their money.

The control of my car in Mario Kart 7 was tight and responsive, and I immediately became immersed in the wonders of the track I was racing on as I glided after a jump, had a ghost squirt ink in my face, and grabbed fun power-ups. I could not believe the difference between Mario Kart 7 and the racing games I’d been playing from the iOS app store.

I remember writing off Nintendo’s portable gaming machines years ago because I thought playing on my iPhone or iPad would be just as good. I could not have been more wrong! And it’s not just the difference between using physical buttons and a touch screen. It’s also the quality of the games themselves, Nintendo knows what it’s doing when it comes making fantastic games and the same cannot be said for the developers of many games in the iOS app store.

I still love my iOS devices, but not for gaming

Now don’t get me wrong here, I still love my iOS devices. They do a lot of different things and they do them well. But sometimes you need a single-purpose device to get the best experience possible for certain things and I think that gaming is one of them.

Why do we game? We game because it’s fun, and when it stops being fun or becomes a chore then there’s little point in bothering with it. And that, unfortunately, is how I see iOS gaming right now. There’s very little fun to be had and the overall experience just isn’t worth the headache.

Maybe some day things will change and gaming will experience a renaissance on iOS devices, but for now I’m very happy to stick with my Nintendo 3DS XL. It’s got a huge library of amazing games, 3D that actually works without glasses, and – most importantly – it’s really fun!

Did you miss a post? Check the Eye On Apple home page to get caught up with the latest news, discussions and rumors about Apple.