Ramblings About Rambling Across the Country with iPad Games

I’ve been traveling the past week and will be traveling much more in the next couple months. While I love going new places, I do dislike being separated from my dearly beloved game consoles. For years now, my Nintendo DS has been my trusty travel companion and more than a few transcontinental and even trans-oceanic flights have been whiled away with the help of Tetris, Civilization: Revolutions, and Advanced Wars among others. This last trip though, I decided to leave the DS at home because now I’ve got a shiny new iPad, and it’s chock full of games.

I love my iPad, I really do. It’s replaced my Kindle and my netbook in much of my daily life (and they used to play a BIG part in my daily life), and it has mostly replaced my DS as well, at least around the house. I’m a tower defense fiend in all it’s different incarnations, and I enjoy the little Angry Birds-style casual games as well. This is me at home: TV on, iPad in hand, playing some damned game or another. On the plane, replace the TV with an MP3 player full of podcasts. Either way, I hardly ever hear the soundtrack for the game that I’m playing. For some games, I’m not even sure what that soundtrack sounds like. At home, I do this because most TV seems to work just fine as radio and isn’t often worth 100% of my attention. On the plane, I do it because I need Maximum Distraction from how uncomfortable I am crammed into that seat.

So, how did the iPad fair as my sole source of gaming-related distraction? Mixed. The bottom line is that the next time I’m bringing the DS along too, if only because Dragon Quest IX just came out. More significantly, the iPad isn’t quite as comfortable to play. It’s big, bright screen is nice for surfing the web or watching videos or reading books (I did all those things with it on this trip), but the device gets heavy in the hand and awkward to hold for prolonged bouts of escapism. The best solution is to rest it on your tray table and that ended up working fine for the simple tasks required of me by touch-based games like Angry Birds or Tower Madness, but for any kind of action or twitch-based play, holding the slab o’ circuits and glass for long periods doesn’t do the wrists any favors.

But here’s the real tragedy for me: Civilization: Revolutions on the iPad is kind of terrible. Okay, terrible is way too strong a word, especially since the game is identical to the DS version in every respect except the graphics and the controls. The graphics are better of course but that usually just means that everything takes longer to happen. However, the touch-only controls are a nightmare, and I haven’t played a game yet where I didn’t move something somewhere I didn’t want to. The fact is, touch can’t replace a good d-pad and some real buttons, and that’s why I don’t think the iPad or the iPod or the iPhone are going to be portable console killers anytime soon, at least not for me.

And, of course, there’s one final problem with the iPad and plane travel. Since I do 90% of my reading on the device these days, it sucks to have to turn the thing off during take off and landing. I bought magazines a couple times, but I really only found myself reading them during those two 10-minute intervals, which is — even I must admit — ridiculous. Not as ridiculous as the rule that says that I have to turn the device off in the first place though. Maybe someday the TSA or FAA or whoever will come to their senses about that as well. So, is it worth it for me to travel with a phone, an iPod, an iPad, and a DS? And a laptop and a digital camera? I guess it must be because that’s what I’m going to keep doing. I leave again tomorrow, Dragon Quest IX cartridge loaded and ready.