According to Steve Jobs himself, the iPad offers "freedom from porn," which is an interesting remark to make about a device that positively redefines the notion of gadget porn. To own one right now is to abandon yourself to shameless, unfettered lust for something you probably don't need.
Don't get me wrong, I bloody love playing around with the thing, but there's no real logic to forking out more than £400 for something that, right now, from a gaming perspective does little that the iPhone and iPod Touch don't do already. But hell, if you've got the money, surrendering to the wanton desire for something you don't really need is familiar territory for the early adopter.
So, join me for a cash-unconscious whistle-stop tour of the best of the launch line-up, so that you can feel a bit better about re-purchasing upscaled versions of all those games you already own.
(Note: Given that most of these titles have already made their mark on iPhone, I'm going to assume that you're already reasonably well aware of how brilliant they are, and instead will focus on how well they work on the iPad, and whether the extra screen size and visual fidelity makes a quantifiable difference.)
Flight Control HD
- £2.99 (iPhone version £0.59)
Guiding little planes and helicopters onto colour-coded landing strips with your own fingers sounds immensely dull - that is, until you get your hands on Firemint's ludicrously addictive touchscreen marvel. What starts out as a pleasantly sedate coffee break diversion soon turns into a feverish exercise in multi-tasking as you frantically try to stop idiotic aircraft from smashing into one another.
Is it better on the iPad? Unquestionably yes. Firstly, it isn't a straight upscaled port like most of the quick-and-dirty efforts out there, but essentially Flight Control on a grander scale, with a much greater playing area available to you. Plus, if you've got stupid sausage fingers, then playing it on the 10" touch screen feels absolutely luxurious, with a little more precision afforded to the paths you trace.
Geometry Wars: Touch
- £5.99 (no iPhone version)
Full disclosure: I absolutely loathe fake twin-stick games on the iPhone with a passion bordering on the psychotic. Imagine my delight when I discovered that DoubleSix Games had elected to faithfully port Bizarre Creations' Xbox Live Arcade sequel using this abhorrent control system. Unleash the hounds!
At first, all my worst fears were realised as the lack of tactile precision resulted in countless unforced errors and pathetically low scores, but a bit of patience and no small amount of talcum powder (you read that right) to reduce the friction turned it into a pleasantly enjoyable affair.
Is it better on the iPad? Well, in this case it's competing with the native 360 version, so obviously not, but as a technical showcase for the brilliance of the iPad's screen, few games come anywhere near this impressive. While you might pull off a few unexpectedly decent scores, the margin for error and general unsuitability for touch screen controls stops it from being a game you'd rather play on the iPad. On top of that, they've annoyingly locked the screen orientation, making it a bugger to play if you're using headphones. Tsk.
Plants vs. Zombies HD
- £5.99 (iPhone version £1.79)
Is there any sane, living being that doesn't love Plants vs. Zombies? Released on innumerable platforms over the past couple of years, it's probably PopCap's finest hour, and definitely one of the best tower defence games you'll ever play. It could well be your favourite iPad game. It will definitely be Ellie's.
Presented with an obscenely adorable art style and wry sense of humour, it makes the tired notion of fending off scores of slavering zombies more fun than it reasonably has any right to be. Who needs guns and axes when you've got vengeful plants and lawnmowers on your side? Come to that, who needs other games?
Is it better on the iPad? Honestly, there's not a lot in it. Side by side, the game works just as well on the iPhone, but the iPad just about shades it when the action really heats up and you need that extra bit of precision in object selection and placement that the small-screen version lacks. On the other hand, you really are paying more than three times as much for the luxury. You could, of course, just play your iPhone version on the big screen, but think of all the pixels you'll miss out on, skinflint.
Angry Birds HD
- £2.99 (iPhone version £0.59)
Another game that feels the need to be five times the price on the iPad for the sake of a sharper resolution, but given how cheap it is I'm inclined to let Rovio rake in a bit more cash for making a stupendously addictive bird-flinging tale of revenge. As before, your sole purpose is to catapult a handful of malevolent birds in order to take out the pesky green pigs that have allegedly stolen their eggs, and it's a formula that's as addictive as it is annoying. WHY WON'T THEY JUST DIE?
Is it better on the iPad? Unlike some of the other ports doing the rounds, there isn't any specific advantage to playing Angry Birds on a bigger screen other than the woolly notion of it being 'nicer'. You don't gain greater precision, and the visuals are basically exactly the same. To compound matters, publisher Chillingo hasn't bothered to include the extra levels that were subsequently released on the iPhone version. Swizz.
Real Racing HD
- £5.99 (iPhone version £2.99)
Despite the burly presence of Need For Speed: Shift and Asphalt 5 in the iPad launch line-up, it's actually this plucky outsider that impresses most in the racing stakes - something that won't come as any surprise to those who bought the game on iPhone last year.
