The MOGA Mobile Gaming SystemPlatforms: Android
Yeh that’s right. I’m playing Sonic the Hedgehog on the bus. A feat achieved twenty-three years ago by the monstrous Game Gear has been has been recreated in 2013. At first it does not sound that impressive, but then I flip out of Sonic, check the latest cricket scores, update my twitter feed with some inane nonsense, perhaps even make a phone call and then load up the impressive looking FPS N.O.V.A 3 and you realise that this is not the nineties. Take that Game Gear.
We’ve got our greasy little touchscreen unfriendly fingers on MOGA’s incoming bluetooth controllers designed for Android and (for the Pro only) Windows 8 mobile. Coming in two surprisingly different flavours: The MOGA Pocket and the MOGA Pro, these controllers are designed to make gaming on your phone or tablet much more akin to a console experience.
MOGA are a subsidiary of Power A, one of the largest manufacturers of third party controllers and accessories in the world, which means there is a wealth of experience behind them. On first impressions this shows as both controllers feel reliably solid with a sleek black plastic front and comfy rubberised handles. MOGA have also managed to keep the price point for these controllers at the relatively low level of £29.99 for the Pocket and £39.99 for the Pro, which many should find affordable and certainly undercuts any modern handheld console. Let us quickly take a look at each version separately so we can fully understand what is on offer.
The MOGA Pocket is certainly the lightweight version of the two both literally and figuratively. Looking slightly like the Nintendo 3DS stripped of its screens, it features two flat analog sticks, four front facing buttons, two shoulder buttons and a start and select button. The analog sticks feel neatly weighted and give a strong sense of feedback, which is obviously far more preferable to the touch screen alternative, however with the test machine at least they did seem a little unresponsive at times with the left stick having a small deadzone when pushed downwards. Meanwhile the four front facing buttons are satisfyingly clicky but perhaps rather small. Given the space left on the controller it seems strange that these have not been adjusted to be slightly more friendly.
Down the centre of the controller is a large clip that flips up to clamp your device into position. This clip can then be stretched up to a size of 8.5cm to fit varying sizes of phones (just about holds the Galaxy Note but no tablets would fit in this slot). This of course assumes that the game you are playing runs in landscape format. When the phone is slotted it in it resembles a Nintendo DS minus the bottom screen but, depending on the phone, feels rather top heavy since the controller is so light compared to standard phones. There is a sense that the MOGA Pocket could be slightly more dense to cater for this indifference as at present the top heavy feeling can become uncomfortable after holding for long periods of time. One other issue here that only presents itself on certain phones is that the clip can block access to any button or port on the left hand side of the phone, which could result in the inability to change volume or charge the phone while it is clamped. Since the controller works over bluetooth the phone does not need to be in the slot to function however it is the most sensible way to play whilst on the move.
On the bottom of the controller, it is important to note, is the power switch. The MOGA Pocket runs off two AAA batteries which provides a fairly lengthy playtime of around eighteen hours of gaming, however leave the switch on when not in use and it still discharges albeit at a slower rate.
The MOGA Pro is a surprisingly different experience to the pocket. Looking very much like a less curvaceous Xbox 360 controller it is not suited to the hectic urbanite travelling lifestyle and feels far more at home when used in conjunction with a tablet sat on a table while riding the train or a plane or a hotel. It features two analogue sticks, a digital directional pad, four much more chunkier face buttons and four shoulder buttons. It other words it has everything required to be a capable console controller and indeed will run on Android TVs when they start entering the market.
On the whole it feels rather light which gives the impression of being a little cheap. This makes sense given that this is a very travel friendly controller but a little more density would be preferable. Again this also becomes apparent when slipping an Android device into the middle slot (which reaches a little further to 9.5cm) which makes it top heavy and marginally uncomfortable.
Unlike the Pocket the Pro runs off internal rechargeable batteries. This in many ways is both a blessing and a curse as while it does reduce running costs it does come at a shorter play time of around twelve hours and, as with many rechargeable devices, this may reduce further over time. Fortunately it is charged with a standard micro USB port on the top of the controller so many Android chargers will also work with the controller.
