There’s no denying it any more – touchscreen gaming is here to stay. It isn’t surprising that game developers are trying to cash in from everything from tactile-centric to re-imagined classics with varying degrees of success and the trend appears to be growing with a few million tablet and smartphone users out there. However there’s still a barrier that alienates much of the traditional gamer crowd – honest-to-goodness physcial controls on a touchscreen device.
Though some have gotten used to the virtual quirkiness of playing games on a touch-only phone or tablet, nothing can ever truly replace the physical input factor. Trying to tackle the problem can be a sticky issue, however, and there’s been no shortage of physical game controllers promising ‘the real console experience’ on Android devices; the less said about most of them the better. With so many games flooding your favorite app stores I’m surprised it’s taken as long as it has for a real controller solution to come along to save the day for us traditionalists, but that seems to have happened with PowerA’s new MOGA Mobile Gaming System for Android.
The MOGA controller style definitely gives a few nods to an Xbox controller with rubber padded grips and a wider stance that fits comfortably in your hands. It’s a stylish gamepad that mimics a home console controller with dual slider-like control pads, four face buttons on the right, L/R shoulder triggers, and finally start/select/and a branded Bluetooth sync buttons on the left. There’s no d-pad to speak of, sadly, and the only other thing that sets the MOGA apart from other gamepads is the adjustable retractable slider to grip your Android device in place.
It’s lightweight but still pretty solid, despite its relatively compact nature, and each button/trigger is responsive – if you’re familiar with playing console games you will instantly feel accustomed here. Battery life is impressive as well, with an average between 13-18 hours using just two AAA batteries, and being able to instantly turn the controller on/off is a nice feature. While its plastic frame does make it feel a bit cheap, it’s such a light addition to your Android device-of-choice that I’m sure most won’t mind a few compromises. After all, looks can be deceiving.
Pairing the MOGA to Android devices (versions 2.2+ and above) was ridiculously simple thanks to the propriety MOGA Pivot App, which handles the heavy lifting without much fuss. It’ll also serve as an launchpad of sorts for compatible games, as well as mini-storefront, and help steer you towards the latest addition to the lineup. Alas, I wish the interface weren’t so wonky as I found myself lost in menu clutter more than once – and that’s when I wasn’t being bumped out into the internet browser entirely. But once installed, individual games will recognize when a paired MOGA is turned on or off, and takes care of enabling controller play without having to run through endless menus to get things working.
Using the controller was initially an awkward experience when our test device (a Samsung Galaxy S III) was side-cradled with the MOGA, which led us to a few conclusions; the retractable clip offers three different positions, and the balance-to-weight ratio always has a feeling of constant pull and tips backward in looser hands. Some may have a problem with this, and I couldn’t help but tense up every time I had to snap the pricy Galaxy S III in/out of the cradle’s tight grip. I love having physical buttons, just not enough to risk damaging my device for the privilege. Of course, this issue can be alleviated by just placing the phone on a table and playing a game like that; there’s nothing truly ideal about the clamping method but the obvious tradeoff is instant portability in a tight package.
But the MOGA is really about playing games, and PowerA was kind enough to supply plenty of MOGA-ready titles for us to test the controller with. Most were Gameloft and Sega titles, but the variety was good enough to put the controller to the test and see how much better they played with physical controls. Included The Dark Knight Rises, Sonic CD, N.O.V.A. 3, Virtua Tennis, and Riptide GP to name a few.
Games like these are (or were) specifically what the MOGA was built for and the comparison between virtual and physical controls is almost like night and day, it is definitely an improvement if you missed playing some of these games the way they were originally meant to be enjoyed. Some performed better than others in terms of how well each utilized the controller (many don’t utilize all of the available buttons) but most felt immediately solid in ways that touchscreen games never could. Games designed with buttons in mind, like Sonic CD, were made for physical controls like this – they just play better. The dual analog nubs held up well enough, about the same as Sony’s Vita analogs, though there was the occasional overshoot from having bigger hands manipulating much smaller sticks.
Oddly enough, games you’d think would be immediately better, like N.O.V.A. 3 and The Dark Knight Rises, required a bit of tinkering to feel like the controller was an improvement; those games originally designed with touchscreen control in mind often felt like they were fighting between the control methods by over (and under)compensating analog motions and certain moments still requiring actions to remain touchscreen-only (such as QTE actions).
Overall the games that made the most of the MOGA worked excellently but currently software support is limited to about 40 games right now, with future compatibility left in the hands of the developers. This means the potential is definitely there for the MOGA to succeed but it’s still a gamble; the mobile market is dominated by titles that not only don’t require buttons but actually play better without them, such as Bad Piggies or Rayman Jungle Run. So while there’s bound to be plenty more games on the way to play with your MOGA the real question is whether you’ll actually want to.
Not that it’s a field crowded with champions, but PowerA’s MOGA Mobile Gaming System is easily the best controller solution for those forced into a touchscreen-only world on their Android devices. It’s a surprisingly sturdy and handles itself well, featuring most of the analogs, buttons, and triggers you’d expect from a gamepad that wants to help turn your Android device into a mobile gaming console – minus the d-pad, that is. The available game selection is pretty large and promises to grow even more if developers get onboard, though it remains to be seen how viable a two-piece gaming solution can be in a world dominated by Angry Birds and other touch-only blockbusters. Still, there’s a lot to like here for the price, and for those do serious gaming on their Android devices the MOGA is hard to beat.
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