We've had a MOGA Ace Power controller knocking around the office this weekend.
This little gadget could prove to be a pretty big deal for iOS gamers as it's the first officially licensed gamepad for iPhone and iPod touch.
There have been iOS controllers before - like the iCade and the SteelSeries Pro - but they were unlicensed, unofficial peripherals that exploited loopholes to work and forced developers to code for a litany of different button layouts.
This new system is a lot smarter. Simply put, developers use one controller API and gadget manufacturers build pads around one standardised layout. With everyone working with the same code and the same specs, every iOS game will work with every controller - and vice versa.
It sounds good, but there's a problem with the scheme. While developers have been able to use Apple's new Game Controller code to build gamepad support into their apps, very few game makers have been able to actually test their games on the hardware.
They've basically been coding blind, with no way of knowing whether their controller support will even work - let alone feel good - on these mystical, secretive (and regularly leaked) pads.
Which means that it's hard to know whether the issues I've had with the MOGA controller are down to dodgy manufacturing or just untested code that can be cleaned up in a game update.
For instance, are the unresponsive inputs in sombre platformer Limbo
or manic arcade romp Muffin Knight
due to wonky buttons on the MOGA pad, or developers not used to coding for pressure-sensitive face buttons?
And is the stiff and jilted camera movement in zombie blaster Dead Trigger 2
the fault of the MOGA's second analogue stick, or is it down to game-maker Madfinger?
Judging by games like Trouserheart
and Into the Dead
, which are supposed to have controller support but barely even work in practice, it's clear that developers need more time with the actual hardware to get their games feeling good.
So let's forget compatibility for now, and talk about the controller itself. This black gizmo starts out looking like a typical joypad (it's a little shorter - and much flatter - than an Xbox 360 or PS3 pad) so it can be stuffed in a pocket.
When you're ready to play, you pull the controller apart like a cracker, place your device in, and then tug on the controller a little more so the lightning connector slots into the port.
It's not the most elegant manoeuvre around, and getting your phone back out feels like completing some kind of Chinese puzzle. The pad also comes with some adapters - also known as bits of plastic or "things you will lose" - so the skinnier devices (like the svelte fifth-gen iPod touch) fit in snugly.
At this point, the whole shebang is a whopping 24 centimetres long, making it wider than a PS Vita and even wider - gasp!
- than a SEGA Game Gear. But it's not uncomfortable or unwieldy, and it's fine for even extended play sessions.
The MOGA Ace Power's real claim to fame is its big, beastly, 1800mAh battery. This thing lasted through more than 16 hours of continuous use in our tests, which is a darn sight longer than the various iPhones and iPods it was holding.
It does take some time to get it back to full juice. From deathbed to 100 percent charge took about four hours.
That big battery can also be used to charge your iOS device as you play. Fully charged, the MOGA can charge your iPhone for about an hour. After that runs out, the MOGA will still operate as a controller for a good few hours.
The controller feels good in play. I've fondled my fair share of iOS, Android, and micro-console pads, and this is one of the best of the bunch.
The analogue sticks are a lot like the Circle Pad on the Nintendo 3DS and feel great for moving your character about in Oceanhorn
Using the right one to move a 3D camera is more problematic, though. You need to move it quite some distance to shift the camera in shooters Dead Trigger 2
and Neon Shadow
, which makes it hard to make accurate, nuanced shots in a pinch.
It just doesn't feel very fun to play first-person shooters with this thing.
You've also got a big squishy rocking D-pad that works but doesn't feel great to actually use. There are four satisfying face buttons that can require a firm push to register, and both shoulder buttons and triggers feel great.
There's also a 'pause' button, a switch to turn on the charging tech, a button to check the battery status, a button to turn off your phone, a switch around back to lock the controller in its extended pose, and a headphone jack.
The MOGA Ace Power is definitely a good piece of kit. The enormous battery lasts forever, the device is surprisingly comfortable to hold, and - when they work - the various buttons and analogue sticks feel great to use.
But it's not without its problems, and the controller suffers from unresponsive face buttons and uncooperative analogue sticks. It makes you mess up in Muffin Knight
and it feels like Dead Trigger 2
would be more accurate on the touchscreen.
Hopefully, developers will have been able to tweak their games for the final hardware before the MOGA Ace Power is available in the shops. We'll be reserving final judgement, and our review, until these things are available to buy.