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First impressions: buying a game from the iTunes Store

Scott beat me to buying a movie from the store and posted his first impressions, so I thought I would move on to the new games section (iTS link) of the store. The games work with 5G iPods (of which I am an owner) as well as the newly announced 5.5G iPods. I can't decide whether I'm surprised you can't play the games right inside iTunes, but this post isn't about my indecision, for I dropped some cash and bought my first game: Cubis 2 (iTS link). The way iTunes handles games is interesting, largely in part because you can't really do anything with them in iTunes - you can't even rate them or modify any of their metadata; they're only usable and playable on an iPod.

Read on for all the details!


Take my money - please!
First thing's first, though: the purchase experience. I encountered some of the same sluggishness that Scott mentioned in his first movie impressions, though I imagine downloading a full movie, which is just slightly larger than a game (Cubis 2 is a paltry 20MB by comparison), might have helped slow things down for him - that and, of course, everyone was probably pounding the store yesterday. The purchase went well, and I was soon parted with my $4.99 in exchange for what looked like a clever little game (instant game addicts will be happy to find they can purchase all 9 in one fell swoop for $44.91). As a side note: you need the latest QuickTime 7.1.3 update released yesterday in order to be able to watch video previews in the store.

What is perhaps more impressive than a turbulence-less iTS purchasing experience is how iTunes displays games in the library, and what Apple decided to do with the extra window space since, again, they aren't in any way usable from within iTunes.

I know it's a small screenshot, but the game library, naturally, automatically appears in the sources list on the left once a game is purchased (for now, we don't know of any other way of making, importing or otherwise getting ahold of iPod games for iTunes). This is where Apple's creativity shines: in the media window, my one and only game is listed on the left (note the sexy 'wet floor' look), while information, screenshots, instructions and tips are listed on the right. This is a great idea, as I would hate to try and root through all this information on the iPod itself. However, for those wondering: there is a condensed section of 'quick help' included in the game on the iPod, complete with animated examples of how to play, but it doesn't seem nearly as extensive as what you get in iTunes.

All work and no play...
If you've ever synced an iPod, then the rest of the process involved doesn't really need to be examined. iTunes moved the game over without a hitch, and it appears next to the other built in games under the Extras menu, with no discerning marks to help you find it in the list.

Now this is the part where I need to be honest: when Apple first announced buying games for the iPod, I didn't exactly leap out of my seat. I've played the built in games, and I always thought the iPod's unique click wheel wouldn't lend itself to many other kinds of game playing. But, since our fearless leader Scott found out that I own a 5G iPod, he again threatened my well-being, and forced me to buy a game from the store (with my own money, might I add). At first I felt I was going to miss my $4.99.. but that frown quickly turned upside down. Cubis 2 is fun, and being able to bring it anywhere with me on my iPod is icing on the cake. I use my iPod to play music when I go to sleep, and I was able to crank out a couple Cubis 2 rounds in bed before my wife drew the line. The graphics are surprisingly rich (cmon, it's an iPod, not a PSP), and game play is slick and responsive. I haven't pushed it that far to see how many hours I can get out of playing yet, but it didn't seem like my battery was crying uncle when I was finished.

As a nice touch, it's possible to listen to music while playing a game. This is outlined in those aforementioned instructions in iTunes, but Cubis 2 uses nothing more than the wheel and the center/select button, so menu, pause/play and the previous/next buttons are free to direct your music. Again, I haven't pushed this so I can't tell you how badly you'll be thrashing your battery, but I'm sure music + game addicts will appreciate this.

Conclusion (or: Thanks for ruining my productivity, Apple)
Overall, I think the new games (ok, the one I've bought so far) are a great idea. One could even call me a born-again iPod game player, if such a thing exists. The games are snappy, and game play is fun and visually impressive. I really hope this iTS section takes off and they add more than the seemingly experimental 9 games currently available. Hard core handheld gaming fans probably aren't going to be tossing their PSPs in the garbage anytime soon but I can easily see these becoming a hit with a good portion of the iPod crowd. Just don't blame TUAW when your boss/professor/teacher nails you chomping pellets in Pac-Man instead of finishing that project.

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Gaming iPod Family iTS

Scott beat me to buying a movie from the store and posted his first impressions, so I thought I would move on to the new games section (iTS...