Xperia Play gets exclusive (for a while) Gameloft game

by Phil Hornshaw

After spending a little time with the Xperia Play at Game Developers Conference 2011 in San Francisco this month, I’ve found myself more and more excited for the formerly mythological PlayStation Phone. Sony Ericsson’s game-centric phone could really be a force in the mobile gaming sphere and become the device of record when it comes to playing games on a phone.

That potential is becoming more and more a possibility, thanks to Sony Ericsson’s teaming up with Gameloft. The latest fruit of the two companies’ deal is BackStab, a pirate-themed brawling game that will be exclusive to the Android-running Xperia Play for a month before being opened to other Android devices and (possibly) platforms.

According to the IGN story about BackStab, players take on the role of former Royal Marine Henry Blake in the historical action game, a man falsely accused of treason in a late-18th century world. What’s remarkable about the game is that it sounds huge when listening to game developer Gameloft talk about it: BackStab, it says, will be an open-world game like titles such as Grand Theft Auto IV, allowing players to attack its story and various sidequests however they see fit.

BackStab will be released sometime in the second quarter of 2011, and for a month only Xperia Play owners will be able to touch it. That’s a pretty sweet deal for Sony Ericsson, considering that the Android Market is a big, fractured place with a whole lot of devices that won’t be getting BackStab for a while. If it’s a good game, and chances of that are pretty high given much of Gameloft’s catalogue of titles, it could be a success for both the Xperia Play and for Android in general.

Hopefully Sony Ericsson is courting more deals like this one, because the Play could really use a great lineup of games to convince potential buyers to pick it up. The device feels great to play games with, sporting a slide-down gamepad in place of a traditional keyboard. It really is the best way to play mobile games on the market, combining the innovation driven by touch and tilt controls, with the old-school feel and control of quality tactile buttons. The Play feels like a handheld gaming device, not just a phone that also plays games when it’s not making calls, showing videos, playing songs, sending texts and organizing your day planner.

The Play could really make a big splash in the mobile gaming world if Sony Ericsson can overcome the initial hump of convincing people they want a gamepad over a keyboard -- to me, the device’s biggest challenge is finding a way to make mobile phone buyers realize they’re mobile gamers, not just people who occasionally play Angry Birds. The mobile gaming market is literally huge, but it’ll take some smart moves by Sony to change the culture behind it. Mobile gaming is so big because the experiences are often so small, allowing people who don’t necessarily identify with playing long, involved games to have a bite-sized experience. That experience is really made much better by the Play -- but again, buyers have to be convinced as such.

BackStab is a big step in the right direction, and a bigger lineup of cool-sounding games that will only be available on the Play, at least for a limited time, is going to go a long way toward giving the device the legitimacy and attention it deserves.