Nimble Quest vs the D-pads

D-pads keep popping up in touchscreen games -- even though there are plenty of better interaction schemes.

Nimble Quest is pretty cool. It’s a new mobile game from NimbleBit, the same folks that made Tiny Tower:

Screen Shot 2013-04-11 at 12.23.22 AM

It’s Snake with RPG characters, who exchange ranged attacks with enemies and perish on contact.

I’m interested in Nimble Quest not because it’s revolutionary, but because it should be the most normal thing on touchscreens: a twitch game without a D-pad. Touchscreen developers have had years to realize that D-pads provide a bad experience. In the presence of twitch mechanics, a D-pad generally makes me quit and delete the app.

The problem is that a lot of games are represented on 2-dimensional planes, which generally require 4- or 8-directional movement. For this, there don’t seem to be many options besides D-pads.

Nimble Quest uses directional swipes instead of a D-pad. What's really interesting, though, is that its 4-directionality is an illusion. The game actually has a 2-directional control scheme:

Nimble Quest movement

At any given moment, you’re already traveling one direction, and due to the game’s mechanics (dying if you touch your own party) you can’t reverse direction. That leaves two 90-degree turns available. Example: if you’re moving left, you can only switch direction to up / down.

That’s not much more complex than something like Super Hexagon, which only offers 2 directions of movement, basically either direction around a circular pivot. The simplicity lets you focus on gameplay instead of controls.

Super Hexagon movement

In either game, players can relax and stop worrying about fiddly controls, which lets them acquire skill in gameplay that's legitimately difficult. I'd contend that either Nimble Quest or Super Hexagon would utterly fail with a more complex control scheme.

I’m hoping other developers making twitch-based games will sit up and take notice of these recent successes, but the change seems to be coming pretty slowly. We’re over 5 years into touchscreens, and we still have beautiful, finely crafted games like The Other Brothers coming out with D-pads.

That makes me sad, because these D-pad games are literally unplayable by anyone other than a core group of players willing to put up with the control scheme. There have been a handful of top D-pad games, but it’s tap and swipe games like Jetpack JoyrideTiny Wings and yes, Nimble Quest that really break through.

This post was originally published on the Chronicle Games website.

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