One big difference between the Pocket and the Pro, which could affect which controller someone chooses to buy, is that while the MOGA Pocket only supports its own standard the Pro is compliant with the emerging HID standard which should enable it play many more games which have been designed with this in mind.
OGA Pivot application
Controllers are not much use without games to play with them. The MOGA pivot is an Android application that acts as a portal to the games that work best on the MOGA devices. Lying somewhere between a homepage and a marketplace it highlights the games installed on the device as well as suggesting others on the Google Play store that you might also enjoy. It works neatly with the controller able to navigate so your fingers do not have to blight the screen. When it comes to purchasing games however it begins to feel slightly less accessible as it switches over to the Play Store which is controlled with touch. It is then awkward to swap back to the Pivot application to play the game and you are left with a feeling that something is missing to make this a console worthy experience. Of course since this is all software it may all be updated in the future, but at present it seems a little underwhelming as a application front.
The MOGA Pivot application also highlights what will be the greatest obstacle for MOGA to overcome if it is to be successful. Dive into its marketplace and look for optimised games for their devices and it is noticeable lacking. At present, for example, there are only a few dozen games that are fully optimised for the Pro controller using all the buttons it has available, and while the list is much longer for basic controller compatibility and HID compliant games it still seems rather empty. Again with the weight of Power A behind this device and their connections to some of the larger mobile developers include Sega and Gameloft we imagine that given time the range will be vastly increased.
It is also worth noting that even within these optimised games sometimes the experience feels rather jarring when using the controller. For example in Gameloft’s definitely-not-a-straight-Diablo-ARPG-freemium-clone: Dungeon Hunter 4, the game is constantly asking the player to touch the screen to perform certain actions or use certain menus. This of course makes sense given that the developer would originally design the games with touch screens as the priority but there is no denying that the controller experience feels more like stopgap than a full console experience. To combat this MOGA have released a free SDK for developers to use with their games and hopefully the community for this will grow and enable games to flourish on the system.
The MOGA pivot application also acts as the connection agent between the device and the controller and loading it up will synchronise the two over bluetooth. At least in theory. In practise it can be a little messier particularly during initial setup. With our review units we had to reset the entire device to get it to recognise the controller and even after this process connections would still take half a minute to complete. That being said the responsiveness of the MOBA controllers overall is surprisingly quick considering it is a bluetooth device and it is clear that the designers have taken this issue into account.
Perhaps a final short word needs to be said for the rather dubious territory of emulators. The Play store is filled with elegantly designed emulators capable of playing many of the console classics of the past. Downloading the ROM files for these emulators is of course decidedly illegal, but if you happen to legally own some then the MOGA device might well be a great solution to those frustrating on-screen touch controls. Many emulators are already HID compliant which means that the Pro controller can almost pick up and play then, but even the Pocket has a solution in the form of a cleverly designed third-party app which can map the controller buttons to any input you desire. This third-party universal driver app actually elevates the controllers from a rather novel but ultimately unfulfilling experience to something rather special: it opens up a whole new world of games (not just emulators) to the Android and Windows 8 mobile environment.
It is easy to find many small faults with the MOGA system, particularly when comparing it to a fully fledge mobile console, but this is an unfair comparison. At well under half the price and with cheaper games available it sits neatly in a less hardcore category and may suit gamers who do not want to invest in a 3DS or Vita but still wish to play on the move without using an awkward touchscreen. While the Pro is clearly the more capable controller its cumbersome size means it has fewer genuine uses, it does not fit in your average pocket (which the Pocket version just about manages) and looks rather ridiculous when playing on the move. However if you do find yourself regularly in a comfortable position where you can spread out with your phone or tablet on a table then it is a sensible purchase. Meanwhile the Pocket is a great solution for gaming on the move but the frail analogue sticks, tiny buttons and lack of digital directional buttons may cause issue for some.
There is an argument to purchase both considering their varying usage, however this pushes the price closer to conventional handheld consoles which, at present at least, the MOGA system does not compete with. With the recent announcement of the second generation MOGA Power series which features a complete redesign and the ability to charge the phone from the controller perhaps the best conclusion is to wait and see what the future of the MOGA system holds, both in terms of the hardware and the software, before committing to it. Still, I’m heading back to the park to play Sonic on my mobile phone. Take that 1993.