One of the difficulties of mobile gaming on a platform without any physical buttons is that when you port over many console genres the absence of these physical
buttons is almost always immediately (and painfully) obvious.

Half your screen (or more) is littered with virtual d-pads, virtual sticks and virtual buttons which means that instead of fully enjoying the game, you only get to see what inch or two of real estate you can glimpse between your frantically moving fingers. At least for me, the biggest offenders are first person shooters on iOS. Once you try to map the standard four buttons, two shoulder buttons and two virtual sticks on the screen you are left with a viewable area about the size of a postage stamp. Even then, the controls are far too difficult to use with any proficiency, resulting in a kill/death ratio that you’d be embarrassed to show even your grandmother.

There are two ways around this, either game developers must design all new gesture or tilt-based control schemes that utilize the strengths of the touch screen (which is very difficult to do correctly on an FPS) or use an external peripheral that offers the tactile feedback that many iOS gamers secretly crave.

Gameloft is known for their console-like games including the Modern Combat and N.O.V.A. series. They’ve tried to come up with really customizable touch screen controls in these titles to help alleviate some gamers’ frustrations, but for many it is still just not enough. Enter the Duo Gamer…Gameloft’s physical Bluetooth controller that solves the virtual controls problem.

Featuring dual analog thumb-stick, six buttons and a d-pad, the Duo Gamer is currently compatible solely with a number of Gameloft’s hottest titles including Asphalt 7: Heat, Modern Combat 3: Fallen Nation, Order & Chaos Online, Brothers in Arms 2: Global Front, and N.O.V.A. 3 – Near Orbit Vanguard Alliance, with compatibility being added for both NFL Pro 2013 and Wild Blood soon and more titles coming in 2013. I hoped that Modern Combat 4 : Zero Hour would have been supported at launch, but sadly it was not, so I suspect that this will be one of the titles supported next year.

Despite its rather boxy look, I’ve found the Duo Gamer to be quite comfortable to use even for extended gaming sessions. It has a nice weight to it and the buttons and sticks are right where you’s expect them. The Analog sticks offer a little more initial resistance than I would like. The sticks do have some texture to them, but rubber pads or something to increase the grippage would be a welcome addition. That being said, these minor gripes didn’t seem to translate into any on-screen difficulties, in fact the transformation of my gaming prowess was instantly noticeable. Modern Combat 3: Fallen Nation felt like a brand new game, and much more pleasant to play. No hands blocking the screen, movement felt more natural as did aiming and shooting. There are no options to change the button mapping within the game, but the layout provided was quite satisfactory. Asphalt 7: Heat and N.O.V.A. 3 – Near Orbit Vanguard Alliance also benefited greatly from the physical controls as well.

The Duo Gamer also comes with a stand so that you can prop your iPad or iPhone up for playing, though I actually didn’t need to use this because my iPad case already has a built-in stand. The controller is a little too big to carry around in a pocket (except for maybe cargo pants or cargo shorts), but it is still quite portable and easy to toss in a bag. It runs off of two AA batteries (which are provided) and automatically powers itself off after 5 minutes of inactivity to conserve battery life. It was easy to pair and after a week or so of moderate use, the batteries are still going strong.

Earlier this month we reported that Gameloft dropped the price of the Duo Gamer by 50% down to $39.99 just for the holidays, but right now Best Buy has dropped it by an additional $16, down to $23.99!

In Conclusion:

At its full $80 price there is no way I could recommend the Duo Gamer except to die-hard Gameloft fans since there just aren’t enough games that support it to warrant that cost, but at these reduced prices it is definitely worth it for anyone who plays the flagship Gameloft titles and struggles with the virtual buttons and sticks. With the Duo Gamer‘s tactile controls you are likely to see a vast improvement in playability.