As games on mobile devices get more complex and match the fidelity offered by console games, gamers are now increasingly looking for a traditional controller-based setup. Games like N.O.V.A, Modern Combat, and Shadowgun, though developed with touch-screen controls in mind, absolutely demand physical sticks and buttons to fully appreciate their experiences.
With a bit of hacking, an Xbox 360 or PS3 controller could be made to work with these games, but lugging them around with your phone or tablet seems counterintuitive and is not user friendly. So, a host of companies have launched compact Bluetooth controllers to satiate that need, including the PlayPad from Nyko, which we will be looking at today.
The Nyko PlayPad is compact, lightweight and comes with a hard case for easy portability. The PlayPad is no bigger than a Galaxy S3, and is easy to grip thanks to its rubberized body. For its size, the PlayPad serves up complete controller tools, including two circle pads, four face buttons, D-Pad, and two shoulder and trigger buttons each. It also bundles a small stand to hold your phone or tablet, with three tilt adjustments.
It’s an Android controller, so weight and portability is paramount, but that usually results in build quality taking a knock. The PlayPad suffers from similar issues, with the whole package feeling too light and plasticky for a $40 controller. The shoulder buttons, which lack any tactile feedback, and the tiny, cheap trigger buttons don’t help the cause much. The circle pads are poorly implemented as well; they are too stiff for precise movements, and the raised bumps that are there to enhance grip in fact hurt due to the plastic coating.
The controller is reasonably comfortable, but I started to feel cramped after 15mins of driving around in GTA III due to its size and stiff circle pads.
The PlayPad is a hardware and software solution, so an app is required for extended compatibility. The app is called Nyko Playground and is available on Google Play Store for most of the current Android devices.
Interestingly, the Playground, despite a v2.0+ software is still in ‘beta’, a fact nowhere mentioned on the box. But ‘beta’ describes the app accurately as it’s still a work-in-progress and is missing a lot features along with general stability and function.
The app lets you re-map controls for supported games (only a select few titles so far) and create new controller profiles for unsupported games. Doing so is complicated, and is mostly guesswork to see which button does what in any given game. Nyko has promised to add ability to map touchscreen controls and gestures in future updates, so at the time of writing they weren’t available.
This makes the PlayPad largely useless, as making it work on unsupported games is incredibly hard. On SuperNES, where I mapped the controller to emulate a SNES one, buttons would randomly not work, and I was only able to play simple games like Mario which does not use more than one or two buttons.
The app only supports a few games and even then the controls are strangely mapped. For instance, in Grand Theft Auto III, getting into a vehicle requires you to press ‘down’ on the d-pad, as opposed to any of the face buttons which normally would be the case. Driving is done with the D-pad and/or the left circle pad, but the camera cannot be controlled with anything else.
The app is also highly unstable. I have encountered numerous crashes at random points during configuration, and even while playing a game. The app does not even quit, but crashes and restarts instead. Thankfully, sync’ing the controller with the app is fast and smooth, however sometimes I would have to unpair the controller from the phone to make it work.
The PlayPad’s shortcoming could had been overcome with a solid software and a truly out-of-the-box solution, but Nyko has dropped the ball on the app completely. Future updates are uncertain and cannot be taken into consideration with a product that’s now available in stores. For $40, the Nyko PlayPad isn’t worth the admission at the moment. However, things could change in the future, so it’s best to keep an eye on the app’s Play Store page if you are truly interested in this controller.