Roaming the floor of the Tokyo Game Show was difficult this year, because doing so involved swimming against the current, running against the wind, pedaling up a hill… of shitty games. Touchscreens have brought a wealth of new growth possibilities to the world of gaming—Sense of Wonder Night proves that. They've improved some games in ways we would not have thought possible a decade ago. I love creativity and diversity in game design, so I see the availability of this tool as a great thing. Remember when the DS was first revealed? A lot of us thought the inclusion of a touchscreen was unnecessary and ridiculous. Even though there was plenty of shovelware for the system, in the end, we all got a big helping of crow.
TGS convinced me, however, that this has now gotten out of hand. The show was dominated by touchscreen-only games, be they for iOS, Android, phones, tablets, whatever; these mobile games took up three quarters of the show. The worse offenders are those that involve card collecting, which I regret to report is outrageously popular in Japan, and only on the rise.
Konami had a big TGS booth, sure, but did you see how much of it was taken up by Dragon Collection? Sega's space was plastered with advertisements for "Sega Apps", Square Enix could barely even be considered a TGS participant, and two of the biggest booths were Gloops and GREE, providers of mobile game content. Other phone game services had sizeable booths as well. This wouldn't infuriate me if the games were worth playing, but after sampling a great number of them, I wanted little more than to use a bunch of iPads as clay pigeons for target practice. They were horrible.
A woman dressed like an elf at the We Made booth led me to a mobile action MMORPG called Ark Sphere. I thought "Hey, I'm an RPG guy, this sounds great to me" But sounding great and playing great are two different things. I couldn't make this game more generic if I tried; it should be a joke on a comedy show parodying the life of an aspiring game designer. My elf guide showed me the movement, done my touching the screen in different places, as if it was something that should impress me. Different swipes on the screen did different special attacks, absolutely none of which were anything actually "special" as I would define it, and it soon became apparent that this game was virtually the same as all of the other mobile timesink freemium games out there, with only the name to set it apart.
I played another game by We Made called Lollipop Island, which was even worse. I was trying my hardest to focus on the good in this game, but I was plagued by the realization that this is a total Farmville knockoff. Nothing more, nothing at all. If it had been a good game in a similar genre—some kind of Farmville meets Animal Crossing kind of group farming deal—then it would have been my pleasure to shower it with all the praise it deserved, touchpad or not. I kept telling myself, "No. No, Heath, don't bias yourself against these games. They can be good and you know it! Just play them! Have fun! Give them a chance!" I did. I gave them chance after chance, and for my troubles, I was met with dud after dud.
They all had catchy names full of buzzwords like Dragon Tactics, Hero Square, and Emporer's SaGa, and yet all of… wait, SaGa, like with a capital G? Can it be?! An iPad game made just for Heath, a SaGa fan? Yeah, don't get too excited, it's awful.
I saw Metal Gear Solid: Social Ops as a possible savior here. No dice. Once again, I went in with an open mind, hoping, praying to be surprised, and I left that line even more anti-mobile than when I'd arrived.
A lot of these same complaints could be made about consoles too, I realize. Especially with the advent of motion controls, we've seen crap and cash-ins overtake true innovation in a hurry. I don't deny that. I'm not singling out these touchscreen games just for being on a different device, no way. The problem is that without my written notes and plethora of pictures, I wouldn't be able to tell you very much about the pad-based games I played at TGS. I'd be forgetting the names, developers, and certain mechanics of nearly everything at the GREE, Gloops, and We Made booths, because they were so similar that they begin to blend together.
The Tokyo Game Show gave me a chance to play some outstanding games. It's sad that will all of the many phone and tablet games I touched and swiped, none of them could be described as such. That said, the problem grows when these games are somehow printing so much money that they can practically take over second biggest video game trade show in the world. If this is the direction gaming is going, it can go without me.