One thing that I have always felt I was missing, in my ten years of using Windows Mobile phones, was selection of good games. There is no doubt that the iTunes App Store is the one thing that really changed how smartphones are used. After switching to the Android 2.1 based HTC Desire last month, my eyes have been opened to just how important a good marketplace can be. Granted, the Android market falls quite short of the amount of apps available on iTunes, but as they say, quality is more important than quantity.
So are there any quality games for Android? The only iPhone game coverage I get is only by happenstance by listening to some gaming podcasts and videos by 1Up and Area 5 (both of which are essentially defunct, unfortunately). So I do know that there are good iPhone games, one of the most famous being Flight Control by Firemint, which has sold over 2 million copies according to the site.
Unfortunately, Firemint has no plans to release their popular game natively for Android, even though there is a DSi version (they are however, working on a Java version which will work on Android as well as anything else that supports Java).
What this does is open the opportunity for the ‘wild west’ nature of the Android Market to take place. Currently, there are no less than four ripoffs (or should I say ‘homages’) of Flight Control available on the official Android Market. Two of them are only available as free beta/demo apps, and one is available as both a full ad-supported version and a paid version with no ads. One more (Flight Frenzy) failed to load for me. Finally, one was formerly available as a paid app, but since receiving a cease and desist letter from Firemint has gone open source and is now available for free. That does not bode well for the games we’re looking at today, but they are there for now, if you want to get them.
Let’s take a look at the four that you can actually get now (I should note now that I have never played the original Flight Control, so keep in mind that I am looking at these with fresh eyes):
10-50K Downloads (including former Lite version)
It only offers the most basic gameplay – a single runway is available, with two types of planes and a helicopter. All planes move at a single speed that corresponds to their size, which makes things quite easy. What makes it difficult however, is the awkward controls; the planes tend to move on their own when you start taking control of them, doing loops despite never being commanded to do so. Despite being played on an 800×480 WVGA field, it still seems very cramped due to the overly ‘chubby’ graphics style. I do like the look, it just needs some refinement. Unfortunately, that will never happen on the Market, due to the reasons I mentioned above.
It does feature a neat achievements tracker, and an online scoreboard that allows you to compare your progress to other players.
I should note now that unlike properly-coded Android apps, you should definitely close Flying Aces with a task manager of some sort. This is because even if it’s in the background or cached, it will still cause 100% CPU usage. I noticed this after I picked up my phone, and it was warm. I fired up SystemPanel to see what could be causing it. Sure enough, the CPU was running at 1000 MHz, and Flying Aces had been running at full CPU usage for 2 or 3 hours.
Air Traffic Control Lite
Air Traffic Control Lite appeared on the Market on Feb 28, 2010, and is still designated “Beta”. Only one play style is available at this time – Classic of course. I guess if they ever get around to making a paid version, it will have Survival and Time Attack modes that the menu screens indicate. I am guessing that Firemint will cut them off at the pass however, and this is probably as much as we’ll get.
Air Traffic Control Lite features one level. There are three listed in the menus, but you guessed it – they’re only available in the non-existent paid version.
The finger tracking seems a little rough, as only dashes of the trails are shown. One thing I like is that the runway of the currently highlighted plane is indicated. This allows you to know immediately which runway to choose as soon as you start playing. There is music, but it is a horrible mis-timed loop that will grate on your ears immediately. Luckily, it can be disabled.
There are no other features to speak of, and I doubt they will be able to come out with a paid version. Not in official channels at least.
After playing Air Traffic, I would have guessed that this is just someone’s attempt at making a Flight Control ripoff for fun, releasing it to the market. But no, there is an official page, with a sales pitch and plenty of screenshots of a full version with extra levels and aircraft.
Unfortunately, the one play mode you do get is ugly and difficult to control. As you can see above, the game runs in an awkward 720×480 resolution, cropping off the sides. The gameplay is as basic as it gets – two types of airplanes and a helicopter. There is a selection for “custom game” but I have no idea what that actually means. It brings you to a screen where you can select your level and difficulty, but you can only select a single level. There you go.
Air Control came out on January 10, 2010, and is clearly the most popular of the Flight Control ripoffs. After playing all of them, it’s easy to see why. This probably also means they will be shut down pretty soon, as it looks like it is the closest copycat of all.
As you can see, the free version of Air Control has ads in the menus (and creepy ones at that), but thankfully they don’t show up anywhere else. The paid version is currentl £1.35, but that can change at any time as it was £0.60 last week.
Air Control has the best combination of controls and graphics. Everything is just the right size, and everything is controlled easily. There are functions to fast-forward and pause (the only one to have fast-forward) and there are two maps to choose from. There are many different types of planes, not just two. This makes things extra difficult, as some of the planes going to the same runway will approach at different speeds. This little added twist is what makes this much less boring than the most basic versions of the game. Each map is available in standard mode, and “cargo game mode”
It also has an online ranking system, listing the best pilots and their countries. Scores are reset each month, to give new players a chance at making it to the top.
Overall, I’d say that Air Control is easily the best of the bunch. In fact if I didn’t know any better, I’d think that it is totally official and not just a ripoff of an original game. Let’s hope Firemint can gather their resources and make their popular game available to the immensely growing Android market. I have my doubts that a Java version will suffice, but we will have to wait and see.