The trouble with a lot of high-budget, console-style games on Android -- such as Modern Combat, N.O.V.A., Dead Space, and Wild Blood -- is the touch controls. They often must use a non-traditional control scheme that is awkward, at best. The very best mobile games are built specifically to utilize touch controls, but many of these bigger titles are forcibly shoving a round peg into a square hole. They may be able to squeeze it in there, but it's not pretty nor ideal.
Enter the MOGA Controller
Meanwhile, there have been engineers working to fix this problem, and they've come up with the most obvious solution. They built a Bluetooth-compatible gamepad that attaches to your phone. I recently obtained one of PowerA's MOGA Mobile Gaming System controllers to see what the fuss is all about, and whether or not a mobile gamepad could fix control issues with some of the aforementioned Android games.
My initial concern, of course, was that the MOGA would be too large for me to carry around. Most know that gaming works on its own clock, so gamers never know when the urge to play will strike. The size issue proved to be unfounded. The device is about the same size as my Galaxy Nexus, and so it fits easily on your pocket.
The MOGA is a pretty standard pad, containing two sticks, four face buttons and two triggers, making it two buttons and a directional pad short of an Xbox 360 controller.
Rather than go on about the device itself, though, I would rather discuss how it affects a few select games. Fortunately, the MOGA already supports a handful of titles that I had previously downloaded to my phone, and so I was able to test it extensively.
Asphalt 7: Heat ($0.99)
You have few buttons to deal with when playing most racing games on an Android phone. The games automatically push down the gas pedal, and you only have to deal with when to brake. To steer, you tilt your phone. The MOGA introduces a current-generation control scheme to Asphalt; you use the triggers to accelerate and brake, and the left stick to steer.
The difference between that scheme and the default is stark. With tilt, it's very easy to goof up because it's difficult for most people to hold their hands still, but the stick enables legitimate control precision. I should note, though, that using tilt to steer is not an awful experience, but playing with the MOGA feels more natural.
N.O.V.A. 3 ($6.99)
I've always wanted to like the N.O.V.A. series, as it features a pretty compelling story and production values that are unrivaled in the mobile. The recent addition of tilt aiming went a long way to making the experience gameplay palatable, but it still felt off, as this control scheme wasn’t as precise as it needed to be.
With the MOGA controller, N.O.V.A. 3 feels a lot more precise, but it still doesn't match a console experience due to the way the pad is designed. The sticks are simply not responsive enough to give you an ideal experience, but folks who are making the leap from Call of Duty to mobile shooters will find this far better than playing without a pad at all.
Wild Blood ($6.99)
Gameloft's hack and slash title about Lancelot destroying demons was always good enough, as its controls weren't too complex. The main downside to playing Wild Blood with touch controls was rotating the camera angle. While playing, I often got caught up in hitting the wrong buttons while fighting and would end up with my camera facing away from the action. In addition, controlling the camera with touch is usually a bad experience anyway, as folks who play shooters on laptops will tell you forever.
With the MOGA, camera control is a cinch. Having physical buttons also improves the experience, because it means you're far less likely to accidentally press the wrong one when you're in battle. Being able to feel your buttons is an underappreciated aspect of physical controllers.
The Dark Knight Rises ($6.99)
When I first played Gameloft's most recent Batman game, I wanted so badly to love it, because it is more or less a version of Rocksteady's console games Arkham Asylum and Arkham City. When I played, I kept struggling with the controls, and I couldn't force myself enjoy the experience. It was, to put it mildly, far too complex for touch controls.
With the MOGA, however, The Dark Knight Rises becomes an honest-to-god successor to those games. With physical controls, it is probably one of the best mobile games I have ever played. There can be no overselling of how drastically the MOGA improves The Dark Knight Rises, transforming the game from ambitious failure into an overwhelming triumph.
Better game controls comes with a catch
In order to use the MOGA controller, a game must natively support it. The good news? There are already plenty of games that do. Aside from most recent and mostly exceptional Gameloft games, you can also use it with the mobile versions of: the Grand Theft Auto series, the NEED for Speed series, Painkiller: Purgatory HD, Pocket Legends, Dead Space, Madden, Virtual Tennis Challenge, Shadowgun, and more. The game currently comes pre-loaded with Sonic CD and PAC-Man. You'll definitely be able to get plenty of use out of it.
After using the MOGA for a week, I have a hard time imagining myself going back to touch controls for those games that have always deserved physical controls. Instead of fighting the touchscreen, I can now simply enjoy them the way they were truly intended. The MOGA controller, and other devices like it, turn your Android phone into a serious hardcore mobile gaming platform.