This is Portabliss, a column about downloadable games that can be played on the go.Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic is the kind of game that's almost too big to be playing on the iPad. It's easily 30 hours long, with extensive attribute, skill, and combat systems, and it has some of the best storytelling BioWare's ever done, all set in the epic pre-film Star Wars universe. This is a monster of a classic game, and like Grand Theft Auto: Vice City and Baldur's Gate before it, it seems like cheating to play this game on Apple's touchscreen tablet, like you're somehow breaking the laws of mobile gaming physics, if such a school even exists.
And yet, it works. Aspyr Media is the company responsible here. It's been porting games to the Mac for a long time, and with Knights of the Old Republic has decided to start bringing what it calls "catalog Mac experiences" to iOS. Presumably, the rights were snagged from BioWare and LucasArts, and now there's a very well-made $9.99 port of one of the best Star Wars games ever assembled, running on the iPad.
Aspyr didn't have to change a lot to get the touchscreen to work. Technically, KOTOR (as it's called) does run in real-time, but the combat (which was also designed for a controller on the original Xbox, don't forget) can be paused at any time, which makes it more or less turn-based, and thus perfect for the often imprecise touchscreen.
Aspyr has added buttons and a queue interface for your abilities, and put a lot of thought into how everything should work, which means that if you think pressing on something will line up a skill to use or move your character around, you're probably right. You can simply tap to change characters, tap to activate skills, and then unpause your combat to let things run their course.
Moving is easy, too – you can tap on any object in the environments to move around, or drag your finger forward or back for surprisingly responsive movement controls. The dialog screen is where Aspyr has made the biggest change: It has added actual touch buttons to the dialog choices, as the original lines would have been too small on screen and hard to hit. But even this works well: The buttons are in prime place for your right thumb, and it's easy to build the muscle memory to choose correctly.
Aspyr has done a great job here, and delivered a truly classic experience to the iPad with gusto. $9.99 is a premium price for an iPad app, but this is a premium game if ever there was one, and if you're interested in playing Knights of the Old Republic (or just interested in playing it again), loading this one on to your iPad is worth every penny.