Review: Duo Gamer brings near console quality controls to iOS devices, with a catch

The debate whether a smartphone or tablet can be considered a real gaming device is one that will likely go on for years to come. Much like the two opposing political parties, some gamers believe that hardcore gaming only exists on consoles or dedicated handhelds like the 3DS or the Vita. Others however believe that there is indeed a future of hardcore gaming in these small supercomputers almost everyone carries around in their pockets.

It's no surprise that the biggest issue that people seem to be having with mobile gaming isn't its small size, but rather its control scheme. Playing a first person shooter which requires precise aiming controls, all while sprinting, aiming down your sights, lobbing grenades and taking cover from enemy fire, isn't exactly easy on a device that only allows you to swipe across its screen. Thankfully though, peripheral developers like Ion and Duo are taking notice of this, and are making controllers of their own to hopefully one day remove this stigma of not being able to play a console quality game on your smartphone.

Enter the Duo Gamer; a controller made by the team over at Duo, previously responsible for the arcade style controller called the Atari Arcade. This square shaped controller aims to deliver near console-like controls thanks to its dual analog sticks, complete with the ability to press them, a d-pad, four face buttons and two shoulder buttons. While it doesn't completely nail every button you'd think to see on a console controller, nor is it as ergonomically shaped, it does manage to play extremely well.

What do you get?

The Duo Gamer comes with the controller, two batteries and a stand for your iOS device. The minimal amount of items included is all you'll need to get set up in a matter of minutes and hop into a game and start playing.

Playing with the Duo Gamer

The team definitely knew how to make this controller feel familiar to fans of console controls. Despite the fact that it has a square shape (which I honestly can't understand how that got past the building phase) it feels completely natural the second you start playing with it. Booting up N.O.V.A. 3, I was immediately in the groove with reloading, throwing grenades, switching weapons, sprinting and aiming down my sights without the need to ever get an explanation or tutorial.

nova 3

Playing N.O.V.A. 3 with the Duo Gamer feels natural, and further proves that console quality titles have a place on smartphones and tablets

In that respect, the Duo Gamer completely succeeds. It speaks volumes when you can pick up a new controller which you're not accustomed to and sink right into it. Switching over to Asphalt 7: Heat, it was immediately apparent that the old controls which required me to tilt iPad side to side to steer the car were not only imprecise, but feel almost antiquated.

So where's the catch?

duo gamerI had nothing but nice things to say about the Duo Gamer, and for good reason; the controller simply works. However there is a catch in this entire setup, and it's a big one. The Duo Gamer was built specifically to play nothing but Gameloft games, which means if you're hoping that your favorite iOS game will get patched to work with the Duo Gamer in the future, you'd be dead wrong. There is a positive and negative side to this.

Let's look at the positive. While the Duo Gamer only supported three Gameloft games out of the box (N.O.V.A. 3, Asphalt 7: Heat and Order & Chaos), upon reaching out to the folks over at Duo, I was notified that games by the end of the year, many more games will be supported, such as Modern Combat 3: Fallen Nation and Brothers in Arms 2: Global Front. The reason this falls under the positive aspect is because if you're looking for the most console quality games on a smartphone, you can't look further than Gameloft. They get criticized for ripping off popular games like Halo, GTA and Assassin's Creed, but honestly, I'd love to see those games on a phone. If this is the only way, then I'll take it. Also didn't someone say “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery?”

The negative is here is that out of their giant library which includes amazing games like Wild Blood, Six Guns, GT Racing Motor Academy, Gangstar, Silent Ops, 9mm, Sacred Odyssey and Backstab, none of these have been officially confirmed to eventually work with the controller. You're basically taking a gamble when buying the Duo Gamer in hopes that your favorite Gameloft game will eventually be supported. It also works strictly with iOS devices, meaning Android owners are left in the dark here. That's a shame since Gameloft has those same titles available on Android devices as well.

Of course one of the biggest negatives, one that will undoubtedly overshadow anything else, is the fact that it's ONLY Gameloft games. The controller has the perfect setup to play other great iOS games, but unfortunately, it will always be tethered to the Gameloft brand, and therefore amazing games like Horn and the upcoming dungeon crawler Infinity Blade: Dungeons will always be just out of reach by the Duo Gamer.

The bottom line

If you're a Gameloft fanboy and love your iOS games more on the console side rather than the casual side, the Duo Gamer is definitely for you. It's undeniable that Gameloft produces some of the most content rich games on smartphones, so being able to control them with ease and precision thanks to the Duo Gamer makes it a must buy. It isn't the cheapest by any means ($79.99) but it works extremely well. The Duo Gamer also doesn't aim to confuse its buyers by any means, since the box outright says that it's only compatible with Gameloft apps.

However for those looking for a much more well rounded controller, one that isn't bound to Gameloft titles, you might want to check out the iControlPad, which we also reviewed, or hold out for the iControlPad 2, which not only works with more titles, but also works across multiple devices whether it's iOS or Android.