Nimble Quest vs the D-pads

Nimble Quest is pretty cool. It’s a new mobile game from NimbleBit, the same folks that made Tiny Tower:


It’s Snake with RPG characters that exchange ranged attacks with enemies, and perish on contact.

Nimble Quest isn't revolutionary, but it does stand out in one way: it's a twitch game without a D-pad. The legacy of D-pads, inherited from nearly every platform but the Wii, has proven devilishly hard to end in the mobile era, despite their generally terrible marriage with touch screens.

Nimble Quest uses directional swipes instead of a D-pad. What’s really interesting, though, is that its 4-directionality is an illusion. The game actually has a 2-directional control scheme:


At any given moment, you’re already traveling one direction, and due to the game’s mechanics (dying if you touch your own party) you can’t reverse direction. That leaves two 90-degree turns available. (Example: if you’re moving left, you can only switch direction to up / down.)

Super Hexagon is similar, with only 2 directions of movement, in either direction around a circular pivot. The simplicity lets you focus on gameplay instead of controls.


Simple controls make these games sing. Either Nimble Quest or Super Hexagon would fail with a more complex control scheme.

I’m hoping other developers making twitch-based games will sit up and take notice of these recent successes, but the change seems to be coming pretty slowly. We’re over 5 years into touchscreens, and we still have beautiful, finely crafted games like The Other Brothers coming out with D-pads.

That makes me sad, because these D-pad games are literally unplayable by anyone other than a core group of players willing to put up with the control scheme. There have been a handful of top D-pad games, but it’s tap and swipe games like Jetpack JoyrideTiny Wings and yes, Nimble Quest that really break through.