Tutorials for mobile games have a difficult problem to solve. With console games, it’s likely that gamers will be in front of a TV, can hear the game’s audio, and be generally attentive. But mobile games could be played nearly anywhere, while the device is muted, maybe for just 60 seconds at a time, and maybe only occupying 50% of the users’ attention span.
So, tutorials in mobile games must be as flexible as mobile phones are. While games like Quento are simple enough to barely need a tutorial, not all games can get away with that. Lost Cities for iOS (iTunes link) offers the most flexible tutorial I’ve ever seen in a mobile game – there are no less than four different ways for players to get the rules of this game when they fire it up for the first time.
The mobile game Quento (iTunes link, also quento.com) from Q42 features an exceptionally clever start screen that doesn’t teach the whole game, but it does a wonderful job at introducing the game’s core mechanic to the player. Finally, a game that doesn’t just want us to mindlessly “press start” for no good reason!
10000000 for iOS (by EightyEight Games) is an awkwardly-named (iTunes link) “Dungeon Crawling RPG Matching Game”. Yep, it’s a match-three tile matching game built into an RPG. And despite the odd mashup of genre and strictly numeric title, it’s actually quite good.
Here’s how it works: you control a hero who’s forever running to the right. Occasionally your hero is stopped by an obstacle – a monster, a chest, or maybe a door – and you need to match key, sword, and magic stave tiles to help defeat said obstacle. When you’re not slaying monsters and running exclusively to the right, you can also use some other resources that you’ve gathered like wood and stone to upgrade your weapon, armor, and a variety of other perks.
With those basics out of the way, I’ve got four usability related topics to discuss:
Puzzle Craft (iTunes link) is a combination match-3 and town-building game out for iOS developed by Ars Thanea and published by Chillingo (owned by EA, but isn’t everybody?). It was released recently to much critical fanfare as a very effective time-killer, and in my brief stint with the game, I can confirm that it’s quite good at passing the time. This casual game dominates at the “just one more turn” trap that many similar games use.
What it’s not good at though, is following a variety of simple good usability practices, and these cause me a fair amount of mental anguish each time I encounter them. Like Joel Spolsky says, it’s the tiny frustrations that can make all the difference in usability, so let’s talk about five of them in more detail below.
Letterpress (iTunes link) is what you might call “the new hotness” on iOS these days. It’s in a similar category as SpellTower (iTunes link), a challenging mobile word game that’s as beautiful to look at as it is hard to put down. Letterpress’ author is the creator of Tweetie, Loren Brichter (currently of Atebits), and famously is credited with inventing pull-to-refresh.
Gameplay-wise, Letterpress is a word game that plays kinda like Boggle-meets-Reversi, with a few twists thrown in. But you probably already know all of this, as Letterpress has seen its fair share of press from major news sources (Macworld, The Verge, Touch Arcade, even The Telegraph among others). So in the spirit of the simplicity of the game, this won’t be an in-depth review, just a few thoughts on the four aspects that I noticed in Letterpress’ beautiful design that are simple, thoughtful, and maybe even sexy.