The quality of mobile gaming has advanced with leaps and bounds in recent years. In fact, if you were to tell me several years ago that mobile phones could go toe to toe with the big consoles, you’d have likely been pulled into the back of a wagon and carted away in a straightjacket. However, with games such as Infinity Blade and the N.O.V.A series, it’s quickly becoming more of a reality. And yet, as far as these mobile games have come, there is always one limitation that developers have hit with… The phone itself. All games played via a smart device are limited to virtual controls and the joys of tilt motions. In truth, this has worked well for casual games that were designed with that limitation in mind, but in saying that, many in-depth games can be a nightmare to control.
Fortunately, the team at PowerA are here to give the mobile gaming market a push in the right direction with their latest series of mobile controllers. For the purpose of this review, we’ll be focusing on the MOGA Pocket Controller, which is designed for the Android user on the go: meaning that it’s small and easy to transport. The controller is about 5 inches wide by 3 inches tall, making it almost as small as your wallet. The controller has inbuilt a plastic arm through the middle of the controller, which hides the power switch, and holds the smartphone in a foam-padded, expandable grip. The controller is able to hold larger smartphones such as the Galaxy Note, but is unable to accommodate tablets. The controller is designed similarly to the Xbox controller: Dual flat axis thumb sticks, 4 face buttons of X,Y,B,A, and two shoulder buttons. Sadly, no directional face buttons.
The flat axis thumb sticks are derivative of the Nintendo 3DS, in as much that they slide around and cannot tilt like with larger controllers. The sticks work well for the most part, but like the 3DS, a little sweat can make them slippery. In saying that, they do provide what feels like the right amount of resistance, which allows for precise input while still feeling comfortable. The controller has been moulded with grips which also store the 2 x AAA batteries that are needed to power the controller. The controller also has dual shoulder buttons, which were a little small for my liking, but were a welcome addition all the same as many other android controllers appear to be missing these. The controller also comes with a small black pouch, which snaps shut and is ideal for throwing into your bag while on the go. However, is also important to note that while I was confident in the use of the controller itself, due to it’s size when combined with a smart phone, it felt as if the device could easily slip from my hands. It’s easy to crack these types of screens, so a simple wrist strap would have provided some peace of mind.
While the controller may not be able to hold a tablet with its built-in extendable grip, it’s important to note that it is still capable of being used with one. The controller can connect to any android device of choice through bluetooth, and with the use of their free app “Moga Pivot”. Essentially, the app just has to run through a simple synching process which is very quick. Additionally, the app also has it’s own dedicated store which filters games from the android marketplace which are compatible with the controller. This is something that many prospective buyers might not realise, but games have to be designed with a controller in mind, so not every one of your games may be used; even if it’s mimicking the control scheme with the virtual on-screen controls. The developers have to have programmed their games with the option to do this. However, PowerA do offer a lot of support to developers, so hopefully the list of games will continue to grow. Although, when signing into the Pivot app you are gifted with a free copy of Pacman and registering gives you a copy of Sonic CD, which is a pretty sweet deal!
There is also a large library of third party apps and emulators that are compatible with the controller, but being third party means that your experiences may differ from mine. I’m an old school gamer at heart, and in saying that, the lack of a directional face-pad does make some older games bit more tricky to play. This stands out a lot with games such as Street Fighter where pulling off combos isn’t as easy with the flat-axis thumb sticks. However, it’s important to note that it still clearly stands apart from the virtual alternative, and as such, it’s my opinion that these mobile controllers hold a lot more promise than a passing gimmick. In fact, many games that I had previously given up on playing have been saved thanks to this device. I can’t honestly stress that enough! Removing the use of on-screen controls and providing physical input has dramatically enhanced the games I play on the go. The battery life also holds up incredibly well, with up to 18 hours of use on just 2 x AAA batteries.
In summary, the MOGA pocket controller is very well made, and in my opinion, a worthwhile add-on for any mobile gaming experience. While I would have personally liked to have seen a wrist-strap and a directional face-pad, within it’s price range, you really can’t go wrong. If you’re an android gamer that’s frustrated with the awkwardness of virtual controls, you’ll soon discover that many games, which were once unplayable, are now a breeze with this gamepad! If you’re interested in purchasing one, we recommend the Australian store, MobileZap.