Thursday, April 30, 2009

On The Cell Phone

I never used to have a cell phone. I finally got one about four years ago after A) my wife felt I really should have one for emergencies, B) I was working on some projects where I needed to be reachable, and C) I realized cell phones could now play reasonable facsimiles of some of my favorite retro video games. Mostly C).

My first cell phone is now nearing the end of its useful life -- its battery only lasts for an hour or two, and occasionally runs out of power before the end of the work day. I really ought to replace it, but the "free" phone my carrier is offering is still going to induce some expense, because my game-related purchases won't carry over to the new phone. So I will have to rearrange and rebuy some things when I take the leap, and it's a good opportunity to take inventory, make some decisions, and get a blog entry out of the deal.

Ring Tones --

These are really the coolest things about my current phone, the must-replace items when I do get a new one. I have the Pac-Man opening theme for general calls, Ms. Pac-Man for when my wife calls, and odd tunes like the Dig-Dug music for good friends. Now, given the need to replace the phone eventually, I will probably want to mix it up -- maybe bring the Space Harrier theme onboard, or Super Mario Bros., or the Galaga opener. But Mr. and Ms. Pac-Man have got to stick around, or I probably won't notice that my phone is ringing. The Pac-Man theme is also very handy when I'm in a meeting with my phone on the table, because the opening "gulp" sound is brief and there's just enough of a pause before the rest of the theme kicks in for me to hit "Ignore" if I can't answer the phone.

Games --

I will probably NOT replace the games themselves immediately, mostly because the novelty of playing games on the phone has worn off for me personally, cell phone buttons don't really work that well for control purposes, and I rarely have time to kill where I'm tempted to pull out the phone and play. Usually I'm either ON the phone or doing something else where games are not an option, so the actual value of the games I have downloaded is limited. Still, it's a good opportunity to review and discuss what I currently have on my aging phone, so here goes.
  • DOOM RPG -- I bought this one for a fix after finishing the original DOOM for the umpteenth time (this time on XBLA), but it's better than I expected. It's a nice mix of old-school fake-3-D dungeon crawler and the classic DOOM universe, with more of an adventure feel to it. I haven't actually gotten too far into it, though, so I probably won't really miss it.
  • Frogger Online -- Bought, fun, works reasonably well on a cell phone. Removed to make room for DOOM RPG. Would probably buy again, as I really love Frogger and its controls work well on a phone.
  • Metal Slug Mobile -- Turns out that SNK's Neo-Geo arcade shooter series is a little too ambitious for the horsepower on my phone. The game looks like Metal Slug, but the gameplay is awkward to control, scrolling is jerky (though the parallax effect is neat), and the animation and audio are severely limited compared to the original series. The levels are short and not particularly well-designed; this one belongs on a console, not a phone.
  • Tetris -- Alexey Pajitnov's classic puzzle game rocks and always will. It's simple, fascinating, and works very well on just about anything. This is the game I gravitate to when I really do have some time to kill, and I will definitely keep a version around on the next telecommunications gadget I own.
  • Lode Runner -- Hudson Soft's mobile version gives it a good try, but the digging controls are awkward and you can't really see enough of the screen in many levels to plan strategy adequately. I love Lode Runner, but I'll stick with console versions.
  • Galaga -- Ah, Galaga. A truly classic design descended from Space Invaders, but so perfectly balanced that it has outlived its inspiration as well as its series-mates Galaxian and Gaplus. I wish it played more smoothly on my current phone, but the next one will likely be more powerful, and I will likely give Namco my money for this one all over again.
  • Puzzle Bobble -- also known as Bust-a-Move, this is another one I deleted to make room for other games at some point. The game mechanic works well enough on a phone, but without the cheerful Japanese music and characters of the original arcade game, it's just not the same. One of those cases where a stripped-down version is stripped of too much.

And that's it. Somehow I never got around to downloading Pac-Man as an actual game, and some games on my wish list have never materialized for mobile phone play (Miner 2049er, please?) And that's okay, because my experience with mobile gaming has been mixed.

I'll blog again when I finally get around to replacing my trusty Samsung model; I'm sure I'll be tempted to pick something up, just knowing there's more horsepower in my pocket than there used to be. But I haven't made any real decisions yet. I know the iPhone can handle sophisticated games, but I'm not sure I really want to be that trendy or sophisticated. Give me a decent selection of 2-D pixel-pushers on an otherwise useable phone, and I'll be happy.

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