PowerA’s MOGA Ace Power has the distinction of being the first commercially available controller to take advantage of Apple’s new MFi standard, an API that comes baked into iOS7 that lets developers add full gaming controller support fast and easy. Think of it like any home console controller: unbox, turn on, start playing. Only this MOGA doesn’t need any configuring or syncing; once snapped into place you’re good to go, provided your game-of-choice supports controller play.
Well, that’s the idea, anyway. If you’re among the ‘early adopter’ clique and don’t mind ponying up big money for a sure-to-be replaced design, by all means keep reading.
We’ve played with MOGA controllers before – lots of them for Android devices. From the first boxy shapes to its far sturdier successors, PowerA has been pushing mobile device controllers further than most, which makes them a good candidate for standardized iOS gamepads. Apple’s official site lists three different controller schemes: standard, extended, and wireless extended. The MOGA Ace Power sits right in the middle, offering digital + analog sticks, as well as all the buttons you’d expect from a hardcore-certified layout. Not really a bad design, to be honest, as its similar to every portable console out there already.
The trade-off is that you’ll have to stick your compatible iDevice (Lightning ports only) inside its cradle while playing. Much like its Android cousin, the Ace Power stretches to let you cradle your device inside in landscape mode, snapping shut to hold it securely inside. Two plastic bracers keep things sturdy, though you can get away without having to use them (they’re a hassle). Unfortunately, only the iPhone 5, 5S, 5C, and iPod Touch 5 are supported, meaning those with earlier devices or iPads are out of luck.
And let’s get one thing out of the way quickly: absolutely everything about the MOGA Ace Power feels cheap, with clickity plastic and flimsy construction that make it feel worse than a post-2007 Transformer toy. Only most Transformers won’t run you nearly $100, which is what owning one of these will. It’s an absurd price, both in value and cost, given how shockingly bad the design and build quality is. This may be the single most overpriced accessory I’ve ever seen, and while it does add a certain usefulness to some games there’s just no getting past how shoddily made this blatantly first-generation prototype is.
The controller’s basic design is cribbed directly from the Xbox 360 arrangement, with its dual analog sticks (non-clickable), d-pad, and colored face buttons all roughly in the right place. The four shoulder buttons better resemble those of a DualShock 3, with two flat triggers and two pull triggers. The analogs feel more like the 3DS’ Circle Pad than actual sticks, though the range of movement is fairly good. I was surprised to find the colorful face buttons were analog; not really a bad choice but the cheap plastic makes them disappointingly mushy.
The only other noteworthy buttons are the inclusion of the new “Pause” button and MOGA Boost slider, which helps juice your iDevice when its battery invariably drains after a gaming session, and a tiny S.M.R.T. Lock switch on back that’s anything but (it never held the controller shut). A battery indicator lets you know how much life is left before a recharge is necessary and another mushy button near the left analog puts your device in standby with a hard press.
Speaking of battery power, one of the MOGA Ace’s better features is that it doubles as an extra battery pack, recharging your device while playing or just in standby mode, thanks to its built-in 1800-mAh battery. You’ll do this via the included cable (or simply bring your own), though the decision to use micro-USB causes its own issues (more on this below).
While there have been other controller attempts on the platform, most notably (or ignobly) the DuoGamer, iCade, etc, all attempted to use Bluetooth trickery to add sticks and buttons to your iOS library. And all failed for reasons similar to why their Android equivalents failed – a lack of compatibility and support.
Depending on the game, pretty much as you’d expect from a gaming controller, when it worked. First-person shooters and platformers benefit the most as they require a precision that simply isn’t present in touch-only controls. It’s a shame that only sub-part efforts like Dead Trigger 2 and Call of Duty: Strike Force really take advantage at this point and not superior games like Gameloft’s Modern Combat or N.O.V.A. series. Likewise, driving games that would have been great with sticks like Real Racing or Asphalt 8 (a game that claims compatibility) just didn’t work, and embarrassingly so in the latter’s case with its controller menu screen and placeholder “text” text boxes.
Muffin Knight, a Super Crate Box rip-off, played far better than with touch-only controls, though the mushy face buttons didn’t always do the job. I could never get Galaxy on Fire 2 HD to work at all, despite claims it would, and likewise with The Walking Dead, where only the pause button seemed to function.
The fear is that some developers may have simply gotten too adept at constructing their games around touchscreen controls, making the need for bulky accessories a non-issue. One big game in particular, the Zelda-cribbing Oceanheart, played perfectly with the MOGA Ace. It also played pretty much perfect without it, as did console port Bastion. As I write this Rockstar Games has just announced their next mobile GTA, San Andreas, will feature controller support, and there’s undoubtedly more compatibility on the way as controls become more widely adopted.
A big issue is software discovery – there isn’t any, at least not on Apple’s part. It’s disappointing having to hunt through Apple’s otherwise meticulously curated App Store looking for compatible games. Considering their official support for controllers you’d think they’d do everything possible to make discovery easier, but right now scouring message boards or dumb luck seems to be the only way to get your game on.
And the connection is far from perfect. Many times while playing the MOGA simply conked out and stopped working, losing its direct connection with my device (signaled by iOS7’s distinct Lightning connection sound). The only way to fix this is to manually trigger the recessed reset button on back. This usually did the trick, but its still apparently a known issue, as the official documentation actually recommends using a paperclip, so you’ll want to add one to your collection of bits to carry around.
I also found two small design issues that further demonstrate just how cheaply constructed this first-generation (iOS) MOGA is. Both relate to how the MOGA’s enclosure consumes both your iDevice’s Lightning and audio ports.
The first is how the controller uses a standard 3.5mm jack for pass-through audio instead of Apple’s fancier propriety one. This means that it disables Apple’s rocker controls entirely, relegating the volume controls to touchscreen-only. The second, and far more annoying, is that you’ll have to use a standard micro-USB cable (generously included) to charge the device. I’m betting having a Lightning port would’ve cost PowerA more, but considering the hyper-premium asking price it sure would have been sweet to have everything play nice with your existing Apple cables.
At this point there’s little to recommend anyone purchasing this first-generation MOGA Ace Power controller, outside of those with enough disposable income to offset the sheer disappointment that’s sure to follow such an impulse buy. It’s shoddy construction, build quality, incompatibility and usefulness (at this point) scream “DON’T BUY”. But as a first step into a large world of what might become a revolution in mobile gaming it’s just that – a first step. Surely, substandard product like this and many, many others will pave a workable road so others may comfortably join the club, but it’s going to be a bumpy ride until then. Stick with touch controls for now and you’ll be fine.
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