• Where have all the good games gone?

    For the first time in a long time, I don't have an iOS game to review this week.

    Partly because I've spent the first week of my holidays catching up on a number of console and PC titles, and partly because I've been completely engrossed in an older DS game, 999.

    You might even have heard of it; 999 is 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors, and after giving it a thorough play-through over the past week, it has now been cemented as one of the best games I've ever played. Period.

    And it's easy to see why it's been a huge success in the Western world, even though it was — like many Nintendo titles — originally released in Japan. 999 is a game like any other, a visual novel that takes you on a journey that defies belief.

    Yes, it's a visual novel, which means you'll spend a lot of time reading text. I mean, a lot of text — for a game that contains no audible dialogue, it makes up for it in spades by allowing you to read through the story as it progresses. The text-heavy aspect of 999 means it won't be for everyone, but think of it as reading an interactive book and you'll be well on the way to experiencing one of the most epic plots I've ever been privy to.

    When you're not progressing the story via these dialog based story scenes (complete with dialogue choices which determine how the story plays out), you're solving puzzles. Every now and again you'll find yourself trapped in a room, at which point you'll have to figure out how to escape. These escape sequences play out much like a point-and-click adventure game, or one of those Flash games where you have to find and combine various objects in order to solve a number of puzzles within the room. Some puzzles require some simple addition, others require a specific sequence of events, and others still require a bit of lateral thinking on your behalf.

    Where the story goes is… interesting, without spoiling anything for any of you that haven't played the game. Interesting is certainly one way to describe the conclusion of the game, mind-blowingly epic is another; twisted, insane, and complex are a few more.

    But this isn't a review of 999, as great of a game it is. No, this is me asking you why we don't see these kinds of titles on iOS.

    I'm not talking about puzzle games, or adventure games. I'm not even talking about puzzle adventure games, or "long" games — iOS has plenty of those. I'm talking about triple-A titles, games that recieve such good reviews that people are compelled to buy into your platform purely to play the exclusive titles on that platform. I know many people that own Xboxes purely because of Halo, and I'm sure the PS3 has just as many Gran Turismo fans.

    Specifically, I'm talking about triple-A, iOS exclusives. IOS has plenty of ports of games that already exist on other platforms — which is great and all — but where are the must-play exclusives that incorporate a compelling storyline with fantastic gameplay that complements the story? Where are the games like 999, which weave the most intricate of webs while providing some good old-fashioned puzzles to back it up?

    A little while ago, I wrote about how iOS gaming was kicking ass and taking names. People are always talking about how iOS games are the only way to make money on the App Store. I'm still of that opinion, but as it turns out, there's a difference between standout iOS titles and games of the same caliber as 999.

    So if the issue isn't that iOS games don't make money — $12 million a month can't be wrong — what is? Why haven't we seen amazing standout titles on iOS?

    Once again: I'm not talking about Angry Birds, Infinity Blade, or whatever the current flavour-of-the-month is, I'm talking about games that are absolute must-plays. There are over 131,000 games in the App Store, accounting for 18% of the total number of apps. But take out the "games"/junk/copycat games, and what are you left with?

    Take it a step further, and take out every arcade-style, high-score chaser. That immediately cuts out a huge multitude of iOS titles, some of them you might have heard of, and some of them the very iOS exclusives the likes of which I've been discussing thus far: Canabalt, Real Racing, Infinity Blade, Doodle Jump, and so many more. What are you left with? There's perhaps one title that I can think of that even begins to come close to 999. A single iOS-exclusive, triple-A title.

    Don't get me wrong, those games I've mentioned are still great games in their own right, and I still think iOS is doing very, very well in the gaming space. Perhaps success is measured differently on iOS compared to portable consoles. But for a platform that's consistently tarred with the same brush as its portable console relatives, for a platform that has over one hundred times more titles than the Nintendo DS, there just aren't enough games that approach the level of quality that properly reflects the popularity of iOS games.

    Instead, we're stuck with the same arcade, physics-puzzler, 8-bit drivel we've seen again and again – endless platformers, updates that bring new levels to wear out the same gameplay mechanic over and over again. Maybe the next time I see the words "arcade" or "2D" mentioned in a Touch Arcade review I'll sell off my iPhone and move to Android. I mean, line-drawers (Flight Control, Harbour Master, et al) were cool in 2010, but now? Totally overdone.

    Maybe that's why Nintendo releasing an iOS app is such a big deal, because the iOS hopeful see it as a sign they might pull a Sega, abandon their hardware, and start punching out iOS titles instead. Maybe what I'm saying is, there needs to be more games like 999 on iOS. And maybe, just maybe, that's not such a bad thing — especially if the recent success of The Walking Dead is anything to go by (FYI, episode 5 is due out later this week).

    Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to play the sequel of 999. Not on my iPhone, no, no — on the PlayStation Vita.

    Benny Ling, by his own admission, plays too many games. But what's wrong with that? You can follow him on Twitter, if you wish.
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