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Opinion - Why Joe Danger beats GTA: Vice City every time

How to handle a console conversion on iOS
Product: Joe Danger | Developer: Hello Games | Publisher: Hello Games | Format: iPhone, iPad | Genre: Action, Arcade, Conversion, Endless running, Racing
Joe Danger iPhone, thumbnail 1
No, our rather provocative headline doesn't herald a straight-up comparison of Hello Games's delightfully bouncy stunt-'em-up and Rockstar's seminal murder-'em-up.

Not directly, at least.

That would be pointless. Apples and oranges, swings and roundabouts, and all that.

Rather, the recent(ish) launch of these two iOS titans has got me thinking about the varied approach smartphone and tablet game developers have been taking when it comes to console conversions.

In the blue corner

In the one corner, we have GTA: Vice City, which belongs under the more traditional 'shoehorn it in' category.

Well, when you've created one of the best-selling, most highly esteemed console games of all time, why make any major changes for a simple conversion?

In Vice City's case, we can't really see how it would be possible to make any meaningful alterations to such a vast, ambitious, and complex game. The fact Rockstar's sprawling open-world title earned a Silver Award from us on review lends credence to that approach.

To me, though, playing GTA on a touchscreen is akin to playing football with clown shoes on. A game's interface, after all, is one of its most important facets - no matter the genre.

Vice City's awkward virtual controls have a major impact on the ebb and flow of its clockwork open world. To the point where even in our largely positive review of the game we acknowledged that "this mobile edition of Vice City is only going to be appreciated by longing nostalgics" thanks in part to its "bad controls".

Here comes a new challenger

Now, take a look over at the other corner. Yep, the red one.

You'd have to be blind or mad (or both) not to see how much Hello Games's Joe Danger benefits from a completely fresh approach to iOS ports. An approach which involves the creator taking the original apart and rebuilding it with the target platform in mind at all times.

Sure, Joe Danger would have worked in its original console form on iOS. Virtual joysticks combined with tilt-and-touch commands would have enabled you to orchestrate the action perfectly adequately.

But, I can almost guarantee that very few of us here at Pocket Gamer would have really taken the game to our hearts and loved it as much as we do now if Hello Games had simply 'phoned it in'.

Instead, the Guildford-based studio completely rethought its side-scrolling racing game with the iPhone and iPad's touchscreen at the forefront of its thinking.

Rather than focus on the free-wheeling stunts of the original, then, Hello Games has produced a kind of tightly funnelled auto-runner with additional stunts and gimmicks. It's an inspired adaptation.

Leading lights

Joe Danger's success isn't an isolated case, either.

As our Mark pointed out in his Joe Danger review, the approach Hello Games took with its side-scroller is extremely similar to the attitude Pastagames adopted when designing Rayman Jungle Run.

Many people have tried to get traditional 2D platformers to work on iOS, with some degree of success. Pastagames's one-finger semi-automated solution for Rayman Jungle Run, however, was one of the primary reasons it was voted one of the best iOS games of 2012.

Making console conversions, then, needn't be a study in compromise and needn't involve trying to knock square pegs into round holes.

As Hello Games has shown with Joe Danger most recently, putting in a little extra thought and effort when porting across a console property can yield stunning results. So stunning, in fact, that these ports become as vital to the new platform as their inspirations were to the old.

Reviewer photo
Jon Mundy 24 January 2013
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