When Apple announced official controller support for iOS 7, many assumed that the era of uncooperative control schemes was coming to an end. While the iPod, iPhone, and iPad were great for games designed around a touchscreen, titles that tried to recreate traditional input methods fared poorly. It turns out, tactile feedback is an integral ingredient. Without it, immersion can be disrupted as players persistently make sure their thumbs are precisely aligned with an on-screen direction pad and buttons.
But every early attempt at creating an MFi (Made For iPhone) controller seemed burdened by at least one glaring weakness. Madcatz’s C.T.R.L.i suffered from the lack of rechargeability and flaky Bluetooth handshaking, while protracted play sessions with the pint-sized SteelSeries Free led to hand-cramping. Apparently, there seems to be a few lapses that need to be remedied in the MFi certification process over in Cupertino.
So we approached the newly released Gamevice with a healthy amount of skepticism, expecting the peripheral to have at least one obvious, crippling oversight. After thorough testing, we found a few minor issues, but thankfully neither of them one was substantial enough to prohibit the Gamevice from receiving a full recommendation. If you’re thinking about buying a controller for your Ipad Mini, this is the one to pick up, despite a premium price.
Whether consumers purchase the peripheral online or at retail outlets such as the Apple Store, Target, or Best Buy, they’ll likely appreciate the sturdy cardboard housing which helps to protect the unit during transit. Opening the box, they’ll find the device securely nestled in a plastic molding, along with a micro-USB charging cable, instructions, and a few pieces of marketing. Notably missing is any kind of carrying case for the Gamevice, so that purchasers could insure that their hundred dollar controller lives out a scuff-free existence.
Wrapping the Gamevice around an Ipad Mini is a fairly fast and simple process. First, owners align the tablet’s Lightning port with a corresponding jack on the Vice before pushing the Mini into a shallow groove. Thanks to a spring mechanism in the left side, there’s a tiny bit of elasticity to the controller, permitting the other half of the peripheral is stretched before it’s berthed into a similar port. Once the slate is placed in the Gamevice, the peripheral lives up to its moniker, with the two components melding into a solid, singular unit. After being docked, the bond is secure enough that we felt comfortable carrying the fusion of Mini and Vice around by a single handle.
A button on the bottom right side on the Gamevice can be pressed to reveal the devices’ power reserve level, with four LEDs revealing just how much juice is left. With a marathon testing session on the horizon and the peripheral half empty, we hooked up the bundled Micro-USB, discovering that our iPad could be rejuvenated while the Gamevice was drinking current. Sure, the charge times were about half as slow, but we enjoyed the convenience of not having to remove the Mini from the controller.
With the Gamevice wrapped around our Mini and fully charged, we began our playtesting, loading the tablet with every MFi-enabled we could find. From Monster Hunter Freedom Unite, Alphadia Genesis 2, Dead Trigger 2, to Boulder Dash, the device increased the playability of each game, eliminating any control frustrations while boosting progress and scores. Immediately, games like 2-Bit Cowboy and Metal Slug felt like they were being played on a dedicated portable rather than on a tablet with a virtual d-pad. While button customization wasn’t possible, typically input methods defaulted to intuitive, time tested layouts- which isn’t always the case with other MFi controllers on the market.
More importantly, the Gamevice felt natural, with long sessions showing no signs of ergonomic fatigue. Essentially, with the Mini docked, it felt like we were holding the Wii U’s gamepad, as our thumbs innately fell on the device’s two analog sticks, shifting to press face buttons or the d-pad. Index fingers intuitively found their way to the triggers on the back of the controller, while muscle memory guided our digits to the shoulder bumpers that adorn the top on the Gamevice. Third-party controllers often feel like lackluster imitations to the hands- but that wasn’t the case with the Vice, with every button and stick demonstrating the throw and responsiveness of a DualShock 3, Pro Controller, or Xbox One gamepad. For arcade-born titles like King of Fighters ’98 or Blazing Star, the removal of Bluetooth connectivity not only increased battery life, but more importantly, eliminated input lag.
The iPad Mini’s speakers on the bottom on the tablet, making aural output a sticky situation when it’s locked inside the Gamevice. The device attempts to redirect sound, pushing audio through a small channel in the right handle. In execution, it’s functional, but not ideal, with a loss to the low-end of the sonic spectrum. As such, if owners want to enjoy full audio fidelity, they’ll have to plug in a set of headphone to the Vice’s own jack or sent sound to a bluetooth speaker. Although the Gamevice battery can last for thirty hours before recharging, we’d love to see an internal battery pack added to a future iteration. Few things would be better than watching the battery gauge increase while we game.
While MOGA’s companion app felt like it was in beta for far too long, the Gamevice’s app demonstrates far more polish. Owners can easily view new releases, scan by genre, or search for free games, across the MFi-enabled library. Currently, the list of supported games is fairly substantial, with over 100 titles that have been carefully curated; we didn’t find a single slapdash addition that say, forced us to play in portrait mode. Although screenshots would be a worthwhile addition and receiving sale alerts would be beneficial, largely the app shows polish and allows for easy and nimble navigation. Hopefully, the release listings will get updated on a weekly basis.
With the number of MFi-enabled games on the raise, purchasing a dedicated controller for you iPad is becoming increasingly tempting. While there’s a few handhelds that undercut the Gamevice’s hundred dollar MSRP, no current rival can trump the peripheral’s functionality. The only real rival could be a second generation model that fixes the sound issue while giving a boost to battery life.
Editor’s Note: Previously, we had noted how the iPad’s internal speakers didn’t work when docked in the Gamevice. This issue turned out to be caused by a problem with our iPad Mini, and isn’t an issue with the peripheral.
A Gamevice was supplied for review by the manufacturer.