Hands On With Apple's iPad, Just The Games

Immediately following Apple's iPad reveal event, the Mac maker offered us an opportunity to go hands-on with the touchscreen-controlled tablet. The demo unit came loaded with apps, including about a dozen games. We took (most of) them for a spin.

The games on hand, titles like Gameloft's N.O.V.A., Electronic Arts' Need For Speed: Shift and Sega's Super Monkey Ball, were simply the versions designed with the iPhone and iPod Touch in mind. They were the iPhone apps you can purchase and play right now, upscaled to fit the iPad's screen. iPad-specific games are expected to ship on or around the device's official launch this spring.

Visually, the games looked surprisingly sharp when pixel-doubled on the iPad. iPhone games may not be the most visually stunning of the currently available gaming options, but we were impressed with the iPad's output. There was no offensive blur or excessive pixelation on the iPad's big, bright screen. They simply looked like their iPhone counterparts, no worse for wear when blown up.

Now, the bad news. Many of these iPhone games, N.O.V.A. in particular, did not make the transition in the control department very well. Gameloft was one of the iPad developers on stage that promised a version of its Halo-esque first-person shooter tailored for a larger screen. It was easy to see why. Trying to hold the iPad, tap its screen, control the software d-pad with one's thumb, and pan across it with one's fingers just didn't work very well. It was uncomfortable and awkward, a problem made more apparent by the weight of the iPad versus that of an iPhone.

I had similar control issues while playing Assassin's Creed: Altair's Chronicles on the iPad, which uses a similar virtual d-pad and touchscreen controls for jumping and attacking.

The games that were successful were ones that relied simply on touching and tilting, not a complex combination of both. PopCap's gem matching casual hit Bejeweled 2 was, unsurprisingly, easy to play with its simple taps and small swipes. Super Monkey Ball, admittedly not the easiest game to control via accelerometer anyway, worked as well as it does on the iPhone platform.

I was less successful with Tetris, which I played with the iPad resting flat on a table, tapping and swiping tetrominoes down screen. The iPad's rounded posterior reduced some of the reliability of touchscreen control

Need For Speed: Shift was one of the more positive control experiences, as it relies only on tilting and braking with a touchscreen press. EA's other offering, The Sims 3, was also completely playable, relying less on twitch gameplay and more on menu based controls to play.

Apple also chose to showcase titles like Oregon Trail, Tap Tap Revenge 3, Scrabble and Madden NFL Football, titles we didn't get a chance to experience during our iPad hands on time.

As a gaming platform, the iPad is less compelling of a casual gaming purchase than the less expensive iPhone, at least until Apple and third party developers like Gameloft and EA start creating platform specific features into their games. (On the brighter side, the content you already may have purchased for your phone or iPod Touch should work on the iPad without the need to double dip. It just might not control as well when biggie sized.)

In other words, how about them iWork for iPad apps?