Time to play


Hun­dreds of Ap­ple Watch games al­ready ex­ist, but are any worth even a sec­ond of your time?

Ap­ple Watch is easy to dis­miss as a gam­ing plat­form, es­pe­cially when you have one strapped to your wrist. Even the larger model’s screen is tiny, and since Ap­ple would rather you didn’t use it at all (thereby keep­ing the bat­tery alive for a bit longer), the screen blinks off at ev­ery avail­able op­por­tu­nity. The de­vice is mostly si­lent, bar emit­ting a shrill ding when­ever a no­ti­fi­ca­tion ar­rives. And the lim­i­ta­tions of the hard­ware and soft­ware re­sult in games – in re­al­ity ex­ten­sions of iPhone apps – that are very ba­sic, with an­i­ma­tion that ranges be­tween the stac­cato jerk of clas­sic Game & Watch and an an­i­mated GIF.

You might nonethe­less think his­tory’s re­peat­ing it­self, and Ap­ple Watch should be given a chance. Af­ter all, the first iPhone was un­der­pow­ered and ini­tially lum­bered with ba­sic web apps. Even when the App Store ar­rived, it took a good six months be­fore the de­vice’s po­ten­tial be­came clear; by then, savvy de­vel­op­ers had stopped treat­ing the de­vice like a Nin­tendo hand­held that had lost its but­tons down the back of the sofa, and in­stead started de­vel­op­ing for the plat­form’s unique ca­pa­bil­i­ties. The likes of Eliss ush­ered in an age of en­gag­ing mul­ti­touch gam­ing that rethought in­ter­ac­tive en­ter­tain­ment on mo­bile.

With Ap­ple Watch, clearly, we’re still very much on day one, and we don’t even have mul­ti­touch. There are only ba­sic taps and swipes, to con­trol games al­most en­tirely cre­ated by de­vel­op­ers who only got their hands on the hard­ware at the same time as con­sumers. Upon play­ing Ap­ple Watch games, it’s ap­par­ent that many were pri­mar­ily de­signed on Macs, with­out testing any­thing on wrists. They try to keep you play­ing for ex­tended ses­sions, like iPhone ti­tles, but hold your wrist in front of your face, prod­ding at it with your other hand, and your arms soon start to ache.

This, com­bined with am­bi­tion and a ten­dency to­wards tra­di­tion, has re­sulted in some de­vel­op­ers try­ing to do too much, bring­ing across gen­res en­tirely un­suited to the host hard­ware. Grav­ity Mike wants to be a stripped-down VVVVVV, your char­ac­ter leap­ing be­tween ceil­ings and floors in search of keys to un­lock ex­its. But with a slideshow fram­er­ate, tiny view­port and three large con­trol but­tons to prod, it’s like trudg­ing through some­one’s first fal­ter­ing crack us­ing BA­SIC on a ZX81.

Else­where, even ti­tles you’d ex­pect to suc­ceed strug­gle. Jelly Cubes vaguely re­sem­bles Threes!, ask­ing you to match groups of slid­ing coloured tiles. On Ap­ple Watch it’s robbed of an­i­ma­tion and sound, be­com­ing an un­pleas­ant, jar­ring ex­pe­ri­ence that’s a pale shadow of the iPhone ver­sion. Mean­while, Snaker barely man­ages to match the fram­er­ate and re­spon­sive­ness of the Snake once en­joyed on ’90s Nokia hand­sets. A glim­mer of prom­ise ap­pears on dis­cov­er­ing games clearly de­signed with the hard­ware in mind. Such ti­tles are in­tended to be played in ab­surdly short bursts, sim­ple in de­sign and for­giv­ing of clumsy fin­gers prod­ding at small screens. They are fre­quently throw­away, but at least pro­vide enough en­ter­tain­ment value that you won’t feel in­clined to fish for your iPhone when wait­ing in a queue.

There’s a raft of vir­tual pets for ob­ses­sives keen to be fre­quently bugged for food and ado­ra­tion, and plenty of su­per-fast quiz games that put a tiny num­ber of sec­onds on the clock and re­lent­lessly chal­lenge you to choose be­tween pairs of an­swers un­til your brain gives out. Peak’s con­cept is as sparse as it gets: you de­cide whether the cur­rent shape matches the pre­vi­ous one shown. Un­der pres­sure, you’ll get things wrong, gnash your teeth, and sud­denly re­alise that, for a brief mo­ment, you were en­thralled by an Ap­ple Watch game.

Ri­fling through other gen­res fur­ther ce­ments the idea that only the concise and sim­ple can sur­vive on Ap­ple Watch. In sport, Watch This Home­run hones base­ball down to tim­ing a tap when a ball goes over the plate; en­tire league

Hold your wrist in front of your face, prod­ding at it with your other hand, and your arms soon start to ache

An Ap­ple Watch app rush was a given, but num­bers to date ex­ceed even the wilder in­dus­try pro­jec­tions

Grav­i­tyMike (£1.49, Alexan­dre Mi­nard) and Jelly Cubes (79p, In­golf Koch) try to bring across tra­di­tional games to Ap­ple Watch, and merely dis­ap­point

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