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