A new gamepad built for Android sets its crosshairs on a familiar smartphone gaming problem: control.
That is, while it's easy to see why mobile gaming has exploded into the mainstream -- you can easily download thousands of quality titles from online app stores, mobile games are free or close to it, and near console-like graphics on a beautiful screen — many smartphone games fall short in the control department.
Fingertips on a touchscreen might be fine for the likes of Angry Birds, but it isn't as conducive for handling intense shooters, sports sims, platformers or racing games.
At under $50, PowerA's MOGA isn't a bad investment for on-the-go gamers, but it does fall short in a couple of areas.
When you take the MOGA out of its leather-like pouch, you'll see it resembles a small, black gamepad that can fit in the palm of your hand. On the right side of the controller are A, B, X and Y face buttons and an analog stick, while the left side has a second analog stock and a Select and Start button. Turn the MOGA over and there are two shoulder (trigger) buttons.
After you switch on the power button, you can play the Bluetooth-enabled MOGA in this state — if you want to prop up your smartphone or tablet on, say, a desk or table — but you can also flip out an integrated stand that holds your smartphone in the controller itself. A spring-loaded holder can accommodate a smartphone, held horizontally, up to 3 inches. I tested it with the Samsung Galaxy S III and was held securely. I thought the controller would be too top heavy with the smartphone clamped on, but it wasn't.
Once you launch the MOGA Pivot App (available for free via the Google Play store), select a compatible game to play.
There are a few dozen games supported from various publishers — including Gameloft, Atari, Namco Bandai and SEGA — and I tried out a few different genres to see how the MOGA would feel for each:
* The action-heavy role-playing game Dungeon Hunter 3 felt good as one analog stick controlled your character's movement while the face buttons and triggers were reserved for fighting and using items (such as drinking health potions).
* Riptide GP is a racing game that takes place on water. You don't need to accelerate your super boat, but the analog sticks are used to steer. Buttons are used for a temporary speed burst and another for braking.
* A first person-shooter, N.O.V.A. 3 felt and looked like the Halo franchise, and it was fairly easy to maneuver your character around the environment using both analog sticks, and the shoulder buttons to lock on and fire. There were some performance issues -- mainly screen choppiness — but I don't think this was due to the controller.
* Pac-Man on MOGA was ok, but you can't change which analog stick controls the yellow protagonist (not being left-handed, the left analog stick felt odd to me). And why couldn't the four face buttons be an option, too? This game is easily played without MOGA, so don't bother buying this one if you choose to pick up the controller.
Overall, MOGA was impressive, but be aware the games need to be MOGA-compatible. In other words, it can't be used on any Android games of your choice. For example, only one game in the Top 20 games at Google Play work with MOGA (Asphalt 7: Heat HD). That said, MOGA is adding more games to its roster.
A smaller issue is it takes two AAA batteries to operate (not included), instead of an internal rechargeable battery, which would've been better.
Overall, however, MOGA is ideal if you're a fan of Android games but wish you had console-like controls.