Mobile gaming’s come a long way in a short time now that tablets and phones are so powerful, but touchscreen controls tend to hold back the “hardcore” gamer from really delving into the iOS/Android catalog. Apple released standardized controller support with iOS 7, and to supplement the launch of the latest Apple TV came the SteelSeries Nimbus Controller, a controller our own Cory Galliher previously ruled as quality, but held back by the iOS ecosystem. Post-CES SteelSeries gave us a controller to review, so we’re taking a second look at the Nimbus and the state of the iOS controller gaming.
The Nimbus controller is a no-frills, 360-style controller offering standard ABXY face buttons, dual thumbsticks, D-Pad, two trigger buttons, and two shoulder bumpers. The center “Menu” button generally functions as a pause button, and up to four controllers can sync to the same mobile device. The controller uses a black matte plastic (which every controller from here to infinity should use) that feels sturdy and clean, and it feels lighter than an Xbox controller, likely due to the exclusion of a rumble feature. Still, it should perform all of the functions of a controller well, and with a 40-hour battery life, you’ll definitely be charging your iPad or iPhone a few times before you need to plug this thing in.
Now, to get honest, I’m a bit of a controller nerd. One of the best things a platform can do for itself is design a quality controller; the grip of the controller is often the first tactile experience a player has with a game, and a bad controller sets terrible expectations for the future. So forgive me while I get really granular for a second:
- The Nimbus has some of the best shoulder inputs out there. The shoulder bumpers click just enough to provide tangible feedback, but not loud enough to get obnoxious with repeated presses. The triggers, meanwhile, offer slightly more tension than an Xbox One controller; pressing them feels tangible, good, though they’re a little louder than the Xbox One’s triggers.
- The D-Pad curves up at a sharp angle. I said I was going to get a bit picky, but unlike most directional pads, this one curves up at the edges. This creates a cup in the middle that might be useful if you keep your thumb center and rock the d-pad, but pressing on the edges feels slightly sharp. If the edges tapered off at the end this might not be a bother, but for now I’m getting used to pressing the pad from the center.
- There still aren’t enough good opportunities out there to use this controller. Given, we’re only a few months out from Apple TV’s release, but there seems to be no real support for controllers in general by Apple, and that’s holding up the ecosystem’s development.
For some reason I can’t quite quantify, Apple doesn’t make it easy to find controller-supported games on the App Store. One would think that, like I can search for “iPad Only” games I could search for “MFI Only” games, ones with Apple’s “Made For iOS” controller support. Unfortunately that’s not the case, and the current best way to find controller-supported games is through the SteelSeries Nimbus app. Though there’s a lengthy list of games that work with the controller, they vary as to how well they work with the controller. Action-RPG Arcane Soul allows controller usage, but no customization, so it’s impossible to use health potions when the controller is enabled.
Higher-end games like Implosion: Never Lose Hope and Bastion, as well as newer MFI games like Venture Kid, work precisely as designed. I think Apple highlighted games with controller support when the feature first launched, but it shouldn’t be up to hardware creators to make their own apps to highlight Apple’s products; I imagine they have access to far less data than Apple, and while the Nimbus companion app is a functional resource, it certainly doesn’t feel as smooth or polished as the App Store proper.
The SteelSeries Nimbus Controller is one of the best mobile controllers I’ve used, though it’s a shame it’s still held back by lackluster support in Apple’s App Store. Currently, Apple requires that any games developed for the Apple TV also include native support for the Siri Remote as a controller, not just a third-party controller like the Nimbus. As mobile gaming continues to move forward, I hope Apple will be willing to take some steps to create more dedicated gaming experiences, providing casual and hardcore gamers alike a chance to do more with their iOS/tvOS devices.