As far as iOS gaming goes, I’ve tried to love it. There have been some great games out there. Late model iDevices with the A6 and A7 can give the Vita a run for its money in the graphics department. There has been something missing from that equation, though: control. Touch screens are great for many games, however when you go more arcade style… they start to suck. Well, I’ve found a product that makes it suck a little less: Moga’s Ace Power for iOS.
First Controller to Market
The Moga Ace Power is the first MFI controller to hit the market. For those keeping score, it’s compatible with extended API which gives you not only the standard D-pad, a pause button, four action buttons, and L1/R1 shoulder buttons, but left and right analog sticks and L2/R2 trigger buttons as well. This gives rough parity in both configuration and buttons to the Playstation Dual Shock-series and Xbox 360/ One controllers. Like the Xboxes, the left analog stick is above the D-pad. There’s also a button for a trigger that pushes on your lock button since that is hidden by the case.
The controller itself is a two-piece design with a bridge between the two halves. Your iDevice, which can be an iPhone 5, 5C, 5S, or a 5th generation iPod Touch, fits in a pocket between the two halves. It comes in any color you want as long as it’s black. So, those with a white fronted iPhone or iPod will have a bit of a two-tone thing doing on. The case is connected by Lightning instead of Bluetooth, which most cases use. Rounding out the feature set are a headphone jack on the right button that’s driven by the Lightning and a micro-USB port up top for charging. It would be nice if, someday, a case had Lightning passthrough instead of a lightning port, but that day is not today.
iPhone Game Control Done Right
When the games let you use this as a controller, it’s a pretty good controller. It fact, it turns a late model iPhone into a pretty credible handheld. The grip design is very comfortable for your hands and every button is easily reachable. Having used both, I think it’s actually more ergonomic than a PS Vita. The buttons are pressure sensitive and they all have a good feel except for the L2/R2 triggers which feel a bit spongy. I would have no problem using this setup for hours of prolonged gaming.
I put the Moga through its tests with several different games and genres. It came through with generally flying colors. Gangstar Vegas, an open-world game similar to GTA, was a particularly good test of the controller since it includes action, driving, and even flying elements. There was zero lag in any of the controls and it felt great through high speed chases through Vegas and street fights. In fact, high speed driving is one of the most demanding tests a controller can do and this was far more than passable, it was pretty great. It didn’t feel like I was playing with my smartphone, I felt like it was the good old days through my Playstation. That feeling was backed up on platformers Bugdom 2 and Otto Matic, action RPGs Eternity Warriors II and Dungeon Hunter 4, and lighthearted racing game Cro-Mag Rally. King of Fighters 2012, an updated version of SNK’s classic 2D fighter, was responsive though all the button mashing. As for FPSs, playing Activision’s CoD Strike Team, I couldn’t hit anything using the right joystick… just like on a console. That being said, control was great otherwise and I equate any issues with that game to my own being a PC gamer and needing a keyboard and mouse. Lastly, for flying games, John P’s favorite Sky Gamblers: Storm Raiders was phenomenal on the controller. If there is any downside though, gamers using physical controls are going to have a giant advantage over those using the virtual controls.
Cons Beyond Their Control
Over the games I have tested with this product, things have been consistently inconsistent. Not with the controller itself, but the support for the API. I played some games like Eternity Warriors II that was phenomenal with the controller. The experience was almost exactly like playing on a console. Others worked perfectly with the controller, but it was something that was obviously tacked on after the fact. Others had very limited support. Its a bit of a crapshoot at this point. Most of these games will not tell you what any of the buttons actually do and a good deal of them will keep the now redundant on screen controls on screen. I would suspect that’s due to Apple’s requirement that physical controls be optional, not required. What’s more, games will have varied support for the extended and standard APIs. I have literally played games that work with the standard API, but will not work with the extended API Moga at all. I’m beginning to think Apple made the implementation needlessly complex. They should have done just the extended API. I’d expect this to improve dramatically in games released in 2014 and beyond.
The controller design itself has a few quirks. The two halves feel a little flimsy without the iPhone in it. However, that goes away completely with your iDevice in the controller. Compared to a console game controller, your hands are going to be set wider apart which may or may not be a bit uncomfortable at first. Since it’s form fitting, you also have to put your phone in there sans attire. If you have a case, you have to take it off every single time. That’s a bit annoying if you have a regular case and can be a chore if its an OtterBox or LifeProof. You also have to take it out if you want to make a phone call or take a photo. So if this design is less than ideal, why use it instead of modifying their adjustable Pro Power and Hero Power controllers? According to everything I’ve heard, Apple is pretty adamant about controller design and require iPhone cases to closely match reference illustrations. Moga made the best design they could with their hands somewhat tied and its not bad by any stretch. My hope is that Apple loosens up on this, but they’re not a company that has been traditionally in tune with the wants of gamers.
Ace Power Does Stand for Power
The Ace Power includes a 1800mAh internal battery. In theory, that should be able to fully recharge an iPhone 5/5C/5S and them some. However, theory and reality don’t always see eye to eye. I was only able to get about half of a charge to my iPhone 5 from a full battery on the controller. To preserve enough power for itself, the Moga will stop charging the iPhone when it reaches 25% battery life. Still, an extra 50% battery life is nothing to to look down upon by any means. Unlike most battery cases, the Ace Power will not charge your iPhone while plugged into to its Micro-USB Cable.
$100 $80, I’m not going to lie, it’s not cheap. But the question is, is it worth the money? In my mind, it is if you’re a gamer. It’s twice as much as a game controller, but it’s half as much as a PS Vita. It also adds some power to the mix to prolong your gaming. If you want to be in at the ground floor of iOS gaming, it’s a very good case.
I’ve seen the future of handheld gaming and it’s not going to be dedicated game consoles. It will be based in iOS and Android. Why have a dedicated gaming machine when your phone can do it almost as well? The Moga Ace Power is not the perfect controller, but it’s a good first effort. That’s very true considering the limitations put upon accessory makers as part of the Made for iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch program. It also has to deal with a game library that is in its infancy as far as support and implementation goes. However there are flashes of what it will be when mature and the future looks very bright. There may be better iOS controllers coming out in the future, but I have no problem recommending this one right now.
- Provides a a console-like control scheme to your iPhone or iPod.
- Controls are well placed and work great.
- Good Ergonomics for your hands.
- Provides an extra 50% battery life or so to your gaming if you need it.
- Sold feel with controller inside.
Somewhat Expensive at $100.
- A little expensive at $80
- Form-fitting design requires hands further apart than with traditional controllers.
- Design also blocks rear camera.
- Does not pass through power to iDevice when charging.
- L2/R2 triggers have a bit of a spongy feel.
- Not universal and requires you to remove your iPhone or iPod Touch from case.
- Developer support at this early stage is inconsistent at best.