Gaming on the Kindle Fire HD
When it comes to buying new gadgets, I’ve always stuck to the principle that you get what you pay for. But is that right? Having just bought myself a Kindle Fire HD, I was curious; it’s roughly half the cost of an iPad, so would it only be half as capable? I downloaded three different games to see if I could find out.
Keen to try out something familiar for comparison purposes, I chose Plants vs Zombies (Kindle Tablet Edition) as my first game. With just Adventure mode and Quick Play to choose from, this is PvZ as it used to be. There’s no Zen Garden, no mini-games, and no micro transactions. Even though I like some of the additional modes added to the other versions, there is something quite refreshing about going back to a purer form of the game, one that isn’t crammed full of signs encouraging you to spend extra money. Graphically it’s as good as it’s siblings on other devices; the title screen and main menu look like they’ve been squashed in a little to fit the screen size, but the game itself looks lush. Good touch controls are a vital part of the PvZ experience in my opinion (it’s why I don’t like the Xbox 360 version), and on the Kindle they’re very good. Plants go where you want them too, and quick selection changes under pressure are precise. In fact, the whole game runs as smoothly as it does on iOS devices. It’s not a game that requires big processing power I know, but it’s still pleasing to know that the Kindle version is just as good as any of the others.
My next choice was Pac-Man HD (Kindle tablet edition). OK, so it’s Pac-Man. How they’ve got the cheek to call it ‘HD’, I don’t know, it’s still Pac-Man as you know it, there’s a maze with dots in, ghosts chase you. How high def can you make a little yellow disc anyway? Controls are pretty simple, you can choose between flick controls, or the pac pad, which is a virtual joystick kind of thing. Both the options feel sluggish to me, maybe that’s because I’m old enough to have played the original coin-op with a proper joystick, I don’t know, but the menus aren’t that snappy either. The whole thing feels slightly unresponsive, and given my experience with the other two games here, I can’t help but conclude that it’s down to the game and not the device. Pac-Man HD was never going to tax the Kindle graphically, but it did raise one interesting question: How much time and resource are developers willing to commit to games on the Kindle? Pac-Man HD feels like a game that could have been better optimized for the device it was on, and would have been if the market was larger. Will developers ever develop games specifically for the Kindle, or will it have to make do with hand-me-downs?
If there’s one game that’s going to test the Kindle’s graphical power, it’s FireMonkeys conversion of Criterion’s latest point-to-point racer, Need for Speed: Most Wanted. On the whole, it passes with flying colours. The game licks along at a decent pace, fast enough that you don’t notice the two dimensional scenery going past, and the frame rate is rock solid. The controls are pretty simple, braking is controlled by touching the left side of the screen, boost is activated by swiping up, drifting is controlled by touching the right. There’s no accelerator controls at all, and steering is taken care of by either turning the device left and right, or by moving your thumb after switching to the touch and drag option. On the default sensitivity, the accelerometer controls seem to be a little “all or nothing”. Whether that’s my fault, the Kindle’s fault, or the games fault is impossible for me to judge right now; a broader range of games using the tilt controls would reveal the answer. Overall, NFS:MW impressed me, even if some of the graphical sparkle may be down smoke and mirrors, it still looks pretty enough to wow me every time I play it. If I were trying to impress my friends with the Kindle’s gaming abilities, this is the game I would show them.
Having spent some time with it now, I can conclude that the Kindle Fire HD has impressed me with it’s gaming prowess, but not enough for it to become my mobile gaming device of choice. Partly, I’m not entirely comfortable with the idea of using up the battery life of my shiny new e-reader playing games, but mainly it’s issues with the devices operating system that hold it back. The Kindle Fire HD uses a modified version of Android, and as a result the device is tied to the Amazon App store, and not the Google Play one. Using the games I’ve tried here as an example, Plants versus Zombies has none of the later content updates, and while Nexus 7 users can play the excellent Pac-Man: CE, we get plain old regular Pac-Man. Being tied to Amazon’s ecosystem hurts the Kindle’s gaming credentials, and it’s such a shame too, because in all other technical respects, the Kindle really does compare well to it’s rivals.
Having bought one personally, I don’t think I’d recommend the Fire HD to people looking for a tablet to play games on, but if you’re looking for an e-reader that can also play games? I think the Kindle is worth a look.