Apple's desire to pitch the iPhone and the iPod touch as handheld games consoles that make the Nintendo DS and Sony PSP look old hat might be written off as hot air by fanboys of the traditional gaming giants. But there is substance to the claim.
We've looked at five iPhone games that are posing a headache for Nintendo and its DS, but what about Sony's PlayStation Portable? The emphasis in this battle is on PSP's strengths of rich graphics and long-lasting gameplay, as opposed to the pitting the iPhone against the DS' innovation and creativity.
Sony's new digital-only PSP Go is firing back at Apple, but what can the latter offer as a challenge? Here are five games that show what's in the iPhone's armoury.
There's no getting away from the fact that the two Rolando games for the iPhone have been heavily inspired by the PSP's LocoRoco. But this isn't an originality battle -- it's a question of gameplay and features. On those grounds, Rolando 2 is a match for Sony's cutesy roller-platformer. Even if the core is still rolling a ball-shaped character around levels collecting other ball-shaped characters.
It looks and sounds beautiful, and its multi-touch controls are a joy to use -- certainly more fun than a traditional D-pad and buttons. It also has connected features, including the ability to challenge friends via email or Facebook. Rolando 2 is also going down the episodic gaming path, with new episodes to be released regularly for 59p a pop.
Gran Turismo is the big news on the PSP right now, racing-wise. Surely the iPhone can't put up any serious competition to Sony's petrolhead sim? Actually, it can. Real Racing is the work of indie developer Firemint, and while it can't offer the huge range of cars seen in GT, it does have excellent graphics and some truly innovative connected features.
Such as? You can link it to your YouTube account and automatically upload video replays of your best laps -- a feature not seen in any console game, let alone handhelds. There's also a rich Real Racing community, tying in those replays with lap-time leaderboards and online tournaments that play out in real time.
Gangstar: West Coast Hustle
Grand Theft Auto is finally making the jump from PSP and DS to iPhone later this year, but the iPhone already has its own 3D GTA wannabe in the shape of Gangstar: West Coast Hustle. It makes no bones about being heavily inspired by Rockstar's series, complete with the violence, the free-roaming feel and the in-game radio stations.
Gangstar can't compete with the sheer depth of previous GTA games on PSP, it's fair to say, although at £3.99, it compares brilliantly on pound-for-pound value. Particularly when played on an iPhone 3GS, it shows Apple's device can hold its own with the PSP even in the most graphically demanding genres.
The PSP specialises in action-packed 3D games, but the iPhone is starting to prove its qualities in this genre, backed up by connectivity. F.A.S.T is an excellent example. Released by social-games firm SGN, it's a 3D dogfighting game whose speed lives up to its name. Which is lucky.
The solo game is fun for a while, but it's the online multiplayer that makes F.A.S.T stand out -- it offers one-on-one dogfights, or free-for-alls with more players. This also works locally via Bluetooth -- a relatively recent feature for the iPhone that's easier on the battery. Online leaderboards let players judge their skills, and there are even local versions to see who are the top pilots in individual cities.
At the time of writing, Eliminate has yet to be released -- although it's in Apple's approval process. The reason we're citing it, however, is because of its innovative structure and business model, which goes a step beyond PSP first-person shooters such as Resistance: Retribution.
For starters, Eliminate will be initially free to play -- publisher ngmoco plans to fund it by in-app payments for 'energy packs', which are used to help players gain in-game experience points. Meanwhile, it's the first iPhone FPS to offer large-scale online deathmatching, tying into ngmoco's own Plus+ community for achievements and leaderboards.
Competing with the PSP on graphical grounds is dangerous territory for the iPhone -- it's up to the task in shorter bursts, but could be said to be lacking when it comes to combining visual richness with gameplay depth.
Even so, the iPhone's ace in the hole is the rapid innovation that's happening in the area of connectivity. The PSP might have the PlayStation Network, but the iPhone is tying into Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, while also supporting the rapid rollout of gaming communities. In other words, it's game on between Apple and Sony.