Last week, the first generation of iOS 7 controllers were officially revealed to the world and immediately became available for purchase. First we went hands-on with the Logitech PowerShell, and now we’ve had a chance to extensively test the MOGA Ace Power controller. While the Ace Power has more buttons and joysticks than Logitech’s controller, the flimsy plastic feel, limited battery, and spotty support on the App Store make us question whether it’s really the future of iOS gaming.
After all, we’ve been burned before by third-party iOS game controllers. The iCade and iCade Mobile had limited support from developers and a few quirks due to its Bluetooth connectivity. For example, you had to sync the device by entering a four-digit code, and the controller rendered the pop-up keyboard unusable. And last year’s Duo Gamer, which only ever supported a handful of Gameloft games, flopped so badly that its $80 launch price has been slashed to just $6 on Amazon.
Still, Apple is fully behind the current effort to bring legitimate console controls to iOS. They’ve worked closely with hardware makers to make sure that iOS 7 controllers connect easily through the Lightning connector, which can both charge your device and automatically drop the onscreen controls. But Apple can’t force every developer to integrate joystick controls, leaving the vast majority of iOS games unable to take advantage of the new hardware.
The Moga Ace Power controller contains all the same buttons as your Playstation or Xbox controller: two joysticks, a D-pad, four face buttons, and four shoulder buttons. In addition, it has a battery indicator, a pause button, and a button to turn off your device without removing it from the controller. You can also hit a switch on the back to lock the collapsible controller into place around your device, and another on the front to turn on the Ace Power’s charging feature.
Since it’s collapsible, the Ace Power is slightly more portable than Logitech’s controller. However, it also has a cheap, toy-like feel, which doesn’t seem very sturdy. The shoulder buttons in particular feel like they’re on the verge of snapping off during an overly-enthusiastic session. It’s probably a good thing that few of the games we tested even used the shoulder buttons.
After extensive use of the Ace Power, we discovered that the battery life isn’t going to make this an essential travel companion. If you charge your iOS device while you play, you’re only going to get an hour or two out of the controller. When the Ace Power powers down, you’re left with a useless piece of bulky plastic and the same old touchscreen controls.
A few high-quality games do make use of the controller, with satisfying results. Once you lock your iPhone 5, 5S, 5C, or iPod Touch 5th Generation into the Moga Ace Power, it’s ready to use, with no Bluetooth syncing required. Load up Limbo or Bastion, two Must Have console-game ports, and you’ll be able to run and fight while keeping your fingers off the screen.
Games that use twin-stick movement and camera controls, like Call of Duty: Strike Team and Dead Trigger 2, also work well with the Ace Power’s joysticks. However, it doesn’t change the fact that these games were not designed from scratch for a controller. In Call of Duty: Strike Team, you still have to use the touchscreen to control your squad from above, and Dead Trigger 2 has an auto-fire mode that makes the controller’s eight action buttons completely unnecessary.
Gameloft games are also mysteriously lacking support for these iOS 7 controllers. First-person shooters like Modern Combat 4 and NOVA 3 aren’t compatible with the device, even though they were clearly modeled after console games. One game that is compatible, Gangstar: Vegas, doesn’t use the second joystick for the camera controls, and you still have to tap on the screen to target vehicles while shooting.
We were pleasantly surprised to find full controller support for Lili, a gorgeous adventure game where you have to pluck flowers from the backs of mischievous spirits. In Lili, you can move the camera and run at the same time using the Ace Power’s dual joysticks. We also enjoyed using the Ace Power to play Oceanhorn, a recently-released Zelda knock-off, even though the visual details and animation are more vibrant on a larger iPad screen.
A few games we tested didn’t work on the Ace Power, even if they work for other platforms or controllers. The Android version of Prince of Persia: The Shadow and the Flame is featured prominently on MOGA’s website (along with a favorable quote from our review), but we couldn’t get the iOS version to work with the Ace Power. Same goes for Gameloft’s Asphalt 8, which Gameloft says will work with Logitech’s more limited controller only.
Games that you really wish supported the controller, like Grand Theft Auto 3 and GTA: Vice City, will leave you disappointed. The Metal Slug series, which actually made the iCade worth purchasing, could eventually support these new controllers. When we asked Metal Slug’s iOS publisher DotEmu for a comment, they said that they plan to add support for the Ace Power for several of their games by the end of 2013 or early in 2014.
Hopefully support for the Ace Power will expand quickly, but we thought the same thing about the iCade and Gamer Duo. For now, developers will continue to assume that the majority of iOS players are enjoying their games using only the touchscreen. iOS 7 controller support may be a minor selling point for a few games, but at $99.99, it’s hard to see controllers become an essential part of the experience.
We’d advise any hardcore mobile gamers to exercise caution and restraint. The launch of the MOGA Ace Power is the third time, after the iCade and Duo Gamer, that gamers have been asked to shell out big bucks for an accessory that only works with a handful of good games. If you’re like us, you have a growing graveyard of expired devices gathering dust in the closet, and we worry that the same could happen to the Ace Power.
By waiting for the price to drop and support to expand, you have a better chance of not being burned yet again. If you’re in a hurry to enjoy Limbo, Oceanhorn, Bastion, and Lili on the go, we recommend making use of the perfectly-adequate touchscreen controls. At this point, $99.99 for the Ace Power is just asking too much for too little.
Score: 2 out of 4
Pros: Plug-and-play; works as a charger; plenty of joysticks and buttons; collapsible design; a few high-quality games support the device at launch
Cons: Cheap, toy-like feel; battery drains very fast; high price; very limited overall game support; none of the games we tested use all of the buttons
Bottom line: With a lower price and more App Store support, the Ace Power might be a nice extra for your favorite iOS games. But for now, it’s an expensive and unnecessary add-on.