Yesterday, Google rolled out a whole bunch of new Nexus products, including, most notably for gamers, the Nexus Player. It’s a hockey-puck-like device that plays back all your streaming video apps and, notably, can be paired with a controller so you can play all those Android games you desperately wanted on your TV. Which… really? Another Android microconsole?
We’ve been here before. Quite a bit in the last few years, actually. Even though nobody buys them and certainly nobody even seems terribly interested in them, every major and minor tech company has to have some form of microconsole, largely because it’s cheap to make a controller and to gratify Wall Street’s belief that AAA console gaming will fall to the Apple mob or the Googlebeast aaaaaaany day now. But that belief is sorely misplaced, and bad for mobile gaming as an art form.
As I’ve noted elsewhere, the best experiences in mobile gaming can’t really be replicated on a big screen. I play a lot of mobile games, especially lately, because it’s becoming a more interesting field. Take, for example, Monument Valley:
It’s a game similar to the PS3 game Echochrome, but built, very much, around using the touchscreen. Rotating the various pieces on the screen is part of why the game is engaging; it creates a tactility console gaming can’t match and shouldn’t try to. Ever used the PS4’s touchpad? It’s terrible.
Similarly, attempts to drag console games kicking and screaming onto mobile platforms have largely been awkward fits, at best. Ask anybody who’s had to use, brrrrr, “touchscreen controls.” A thumbstick really works best when it’s an actual stick under your thumb, not some abstract circle you kinda poke at to do stuff. Even when you do have a controller, it’s just not the same; it’s like playing one of the sad attempts to bring real-time strategy to 16-bit consoles back in the ’90s. Dragging the little finger around with a d-pad just never really worked, and it’s the same feeling here.
These limp attempts to get people gaming on Android mostly exist because Wall Street analysts expect them to, and because there’s little grasp of the gaming industry among companies like Apple and Google. Really, for the Nexus Player to work, it needs to have a killer game, something unique to the Player. The way Android is built, that’s impossible. So Google, instead of giving us a microconsole, why not just give us some better games?