As with most racing games on the platform, this is another that allows you to focus entirely on just steering the car, rather than worry too much about adjusting your speed. With the dimensions of the iPad absolutely perfect for replicating the action of turning a steering wheel, you simply hold your hands at either ends of the device and tilt left or right into the bends.
While the rather dated-looking visuals aren't exactly stretching the iPad's capabilities, an excellent in-car view and all-round more exciting driving experience puts it some margin ahead of its rather staid competitors.
Is it better on the iPad? Despite its rather jaggy appearance, Real Racing HD still has the capacity to impress by virtue of its grander scale, fooling your brain into feeling like you're playing a game on a massive telly as opposed to a 10" handheld.
- £1.79 (no iPhone version)
There are maybe as many as 5000 pinball games on the iPhone (not much of an exaggeration), so it's hardly surprising that the iPad launch line-up already contains five of the bloody things. Top of the heap is easily Gameprom's offering, which pulls together four of its iPhone offerings into one excellent-value compilation that is unexpectedly entertaining.
Is it better on the iPad? As you might imagine, the iPad is near enough the perfect platform for pinball simulators, with its pin-sharp, beautifully detailed backdrops and simple controls making it easy to provide an authentic approximation of the real thing. Needless to say, the dimensions of the device lend themselves extremely well to pinball, though you can actually play the game in any orientation you choose should you wish to forego the more logical vertical option. You'll be playing by sense of smell before you know it.
Vector Runner HD
- £1.79 (iPhone version: £0.59)
My, how it's grown. The famous Flash game from 2007 escaped my attention when it came out for iPhone a couple of months back, but its HD arrival on the iPad is very welcome indeed.
In true early-eighties tradition, its single-minded premise tasks you with nothing more than left/right avoidance of oncoming obstacles at frenetic speed, and comes across as a blistering retro-futurist fusion of The Impossible Game with 3D Death Chase. If you can stop playing it, you're a better man than I.
Is it better on the iPad? There's not much in it, but its upscaled vector glory is truly beautiful to behold. Sometimes it's the simple pleasures that really click on the iPad, and this is definitely one of them.
Mirror's Edge for iPad
- £7.49 (no iPhone equivalent)
Widely regarded as the pick of the iPad launch line-up, it's easy to see why US critics have been all a-froth about this beautiful free-running platformer. Like a more coherent Canabalt, you must guide Faith safely across endless rooftops and obstacles, leaping, sliding, wall jumping and wall running to the end of each level.
Is it better on the iPad? Like all the best touchscreen games, Mirror's Edge for iPad succeeds by not trying to replicate a joypad. Instead, via a series of taps and context-specific slide motions, you can pull off a breathless array of acrobatic manoeuvres in a way that could be frustratingly out-of-reach on the full-blown version. If anything, EA has done a better job with this version of making a free-running game than DICE managed, and this should be your first port of call when deciding which games to buy.
Tap Tap Radiation
- Free (not available on iPhone)
The innumerable Tap Tap games on iPhone always showed a certain degree of promise, but always seemed slightly held back by the limitations of the screen dimensions. With more room to play with, Tap Tap Radiation sees Tapulous shake off some of those shackles with a brilliantly entertaining rhythm action title.
Despite offering up some excellent tracks (including a cracking Datarock track and a great Massive Attack remix), its free nature ensures that it is saddled with a song list that even a hardened music nerd will struggle to be familiar with. No matter, though, because the game itself operates well within its determinedly limited framework.
Is it better on the iPad? There's no denying the gameplay feels a lot more varied, with the pressure pads often shifting place mid-song, while the backdrop feel more psychedelic than ever. Going back to play the old Tap Tap titles is pretty jarring by comparison.
Sam & Max: The Devil's Playhouse Episode 1: The Penal Zone
- £3.99 (not available on iPhone)
For point-and-click adventure fans, the iPad is positively a dream come true, offering up what amounts to the perfect platform for the genre. The arrival of Telltale's third season of Sam & Max for a bargain price is, obviously, wonderful news, and a sure sign that developers are eyeing the platform with interest. Indeed, the fact that the new season actually premiered on iPad in the US was a real coup for the format.
Is it better on the iPad? In comparison to the PC and PS3 versions we've played, not really. Although the controls and interface are absolutely tailor made for the iPad, it's clear that Telltale struggled to optimise the game's performance adequately. It's not a complete deal-breaker, but the appearance of regular jarring slowdown takes a little away from what would have otherwise been an absolute must-buy.
With dozens of titles to wade through, forming a definitive top 10 was a real struggle, so here's a list of some of the other games you should keep in mind for your iPad shopping list.
- Super Monkey Ball 2
- Dungeon Hunter HD
- Worms HD
- Galcon Fusion
- Command & Conquer: Red Alert