Games have been part of the iPod's repertoire since September 2006 when Apple introduced nine games you could play on the popular music player. But there was a limitation - the games only worked on video-capable fifth-generation iPods. iPod nano owners were out of luck.
That's changed with the latest round of iPods introduced by Steve Jobs last month. The redesigned third-generation iPod nano features a colour screen with 320x240 resolution - the same resolution available on the iPod classic. So not only can you watch video on the nano's 2in screen, you can also play video games.
Three games come with the iPod nano: iQuiz, a multiple choice quiz game; Vortex, a 3D brick-bashing game; and Klondike, the classic solitaire card game. Four more are available for purchase and download from the iTunes Store: Tetris, Ms.Pac-Man, Texas Hold 'em Poker and Sudoku. Vortex and iQuiz were only available for purchase to fifth-generation full-sized iPod users, so their addition on the iPod nano is welcome.
Does the game experience translate to Apple's smaller iPod? After a few weeks of testing, I've found that the new nano's game-playing abilities are a pleasant augmentation to the device's capabilities, though I don't think it will replacing your Game Boy or PSP any time soon.
Game-playing performance on the 8GB iPod nano is every bit up to the standard I expected from my experiences using a 30GB fifth-generation video iPod. The response to input on the click wheel is quite snappy, while the graphics performance is perfectly adequate. Having said that, none of the games you can buy or that already ship with the iPod nano really push the limits of what can be done graphically, and have fairly simple gameplay mechanics.
The most obvious limitation of the iPod nano as a gaming system is the dimension of the display. A 2in colour LCD display isn't very big, no matter how you slice it (though it's large enough for Nintendo to make a jeans pocket-sized game system around, its Game Boy Micro). The clarity of the 320x240 display is remarkable, and the brightness is also quite good. Still, I can't quite get past the size. It's too small to see a lot of detail in the games. I was already a bit put off by Ms Pac-Man's tiny dimensions on the larger iPod's display; here it's almost to the point of being ridiculous.
As with video playback (perhaps even more so), games drag down the battery charge of the iPod considerably. Apple says third-generation iPod nanos can last up to 24 hours on a single charge when playing music or up to five hours when playing video. I saw somewhere south of that - closer to four hours - when playing games exclusively.
Still, I don't pretend that anyone buying an iPod nano is buying one exclusively to play games. To that end, the nano is a fantastic pocket-sized music player with a truly impressive feature set for something so small and so thin; the fact that it plays videos at all, let alone games, is icing on the cake.
Because of the overall tiny dimensions of the new iPod nano, I found my hand cramping up during long gaming sessions - it was just a tad awkward to have the iPod nano perched in my hand with my thumb on the clickwheel all the time. Between that and the tiny display, I can't really recommend the iPod nano as a gaming system, but I certainly think it'll come in handy for commuters looking for the occasional distraction while they're traveling to and from work. The fact that Apple's making additional games available is great - you can always use some variety.
It's worth noting that the same games you've already bought for a fifth-generation iPod don't work on the iPod nano. I'm sure that'll come as a bitter disappointment to iPod users who were hoping to load up their new iPod nano with games they already own. It certainly disappointed me. Boo, Apple.