How do you translate one of the most innovative experiences of this console generation to a platform with no buttons? Copy a game with a similar premise. Mirror's Edge plays largely like a prettier, beefier Canabalt -- and it manages to capture the essence of the original PS3/360/PC game perfectly.
Like its console counterpart, Mirror's Edge for iPhone/iPod Touch is all about momentum. Faith must run, jump, roll and slide without stopping for the various obstacles in her path. Translating this into a third-person side-scrolling 2D experience has Faith almost always running forward, and you must use your reflexes to react to the path ahead. The primary swipe-enabled jumping mechanic, coupled with the game's demand to always move forward will feel immediately familiar to anyone's that played Canabalt. Thankfully, EA doesn't just replicate the (admittedly simple) gameplay mechanic from Canabalt; instead, it expands Faith's repertoire with additional moves that give the game much-needed depth.
There isn't much to do in Canabalt other than run, jump and aim for a high score. Mirror's Edge, on the other hand, has all the dressings you'd expect from a fully-featured game. Like its console counterpart, it has a rudimentary story that propels players to go through levels. Because these are actual levels (and not randomly generated paths), there is room for improvement. You can learn the best route through each level, explore the map for hidden bags, and master the controls to go for a faster time.
Predictably, Faith is controlled by simple swipes on the screen. Jumping is a simple swipe up, but there are other moves to take advantage of. For example, you'll want to roll at the end of a large jump if you want to maintain momentum; just swipe down before landing on the ground. Wall runs are initiated by jumping and swiping right on the screen. There are even more moves to take advantage of: wall jumps, slides, vaults over low objects. Anyone familiar with the console originals will find the skill set appropriate.
Mirror's Edge succeeds at translating all the great qualities of the console game, including the gorgeous high-contrast graphics, into a simple on-the-go experience for the iPhone. The controls are simple, but I doubt anyone will ever think "this game would be better if it had buttons." I only had a short time with EA's handheld port, but if the full game manages to expand upon the ingenuity I saw in this small demo, there's a lot to get excited about. Perhaps this can become a great model of how to faithfully translate a console experience onto the handheld -- and it will more than satiate fans hungry for another Mirror's Edge game.