It’s hard to sell me on the idea of a controller for mobile games. If a mobile games developer can’t design something that excels with a touch interface, they’re in the wrong business.
But while I’ve been largely underwhelmed by devices like the Logitech Powershell, there was a defining moment in my gaming year that forced me to rethink my stance on mobile game controllers: Skylanders Trap Team.
An $80 package that included its own game controller, the whole project just clicked. And while it could be played without the controller, what was provided just felt natural. Maybe it was because you were getting a console-style experience, so the controller just seemed like a perfect fit. And it was a good controller. I might even call it a great controller.
And I kept hearing it be compared to the SteelSeries Stratus.
While I missed that controller’s original launch back in January, it’s bigger brother the SteelSeries Stratus XL is gearing up to hit store shelves soon (and is available online at apple.com starting today), and it addresses the “too small” complaint that people had about the previous model.
I’ve had the chance to play around with it for a few days, and as someone who had previously written off the idea of mobile game controllers, the Stratus XL might just have made me a convert.
Sporting roughly the same dimensions as an Xbox 360 controller, you’ll find that the Stratus XL shares a lot in common with modern console controllers. Four face buttons, two thumbsticks, a d-pad, two triggers and two bumpers all fit comfortably on a molded plastic base.
In terms of layout, it’s almost like the unholy lovechild of a PlayStation and Xbox controller: it takes amost all of its cues from Mommy Xbox, but Daddy PlayStation insisted on putting the analog thumbsticks side-by-side with the d-pad above.
Taking inspiration from the two leading console controllers might be reason to take points off for creativity, but creativity isn’t really something we’re looking for here. The result is a controller that’s instantly familiar and comfortable.
…though maybe not as comfortable as holding something designed by Microsoft or Sony. While it’s a solid effort that doesn’t disappoint, there’s something about the way your fingers wrap around the back that just feels more squished than it should; as if ergonomic design wasn’t quite as high on the priority list as other elements.
Luckily, those other elements really tie this thing together. Playing Leo’s Fortune on the Stratus XL felt like a completely different experience; as if I were playing a console platformer on a tiny screen. Asphalt 8 did the same for my mobile racing experience. There’s something about holding a comfortable, responsive controller that makes some iOS games feel more substantial despite their small size.
“Small size,” being the operative word here. When I first fired up the my SteelSeries Stratus XL, I eagerly tried to connect it to my iPad — but it wouldn’t. It’s not that the Stratus XL doesn’t support iPads – it just didn’t support my iPad. As a generation 3 owner, I was left out in the cold. Much to my surprise, the Stratus XL only supports a more recent crop of iOS devices. You’ll need an iPhone 5 or better, a fourth gen iPad or newer, or the latest iPod Touch.
If you’re considering putting this under someone’s Christmas tree, be sure they have a device that can support it.
Still, even if I couldn’t enjoy it on my iPad (meaning it fails me as a second controller for Skylanders Trap Team), what the Stratus XL delivered on my iPhone 5S was an experience second to none. If you’re in the market for an iOS controller this year, the Stratus XL won’t disappoint.