It’s not that mobile gaming is a bad idea, necessarily; it’s more that the insistence on removing buttons and controlling mobile phones entirely via touchscreen input has had a marked effect on game design. In particular, action games requiring significant precision are nearly impossible on mobile and I can only think of a few exceptions like the excellent Implosion: Never Lose Hope. With that in mind, it stands to reason that a new and improved control mechanism for mobile games might make existing games easier to play and provide a platform to produce deeper games in the future.
That’s where we are with the Gamevice Controller: the latest attempt at improving your iOS device as a platform for gaming. Simply put, it’s a game controller you strap onto the thing. That’s not as terrible an idea as it might sound, but the Gamevice stumbles from idea to execution, taking it from a potential must-have to a definite miss.
Essentially, the Gamevice is a typical game controller split down the middle with the two halves connected by a stretchy connector. The left side’s got an analog stick and D-pad, the right side’s got an analog stick, face buttons and a control button, and both sides have shoulder buttons on top. The right side goes on the end of your phone, connecting via the charging port at the bottom, and you fit the top of the phone into the left side. Once that’s done, the phone should fit snugly into the Gamevice, resulting in a contraption that’s somewhat reminiscent of a Switch in handheld mode.
Actually putting it together works well enough, especially given that the Gamevice’s connector has a toggle for larger and smaller phones, and once the phone is in place the whole assembly feels solid.
From a physical standpoint, then, the concept works. It’s certainly less awkward than carrying a Bluetooth controller around that pairs to the iOS device. We immediately begin to run into issues from two fronts, though. First, you need compatible games to play with something like this. Second, it has to play them well to be worth anything.
The former issue can be largely tied to the lack of a standardized game controller for the iOS ecosystem, if not to the fact that iDevices don’t come with one to begin with. Most games are designed to use the touchscreen alone because it’s assumed that a game controller won’t be present. With that in mind, the list of games you’d actually want to play on a Gamevice is fairly limited. There are a few heavy hitters here and there, with the most significant in my view coming from Capcom like the mobile ports of Street Fighter IV and Monster Hunter Freedom Unite, but the Gamevice is stymied by the fact that the majority of the games on the App Store are, well, crap. For a $100 controller that you use with an up-to-$1000 phone, you’d expect a killer app or two, something must-play that you can’t get anywhere else.
Let’s say that you do find a game that’s just right for you, though. Now you’ve got a great controller to use with it, right? Well…not really. The Gamevice’s excellent design extends to your ability to connect it to your phone and no further. When it comes to actually playing games, the Gamevice suffers from a classic issue that little brothers and sisters the world over will remember from third-party console controllers: an utter lack of responsiveness. While the buttons on the controller feel nice and clicky, in practice they’ll refuse to respond unless you slam them down with significant force.
Any attempts at precision are stymied as a result, defeating the entire purpose of using a game controller to begin with; that’s saying nothing about how savagely mashing buttons on a device that’s holding your delicate and expensive phone might feel a little unwise.
That’s really what kills the Gamevice Controller in the end; I’d expect a $100 game controller to, at the very least, be able to play games effectively, even if there aren’t many great games available for it. That’s not the case here, and the utter lack of input sensitivity makes the Gamevice feel like a cheap dollar store toy instead of the high-quality device it’s sold as. All in all, if you want to play games more advanced than Lootbox Simulator 2018 or Please, Please Buy Our IAP: Origins, you’re still best off looking into a console. Maybe a Switch, for instance. The Gamevice isn’t going to change the world as it would like to.