Definitions: Apps

Most readers probably don’t need to be told that “Apps” is short for “applications,” and is most closely associated with software running on Apple’s smartphones and similar portable devices.

Yes, people talk about “Apps” for Android and other mobile platforms, but as far as this site is concerned, if you can’t buy it on iTunes, it isn’t an App: it’s an unfortunate byproduct of a poor consumer choice.

I am a hardcore PC loyalist, but I no longer fear the Fruit. I made the mistake of doubting the power of Apple in the early days of the iPod. I would not become a consumer of Apples. I would be different, and buy a portable MP3 player made by … Rio.

Within a year of that purchase, the unit was lying in pieces on my work table, as I tried to dissect its manifest failings and get it functional again. I finally gave up, bought the first of several iPods, and have been happy ever since.

Apple owns this market. Period. Everything else (Android, Windows Phone, etc) is the electronic equivalent of a triceratops glancing into the sky to see the comet streaking to earth. They are doomed: they just don’t realize it yet.

Apps As a New Genre
It took Apple to finally make mobile gaming into a legitimate genre. For years, my Editor-in-Chief at Games Magazine had urged me to cover mobile games, but I resisted. They were still in a formative period, and remained scaled down versions of full-size games. They hadn’t made a convincing claim to becoming a unique format, until Apple created the OS, platform, tools, and marketplace that would unleash the creative power of thousands of developers, thus creating something new.

To become its own genre, something must have a unique language, a core vocabulary that it shares with every other item in that genre. There are distinct qualities to PC, Wii, DS, and Xbox/PS games, primarily based upon control, ergonomics, and aesthetics. Apple mobile software can make a similar claim, due to its unique blend of portability, size, multi-touch controls, and a 3-axis accelerometer (enhanced by a gyroscopic sensor for the iPhone 4).

Developers are using these tools to create remarkable portable gaming experiences. Some of these games are familiar things that have been given a new means of interaction, such as Solitaire, Chess, Scrabble, or Catan. But some of them are fresh ideas entirely, such as Doodle Jump or Jelly Car.

Certain games are Wii games and can only ever effectively be Wii games. And certain games are Apps, and can only ever effectively be Apps.

This is the reason I finally started covering Apps for my magazines, and why for the first time Games Magazine is awarding an “App of the Year” in the annual Games 100 awards issue.

App O’ the Mornin’: Plants vs. Zombies

Okay, so these zombies are attacking, and the only thing between them and your brains (which are so very very tasty) is … your garden.

That’s bad news for the zombies, since your front yard is planted with the most undead-butt-kicking set of flora ever to take root in a suburban lawn.

The premise is simple: zombies are in the street, and they want to get into your house to eat your brains. Between them and you is a nice stretch of green lawn. On some levels it’s split in half by a water feature, and later in the game the zombies will try to get in through the roof.

To stop the zombies, you place defensive lines of plants. Both the types of plants and kinds of zombies multiply with each level. From a single “pea shooter,” you’ll eventually accumulate a dazzling array of ferocious flora: double and triple pea-shooters, frozen-pea-shooters, watermelon catapults, flaming logs, hopping squash, man-eating plants, gas-spewing fungus, and more.

The zombies aren’t remaining idle while you’re gathering this arsenal. They’re calling on reinforcements: zombies with pails on their heads or football uniforms (for armor), pole-vaulting zombies, zombie dolphins (for the water feature), Michael Jackson zombies with backup dancers, zombie zambonis, zombie bobsled teams, and more.

The puzzle is in figuring out the best combination and pattern of plants to stop the invaders before they get to you. A healthy selection of levels and myriad minigames keep the action going for a good long time.

Clever, challenging, and insanely addictive, Plants vs. Zombies has made a terrific leap from PC to App, losing none of its signature gameplay. You still have to place a variety of lethal plants to halt a zombie attack upon your peaceful suburban home, but this time you use simple touch commands instead of the mouse. It’s a remarkably effective port, with sharp visuals and no loss of scope or control from the radical shrinkage to iPhone size. Everything in the original is here, and portable!

Plants vs. Zombies is pure madness, in the best possible way. It’s funny, clever, and entertaining. Without any hint of shame, I can say that the original was the most fun I’d had playing a game in months, and the App version doesn’t lose a bit of the magic.

UPDATE: Welcome PvZ Facebook fans! This is a new blog which will cover all aspects of gaming, from beginner to advanced, electronic to conventional, high-tech to no-tech. Stick around, read some of the introductory posts, check out our ongoing App coverage, and follow us on Facebook or Twitter!