Looking Back at the History of iPod Click Wheel Games

Pour one over for the iPod Touch: this era of portable music players has finally ended more than two decades after it began, with Apple’s recent announcement that the iPod Touch is no longer in production. Apart from music enthusiasts and savvy audiophiles, music players are no longer used by most listeners, with the growing popularity of streaming services like Apple Music, Spotify, and Tidal. Even more far-fetched is the idea of ​​copying (or downloading) songs to a separate device and listening to them on the go these days.

But long before the death of the iPod device was the death of another Apple gimmick that never took off: the iPod game. These aren’t iOS games you can still download from the app store and play on your iPod Touch, but games that make use of the iPod’s most durable feature: the click wheel. The first iPod featured Brick, which was essentially Apple’s version of Breakout, as a hidden easter egg—both developed by Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak; You will use the click wheel to steer the paddle left and right on the Brick. This click wheel feature will be used in future iPod games, with one of the best-known titles being Vortex, a free game included with the iPod Nano and iPod Classic. This is a Brick clone that makes full use of, integrated from the click wheel to swing the paddle around a cylindrical arena filled with crushable bricks.

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Oddly enough, Apple seems to have some plans for the iPod as the least-loved gaming console of the mid-2000s. Back in 2005, a developer called Coolgorilla created his first game for iPod, which was a free quiz game called Rock & Pop Quiz, testing players’ knowledge of the most popular pop and rock stars of the decade, such as Gorillaz, U2, Metallica, Beyonce, and others. . Developers are often touted as the first studio to make games for the iPod, which they call a “sonic gaming platform,” but it’s clear that the term didn’t take off. Other studios such as PopCap Games, Electronic Arts and Ubisoft eventually followed suit, with more third-party iPod games appearing in the app store. What made this so revolutionary in 2006 was that it was a game you could buy and download right to your iPod’s tiny screen, as long as you were willing to pay the right price.


Initially, iPod titles were limited to classic quizzes and games such as Sudoku, Solitaire, Pac-Man, Tetris, Mini Golf and Mahjong, but the iPod game library seems to be diverse with the release of Lost: The Video Game for iPod devices in 2007. the TV show everyone watched over a decade ago, where you search for resources and equipment on a large deserted island. Following are a series of Sims games such as The Sims Bowling, The Sims DJ and The Sims Pool; Sonic the Hedgehog; bomber; and even the CSI Miami game, where you’ll solve crimes and tinker with your trademark sunglasses as the inimitable detective Horatio Caine.

These games hardly caught on to much of a surprise back then—people definitely don’t buy iPods for those games—and it’s not hard to see why; iPod is far from optimized for gaming. While the click wheel is great for selecting songs from the scroll down menu, it can’t really accommodate the inclusion of more complicated and subtle gestures, given that the click wheel is mostly touch-based. That’s because control buttons are still reserved for the iPod’s button functions: navigate and play your music library, even while you’re playing this game. I’m not really sure how players at the time did it, but imagine trying to control the blazing speed of Sonic The Hedgehog with a click wheel.


However, not all iPod games are unplayable. Some of the most interesting iPod games, developed specifically for the device, are Musika, a music visualiser game by PaRappa, developer of Rapper Masaya Matsuura; Phase, a rhythm game by Harmonix, the studio behind music plays such as Dance Central, Rock Band and Guitar Hero; and Song Summoner: The Unsung Heroes by Square Enix. Instead of just an existing game port, it’s built specifically for the iPod, while making smart use of your existing music library. Musika, for example, challenges your reflexes by encouraging you to press select each time you recognize a symbol of glittering shapes and colors, rendered and synced to the frequency spectrum of your song. Then there’s Phase which, similar to other Harmonix games, is all about pressing the appropriate button on the click wheel each time a note flows down a three-line track. Most impressive is Song Summoner, which Andrew Webster of The Verge says is “a complete strategy role-playing game featuring turn-based combat, unit creation, and a true story,” while featuring teams created from songs on your iPod. .


Yet even with input from triple-A developers, the iPod game library remained modest to the end, with only 54 click-wheel games ever released. Apple’s notorious closed ecosystem also meant that the company was reluctant to make software development tools for developers to create their own iPod games, ultimately stemming the growth of iPod games. And as older models of iPod devices were gradually discontinued to make way for the iPod Touch, so too did the iPod game library which was operated with a click wheel. With Apple removing all of these games from the app store in 2011, they were on the verge of spreading to the digital ether for good.

Luckily, some click wheel games were saved by the Internet Archives, but others, like the much-loved CSI Miami iPod game, remained unpatched and unplayable. And as Apple continues its relentless journey to weed out obsolete hardware and games in its portfolio, there’s no better time for us to make a bigger, concerted effort toward digital preservation and gaming. CSI Miami: iPod games deserve a second chance at life.

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